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Interview: San Jose Earthquakes’ President on Concerns About New Soccer Stadium

| February 22, 2012
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The agenda for the San Jose Planning Commission meeting tonight includes the proposal for a soccer stadium put forward by the San Jose Earthquakes.  If this sounds familiar, it should; the Planning Commission approved the project in December of last year.  But members of the Newhall Neighborhood Association filed an appeal (pdf), and so the issue comes up again tonight.

The stadium would seat about 18,000 on a site very closem to Mineta International Airport. The neighbors’ appeal cites concerns about how future disputes would be handled, intense stadium lighting, and especially noise — public address systems, music, post-game fireworks, and something soccer is known for around the world — loud crowds.  Earthquakes’ president Dave Kaval says the team is sensitive to those issues and especially to that bane of the 2010 World Cup, the vuvuzuela.

We feel that we have a plan that mitigates that, both in the way we’ve designed the stadium and the way we have restrictions on not bringing vuvuzuelas and some other kinds of noisemakers.  At our current stadium, Buck Shaw, we actually ban vuvuzuelas, air horns, whistles, things that can take away from the ambience of the venue. But we do allow some drums for specific supporters’ groups.

Kaval stressed that the Quakes respect the process that allows community input at this point.  But he said neighbors should keep the history of the area in mind.

Previously the site was used to build M-2 Bradley armored personnel carriers.  We did the demolition work on the old factory last year.  So if you consider what it was, a tank factory, and now it’s going to be a professional sports venue, that’s a pretty big change.  It’s gentrification of an area that had been blighted and unused, which is a real positive for the community.

I asked him what happens to the land if the Quakes don’t succeed in putting a stadium there.

The reality is maybe nothing would get built here.  Maybe it would just lie empty for a  long time.  We have the option to develop the whole property, so in the long term this would include the stadium on 14 acres, our practice facility, and four lighted and turfed public soccer fields.  And we have it zoned for a hotel and commercial real estate.  It’s going to be a great gateway into San Jose for all the people arriving at the airport.

Kaval came to the Earthquakes in the fall of 2010 after founding independent baseball’s California Golden League.  But soccer has always been a passion for him.

I’ve lived here since the early 1990’s.  I went to games when the team was the San Jose Clash, and to the earlier version of the Quakes before the team left for Houston.  The Earthquakes originally go back to 1974, when the team started playing in the North American Soccer League in San Jose.  It was the first pro sports team in Silicon Valley. For a lot of people who were here at the time, it really helped put the community on the map, and created a lot of camaraderie and civic pride. 

And Kaval thinks a new stadium that would belong to the Quakes, instead of the rented college facilities the team has had up to now, would bring a whole new fan base with it.

Similar to when the Sharks got here.  Who knew about hockey before we got a hockey team here?  And it’s been wildly successful.  Well, people already know about soccer.  It’s the perfect sport for this international, diverse community of the Silicon Valley.  People come here from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and for many of them their number one sport is soccer.

If the Planning Commission gives the green light, construction could start later this year and the Quakes could kick off by the end of 2013.  No city money is involved, says Kaval; the team is providing all the funding.  The Quakes share ownership with the Oakland A’s, who might have a new San Jose stadium of their own if Major League Baseball allows them to move south.  Kaval says links between the two stadium proposals have been overblown.

We’re really run as our own entity.  This process is really a stand-alone process.  Since our ownership is basically the same as the A’s, any learning from this, best practices, and how to work with communities, can be helpful to them.  But they’re not linked in the way that some people might assume.  The financing is completely separate, and obviously it’s a different sport, different league, different location.

The hearing’s at San Jose City Hall at 6:30 PM and will be streamed online. We’ll have more on this story Thursday morning on KQED News.

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