Note to storywriters: David does not always beat Goliath. In fact, he usually doesn’t. One youth soccer league in Northern California is now learning that the very hard way.
As reported in far more detail by the San Jose Mercury News, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joseph H. Huber declined to block the city of Santa Clara from handing over an 11-acre parcel of land adjacent to Levi’s Stadium to the 49ers and the NFL with a temporary restraining order. Huber denied the order once last week and then again Tuesday after the NFL was added as a defendant.
Next up is a hearing Monday where the judge will consider a long-term injunction to prevent the acquisition of the soccer league’s land, which is publicly owned. The league had sought the temporary restraining order to prevent the NFL for beginning to work on the fields until Monday’s hearing.
The NFL plans to use the fields for the Super Bowl 50 media center, with the 49ers hoping to purchase the fields and convert them into additional parking lots thereafter. The transition to the media center will involve a lot of digging into the pristine fields. According to the Mercury News, sprinkler heads were removed Monday and two of the fields had a plastic covering over them.
The crux of the league’s case against the 49ers and the NFL is simple: the city of Santa Clara reportedly violated established procedure by granting the use of the fields from Jan. 4 to March 2 to the 49ers and NFL without opening the decision up to a civic hearing. In its corner, the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League has the city’s former mayor, who was in office when the use permit was issued in 2011, confirming that the city specifically issued the permit was the express intent of minimizing any conflict for the NFL’s desired outcome.
“We wanted to ensure that land would be used only for that purpose,” former Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan told the Mercury News. “We didn’t want it to be used by professional teams. Any major change, even if it was temporary, warranted a public discussion.”
In its defense, the NFL has ensured that the fields will be replaced with brand new field surfaces as soon as the game is completed, at no cost to the youth league or the city of Santa Clara. Yet if the soccer league’s injunction is eventually upheld, the NFL has asked it to put forward a $25 million bond to ensure the league is able to find another site for its media center, an astronomical fee to ask of a youth sports organization.
The entire episode is a sordid undertaking that exposes the NFL at its worst, and its most bureaucratically effective, all at once. Of course, that isn’t likely to bring any additional peace of mind to the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League, which will watch the Super Bowl with a particular eye not on the field, but the buildings on its own fields that lie just beyond.