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Sorting Out Soccer Park Uproar

Last Tuesday the Council Chambers were overflowing, with people crowding the lobby and the sidewalk outside. All because of something that wasn’t on the agenda: the use of the city’s Tasman Drive soccer park on Levi’s Stadium game days.

The item that was on the March 25 agenda was the appropriation of $2 million of Land Sale Reserve funds for preparatory work on new youth sports complex, that has been in the works since last September, when the Council set building a new youth sports complex as one of its goals.

However, the sports complex agenda item made for an inflammatory lead to a series of Mercury News stories about a “turf war” between soccer parents and the 49ers, and whether the 49ers reneged on an offer made by 49ers CEO Jed York in a 2012 letter to build new soccer fields. And further, that the City was now on the hook for $2 million to build a new soccer park because the existing park would be unavailable on stadium game days.

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The facts are somewhat different.

Last September in a goal-setting session, the City Council established a new youth sports complex as a city priority. In October, the Council directed the Parks & Rec Director Jim Teixiera to conduct a feasibility study, which found significant need for additional sports fields, according to city spokesman Dan Beerman. The $2 million the Council approved last week was money that would be spent on the youth sports project, regardless of anything else.

Further, there are no plans to shut down the soccer park. The city continues to maintain that it will be open and accessible on game days, said Beerman. The Nov. 13, 2913 Stadium Transportation plan required that “safe and efficient” access to the park be maintained on game days, and specifies traffic re-routing to the park during stadium events.

“In the transportation and operations plans it specifically speaks about making sure that access to that facility is maintained, and that is going forward,” said 49ers VP of Stadium Operations Jim Mercurio at Tuesday’s meeting. The details of the plan will be coming to the Council in April, according to Asst. City Manager Alan Kuratori.

However, the Council Tuesday night didn’t seem to be on the same page with City staff, and several appeared to have concluded that the soccer park couldn’t really be available on game days, regardless of how many plans were mapped out.

Discussions of Soccer Park Game Day Alternatives Started in 2010

There was concern from the outset of the stadium proposal that events in the 68,000-seat facility would adversely affect the soccer park’s usability.

“During the stadium campaign, naturally the soccer community was concerned,” said Council Member Lisa Gillmor at Tuesday’s meeting. “We were assured by the 49ers that the soccer park would remain open on game days. However, the 49ers went one step further and offered the soccer community to underwrite three [additional] soccer fields – I know because I was there…working with the 49ers.”

Discussions began in late 2010 as part of a proposal to use the existing stalls in the Tasman Youth Soccer Park for stadium parking, said Executive VP of Development Larry MacNeil, in a March 10, 2014 letter to the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League. The 49ers’ plan was to use its own field employees to refurbish the district’s fields and the team would spend $200,000 to $300,000 to do it, MacNeil told the Bay City Newswire in an interview last week.

This was also stated by Council Member Patricia Mahan – who was Mayor in 2010 – at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The 49ers did offer to the school district to build three youth soccer fields that would be located on shared facilities between the school, or on school district property, or shared park school district property with the city, to be used as soccer fields on game days… in exchange for being able to use the existing parking spaces on our youth soccer park,” she said. “And that offer was made to the school district because it was thought to be sited on their properties.”

In January, 2012 York wrote to the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League Executive Board to “address some questions we’ve received” and that he understood “there was a concern that Sunday NFL game day traffic will make trips to the park more complicated.”

“To demonstrate our commitment to our community’s young soccer players and their families, we are proposing that the 49ers underwrite several regulation-sized additional soccer fields in Santa Clara. These fields would be dedicated and maintained for use of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League during NFL game days.”

Soccer Fields Become Collateral Damage in RDA Shutdown

However, the year York wrote the now-famous letter was also the year that the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies began with the formation of “successor agency oversight boards” whose job was establishing the legitimate obligations of the shuttered RDAs and what tax revenue and assets were available for distribution among county taxing entities – which include school districts, which get 40 percent of all ordinary property tax.

However, the majority on these boards, including Santa Clara’s, represented the same taxing entities that would get any money left over from paying the former RDA’s obligations – in other words, the fox was watching the hen house. In June 2012, the Santa Clara Oversight board voted to “renege” on Santa Clara’s commitment of $30 million in RDA money to the stadium construction project.

The 49ers sued, and the Sacramento Superior Court ruled that the $30 million was a legal obligation of the shuttered agency, and the 49ers had to be paid. (SCUSD voluntarily entered, and remains a party to, a county lawsuit against the Santa Clara over other RDA assets and obligations).

Needless to say, any discussions with SCUSD ended with the litigation. And that’s where things sat for almost two years until the SCYSL wrote to York in February, asking about the 49ers plans for alternate fields. But no alternate fields were in the pipeline MacNeil informed the SCYSL in a March 10 letter.

“The problem here is that Matt Heintz [SCYSL President] was not advised, and was understandably upset,” MacNeil told the Bay City Newswire. “That’s just my fault. I should have called Matt.”

Soccer Community Now Feels “Left in the Lurch”

However, the bottom line now for the SCYSL and many of the stadium’s staunchest supporters – including former Council Member Kevin Moore and PAL President Roseann LaCoursiere – is their belief that the 49ers made a promise, implied or otherwise, that the team isn’t keeping. And that it’s incumbent on the 49ers to remedy it.

“If the 49ers made a promise, and it’s in writing and it’s well known,” said Gillmor. “They should do the right thing. The soccer community counted on the 49ers underwriting those three parks. The soccer community is now left in the lurch and the first event time is Aug. 2 and there’s a soccer game. Had we known about that a year ago, we could have gotten those fields online ourselves.

“I’m hoping that we’ll work with the 49ers,” she continued, but also added to the $2 million appropriation motion a directive to city staff to identify additional fields, expedite refurbishing, and create an ad-hoc committee of stakeholders to ensure full communication about any action. It passed unanimously.

“I guarantee that we’ll move forward quickly,” said Mayor Jamie Matthews.

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