The April 9 meeting of the Santa Clara Unified School District went past 11 p.m., largely due to drawn–out public comment about a proposal by the San Francisco 49ers to provide $3 million to the district to improve soccer fields in return for providing replacement fields for Santa Clara's Youth Soccer Park (YSP) during Levi's Stadium events.
The board had difficulty deciding whether they could discuss the offer, and even whether the 49ers could make a presentation at the meeting. Even before that discussion, Trustee Michele Ryan left the meeting, saying she didn't want to be a party to what could be a violation of California's public meeting laws.
Following this, an audience member, anti–stadium activist Deborah Bress, demanded “to poll the board to see who's been talked to [by the 49ers]” to determine if the law had been violated. “We haven't had 'Items from The Public' yet,” replied Board President Albert Gonzalez. The proposal was on the agenda as a discussion item, but no detail was included.
“This is highly irregular,” said Trustee Jim Canova. “If they [the 49ers] speak, are we limiting them to two minutes? We have a process here. Is this a discussion item, planning item, a report? Quite frankly, I'm not willing to hear anything. We have a process. Have it come back as a report, as a planning item.”
Discussion of the 49ers offer was “too low level,” said Trustee Christopher Stampolis, “What we need is a discussion of the field needs in the district.”
“We needed to have this on the agenda to be fully transparent with the public,” said Gonzalez.
The 49ers item was requested by Superintendent Stan Rose, who wanted board direction on it. “I was approached by the 49ers' head of government affairs, who said, â€˜we'd like to improve three of your fields and we'd like to give you $3 million to do it,'” he explained. “As a superintendent, my responsibility is to satisfy the needs of our students. If there are things that can be done that are win–wins, that's a conversation we want to have.
“I don't want to be at the center of a big argument,” he continued. “If there are any objectives we should be looking for if we want to have this conversation, what should we be saying? If the Board prefers no discussion going forward, then I want to know that. All I'm … concerned about is the benefit of our kids. That's all I'm interested in.”
In the end, the 49ers got two minutes to speak for their proposal – not time to fully present it – and the Board asked Rose for a report on it at a future meeting.
This followed an hour of public commentary. Some favored the proposal, or at least hearing what it was – especially in light of the 49ers' record of substantial donations to SCUSD and other area schools and youth programs. Others called it “another” Trojan horse for stealing public resources.
“I am disappointed that SCUSD is talking about building soccer fields,” said district resident Sally Brett. “You should be focused on academics … The 49ers tried to destroy Ulistac … I formed Save Ulistac … Now it looks like I'm going to have to form Save Santa Clara Unified …. The 49ers are not to be trusted … you should be saying 'no' to the 49ers.”
“If Bill Gates came in and said, 'I want to give you $3 million,' we wouldn't be saying this,” observed Trustee Andy Ratermann. “The 49ers have helped us with the STEM initiative and everyone loves that. We need to be respectful of that … Somebody's offering to give us $3 million, regardless of what your politics are.”
The school district should listen to what the 49ers can do, said Santa Clara Parks & Recreation Commissioner Mike O'Halloran. “A lot of the negative talk has to do with the [City] soccer park. That's not the issue here. The city needs to resolve the Youth Soccer Park issue, but the school should look at that opportunity for the schools. Make the decision as the school district.”
Soccer Field Discussions Started in 2010
Discussions between SCUSD and the 49ers about soccer fields started about five years ago.
The current proposal is in conjunction with an offer to the City of Santa Clara for use of the YSP parking lot for two years, and use of the entire YSP for parking from 2017 forward. The 49ers are offering the City $15 million, prepaid, plus 70 percent of parking fees. The offer presumes that the City will develop a new youth sports facility, a City Council goal since 2013.
In late 2010, the City and the 49ers discussed using the YSP lot for stadium parking in return for new or refurbished soccer fields on city or school district land, former Council Member Patricia Mahan said at the March 25, 2014 Council Meeting. SCUSD officials discussed a possible joint soccer field project with the 49ers in August 2011, according to email correspondence between then–Superintendent Bobbie Plough and former Trustees Ina Bendis and Christine Koltermann.
In January, 2012, 49ers CEO Jed York wrote to the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League Executive Board that, to “demonstrate our commitment to our community’s young soccer players and their families we are proposing that the 49ers underwrite several regulation–sized additional soccer fields in Santa Clara.”
Discussion stopped with dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies. In June 2012, the Santa Clara RDA Successor Agency Oversight Board voted to renege on the Santa Clara RDA’s commitment of $30 million in RDA money for stadium construction. The 49ers sued and won. SCUSD subsequently entered, and remains a party to, a county lawsuit against Santa Clara over other RDA assets and obligations – including the Convention Center complex.
Brown Act Not Gag Act
California's public meetings law, the Brown Act, was also at the center of last week's meeting.
The law requires public agency governing boards to post meeting agendas in advance, in a “freely accessible” location, and to describe each item of business with “enough information to enable … the general public to determine the general nature of subject matter.”
While several board members objected that they couldn't discuss the offer without an agenda report, published agenda reports prior to meetings are the exception, not the rule, for presentations and discussion–only items at SCUSD board meetings.
Boards can't discuss or act items that aren't on the agenda. This ban extends to conversations involving a majority of board members that might take place at social events or via personal meetings, phone calls, voicemail, email or social media (serial meetings).
However, the law allows board members to “ask a question for clarification, make a brief announcement, or make a brief report on his or her own activities.” Nothing in the law imposes it on individual contacts or conversations between a board member and anyone else, as long as it isn't a conversation among a majority of the board members (i.e. a serial meeting).
The law allows closed sessions to discuss personnel matters, litigation, public security and real estate and labor negotiations. Since the 49ers proposal concerns real estate, the Board could have legally made it a closed session item and not held any public discussion.
49er Offer Consistent with Prior Donations to SCUSD
The 49ers have made significant donations to SCUSD for almost a decade, and there is no record that any of them received last week's hailstorm of public criticism. These include:
- STEM Leadership Initiatives ($4 million) at Cabrillo Middle (2014) and Santa Clara High (2015) Schools.
- Fitness Zones (at least $80,000) at Buchser (2008), Peterson (2011) and Callejon (2014) Middle Schools
- Fuel Up Nutrition program (2014, $10,000)
- Rebuilding and re–equipping Montague Pre–School's Toy Shed after an arson fire completely destroyed it (2014)
The only one which there was any dispute was the Callejon Fitness Zone; which Stampolis argued represented “schools that have the most sophisticated parents … getting more” before voting to accept the donation.
Editor's Note: It's come to our attention that there's question about how the WEEKLY received information about the 49ers' proposal. It was provided on April 6, by 49ers Corporate Communications.