The Great Stadium Debate: Should the 49ers Move to Santa Clara?

Patrick Goulding IIAnalyst IMarch 3, 2010

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees made national headlines this past year with the grand openings of their glistening billion-dollar-plus stadiums.

While many were quick to criticize the opulence of these sports shrines, a controversy of a different sort has been brewing for some time surrounding a stadium that has yet to be built, or even approved, in Northern California...well, sort of.

If you want to get technical, one of the last acts of the great Eddie DeBartolo Jr. as the owner and president of the San Francisco 49ers was to help push through a San Francisco city bill granting the team $100 million with which to develop a state of the art stadium and entertainment complex at Candlestick Point (adjacent to the current location of Candlestick Park).

Months later, it was revealed that Eddie D had been involved with an illegal riverboat gambling scheme in Louisiana, a debacle which would eventually cost him control of his beloved 49ers for good and has since kept him out of the NFL (with the exceptions of his presentation of Fred Dean at the 2008 Hall of Fame Inductions and his upcoming presentation of Jerry Rice in place of the late, great Bill Walsh this August).

Without Eddie D’s persistence, the initiative quickly lost steam and got bogged down in local politics.

That was in 1998. More than a decade later, the 49ers have made few concrete strides toward a resolution. 

In the fall of 2009, the city council of Santa Clara—a suburb of San Jose, some 40-plus miles southeast of downtown San Francisco and home to the 49ers’ headquarters and training facility since 1987—approved an offer package for construction of a $927 million stadium.

The stadium would be eco-friendly, easily accessible by an existing strong public transit infrastructure, and expandable in the hopes of luring prestigious events like the FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl.

This city council approval was a major windfall for the franchise’s long-standing hopes of getting a new stadium, but the final construction go-ahead will be left up to a public vote this June by the residents of the city of Santa Clara. This vote will be the last major obstacle after years of heated debate as to whether the team should even be allowed to move so far from the city they represent.

Former San Francisco mayor and current U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and current San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom have both come out in staunch opposition of the move since the 49ers announced their intentions in 2006. Senator Feinstein went so far as to propose legislation that would complicate or block the move and used an appearance at Bill Walsh’s memorial service in 2007 to further preach her position.

Many people share the view that the 49ers should not be allowed to play in Santa Clara as the San Francisco 49ers, but the facts are simple: The 49ers deserve a new stadium, and Santa Clara is their best realistic option.

The 49ers’ credentials for a new stadium need little elaboration. Until January 2009, they had a very legitimate claim as the greatest Super Bowl franchise in NFL history, being tied with Pittsburgh and Dallas with five Lombardi Trophies, but also being the only team of the three to be undefeated in Super Bowl competition.

They boast 13 Hall of Fame inductees (a number set to grow this August) and were the model franchise of the NFL throughout the 1980s. They are also the only team with back-to-back first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Perhaps it was a blessing that the Candlestick stadium initiative fell through in 1998, since it is unlikely a new stadium would have worked there.

As anyone who has attended a game at Candlestick Park can attest, the location is less than optimal at best. Traffic flow in and out can range from congested to outright gridlock, and the surrounding area is hardly comprised of the economic make-up that could support a high-end stadium and entertainment complex, as was initially proposed.

San Francisco is sparse when it comes to other viable locations. When the Giants claimed China Basin in 2000, few, if any pieces of property remained that could viably be developed for such a purpose.

A stadium on Treasure Island would only add to the congestion on the world’s busiest bridge, and a redevelopment of the team’s original home at historic Kezar Stadium would displace local high schools and cause a traffic and parking nightmare on the southern fringe of Golden Gate Park.

Unless the National Parks Service is willing to cede control of Alcatraz Island, or the city gives up Golden Gate Park’s Equestrian Stadium, keeping the team within the city limits seems impossible.

The rest of the peninsula is not exactly overflowing with options either, and the East Bay is the territory of the hated rival Oakland Raiders. Suddenly, Santa Clara starts to look pretty reasonable. And why should it be so wrong?

True, the proposed site is some 43 miles from downtown San Francisco, farther than the new Cowboys Stadium from downtown Dallas, and farther even than the home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from downtown LA. But the Bay Area is much more integrated than most metropolitan regions, and the 49ers have long enjoyed a broad market of fans.

True, fans may also remember the relationship that the team has shared with Stanford University in Palo Alto, playing a regular season home game there in 1989 after the Loma Prieta earthquake and of course winning Super Bowl XIX in that same venue. Is it really any different than the Dallas Cowboys playing home games in Arlington or the New York Jets playing home games in East Rutherford, New Jersey?

The greater Bay Area stands to gain immensely from the $927 million construction project, and current team president Jed York has mentioned—or threatened—that if the Santa Clara vote fails, he would explore moving the team to Alameda to share a stadium with the Raiders. Given such a ludicrous alternative, any true 49er fan would be crazy not to support this move.

So if you live in Santa Clara, vote YES on the stadium in June. If not, keep the faith. Go Forty-Niners!