49ers win major court victory for new stadium

March 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The 49ers' hard fought battle to build a stadium in Santa Clara won a major court victory. The case was heard Monday afternoon in Superior Court in San Jose.

The judge thoughtfully considered legal arguments and case law from both sides, but in the end he didn't waste any time in siding with the 49ers that the actual stadium loan does not need voter approval.

Monday the 49ers big play was not on the field, but in court. A judge ruled that a group opposing the team's new $1 billion stadium in Santa Clara could not force the issue back before voters, despite gathering thousands of signatures to do just that.

"This is a huge hurdle to overcome because it relieves all clouds and doubts whether this project can move forward and it also ensures democracy. Democracy occurred back on Measure J when 14,000 people voted in favor of this," said Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews.

There were 58 percent of Santa Clara voters who did approve the general terms of a stadium project in June of 2010, but Deborh Bress and her group, Santa Clara Plays Fair, say that was before the stadium authority approved $850 million in loans needed to get the deal done.

"We've been lied to, we've been deceived, we're taking on risk we never signed up for and the 49ers have now taken away that right to vote and yeah, I'm disappointed," said Bress.

Pre-construction is already underway at the stadium site near Great America in Santa Clara. The team hopes the 68,000 seat facility will be ready as early as the 2014 season. The $850 million in financing is scheduled to close on March 20 and the judge seemed to be aware of the tight timeline.

"We're especially glad early ruling, a prompt ruling, right now because it is so important to go forward with these agreements," said Robin Johansen, a 49er stadium attorney.

Monday's legal decision, which prevents another voter referendum on the stadium, is a huge blow to Santa Clara residents who worry the costs of the project outweigh the benefits.

"Obviously we disagree with the judge and we're considering all of our options at this point including the possibility of appeal," said Matthew Zinn, a stadium opponent's attorney.

To qualify for a June ballot, the voter referendum would need the go-ahead by this Friday and so even a successful appeal would not meet that deadline.