Lawsuit filed against City of Santa Clara for ballot measure involving police chief

Voters in the City of Santa Clara will soon decide if it wants to continue electing its police chief or have them appointed. Now a lawsuit against the city has been filed regarding the ballot measure's language.  

"We appreciate and value the support of the citizens. So, we think that an elected chief is an essential part of that relationship and support," said Jeremy Schmidt, President of Santa Clara Police Officers Association.    

In March, Santa Clara City residents will decide if their chief of police and city clerk will be elected or appointed. Santa Clara is the last city in the state to elect its police chief and city officials say voting to change that will cost taxpayers $432,000. Earlier this month, Santa Clara City Council voted 5 to 2 to put the issue before voters. 

"In fact, we saw language earlier that came from other cities that did convert. I know there was a caller that said the language was illegal, but how could it have been illegal for the other cities to have passed those measures? I don’t quite get that," said Sudhandshu ‘Suds’ Jain, Santa Clara City Council member for District 5. 

Three residents recently filed a lawsuit to have the ballot measure changed. The lawsuit says the current language is misleading, asking voters if the chief should be ‘appointed’ but not asking if they should be ‘elected’. Council member Kathy Watanabe says she’d like to continue electing the chief and supports the lawsuit.  

"It doesn’t give the clear picture that the voters are choosing to appoint a police chief and not indicating that the current police chief is elected," said Watanabe.   

Santa Clara’s current police chief Pat Nikolai is also up for reelection in 2024. Santa Clara’s Police Officers Association says the city has been electing its chief for decades. 

"No citizen has asked for this. There’s been no scandal in the Santa Clara Police Dept. There’s been no reason other than a power struggle," said Schmidt.    

Watanabe says the courts will decide if the ballot language will be changed by December 29th so that ballots will be ready for voters in March 2024.