Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill and Lisa M. Gillmor: Santa Clara needs to register lobbyists

With Super Bowl 50, Santa Clara will be in the national spotlight. Our city of 125,000 people will host the biggest American sporting event of the year. Although we proudly maintain a small-town feel, we’ve clearly become a major city.

But it’s not just the Super Bowl or Levi’s Stadium that has changed Santa Clara. We’re the center of major residential and commercial development activity, much of it good for our residents and our city budget. Santa Clara, like all California cities, has to look for new revenue since the state eliminated our redevelopment agency and took away a major source of funds to improve our community.

But with more development comes greater challenges. As city leaders, we need to maintain core services, like public safety, parks and libraries, which make Santa Clara a great place to live. We also have to be aware that special interests, from business to labor and others, have a stake in what we decide.

So, we’ve attempted to add good government practices to our city. We’ve proposed a lobbyists ordinance that will allow the public to know who is attempting to influence us. We also want all elected officials and top city staff to disclose their calendars, allowing for greater transparency. 

San Jose set the standard for local government when they adopted these types of measures years ago. We want Santa Clara to match or exceed that standard.

In addition to believing in good government, we’re also motivated by the concerns of our citizens. Fairly or not, Santa Clara has a reputation for “backroom deal making.” 

The reason for this concern was most evident last spring, when the majority of the council was willing to go into a closed-session discussion away from public scrutiny to give the youth soccer complex to the 49ers. Fortunately, this was stopped — but only because hundreds of people packed our council chambers to protest the action.

The effort created among Santa Clarans a real concern that the majority of the council is willing to operate secretly and will kowtow to the 49ers and other special interests at the expense of our city.

On Tuesday, we have an opportunity to change that. Our council will have a chance to adopt a lobbyist ordinance and require disclosure of calendars. 

We will push for the strongest possible measures. Frankly, we’ve received resistance from both Santa Clara elected officials and city staff.

Nonetheless, we hope that city leaders will remember that ultimately the public must have confidence in city government for us to succeed. Without greater transparency, we will lose the public trust that underlies all we do.

Debi Davis is vice mayor of Santa Clara, and Teresa O’Neill and Lisa M. Gillmor are members of the Santa Clara City Council. They wrote this for this newspaper.