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City Desk: Apr. 9, 2014

49ers and SCUSD Discussed Soccer Park Alternatives in 2011, 2012

Last month, a dispute broke out between the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League (SCYSL) and 49ers about whether a 2012 letter from Jed York constituted a commitment to provide, at the 49ers’ expense, alternative soccer fields for stadium game days, when access to the Tasman Soccer Park would be difficult.

The 49ers did have at least two discussions with the Santa Clara Unified School District about game day alternatives for the Soccer Park, former SCUSD Superintendent Bobbie Plough confirmed last week. But by the fall of 2013, everyone who had participated in those conversations was gone, and no one was pushing the project forward.

Talks began in late summer of 2011, with the former 49ers Vice President of Communications and Government Relations Lisa Lang, says Plough, and continued with Lang’s replacement, Steve Weakland. Also in those meetings was now-retired SCUSD facilities manager Andy Wirt. The SCYSL was not involved in the discussions nor was the SCUSD board.

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At those meetings, the 49ers shared some high level conceptual plans, and alternative fields were discussed, recalls Plough. The last discussion was in the spring of 2012, and there was “very little about the specifics of an agreement on the table.”

After the county attempted, in the summer of 2012, to “claw back” the $30 million that the former Santa Clara RDA had committed to the Levi’s Stadium construction, and the 49ers filed a lawsuit against the RDA Successor Agency (the entity responsible for unwfinding the former RDA’s operations), Plough worked with the city and the 49ers to hammer out a deal to bring additional revenue to schools sooner, while meeting the City’s contractual obligation.

The state Finance Department rejected the deal, but the Sacramento Superior Court ruled in favor of the 49ers’ claim in November 2012. “Even during the litigation, we still had a working relationship,” Plough adds.

Plough says she didn’t follow up on the soccer fields project because she was, “dealing with other things,” including a contentious new, pro-clawbacks majority on the school board. However, “we were never under the impression that any plans were abandoned,” she says. Plough doesn’t remember any subsequent discussion about why the plan wouldn’t work.

Plough resigned from SCUSD in June 2013, and Weakland left the 49ers in 2012, so by the fall of 2013, everyone involved in those conversations was gone. And the relationship between SCUSD and the city had deteriorated.

“In 2011, I walked into a school district that had a terrific relationship with the city,” Plough says. “My impression is that there’s a majority on this board that isn’t interested in developing or maintaining a relationship with the city.” If she were still Superintendent, she would be “on the phone with Jamie Matthews and Lisa Lang’s replacement to see what we could work out. Because of this board, that’s not going to happen.”

However, in maybe the first positive development since the dispute started in February, 49ers Executive VP of Development Larry MacNeil told the WEEKLY in an email statement, “We welcome the opportunity to revisit our previous discussions with the SCUSD and the City of Santa Clara regarding the improvement of existing school district fields to serve as alternate sites for the Youth Soccer Park matches during NFL games. Our organization has been committed to Santa Clara and its citizens for more than two decades, and that commitment has not wavered as we work with the City to find a suitable resolution to this matter.”

City Covering All Bases for Stadium Game Days at Soccer Park

You could say that Santa Clara is taking the ‘belt and suspenders’ approach to making sure that that there are choices for soccer players when Levi’s Stadium opens this summer.

A preliminary stadium Transportation Management and Operations Plan (TMOP), which includes game day Soccer Park access, will be presented at this week’s City Council meeting (after press time). Plus, the Parks & Recreation Department is working on game day alternatives.

“The Soccer Park will be open and available but it’s a challenge,” says Santa Clara Parks & Rec Director Jim Teixeira. “No one ever said there would be no impact. The bottom line is if you’re going to have a game on August 2, it’s going to be difficult. We’re going to look for ways to mitigate that impact of game day.”

But finding alternatives quickly won’t be simple. “Most of our parks are already fully utilized,” says Teixeira. However, the Council’s current mandate to find Soccer Park alternatives just accelerates existing plans. “Simply because there’s such population growth, we’re going to need new athletic fields,” he explains.

Teixeira’s team is working on an RFP for additional fields. “We’re in final stages on a report on sites and locations, and working on identifying sites that could be available on those [game] days.

“We’re developing a list of available and appropriate designs and contractors,” he continues. “We’ll be ready to present an RFP, as well as a viable contractor and some recommendations about locations.” This effort is solely focused on city-owned sites, not school sites. The city is also looking at other land that might be available, including industrial sites. However, there’s no ideal site out there, Teixeira cautions. “Every site has issues.”

One alternative under consideration is the Earthquakes’ stadium complex, scheduled to open in 2015. The complex will have four rental community fields, and Santa Clara staff has already met with the San Jose Parks and Recreation Department to discuss access, Teixeira says.

But those fields could be costly, according to Teixeira. Rent starts at $40/hour without lights and jumps to $60/hour with lights. “It can add up, especially in winter and spring games,” says Teixeira. “Paying for lights quickly increases costs.”

But Teixeira’s team stands ready to do whatever the Council directs, he says. “Our goal is enhancing community sports and recreation assets, with a focus on immediate needs in the community. The Youth Soccer Park isn’t going anywhere unless there’s someplace that’s bigger and better. And that’s a challenge.”

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