After two years of conflict over its use, the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park was back in the spotlight in 2015 when the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League (SCYSL) objected to the NFL using it for Super Bowl 50. Although the dispute was with the NFL, it quickly became conflated with the soccer league’s earlier claims of betrayal by the 49ers.
“The 49ers and NFL care more about the property than the kids,” Eric Robertson, 16, told the Mercury News in December 2015. “I think it’s pretty unfair because that park has been there even before the plans for the stadium. I just think we deserve to be there.”
On Dec. 4, 2015 the Mercury News published another editorial by SCYSL President and Santa Clara Parks and Recreation Commissioner Tino Silva asking the Santa Clara City Council to conform to a set of soccer league “guiding principles” in negotiating agreements for the use of the soccer park.
The league was two years too late. On March 19, 2013 the City Council unanimously approved a series of Super Bowl resolutions committing to the NFL “facilities and premises, access roads, thoroughfares and other areas that may be used for the purpose of organizing, promoting, accommodating, staging and conducting a Super Bowl and its related events.” The resolutions also gave City Manager Julio Fuentes signing authority for all contracts and agreements needed.
The rest of the contract is the private property of Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, which didn’t respond to the Weekly’s requests for information about the contract. But the requirements of a Super Bowl bid* are so specific about the resources to be provided by the host city, it’s not credible that the NFL lawyers would have accepted a bid that didn’t spell out what was to be provided by the host city and for what use.
Use of the soccer park (APN 104-43-004) was part of closed session negotiations in February 2013.
At a March 2013 meeting then-Council Member Lisa Gillmor congratulated City Manager Julio Fuentes and “his team” for their faithfulness to “the idea that we talked about in Measure J,” and “negotiating the best agreement for a Super Bowl bid” and “a fantastic deal for us,” adding, “I enthusiastically support this Super Bowl bid.”
Nothing was said again about the soccer park vis-a-vis Super Bowl use until 2015, when the Council began arguing over whether the park was included in the Super Bowl 50 contracts they unanimously approved in 2013.
During the 2015 dispute, Gillmor attempted to revoke the City Manager’s signing authority for Super Bowl-related permits with a council action, but was overruled by Mayor Jamie Matthews and the City Attorney Ren Nosky, who said the Council had already given the authority by approving the 2013 contracts naming him as the signing authority.
At no time during the months-long discussion did anyone produce the NFL contract, or even meeting notes, that would have for-once-and-for-all answered the question.
Minutes and agenda reports from public 2013 meetings where the contracts were approved are vague about the soccer park land, and non-existent for closed sessions. City officials told the Weekly that Santa Clara doesn’t have a copy of the Host Committee’s contract with the NFL contract because the contract was between those two private businesses, not the City.
At the end of December 2015, the SCYSL sued the City of Santa Clara and the NFL, inciting a new media flurry of kids-vs.-plutocrats stories. “Super Bowl Will Stop Local Kids From Playing Soccer, Lawsuit Says,” is how Time presented the story nationally. Breitbart News wrote “Kids Booted Off Soccer Fields.” The league offered to drop the lawsuit if it was offered—by whom wasn’t specified—acceptable replacement fields.
Gillmor became the leading cheerleader of this lawsuit against the City. “This is a world-class soccer facility, and they’re going to destroy it,” she told the Mercury in December 2015. “I’m appalled at this behavior. It reeks of stinky backroom deals and I’m sick of it.”
The once-Super Bowl enthusiast Gillmor told Mercury sports reporter Mark Purdy in 2015 that the City was “putting the needs of the Super Bowl over the needs of the community.”
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph Huber ruled against the league, writing that the soccer league’s demand would deny Santa Clara residents the benefits of “a massive effort … they contributed to and expect to benefit from.” Further Huber wrote, “The opportunity for calamitous consequences of a terrorist attack before, during or after the Super Bowl cannot be overestimated.” Finally, the judge wrote, “There is no showing that the [use permit] granted the Youth Soccer League or any other private party a specific entitlement to use the park.”
But the corrosive insinuations continued, not only from perennial city critics, but from Council Members and from Gillmor. When Mayor Matthews abruptly retired in February 2016, Gillmor privately lobbied her colleagues to appoint her mayor, which was confirmed to the Weekly by several Council Members.
The Denver Broncos weren’t the only ones to walk off the SB50 field with a win. On Feb. 16, 2016 Gillmor’s colleagues unanimously appointed her Mayor—an office she had run for, and lost, in 1994.
*These can be found at tinyurl.com.nfl-sb-bid.
Next—Part IV: City Staff, Political Opponents and the Press Become Targets in Soccer League’s War