Santa Clara has a $19 million budget deficit and four years ago started charging market rates for community groups to use City facilities, yet the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League pays nothing to use Santa Clara’s highly-sought-after professional-grade soccer fields.
And some might say that amounts to a public subsidy for a private organization.
Santa Clara also charges nothing for exclusive use of soccer, football, baseball and softball fields. But the relative investment in resources for other sports doesn’t compare with that of soccer fields, as a visit to the dilapidated Washington Park baseball field will attest.
Unlike fee policies that apply to residents and other City-based nonprofits — community room ($47/hr.), Youth Activity Center gym ($200/hr.), a picnic table ($53/day), Community Recreation Center theater ($244/hr.), or a public pool ($280/hr.) — Santa Clara charges the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League nothing to use its high-quality soccer fields, even for the competitions that parents pay for their children to be in.
By contrast, the exclusive user of Santa Clara’s BMX track, PAL, leases the property from the City — admittedly, at a rate well below its value — and the track’s revenues, $250,000, pay for its maintenance and operations.
Santa Clara Alone in Giving Freebies
Sunnyvale charges $8/hr. for community nonprofits to use its sports fields. Between 2019 and 2021 Sunnyvale earned $46,000 from field rentals to Alliance Youth Soccer, a nonprofit youth league similar to SCYSL.
San Jose has a fee for using public sports fields, $40, plus hourly charges based on the kind of field: standard youth, seniors or disabled fees are $4/hr., a high use competitive field costs $25/hr., and premiere synthetic turf is $15-$60/hr.
Mountain View charges resident youth from $8 to $18 an hour for field use depending on the field type.
Santa Clara has 11 City-maintained soccer fields, and they are among the best and newest sports fields in Santa Clara. Baseball has 3 fields while football and softball each have 4 fields. Other sports have no dedicated parks, while soccer has one dedicated park and another that might as well be.
The Reed and Grant Park is the Reed and Grant Sports Park — it was originally conceived as a “sports park” — the sport predominantly played there is soccer.
In 2018, when it was under construction, it was called the Reed and Grant Soccer Park in the CIP budget, and that is what SCYSL called it. During its development, additional soccer fields were added to the design in 2017 at the tune of $1.8 million. As a further indication of the priorities for the park, SCYSL kicked the first ball played in the park.
Soccer League Gets the Lions Share
SCYSL accounts for about 94% of the use of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park over the last three years — 658 out of 701 uses. Over that time PAL used the fields 40 times and North Valley Baptist school 5 times. Over the same period, the soccer league used the Reed and Grant park 969 times (45%). Santa Clara’s own recreation programs used the park 861 times (40%). Outside groups used the fields 15% of the time.
In other words, the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League has had exclusive use of 57% of the City’s available soccer fields over the last three years.
The Reed and Grant park, however, produces revenue for Santa Clara. The 15% of outside group use has put $51,475 in City coffers since the park opened in 2021.
City Won’t Say What Free Fields Cost to Maintain
The City told The Weekly that it doesn’t separate soccer field maintenance from that of other Parks & Recreation facilities. To maintain the grounds of City parks, although it reports that $747,000 is spent on City-owned cemetery grounds maintenance.
Maintaining professional-grade soccer fields like Santa Clara’s isn’t negligible. In 2016 the University of Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute found that the annual labor cost to maintain artificial turf fields was between $8,100 and $49,000, while the annual maintenance for grass fields was $13,700 to $39,000. Using these numbers, it would cost Santa Clara between $163,800 and $779,000 to maintain five turf fields and six grass fields.
Adjusting those 2016 numbers for inflation, the costs grow to $197,300 and $938,400.
Mountain View, which makes five years of financials transparent down to the maintenance cost of every park in that city, reports spending roughly $200,000 in maintenance for its Graham Athletic fields (softball, soccer and basketball). That represents about 3% of Mountain View’s $7.4 million parks maintenance budget.
Applying the same percentage to Santa Clara’s $9 million parks maintenance budget yields $270,000 for a similar sports facility such as the Youth Soccer Park. That adds up to millions spent over the years on one park that’s used virtually exclusively by one private organization. (If City Hall disputes our estimates, we welcome their help in providing precise numbers.)
Soccer Capital Investment Dwarfs All Other Parks Construction
Between 2014 and 2019, 63%—$33.2 million—of $52.7 million in Parks and Recreation capital spending was on four soccer fields, including $28 million on the Reed and Grant park.
While soccer’s percentage of the Parks capital project budget was almost the same in 2017-18 — 58%—as it was in 2014-15, the dollars dedicated to soccer fields grew almost 700% to $13.3 million between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Between 2015 and 2018, 68% of the capital budget went to soccer fields.
In August, the Council plans to discuss an even sweeter deal for the SCYSL, according to the tentative agenda plan (TMAC). In addition to leasing the soccer park parking lot to the league and letting them raise money from parking — obviously from Levi’s Stadium events — the Council will also talk about “prioritizing” additional City staff for soccer park scheduling.
Manipulating Santa Clara Politics the SCYSL Way
With tens of millions in what amounts to a subsidy at stake, it’s unsurprising that the league has morphed into a political entity.
Burt Field, SCYSL’s field scheduler, sits on the Parks and Recreation Commission. A former commissioner, Tino Silva, was also a regular on the SCYSL’s board. Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s husband, Demetri Cacoyannis, is a league board member and coach. *
In early 2016 the soccer league sued Santa Clara to prevent use of the park for media during Super Bowl 50, even though it was specifically included in the City’s bid offer and approved by the City Council, including Gillmor.
One of the grounds for this lawsuit was SCYSL VP Steve Robertson’s son would be handicapped in his pursuit of a college scholarship if he couldn’t practice at the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park for three months. The judge dismissed the case, but it still consumed time and money from Santa Clara’s City Attorney’s office.
Since then, the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League has operated a political-party-in-all-but-name in the form of the unregistered committee Stand Up For Santa Clara, which describes itself as “Born out of the Fight to Save the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park.” Soccer league officials Burt Field, Tino Silva and Steve Robertson formed the committee and don’t hide their interlocking boards of directors and common political activities.
The costly now-six-year-old war between the City and the 49ers was started when, in Stand Up’s own words “Leadership from the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League organized a civil protest,” that descended on City Hall in 2015 to protest a dead-on-arrival proposal for soccer field parking and what they claimed was the 49ers reneging on a promise to build a new soccer park.
2019 City Fee Policy Decrees Hefty Fees for All Other Community Groups
No one else in the City enjoys the subsidies that the soccer league gets — even nonprofits whose reason-for-being is raising money to support Santa Clara services, whose membership is largely City residents and that benefit more of the community.
In 2019, the City imposed a policy — without public hearing or announcement — that Santa Clara nonprofit groups must pay the same fees to use community facilities as private groups — even if those nonprofits raise money for Santa Clara services. Yet, a private group that serves its own participants exclusively uses public facilities at no cost.
Allowing community groups to use the public spaces for free or a nominal fee — as they had from time immemorial — was “a gift of public funds,” now-dismissed City Manager Deanna Santana said at the time. At the time, former Mayor and City Council Member Patricia Mahan said, “It’s not a gift of public funds if it’s the public using the facilities that they have already paid for.”
In the place of the customary practice, the Council approved a community grant system that allowed these groups to apply for up to $10,000 to be applied to these fees. Grants are under the discretion of the City Manager and require a lengthy application process.
For example, under the new system the annual Historic Home Tour — which has raised over $500,000 for the Santa Clara Senior Center — was asked for $3,200 to use the Senior Center for its volunteers’ thank-you dinner. The Tour took their dinner and their donations elsewhere.
The 35-year-old *Santa Clara Showtime — which has also raised about $500,000 for senior health services — was asked to pay about $16,000 to use the Community Recreation Center for its annual weekend of inexpensive entertainment. This is more than it would cost to put the show on in Sunnyvale. In the end, the City-sponsored Showtime, but not before its producer, Santa Clara Women’s League, threatened to cancel the show.
Santana pointed out to the Council that they approved the fee schedule and could change it any time or add a ‘no fee’ category. But that Council wasn’t interested in taking any action that would put all community-benefitting groups on an equal footing with the SCYSL. It remains to be seen if the current Council will.
*Some have raised questions about conflict of interest. Gillmor reports no income from Cacoyannis’ soccer league work, so technically it’s not a conflict of interest. Gillmor was also instrumental in getting the soccer park built during her time on the Parks and Rec Commission.
Sources: SantaClaraCa.gov, City budgets 2014-15 through 2021-22, Sunnyvale.ca.gov, sanjose.ca.gov, mountainview.opengov.com.
*Carolyn Schuk has been a volunteer for Showtime.