Santa Clara is eyeing the soccer field parking lot adjacent to Levi’s Stadium as a way to earn extra city revenue from stadium events when it’s not in use. Whether that’s feasible or not depends on a voter-approved law limiting how the city can use parks and open space.
At a Santa Clara City Council meeting earlier this month, Councilmember Suds Jain proposed city staff examine the legality, costs and benefits of using the city-owned Santa Clara Youth Soccer Park’s parking lot when it’s not in use for events at the stadium. There are about 133 parking spaces, which at $50 a spot could garner the city $3,325 per event after factoring in operation costs, Jain said. With an average of 20 events at the stadium per year, that could be an extra $66,500 of revenue for a city facing serious budget issues.
“That could go to the arts community,” Jain said. “It could go to soccer. We could give scholarships to the soccer kids.”
The new conversation around using the soccer park’s lot raises the specter of a massive fight that ensued just a few years ago. The San Francisco 49ers in 2015 tried to purchase or lease the 11-acre park for $15 million for 40 years with plans of turning it into VIP parking on game days. The team’s owners offered $3 million to buy three new soccer fields elsewhere. The youth soccer community fought back, igniting a lengthy public battle that pitted the NFL team against soccer families, with the families winning out.
Then in 2015, the Santa Clara youth soccer league filed a lawsuit to prevent the city of Santa Clara from turning the fields over to the NFL to construct a media village for Super Bowl 50. The league was unsuccessful in the litigation. There has been palpable tension between the city and the franchise for years, with a lot of that tension revolving around Levi’s Stadium. The Santa Clara City Council has taken steps to limit the team’s ability to operate the stadium. The team has in turn sued the city.
Opponents of Jain’s proposal said they fear the team is once again trying to take over the soccer park.
The parking lot is currently free to use, but is reserved for people using the soccer park. People attending stadium events cannot use the parking lot and Jain said it sits empty except for the times when there is a soccer event.
City officials need to review whether the proposal adheres to Measure R. The law prevents the city from selling, leasing or changing the use of city-owned parks without two-thirds voter approval. The measure overwhelmingly passed in 2016 by 89.6% in part as a response to an attempt by the San Francisco 49ers football team to buy the soccer park in 2015.
Five members of the City Council voted in support of studying the proposal and putting the topic on a future agenda. Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe voted against it after more than a dozen residents voiced their opposition to the idea.
“This is a soccer park,” Gillmor said. “It’s a youth facility. I think that this is a clear violation of Measure R. We hope to protect the soccer park from the VIP parking in the spaces or on the field because that’s the ultimate goal.”
The proposal has a chance of moving forward now that Gillmor, a vocal opponent of the 49ers, has lost her council majority. Some residents claimed the five members in support of the proposal were doing the bidding of the 49ers, referring to them as “the 49er Five.” A few commenters said the proposal hearkens back to 2015 when the team tried to buy the 10.8-acre soccer park for $15 million, which Jain said is a fraction of its worth.
Gabe Foo, a former board member of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League who opposed the purchase in 2015, told the council the 49ers have not worked in good faith with the city. Foo said opening up the parking lot could be the first step in letting the team take over the property.
“When they rented the soccer park for the Super Bowl, they parked the cars on the lot and on the soccer fields and destroyed the fields,” Foo said. “We know that is the intent.”
Team officials at the time promised to replace the fields with new grass.
Jain said he was among the people who opposed the 49ers’ purchase of the property years ago, but said the team doesn’t have anything to do with this proposal now. Jain suggested using a parking management company to avoid the 49ers involvement.
“I’m just looking at trying to increase revenue for the city,” Jain said, “and this parking opportunity is another way to make revenue for the city.”
Contact Sonia Waraich at [email protected] or follow @soniawaraich on Twitter.