Verbal Soccer Melee Dominates Santa Clara Spotlight
The immediate outcome of April 21's Santa Clara City Council study session on the 49er's soccer fields-for-parking proposal was that anyone inclined to act on it beat a hasty retreat, and the Council unanimously referred it to a sub-committee and future public study.
But the mediagenic avalanche of fury from the soccer community, cheered on by perennially angry stadium opponents, had news outlets skipping fact checking in favor of click baiting with headlines about “booting” players off pitches, and NFL billionaires “buying land out from under the Youth Soccer League.”
The discussion raised some important policy questions, but it was hard to notice them amidst the drama.
One issue is City use of closed session meetings. Another is the future use of the land currently housing the Youth Soccer Park (YSP). Finally, the muddled path this proposal took makes clear the new Council governance committee has its work cut out for itself.
49ers Add to Their Offer, But Not Enough
The 49ers proposal, outlined by 49ers CEO Al Guido, offers $3 million to upgrade Santa Clara Unified athletic fields, and a $15 million prepaid 50-year lease – not sale, as the Chronicle and USA Today erroneously reported – plus 70 percent of net revenue, to the City in return for the right to use the YSP for parking. For the next two seasons, the stadium would utilize the YSP parking lot – not the fields – on event days, and soccer games would move to the school district fields. The YSP would be available other times.
Following Super Bowl 50, the 49ers would take full control of the land for parking. This presumes the City would have a new Youth Sports Center operating, which isn't currently in the budget. Guido also offered to maintain two YSP fields for use when there aren't stadium events, and give Santa Clara teams priority. If the 49ers want to develop the land, they would pay market rates for the lease.
Discussions about using the YSP parking lot for stadium parking began in 2010 according to former Mayor Patricia Mahan and 49er Executive VP of Development Larry MacNeil.
Long-Running Soccer League Complaint Gets Ugly
Parks & Recreation Commissioner and Santa Clara Youth Soccer League (SCYSL) President Tino Silva set the confrontational tone of last week's meeting in a widely circulated April 18 email.
Silva rallied recipients come out in force to fight “The battle to protect youth soccer in Santa Clara … against the destructive plan authored by Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews” –”crooked elected officials” – “and the San Francisco 49ers.” This, he wrote, was a “secretive, highly unethical and borderline illegal … Mayor/49er Plan to Screw Youth Soccer.” Several of Silva's young players subsequently recorded a satirical YouTube video mocking 49ers owner Jed York, the lyrics reportedly composed by a player's mother.
The ill will has festered since last year, when the SCYSL claimed York reneged on a promise to provide $200,000 to $300,000 to refurbish school soccer fields to provide soccer park alternatives on stadium game days. Many of those now opposing the 49ers were strong stadium backers during 2010's referendum campaign.
York offered the idea in a 2012 letter after SCYSL expressed concerns using the park wouldn't be feasible on gamedays, despite a transportation plan specifically designed to ensure access. Then-SCUSD Superintendent Bobbie Plough and the 49ers former Community Relations Manager Lisa Lang had some preliminary conversations.
“There was no commitment,” said Guido. “If there had been an agreement it would have been in the stadium proposal. A proposal is an invitation to develop an agreement. We think we have a proposal now that's better.”
The 2012 discussion stopped when the Santa Clara RDA dissolution Oversight Board reneged on the Santa Clara RDA’s $30 million commitment for stadium construction. The 49ers sued and won. However, the 49ers have been generous to SCUSD, providing millions in funding for STEM labs, fitness zones and a host of other programs for young people.
In April 2014 the SCYSL wrote to York, asking about alternate field plans. Told that there was no agreement, SCYSL was indignant, and brought its complaint to a Council meeting. The Council then expedited the development of new soccer fields; which are needed regardless of stadium impact on the soccer park.
Then on April 13 Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews unveiled the current proposal in a Mercury News editorial.
Over the last two months, the 49ers discussed their offer with a few business people, Council Members and SCUSD Trustees – accounts differ about what was offered.
“We had one meeting, and we thought it was a proposal for a win-win,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor at last week’s meeting. “And lo and behold, I open the newspaper and read this. You [Matthews] didn't bring this to the city-school liaison committee, which was the day before. You didn't connect with anybody including your colleagues up here … it appears to me there is no specific relocation plan for the soccer park. It looks like March 2016 the soccer park will be entirely in the hands of the 49ers.”
A term sheet was drafted, dated March 30 – by whom is unclear – was added to the April 21 closed session agenda. Council Members got copies shortly before the meeting.
Closed Sessions Prompt Questions
The questionable provenance of the termsheet prompted Council Members Teresa O'Neill and Lisa Gillmor to refuse to attend the closed session discussion on the “Proposed Parking Agreement” with the 49ers. When Council Members Patrick Kolstad and Jerry Marsalli followed suit, the rest of the Council made it unanimous.
A closed session vote on a termsheet Council Members were barely acquainted with surfaced concerns that discussions that should be public were taking place at closed sessions. This accusation was leveled at Levi's Stadium negotiations between 2008 and 2012.
“Some of my questions have to do with process, and whether the things we've been hearing in closed session are [properly] closed session items,” said O'Neill. “We need to hear from our community – do they want this?” You don't have to negotiate every aspect of a contract in public, she said, but votes should be public.
The Future of 11 Precious Acres
Now that one proposal has been advanced for the 11 acres housing the YSP, it's inevitable others will follow for one of the most desirable locations in Silicon Valley.
“This is the 11 most valuable acres in the City of Santa Clara,” said Gillmor. “This is a $59 million deal for $15 million. That is not a fair deal for that property and a gift of public funds … a takeaway of the soccer park from our kids and a giveaway to the 49ers.” It was, she said “a proposal that's personally and financially insulting to me … I think it stinks.” But even if this proposal was withdrawn, she warned, “this is not going to be the last proposal.”
Anything the City decides to do with YSP could affect the rest of the Northside, said O'Neill. “We need to take six steps back. I am not in favor of any more exclusive negotiating agreements – this is, in effect, an ENA. If we want to lease the soccer park, we should ask for bids. We need to have a competitive process. Maybe we can issue an RFP. Maybe we can get enough money to build the youth sports center.”
The three-hour discussion pushed some extremely important subjects to the end of the five-hour meeting, including newly-imposed water use restrictions, a new City fee schedule, and an agreement with Easy Day Sports to manage a 5k/10k “fun run” the month before Super Bowl 50 at no charge to the City in return for waiving fees under the City's control (EDS will be compensated from entry fees and sponsorships). But by then most of the audience was home, watching themselves on the 11 o'clock news and high-fiving each other on social media.
Requiescat in Pace
The April 21 meeting was adjourned in memory of Anne Creighton (longtime Santa Clara resident and former Cultural Commissioner, Housing Rehabilitation Loan Committee member and Senior Advisory Commissioner