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49ers stadium idea to develop park angers wide array of Santa Cl

Posted September 23, 2013

SANTA CLARA -- The surprising revelation that the San Francisco 49ers are about 5,000 parking spaces short at the team's new stadium has rapidly set off a chain of events that has everyone from soccer coaches and golfers to Boy Scout troops and Native Americans fighting mad. Hundreds of local residents fear the team will pave over the Youth Soccer Park next to Levi's Stadium to appease fans who need parking spots. And now the city has proposed moving the soccer fields, its parking lot and buildings down the street to a park where butterfly lovers think their gardens will be destroyed, bird watchers suspect native habitats will be trampled and Ohlone Indians say an ancient burial ground could be unearthed. "Thereis outrage in the community," said retired Wilcox High School biology teacher Dennis Dowling, 71, who has spent decades with his students planting trees at the open space. "I gained 6 pounds, my blood pressure is up 10 points and I just have this achy feeling in my stomach." Santa Clara city leaders, however, are urging residents to "calm down." They say the fear stems from "propaganda" spreading through social media and that most of the greenery in the 40-acre Ulistac Natural Area would be preserved. The off-the-field drama kicked off when the 49ers and city officials quietly disclosed at a meeting last week that they still need 5,000 parking spaces to meet their goal of 21,000 spaces. The 49ers now hope to let about 6,000 cars park on the fairways of the city-owned golf course across the street from the stadium. It's a temporary fix, however, as that land is slated for a huge Santana Row-style development. Some stadium leaders are now eyeing the 11-acre Youth Soccer Park, which sits in the shadow of the $1.3 billion stadium. Santa Clara officials say the 49ers are interested in leasing the city-owned land for fans to park during game days and other events to help fund a new $10 million soccer park. One of the potential locations for the soccer park is Ulistac, a half-mile from the stadium. The park has wetlands, native California plants and is home to hundreds of birds and other animals. It's also a popular field trip spot for local teachers and is thought to lie atop an Ohlone burial ground. "It would essentially wreck the natural area," said college instructor Christopher Salander, who is leading the Save Ulistac group. Sally Brett, a Boy Scout leader in Santa Clara, said the soccer fields would "cut a hole right through the heart" of the area where her troops have grown plants for butterflies. "It doesn't matter if the city is planning a shelter for handicapped puppy dogs," said Brett, 53. "Anything that they put on open space land destroys it." However, City Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor says that soccer and the rest of the open space land would be a good fit. And she pooh-poohed opponents' presumptions that the park would be destroyed, noting that the latest city maps show that a wetlands area and the butterfly garden would remain intact. "I'm hoping they would have an open mind that this is an opportunity for more people to explore the park," said Gillmor, the only council member who returned calls requesting comment. Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews referred comment to city spokesman Dan Beerman, who urged residents to be patient as the plans are studied further in coming months. "People are probably freaking out over this, but this is not a done deal -- not even close," he said. The 49ers declined to address the controversy but released a statement that said it was important for the city to plan for more development and parking around the stadium. "The 49ers are committed to being constructive partners, both financially and logistically, in this process," the statement said. Although the stadium has been in the works for seven years, city officials say they are just now realizing the hustle-and-bustle of the new 49ers field means the soccer park must be moved regardless of parking needs. The city continues to study two other locations to house the soccer park: an area near the BMX track across from the stadium and the Montague Park & Swim Center. However, problems have sprung up with each of those sites. Two other potential sites, in and around Jenny Strand and Central parks, already have been ruled out. "Ulistac would be perfect," said Matt Heintz, president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League. But he understands the opposition and is open to the BMX site. For now, the 49ers envision fans initially will park and tailgate on the Santa Clara Golf Course across Tasman Drive. The 49ers would pay to bring the course "up to par" for vehicles, with parking fees reimbursing golf course owners for repairs to fairways and lost revenue from shutting down the course. The Save Ulistac group plans to lobby public officials and hold protests. Charlene Sul, chairwoman of the Confederation of Ohlone People, which advocates for the inhabitants of the land from centuries ago, said: "There will be an awakening." Omkar Savant, 16, who built a bridge over a creek at Ulistac as an Eagle Scout project, said: "The 49ers and the city have to at some point start thinking about the legacy of the city. Do they want to be the ones to cover up one of the last remaining open lands?"