Legislative Advocate Alice Kaufman wrote an op-ed featured in today’s Mercury News on our ongoing efforts to save Ulistac Natural Area in the city of Santa Clara. We hope that everyone will share this story and get the word out about this threat to important native habitat. The article is available here:
Ulistac in peril: Santa Clara still eyes environmental gem for soccer fields
By Alice Kaufman
Special to the Mercury News 5/2/14
The city of Santa Clara is frantically searching for soccer fields. With the new 49ers stadium set to open in August, it has decided that due to worries about traffic, the adjacent Youth Soccer Park needs to be supplemented with new sports fields as soon as possible. The heated question is, where should these new soccer fields go?
High on the list for City Council and staff is Ulistac Natural Area. This 40-acre park and native habitat area includes wetlands, oak grasslands and savannah, a bird and butterfly garden, and hiking trails that connect to the Guadalupe River Trail.
The result of thousands of hours of restoration work by hundreds of volunteers and schoolchildren, Ulistac is unique in being the last remaining significant example of native valley floor habitat, as well as an important Ohlone cultural site.
Placing soccer fields — likely made from artificial turf — right in the middle of Ulistac would harm the entire 40-acre habitat area, not just the acres of trees and plants that would be cut down and dug up for the sports fields.
Fragmenting native habitat destroys its value to wildlife, since animals in the wild do not confine themselves to an isolated acre here and there; they need continuous natural land in which to find food and shelter.
It seems, however, that the City Parks & Recreation Department does not care about preserving Ulistac — and that destroying the habitat may be a done deal.
A recent phone poll sponsored by the city referred to Ulistac as an “underutilized area” when asking residents where new soccer fields should be located, clearly sending the message that the city thinks Ulistac is of little or no value.
At the April Parks & Recreation Commission meeting, commissioner Tino Silva proposed voting immediately on moving the fields to Ulistac. Silva is a former president of the Santa Clara Youth Soccer League. The legal requirement to notify the public before the vote stopped the commission, but it could happen at the May 20 meeting.
A city with the resources of Santa Clara should be able to have both a beautiful, wild nature park and a state-of-the-art soccer park.
The only reason Ulistac is under threat now is the city’s conviction that new soccer fields must be found within the next three months because traffic will make the existing fields near the 49ers’ stadium unusable on game days. But the traffic situation at Ulistac will be little better. It’s just a few blocks from the stadium and will be severely affected by the traffic.
To wantonly destroy Ulistac would affect the quality of life of Santa Clara residents far more than having to wait a few months longer for additional soccer fields.
Youth sports are a fundamental part of a community, and there is no question that Santa Clara needs enough sports fields to accommodate the community’s needs. However, if the city chooses to turn Ulistac into a soccer field, there will be nothing like the preserve left in Santa Clara, or anywhere else in Silicon Valley. It is a literally irreplaceable park of inestimable value to both the community and the environment.
It would be irresponsible to destroy it in haste.
Alice Kaufman is Legislative Advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills and a former resident of Santa Clara. She wrote this for this newspaper.