Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | As the Santa Ana mayor and three City Council members confirm talks about bringing the pro soccer team Chivas USA to Santa Ana Stadium, local school officials worry about what will happen to the high school and college teams that play at the stadium now.
The confirmation of the negotiations comes after rumors of the Los Angeles team's possible move spurred a meeting of residents and the formation of a coalition to fight it. The coalition — known as Santa Ana Save Our Stadium (Santa Ana SOS) — sent a letter to the City Council urging an end to the talks, citing impact to residents' quality of life.
City and team officials are exploring the possibility of the Chivas "B team" moving to Santa Ana Stadium, then the Chivas "A team" coming after the stadium is renovated and 5,000 seats are added, said Councilman Sal Tinajero.
Santa Ana Stadium would remain the team's home until another stadium is built on the 102-acre Willowick Golf Course, according to Tinajero.
Mayor Miguel Pulido says there have been discussions about relocating the soccer team but wouldn't confirm the preliminary plans as described by Tinajero.
"Unfortunately folks are believing there are secret documents or secret proposals," Pulido told reporters at a council meeting Monday night. "Discussions have been ongoing for three years. Other than that I have nothing to tell you."
Eight football teams — seven high school teams and one from Santa Ana College — play at the stadium, and school officials say they want to know whether their teams would be displaced by Chivas USA. One Santa Ana Unified School District trustee is upset that school officials have not been briefed on the situation.
"Nobody knows anything," said school board member John Palacio. "Other board members are equally concerned. This issue needs to be dealt with fairly quickly so we can get a handle on it."
News of the pro soccer team's possible move to the stadium uipset the school board, Palacio said, because without access to the stadium, the school district football teams' only alternative is to play at a field at Segerstrom High School, which under state law already has limitations on events because of environmental impacts.
The board has requested a presentation from interim City Manager Paul Walters, Palacio said. But Walters — who took over after longtime City Manager Dave Ream stepped down at the end of May — said Friday he hasn't been privy to the negotiations and knows little about them. Walters added that he hasn't received a presentation request from the school district.
The lack of communication is fueling anxiety about the possible move.
The stadium has been Santa Ana College's home field since the stadium opened in 1929, said Avie Bridges, who serves as both dean and athletic director at the college. Bridges said she has had no contact with city officials and first heard about the possibility of Chivas coming to town from a reporter.
"It would be a huge impact on our football program. We have been playing football there since before it was called Eddie West Field," Bridges said. "It would be very disappointing to our program."
Pulido took issue with the notion that the city doesn't communicate with the school district. "We talk to them all the time," Pulido said.
Tinajero said he's been told that the impact might not be as significant as some fear, because high school teams that have traditionally played their games at Santa Ana Stadium are increasingly playing games at Segerstrom High School.
Regarding neighborhood impact and the loss of the golf course, Tinajero said he understands that some residents would be opposed to the move, but when compared to the number of residents in favor, opponents will seem a small minority.
The opposition "would be outnumbered, in my opinion, nine to one," Tinajero said.
Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who also favors bringing the team to town, said the city would benefit from the increased tax revenue. Santa Ana's largely Latino population would provide a strong fan base for the team, she said.
Bringing the team to the city is also part of a larger council effort to raise the city's profile and make it a destination spot, Martinez said. She also doesn't want city leaders to miss another opportunity as she said they did when Santa Ana had a shot at the South Coast Plaza shopping mall, which ended up in Costa Mesa.
"Imagine if South Coast Plaza was in Santa Ana. What would Santa Ana look like today?" Martinez said. "We gotta think big."
Whether Chivas USA wants to move to the city remains uncertain. Councilman Vincent Sarmiento said the team is in talks with "a number of cities." Team officials did not return calls for comment.
In 2008, the city was negotiating with Chivas USA to bring youth fields to Willowick Golf Course, creating the possibility of the full team moving, the Los Angeles Times reported. Those plans never panned out.
As recently as late last year there was speculation that the team might be moving to San Diego. But the pro soccer team's former president and CEO, Shawn Hunter, declared that the team would be staying in Los Angeles, according to the Times.