Here is a link to my Thursday column which explains how the 49ers let down youth soccer players in Santa Clara. The full column runs below:
The San Francisco 49ers are a good football team, but they are a bad neighbor.
Just ask the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League. Just ask the kids. The 49ers dumped the kids and then dumped on them.
You need to visualize this. As you drive over to Levi’s Stadium where the 49ers will play their games next season, you come to a corner, a lovely corner abutting the 49ers’ headquarters and new stadium. On this corner is the Youth Soccer Park, a state-of-the-art beauty with three fields and plenty of parking. Kids have been playing there for years.
The soccer league was a big booster for the Niners’ new stadium. The Niners courted the soccer league. The Niners were nice to the soccer league. At the time, it seemed the Niners were being a good neighbor. The Niners pledged to create alternate soccer fields because traffic on 49ers’ game days would make it awkward for soccer kids to play their games.
The Niners have reneged on their commitment for alternate fields. I’ll get back to that in a moment. I’ll say this for now. It sure seems the 49ers needed votes of soccer parents for their stadium initiative to go through, but they didn’t really care about being good neighbors once they got their stadium.
As part of the good-neighbor policy, Jed York himself wrote a letter in 2012 to Matt Heintz, president of the 1,500-member league, saying the 49ers understood there would be thousands of fans driving and parking and milling near the soccer fields on Sundays when the soccer league plays lots of games. The Niners would be happy to fund replacement fields.
Here is Jed in 2012: “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 the use of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League during NFL game days.”
That’s a wonderful letter, full of the right kind of feeling. Reading it you just want to pinch Jed’s young cheeks and give him an “atta boy.” Jed signed off the letter with this admirable sentiment: “We have been part of the Santa Clara community for 22 years and we are committed to remaining a good neighbor to the soccer community.”
The story should have ended there with everyone content.
It didn’t end there. A few weeks ago — and out of the blue — the 49ers told the soccer league they have no intention of providing replacement fields. It was quite a shock to the soccer league considering the soccer season looms.
“None of us knew talks broke off,” Heintz, the league president, told me over the phone on Wednesday. “We asked the 49ers and they said talks broke off two years ago.”
What a surprise.
Heintz wrote to the 49ers asking what’s up. Only this time Jed didn’t write back to him. An underling, the Executive Vice President of Development, wrote the kiss-off letter.
This vice president said the project was abandoned two years ago. “Although we made good progress on this concept, it was abandoned in 2012 after evaluating the viability of a long-term agreement.”
What a surprise.
Oh, the 49ers offered one possible concession. Get this. “We are still open to this concept,” the vice president wrote to Heintz, “if you are interested in pursuing this in connection with a stadium parking arrangement.”
Parking arrangement? What does that mean?
It means the Niners might fund alternate fields for the children if the children give up 140 parking spaces at their soccer field on 49ers’ Sundays on that lovely corner in Santa Clara right near the new stadium.
Heintz wrote back to the vice president: “This feels like we are being held to ransom, in which we are to agree to cede 140 parking stalls to the 49ers in exchange for your organization to revisit being open to the concept of alternate game day soccer fields.”
Can you say “bullying?”
On Tuesday night, the Santa Clara City Council voted to come up with $2 million to identify replacement fields.
It will cost more to build the fields.
This is $2 million of taxpayer money, money the 49ers should put up. They have the money. They made the promise.
“We need to hold the 49ers to their agreement to provide replacement fields,” Heintz told me. “They’re saying, ‘It was just a proposal that got shot down. We’re done. We think you can play on game days. There’s enough access. Be happy there. You have no problem.’
“They’re not even thinking about us. They said they can provide us a different access road. There’s still going to be all this game-day traffic. You’ve got soccer teams coming from everywhere — Salinas, Santa Rosa. Hopefully the referees can get to the game.”
Where does the soccer league stand now?
“I can’t believe the city will be able to do anything in four months,” Heintz said. “We’ll probably have to rent fields and move as many games as possible off those game days. We don’t know how that’s going to happen. There are no other fields at that level of quality. We’d get complaints from other teams. We have one other field that’s quality. We’ll try to rent at Santa Clara University. In the city of Santa Clara there’s pretty much nothing we can use.”
Does Heintz feel used?
“Kind of. We figured all along they’d buy the soccer park and build us a new complex. We assumed it would happen. We knew four years ago they would want it. Just buy the thing and build us something somewhere else. They could have done it four years ago. We’re supposed to be partners with them but lots of crappy things are going on.”
At Tuesday night’s council meeting Heintz said this: “If Jed York were here right now, I would say to him, ‘Look around at all these faces and decide if you want to hide behind your lawyers and turn your back on all these kids, or will you stand up like a man and do what is right?’”
Your move, Jed.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn.pressdemocrat.com.