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City Desk: June 4, 2014

No Votes for Ulistac Sports Complex From Parks & Rec Commission

How much of a non-starter is development on the Ulistac Natural Area? So much so that a motion for the Santa Clara Parks & Recreation Commission to “recommend that Council consider developing a youth sports complex at Ulistac Natural Area” couldn’t get a second, much less a, vote.

The Ulistac agenda item drew so many people that the Commission’s May 20 meeting that it had to be moved to the City Hall cafeteria.

The idea of moving the soccer park to Ulistac, or building the sports complex on it has been floating around ever since it showed up last September at a Council study session on possible locations for a youth sports complex. At that meeting and subsequent ones, a majority of Council Members indicated that development on Ulistac is not an option as far as they’re concerned.

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However, in April, Commissioner Tino Silva indicated that he wanted to recommend exactly that to the Council. But because it wasn’t on the agenda, there could be no action or discussion. So the item returned as an agenda item on May 20, where the refusal of any other Commissioner to second it dispatched it into oblivion.

Frustration With SCUSD One Driver Behind Ulistac Proposal

At the May 20 meeting the discussion among the Parks & Recreation Commissioners revealed a problem that’s not immediately clear to those who haven’t been actively involved in city sports. It’s not that there aren’t athletic fields in Santa Clara. It’s that many of them belong to Santa Clara Unified School District, and SCUSD has consistently refused to cooperate with groups outside the schools, according to several commissioners.

Commissioner Chuck Blair noted that there is only one city-owned property for playing baseball if you’re between 14 and 18, but there are several places within the school district. “Santa Clara Unified doesn’t seem to want to play ball.”

“We’ve gone to SCUSD many, many times and they said ‘No,'” Commissioner George Guerra said. “I got an emphatic ‘No’ for even one weekend.” (“Turn off their water” said someone in the audience.)

“We have a policy that principals have control over their facilities,” said SCUSD Board President Christine Koltermann. “I’m concerned that the 49ers stadium is becoming the school district’s problem.”

“It’s all about the kids,” admonished Commissioner Roseann LaCoursiere, who is president of the Police Activities League. “It’s all about community. We have to work together.”

Even the commissioner making the Ulistac proposal, Silva, past president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, seemed driven more by frustration than any opinion about Ulistac’s value.

“We can’t deny the fact that … we don’t have enough room … we have run out [of field space],” he said, noting that Santa Clara soccer teams sometimes have to travel as far as Redwood City to play home games.

“One of the solutions has always been … [that] we could come together with the school district,” he continued. “It baffles me why we can’t. You can help,” he told the audience, “by letting those individuals know we want their cooperation.”

2004 County Grant to Santa Clara Ulistac Bars Development “In Perpetuity”

There’s more than opinion or parliamentary procedure blocking the use of Ulistac for anything other than an open space preserve. The real barrier is Santa Clara’s 2004 contract with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (www.openspaceauthority.org).

This agreement under the agency’s “20 Percent Program – providing 20 percent of the costs of open space land acquisition, restoration, and public accessibility improvements – gave the city $281,474 for phase 2 of the restoration project (following $186,000 in 1999 for phase 1).

In return the city had to “provide assurances that the Project … will be dedicated open space or parkland consistent with the Authority’s mission, goals, and acquisition criteria, in perpetuity.” Further, the city’s “responsibilities for continued maintenance and operation of the Property, and its improvements … as open space and/or parkland accessible to the public shall remain in effect in perpetuity.”

Once an application is approved for the 20 percent program, “the participating jurisdiction may not change the project, or its design or use, unless such changes are approved by the Board,” according to the agency’s guidelines.

The 2004 contract was approved by the City Council at its Dev. 7, 2004 meeting and executed at that time. The sitting Council at the time was Mayor Patricia Mahan, Council Members Dominic Caserta, Patrick Kolstad, Jamie Matthews, and newly elected Will Kennedy, Jamie McLeod, and Kevin Moore.

An Oct. 1, 2013 letter to the City Manager from the Open Space Authority makes it clear there’s no alternative interpretation of the contract language. “Agreements state that the open space is to be dedicated in perpetuity and consistent with the Authority’s definition of ‘Open Space,’ as follows:

Open Space is an area of land or water that provides or can provide for the preservation or restoration of the natural environment. Environmental restoration is defined as improvement or rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems.

“The Authority does not consider a Youth Soccer complex as consistent with this definition.”

The letter continues that Ulistac “is a model open space and restoration project … It is the only dedicated open space area in the entire City of Santa Clara and represents a premier habitat restoration project unique to the Santa Clara Valley. The Ulistac Natural Area is also a model of significant community investment, with over 10,000 hours of volunteer service and support from schools, local residents, universities and the business community.” Those investments include a $200,000 donation in 2001 from Applied Materials.

After expressing appreciation that no decisions have been made, the Open Space Authority “offers its assistance to City staff as they evaluate the feasibility of various sites to alleviate impacts on the Youth Soccer complex and welcome ongoing dialogue with the City regarding this issue.”

The penalty for breaching the contract? “In the event either party defaults in the performance of any of its obligations under this Agreement, the other party shall be entitled to pursue such remedies as are provided in this Agreement or by law or equity.” In other words, Santa Clara could be sued or forced to carry out its contractual obligation.

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