Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joseph Huber’s denial on Jan. 11 of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League’s request for an injunction blocking the NFL from locating Super Bowl structures on Santa Clara’s Youth Soccer Park came down to common sense truisms.
First, you can’t invalidate a contract simply because it’s your opinion that a party to the contract won’t fulfill its obligations. Not even if that party is a powerful and wealthy corporation that puts significant demands on the municipality hosting its biggest annual event.
Second, routine actions of a governing body should be interpreted to mean what they say – not things they don’t. Third, you have to actually own, or be legally entitled to, something before you can assert that it was taken from you without due process.
And finally, losing a home field advantage in a ballgame isn’t sufficient reason to throw a roadblock in front of an event three years in the planning, in whose success local residents and businesses have a big stake, and in the process potentially endanger tens of thousands of people by carving a hole in the event’s security.
The judge wasn’t persuaded by any of the soccer league’s arguments.
The “mere possibility of harm” isn’t sufficient justification for an injunction that would have far reaching consequences, the judge wrote. “Several parents have attested to their deep concern that this disruption will interfere with their children’s competitive prospects, and ultimately with their chances to play at the college level … understandable as these fears may be, the record does not prove that they will materialize.
“The Youth Soccer League cites only one imminent disruption to a scheduled game,” Huber continued, “which apparently will proceed or has already proceeded’ albeit with the potential loss of the home-field advantage.
“While the League argues that many more games could be disrupted through April 2016, it is not clear that any of these games are scheduled to take place before the NFL is obligated to return the fields in March,” the judge wrote. “The Court recognizes that it is always possible for delays or other issues to arise in connection with the restoration of the fields; however, it cannot assume that there will be problems.”
The NFL explicitly agreed to be responsible for restoring the soccer park to its original condition after the Super Bowl, according to a Dec. 2015 letter from NFLVP Peter O’Reilly to the City. “These conditions were outlined and publicly discussed in March 2013 and have not changed,” the judge wrote. “We anticipate that once the fields are repaired by the NFL, they will be available for play.”
Further, in Santa Clara’s 2015-2016 budget the City Council allocated money to replace two of the fields this year, so the fields would be unavailable for some period regardless.
On the other hand, there was “clear and certain”– “incalculable” – potential for harm in blocking the Super Bowl preparations at this late date, according to the judge. “The City’s Chief of Police indicates that the Youth Soccer Park is within the minimum security perimeter required to host the Super Bowl safely, as the City has committed to do,” Huber wrote, “and which is particularly critical in light of recent acts of terrorism.”
Further, “A massive effort, which many residents of Santa Clara have contributed to and expect to benefit from, has prepared the City to successfully host Super Bowl 50 in just a few weeks,” the judge continued.
While the NFL agreed to move staging for the halftime show to the 49ers training field – eliminating its use of one field – “the City’s evidence shows that there is no other site to which remaining critical functions can be located. Even the parents who gave statements to this Court agree that the Super Bowl presents unparalleled opportunities to the people of Santa Clara. The Youth Soccer Park [site] is essential to that outcome.”
Unlike many sports venues, Levi’s stadium isn’t ringed by parking lots providing both adjacent open space for both supporting the mega-event and constructing he minimum 300-foot “hard” – fenced –security perimeter the NFL requires. Instead, Levi’s Stadium’s next-door neighbors are Tasman Drive, San Tomas Aquino Creek, an electrical substation, and the soccer park – presenting unique challenges in both staging the event and providing adequate safety for it.
The Dept. of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov) gives the Super Bowl its highest security ranking – second only to events like presidential inaugurations. Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers – a 30-year veteran of the SCPD – made the stakes clear in a statement included in the City’s response to the soccer league’s complaint. “The opportunity for calamitous consequences of a terrorist attack before, during or after the Super Bowl cannot be overestimated.
“In my opinion, the only feasible location for the temporary security headquarters for the Super Bowl is the soccer park,” Sellers wrote. “Without the full temporary use of the soccer park within the ‘hardened’ security area, I believe the security of Super Bowl 50 will be significantly compromised” and make it “virtually impossible to provide the security necessary.”
Huber also didn’t buy the charge that using the park for Super Bowl activities was illegal per Santa Clara’s zoning code.
“None of the documents that have been submitted to the Court establish that the CUP [conditional use permit] prohibits use of the Youth Soccer Park for purposes other than youth soccer,” wrote Huber. “While a planning commission staff report states that the facility ‘is planned to serve youth soccer only,’ there is no indication that this condition was actually incorporated into the CUP. In fact, this asserted condition is not listed among numerous ‘recommended conditions of approval’ listed in the very same report.”
Two people who were involved in developing the 2001 use permit for the soccer park – former Council Member John McLemore and Council Member and former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jerry Marsalli – both say that the intention was to make it clear that the park was a public park intended for community use, rather than a dedicated practice field for professional soccer teams. Both say that there was no intention to permanently reserve the park for the exclusive use of youth soccer leagues.
Finally, the judge dismissed the league’s claim that rights of due process – Fifth Amendment rights – had been violated. The league asserted that the use permit gave their players an entitlement to use the soccer park; in much the same way military veterans are entitled to veterans’ benefits, and must be given a hearing before such benefits are denied.
“The city itself …holds the CUP, not the Youth Soccer League. There is no showing that the CUP granted the Youth Soccer League or any other private party a specific entitlement to use the park,” Huber wrote. “While the CUP undoubtedly permits youth to play soccer in the park without violating zoning laws, there is no indication that it granted a property or other statutorily conferred interest in what is ultimately City property.”
The judge concluded, “It is important to recognize that opportunities for participation in
Athletics … are of great consequence to youths’ personal development … However, as critical as they may be, such opportunities do not give rise to due process rights under the law.” The judge cited a classic case, Ryan v. California Interscholastic Federation-San Diego, in which the courts found that while public education is an entitlement, the opportunity to play on the basketball team isn’t.
Will this be the end of the story? Probably not. The soccer league’s attorney, Guatam Dutta, says that the league intends to continue to press the lawsuit.