Reprint from the San Jose Mercury News 4/3/2015
Recently, the San Francisco 49ers created a smoking area next to the Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park just across the street from Levi's Stadium. People joked that they were trying to smoke out the kids to make room for VIP game-day parking.
It may be true. It's also a metaphor for the 49ers relationship with the city of Santa Clara. The team feels their interests are paramount. Thus, the 49ers can ignore the needs of youth soccer in particular and the city residents in general, despite what we thought was a commitment. By literally smoking people out, they'll get their way. Our mayor and some councilmembers are allowing the 49ers to do this, abdicating their civic duty.To understand Santa Clara's new political dynamic, some history is required.The Soccer Park built in 2005 is one of the premier youth soccer facilities in Northern California. More than 2,500 youth of all levels use the three fields, with teams visiting from throughout the state and Western region for games, particularly on weekends.
In 2010, during the successful stadium campaign, the 49ers promised to be a good neighbor. Most of us supported the campaign, believing in the stadium's potential and the team's promises.
Then, in a letter dated Jan. 10, 2012, 49ers CEO Jed York acknowledged the soccer park would have difficulty operating on football game days. "To demonstrate our commitment to our community's young soccer players and their families," he wrote, "we are proposing that the 49ers underwrite several regulation-sized additional soccer fields in Santa Clara. These additional fields would be dedicated and maintained for the use of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League during NFL game days."
York has reneged on that commitment. The 49ers now say they have no intention of building soccer fields. In fact, team officials told us last month that they propose to park not just in our parking lot but right on our fields. Further, they wish to shut us down for both NFL games and special events, approximately 40 weekends a year, 80 percent of our weekend schedule. For destroying our season, they would pay a nominal fee. We rejected their offer.
Now, we believe the 49ers will use their political relationships with the city council to push through their proposal.
Just last year, they contributed substantially to the elections of Mayor Jamie Matthews and Councilmen Dominic Caserta and Pat Kolstad. To date, none of these elected officials has called for the 49ers to keep their commitments to the youth soccer community.
Because of the City Council's reluctance, the community feels the pressure to find solutions. Proposals have been made to build soccer fields at the Ulistac Natural Area, eliminating open space in our city, or to use parts of Central Park, threatening softball facilities. None of these potentially destructive proposals would be necessary if the 49ers had kept their commitment.
Now, it's clear that we cannot count on the 49ers to do the right thing for Santa Clara. Nor can we rely on elected officials, who are persuaded by a professional football team or influenced by campaign contributions.
So, we've started a coalition of concerned citizens called Stand Up for Santa Clara (www.standupforsantaclara.com). Our goal is for Santa Clara to be managed by an honest, transparent, and trustworthy city government, not an NFL franchise.
Together, we can hold the 49ers accountable for actions and promises, and keep elected officials from bowing to team pressure. We need to prevent Santa Clara and its soccer park from being smoked out and overrun.
Written by: Tino Silva is president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, and Steve Robertson is vice president. Vicki Field is a Santa Clara community activist. They wrote this for this newspaper.