The Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously on May 9 to schedule closed-session briefings with the Police Chief and to observe Levi’s Stadium public safety operations first-hand from the stadium command post.
But that routine-sounding action doesn’t begin to describe the 90-minute muddled discussion that swirled around the question of which was more important: Keeping the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail open to the public during Levi’s Stadium events or conforming to Department of Homeland Security practices for sports venues.
The trail runs contiguous to the stadium and is within the security perimeter established by the 2014 public safety plan. The current detour, established by the VTA in 2014, takes the trail traffic along city streets.
The Creek Trail passes through the hardened stadium perimeter, wrote DHS Protective Security Advisor Edgar Castor, in a March 15 letter to the Santa Clara Police Dept. Castor was on the team evaluating stadium security in 2014 and again last March.
“It is important that individuals entering this secure footprint have event tickets and are adequately screened through bag checks and the magnetometers etc. Without doing so, the Santa Clara Police Department would invite a significant risk to pre-game activities and the event itself.
“The Safety Act Designation received by Levi’s Stadium is based on the totality of the safety and security systems, procedures and personnel in place to provide a safe and secure environment,” he continued. Alterations to current standard operating procedures might affect the Safety Act Designation, and more importantly the safety of the facility and the individuals within.” Levi’s Stadium is the ninth U.S. sports stadium to be covered under the Safety Act, and the first in California, Sports Business Daily reported in June 2016.
In March the Council asked city staff to evaluate Creek Trail detours that took the path through stadium and Great America parking lots, and proposed trying one of them at the Apr. 22 Monster Jam event. After receiving the letter from the DHS, Mayor Lisa Gillmor canceled the pilot.
One of the routes took the detour into the security perimeter–with proposals for fencing non-ticketholders off, and subjecting them to the same metal detector and bag searches as stadium visitors. The others took trail users directly across Great America’s entrance gates or perpendicular to the line of metal detectors at the stadium entrances. Both Great America owner Cedar Faire and the 49ers opposed the Council’s ideas as unsafe. The City Manager and the Police Chief both agreed.
“Sending people walking through the parking lot is not the replacement of the trail,” said Manager Batra. “That’s why staff is saying the existing route is working. I think we are exposing ourselves” to unnecessary liability.
City Attorney Brian Doyle, a cyclist, introduced his own alternative Tuesday night–also cutting across the line of metal detectors, but staying clear of the security perimeter–and proposed simply painting lines around the designated path. “No one ever explained anything to me about there being anything unsafe about walking a bicycle through a parking lot,” he said.
Davis said that she agreed “with Brian’s recommendations. I think a coat of paint on the ground is the best solution right now.”
Council Member Patrick Kolstad, a retired police officer, said that the re-routing “compromises the concept of defensible space. It goes against the layers of protection you’re supposed to have.” Plus, the route “is going to be a big disruption to the ticket takers. I think you disrupt the whole operation on event day. That’s fraught with problems.”
“There’s no one in this room who would like to get this resolved more than me,” said Police Chief Mike Sellers. “And I can’t support any of these routes. I encourage you to come out here. No one has taken me up on this.”
Any path breaching the security perimeter would have consequences, Sellers told the Council. “We will lose the Security Act designation from DHS. We have had three and a half million people visiting and we have had virtually no incidents. If we change the public safety plan, we will just open ourselves to problems. I encourage you to come out on any event day and stand in the command post and see what we see.”
“The chief has mischaracterized what I was suggesting,” said Doyle. “I was suggesting that …anyone on the trail who did not have a ticket would have to go through the magnetometer … and have some kind of fencing. Why don’t we try this with some volunteers?”
“I don’t see this as some super impossible thing to try to do,” he continued. “We have a legal obligation to keep that trail open in perpetuity. The only issues the Council has to concern itself with aren’t legal issues. They’re logistical issues. If it’s a supervised pilot program, I don’t see any problems.”
Council Member Patricia Mahan disagreed with Doyle’s assessment. “What would be the impact of losing our safety act designation?” she asked Sellers. It relieves the city of liability “because we’re doing everything we can,” Sellers replied.
“Apparently Agent Castor thought that any change would put … our approval into jeopardy,” said Mahan.
“It’s only with regard to the secured perimeter,” said Sellers. “I just wish that Council Members would come out on event days so they would have a better understanding. I think it’s negligence to make a decision without having a full understanding of what we’re looking at.
Sellers told the Council he had received permission to brief them “about the security issues in this region. I was told the Mayor was not interested at this time. I would encourage you to do [that] so you can make sound decisions.”
Mahan continued to ask about potential risks. “Have we run any of these changes by our insurance provider? Have we done any kind of risk assessment? Under our stadium management agreement, our Stadium Authority would have sole responsibility for any damages.”
“I was suggesting doing a pilot project,” interjected Doyle. “I was asking a question,” said Mahan.
“How does anyone assess the risk?” Doyle continued. “You’d have to look at all the activities going on there.”
“I’m asking our city manager,” Mahan interrupted. “I’m not asking a legal question.”
The answer to Mahan’s questions were “no.” There had been no risk analysis, said Acting City Manager Rajeev Batra. “We were directed to look at a pathway.” The City would be liable “because we are recommending that people go there.”
“I would not be looking at doing any of these things without doing a risk assessment,” said Mahan, noting that the City was now “on notice that the stadium authority would be solely responsible” in the event of a terrorist attack. “The damage would be enormous. The city can’t take on that risk. That’s the point of the Safety Act, that the federal government takes on that risk.”
“What I was trying to accomplish was educate all Council Members… about the,” Sellers paused, “activities in our City and our region.” A public meeting wasn’t “the venue to talk about security issues.” The Council had had a closed session security briefing prior to Super Bowl 50, Sellers reminded them. “I’d like to have my intel officer speak to you on a high level.”
It appeared that the Mayor hadn’t shared the Chief’s invitation for a stadium security briefing with all Council Members. “You have asked to talk to us in closed session,” said Council Member Dominic Caserta. “This is new to me.”
Caserta then asked why a briefing hadn’t been scheduled, “especially when we have our elected law enforcement leader here who has experience that none of us have. I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to take his recommendations. I think we need to have a closed session to hear what our chief has to say.”
“I’m having a hard time with this discussion,” said Gillmor. “All of these options are on the other side of the magnetometers that anyone can walk through.” She said she didn’t get how the City was going to lose its Security Act designation. According to Sellers it would “if we were to enact the city attorney’s recommendation.”
“If they’re screened? If there’s a fenced area, and they’re screened,” Gillmor persisted. “That’s against Homeland Security?”
“The city attorney’s plan is the problem,” replied Sellers. “We don’t have any of these capabilities in place,” It would be “reckless” to implement something without examining the implications. It’s a safety issue for the pedestrians and bicycles. And even the bike community is opposing [it] because it’s not a safe route.”
At this point Caserta raised a point of order. “There’s a motion and a second to have a closed session with our chief.”
Kolstad added that he hoped the Council was prepared to invest some time at the security briefing and understood that any information they received “information that we can never share with anyone.”
What we really want to do is open the Creek Trail,” said Gillmor. “We never should have closed the Creek Trail.” A few minutes later she asked the City Manager, “Have our insurance people looked at that [the VTA detour route]?”
“That’s no different than bike paths on any city street,” Batra replied.
As the clock crawled on to midnight, San José resident Scott Lane endorsed the City Attorney’s plan, saying that he had made the same ride. “I have spent many times here … I have a concern that people having to go through magnetometers [is] an abridgement of constitutional rights … The magnetometers were not part of the EIR.”
“This is so simple to solve,” said Council gadfly Deborah Bress. “Just move the magnetometers. I’d like to see who signed off on installing these things permanently … This whole thing about Homeland Security is the biggest pile of BS. I’ve been out there with Homeland Security. The letter says ‘might,’ not ‘does.’ Some of the stuff the staff is putting out is lies. They should be fired.”
Saying that Friday was the first he saw the City Attorney’s alternative route, Stadium Operations GM Mercurio said that a fenced route “doesn’t take into concern the fire department emergency route.
“There was no benefit in closing the Creek Trail for anyone,” he continued. “It’s purely a safety and security issue …Why would you put your citizens’, your customers’ lives at risk? What you have now is much safer than any of these [alternative routes]. Mercurio asked the Council not to make decisions in a vacuum.
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