Build it Now! The City of San Jose Planning Commission must clear last hurdle to San Jose Earthquakes proposed new stadium

Enough is enough. After a seemingly endless period of revisions and rewrites of the San Jose Earthquakes planned development permit, the City of San Jose Planning Commission needs to quickly and decisively rule against a neighborhood appeal that is the last roadblock separating Earthquakes supporters from a brand new soccer specific stadium. The Earthquakes franchise has worked in good faith — from almost the day it was announced they were returning to MLS — to bring a professional soccer venue to the South Bay. That the proposed new stadium will be located within city limits and act to generate new sources of revenue for San Jose is even more of a reason not to delay the project any further. The addition of a new facility for the Earthquakes will serve to heighten the standing of San Jose in the national sporting landscape and potentially bring international attention from fans worldwide of the beautiful game.

This evening, starting promptly at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at San Jose City Hall, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the fate of the appeal brought forth in early January to deny the Earthquakes their planned development permit. In a well chronicled sequence of meetings and events that have led to tonight’s meeting, ownership has patiently waited for and waded through decisions made on what the they could and could not include in their stadium proposal. Concessions have been made at every step of the way, and Earthquakes officials admit that it has been a trying ordeal. Perhaps more than any results made by the actual team on the field this season, whether the Earthquakes get the go ahead to design and build their proposed new stadium or not might just be the most important news for the franchise in 2012.

Lest people forgot, unlike the behemoth of a stadium that is being planned for nearby Santa Clara to house the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, the proposed soccer stadium will be paid for entirely by the Earthquakes organization. That ownership received a somewhat favorable deal on the purchase of the property on which the stadium will sit must be of little financial solace given the sums of money being thrown around by the City of Santa Clara and the NFL to attract the 49ers to the South Bay. The latest numbers released have the Earthquakes footing the entire $60+ million needed to erect their proposed 18,000 seat stadium, and unlike the Santa Clara project, include no costs to local citizens.

Opponents of the project, specifically a small group of local neighborhood activists, are convinced the planned use permit sought by the Earthquakes does not adequately take into account the increased noise and light pollution the completed stadium will have on their homes. They also argue that measures are not guaranteed in the permit to ensure their voices will be heard during construction and following the stadium’s completion. The appeal filers go so far as to warn other neighborhoods about the dangers of allowing the stadium to be built at all — a not so veiled attempt to connect the current process to what lies ahead when the Oakland A’s pursue a proposed downtown stadium in the near future. And despite the Earthquakes having made every good faith effort to compromise on the scope of the project with local neighbors, their not-in-my-backyard attitude prevails.

Arguments for the proposed new Earthquakes stadium seem to be compelling on all fronts in this battle to get the permit finalized. The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to approve the permit when their part was played in this ongoing saga, stating that the addition of a new facility in San Jose for sporting and entertainment events would increase local revenues for the financially struggling city. The prospect of creating numerous construction jobs in the initial phase of the project and ongoing operations jobs when the facility opens is also very enticing. The subsequent commercial development that is planned in the immediate vicinity of the stadium will also lead to more revenue for the city through business and property taxes as well as hotel fees.

Meanwhile, for a brand that was established in 1974 with the original Earthquakes of the NASL, the new Quakes still seem to be fighting an uphill battle to earn the recognition they deserve in the local community. Back in the early ‘90s, the City of San Jose made a big push to build an arena to house the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, and has since seen that team become a focal point for local sporting enthusiasts. Now, city leaders and planners need to stand up for another institution that will further build pride in their community. Soccer brings together all socioeconomic classes in terms of local participation and in appreciation for the beautiful game. A new Earthquakes stadium will provide the centerpiece for the rich tapestry that soccer weaves throughout San Jose.

A look at the agenda for tonight’s meeting shows that the Planning Commission staff report calls for the appeal to be denied and the Director’s decision last December to award the planned development permit upheld. No doubt the same persistent naysayers that have shared their discord on the project will plaintively state their case to the commission. However, legions of local business owners, sports and education professionals, even diehard Earthquakes fans will descend on the dais to have their stories of support heard. For the future of professional soccer in San Jose and all the benefit the Earthquakes organization brings to the community, the Planning Commission must recognize that the denying the appeal is the right thing to do.

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