Santa Clara school board member campaigns against football stadium

Christine Koltermann, a Santa Clara Unified School District board member, is campaigning against the 49ers new stadium, seeing it as a costly, environmental hazard that will lower property values.
Christine Koltermann decided to fight the 49ers stadium proposal in Santa Clara after learning of its costs. (Photo: Erik Silk)

Christine Koltermann says she actually likes sports. She grew up in Wisconsin, where community devotion to the National Football League’s Green Bay Packers is legendary. Her husband of 31 years once worked for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team.

Her 12-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son are both active in athletics and Koltermann refers to herself as “the consummate team mom,” attending most of their games.

So when word came that the San Francisco 49ers wanted to move to Santa Clara, her home since 1989, Koltermann initially thought it could be a good thing. Then she began to read about the costs and potential consequences: reductions in the city’s general fund, which could lead to cuts in services and budget deficits.

“When the stadium issue moved off of the sports pages and onto the front page of the main section, that’s when I became aware of what was going on,” she said.

In June 2009, the Santa Clara City Council approved the term sheet for the stadium proposal. Koltermann was at the meeting. She read the financial projections, doubted the numbers and knew that, despite never having been involved in public issues, she couldn’t sit on the sidelines.

“I came home that night at eleven o’clock, looked at my husband, and said, ‘I need to get involved,'” she recalled.

His response? “Honey, they don’t know what they’ve done.”

Koltermann quickly joined Santa Clara Plays Fair, a grassroots organization fighting the stadium project. She began to speak at public hearings, wrote letters to the editors of local and regional newspapers and visited more than1,000 households. Residents of the neighborhoods she canvassed were surprised to see her campaigning, rather than selling Girl Scout cookies with her daughter, as she does every year.

Her devotion was noted by Santa Clara Plays Fair. She was soon made a board member and became a de facto public face for the group, making public statements and communicating with reporters.

The David-and-Goliath battle that was the stadium referendum — approved by 60 percent of city voters — has now come and gone. Her group raised $20,000, while the team poured nearly $5 million into the campaign. The 49ers and other stadium supporters emphasized the project’s potential to create jobs and bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to Santa Clara County.

Throughout, Koltermann said, she found herself frustrated.

“I could absolutely not believe that they would tell [residents living near the proposed site] that their property values would rise,” she said. The Santa Clara Association of Realtors did make such a claim, citing a 2005 study done on another suburban stadium near a metropolitan area — FedEx Field in Landover, Md., where there was a correlation between home-value increases and proximity to the stadium.

Koltermann shows off some of the signs she and many fellow Santa Clarans displayed in their yards during the stadium campaign. (Photo: Erik Silk)

When the Environmental Impact Report on the Santa Clara project was published, Koltermann, a hydrogeologist, was stunned. “My first reaction was that I wanted to cry for the people who live on the North Side, for the damage that is going to be done to them,” she said. She felt the EIR was hastily approved by the City Council and overlooked “many significant, un-mitigatable impacts.”

Koltermann lives about four miles from the stadium site. It was clear to her that roadways near her home, such as the Lawrence Expressway, would be clogged by game-day traffic. Other major Santa Clara streets could also be affected. “How are we supposed to visit grandma or have friends over?” she asked.

The city and team are making preparations to begin construction, but Koltermann and Santa Clara Plays Fair continue their efforts. The final terms of the deal are being negotiated and Koltermann is doing her best to act as a watchdog.

Meanwhile, she used the experience she gained in the stadium debate to launch herself into local politics, running for the school board. City Councilwoman Jamie McLeod, who endorsed Koltermann, is impressed by her “really positive approach, energy and ideas during a time that local governments are really struggling with limited resources.”

Even some people on the other side of the stadium controversy say they respect Koltermann’s commitment to a cause she believes in. Chris Stampolis, a Santa Clara mayoral candidate, was always a proponent of the stadium for economic reasons. “We had differing opinions on the stadium issues, but I respect those folks who voted no, and [Koltermann] has raised a lot of questions that have been important for me to consider,” Stampolis said. “If the city’s going to move forward, we have to bring the best and brightest together to address the issues.”

In Tuesday’s election, Stampolis lost the mayor’s race to veteran City Councilman Jamie Matthews, also a stadium supporter. Two other pro-stadium candidates won City Council seats.

And Koltermann was elected to the school board.

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7 Comments

  1. says: Juan Pardell

    Kudos to Christine Koltermann, and the many others who have opposed what is the most asinine of public investments;an NFL stadium. There is more than enough evidence, which proves public funding of such a facility provides only financial losses for taxpayers. There isn’t one recently publicly financed NFL stadium that is profitable. The only entity earning a profit, from new stadiums, is the NFL team occupying it. Why? They format their lease agreements, with the municipal agency in charge of operating the stadiums, to insulate their organization from any fiscal loss. That’s the precise language of the current term sheet involving the 49ers and the City of Santa Clara. What’s ridiculous, is the discovery that the 49ers don’t have their financing in place, and the City of Santa Clara, which currently has a multi-million dollar budget deficit, is unable to afford owning an NFL stadium.

  2. says: Santa Clara Jay

    Chris has peeled back the curtain from what passed for politics in Santa Clara and revealed that it’s not an inspiring sight. As a homeowner in Santa Clara I’m delighted to see Chris win a spot on the school board, where important decisions will need to be made in upcoming years. I feel Chris would be capable of doing any job managing the city. We are so lucky to have such a talented person with real passion working for us.

  3. says: Bill

    NFL out of the Bay Area! We have schoolchildren who can recite the entire starting lineup for both the Raiders and 49ers but can’t name ten US presidents! Professional sports, especially the NFL, are a large contributor to the collective dumbing-down of the US. We want the NFL OUT OF THE BAY AREA!

  4. says: Santa Clara Jay

    BILL,

    I agree with your sentiments entirely. We as a culture would be much better off if professional sports occupied a less lofty perch in our collective consciousness. I think Noam Chomsky has made your point many times also.

    However, indirectly because of the 49ers and my obessions, my ten year old can name the entire starting line-up of the Santa Clara City Council.

    On the plus side he can’t name one 49er or Raider however.

  5. says: Bill

    SC Jay,

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone. If I had kids, I wouldn’t even let them watch professional sports. Even college sports are getting a bit too big for their britches. I’d much rather discourage sports in general (what’s so special about catching or kicking a ball?) and take them to museums, the opera, and ballet. Now THAT’s culture. Not some overpaid, steroid-laced freaks ramming into each other at full speed while scantily-clad women parade around like buffoons on the sideline.

  6. says: 1ReadyRanger

    And, the stadium cheerleaders said that Mrs. Koltermann could not win! Thank goodness the SCUSD voters are smarter than the voters in just the City of Santa Clara! I’m worried about Santa Clara and grieve over the loss of our city. We need to change our charter to reflect that the City of Santa Clara is now a “Wholly owned subsidary of the San Francisco 49ers”!! Since there will no longer be any check or balances on the City Council and no voices of reason that stand up FOR the voters instead of cheering for the Yorks/49ers.

    Voters in Santa Clara … be afraid, be VERY AFRAID! We were told that we had a net $5 MILLION dollar deficit (after cutting down from $20 MILLION) … but the City Manager’s letter says that we now have a $10 MILLION deficit!! What in the h@(( is going on here!?!? There doesn’t seem to be anyone at the helm who is paying attention nor protecting us! Can it be that they are too busy at 49er headquarters, or participating in free police escorts or watching football games?

    Be afraid, be VERY AFRAID!! Santa Clara has lots of BELLS ringing! And, we, need to stand up and insist on answers and OPEN MEETINGS!!

  7. says: Bill

    I agree 1RR. I can’t wait until the day the 49ers move to Los Angeles, where there are two billionaires offering to pay completely out of their own pockets for new stadia.

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