Ending a last-ditch effort to block the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium, a judge on Monday ruled that Santa Clara residents cannot vote on the project a second time, paving the way for construction to begin this spring.
A succinct, three-page ruling decided what has been an amazingly fast legal process that began just five weeks earlier when Santa Clara and the Niners sued to block the referendum. The grass-roots group of residents trying to stop construction is considering an appeal.
"This is a victory for the citizens of Santa Clara," team spokesman Steve Weakland said in an email. "We joined this lawsuit to protect their vote in June 2010 (when) they said yes to a new stadium."
The issue stems from the Santa Clara Stadium Authority's approval of $850 million in bank loans to fund the $1 billion stadium in December. Opponents then gathered more than 4,500 signatures to put the loan on the June ballot, but the city threw out the petitions.
In arguing their position, the city and 49ers cited past cases, saying voters only have one shot at deciding "legislative" policy issues, such as stadium construction. Any subsequent issues — like the loan — are only "administrative" acts needed to carry out the wishes of voters who approved the project in June 2010, they maintain.
Opposition group Santa Clara Plays Fair, however, asserted that voters deserved another crack at the stadium because the bank loan was never part of the original plan.
Before a brief hearing in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Judge Peter Kirwan sided with the 49ers and the city. "The court finds the (bank loans) at issue here are administrative acts not subject to referendum," Kirwan wrote.
The ruling was hardly a surprise considering the legal precedent. But the fact that it came so quickly was especially significant. The deadline to place measures on the June ballot is Friday. A referendum would have complicated the Niners' plan to break ground within the next few months to ensure their new field opens for the 2014 season. So the city and 49ers filed "urgent" preemptive strikes against the ballot measure in late January, hoping for a quick ruling.
"We believed that we were correct on the law, and the judge's ruling in our minds substantiated that," said City Attorney Ren Nosky.
But opponents continue to assert that the loan is a raw deal for Santa Clara. "I think it's really sad that the 49ers have now taken away the right to vote for the citizens of Santa Clara," said group spokeswoman Deborah Bress. "I think it's really a travesty."