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Airport Sports Complex Operator: Lawsuit Has a 'Snowball's Chance in Hell'

Recreation facility and soccer fields approved by the San Rafael City Council in December 2012 are drawing fire from an environmental group, but developer is unbowed.

A local environmental group has filed a lawsuit in Marin Superior Court in an attempt to stop the sports complex and soccer fields near the San Rafael Airport that were approved by the San Rafael City Council in December 2012.

But while the people behind 85,700-square-feet recreation complex said they were disappointed by the latest effort to halt the project (lawsuit attached at right), they were vehemently undeterred, saying the lawsuit stood no chance of winning in court given the lengthy environmental review through which the project had gone since its proposal in 2005.

“This thing is going to get this built,” said Andrew Rowley, the would-be operator of the sports complex at the airport and the president of Santa Rosa-based soccer company Sports City. “Often these groups go into this process to drag it on for so long that they bleed you to death. But that’s not going to happen here. They have an attitude to stop it at all costs, but I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

The lawsuit, filed by longtime project opponent the Gallinas Creek Defense Council against the city of San Rafael and project applicant, San Rafael Airport, LLC. In it, the group claims the project, and the City Council's review and approval of it, had "gaping holes" and violated state environmental law by failing to sufficiently analyze impacts on the California Clapper Rail bird, safety impacts due to the project's proximity to the airport and visual and noise impacts on nearby residents.

The complaint also claims the project conflicts with the San Rafael General Plan and the property's zoning designation.

The project, which has been in the planning process for around eight years, was presented at the Dec. 3 council meeting where public comment stretched over six hours. All council members expect Damon Connolly, who dissented, approved of the project.

The 39-foot-tall recreation complex will have indoor and two outdoor soccer fields as well as spectator seating, offices, food and beverage service, meetings rooms and a two-lane bridge deck. It will also include a lighted outdoor turf field and another outdoor turf field on a 9.1-acre site near Gallinas Creek, the airport and McInnis Park.

The project faced stiff opposition from Santa Venetia neighbors, who worried about noise and lights from night games, environmental impacts on the surrounding habitat and safety of soccer fields in close proximity to the airport's runway.

Council members deliberated for three hours before making their decision. "To me, the benefits outweigh the concerns," Mayor Gary Phillips said at the time.

Supporters of the plan believe that the complex will fill a need for local recreational fields. Since cities and schools are not able to build new fields due to budget restrictions, many soccer players have to commute all over the county for games.

Neither the Gallinas Creek Defense Council nor its legal firm, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, responded to messages from Patch.

Bob Herbst, the manager of the airport, said he was confident that the lawsuit would be unsuccessful.

"They want to impose the judgment of a judge over the will of the city after an eight-year review process," Herbst said. 

Rowley was even more vehement, calling the members of the Gallinas Creek Defense Council “cry babies” and saying “they’re acting like spoiled children” who are “simply driving up the cost of the use of the facilities for Marin families” by imposing more delay. The complex, which Rowley said does not yet have a name, would cater to youth and adult soccer, with youth sports making up about 65 percent of the games there.

“They have lost on the merits,” he said of the projects opponents. “All of the issues have been vetted. It’s got overwhelming community support. At this point, they should just accept it.”

What do you think of this lawsuit (attached at right)? Does it have merit? Tell us in the Comments below.

Bill McGee February 09, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Stephen Nestel - you are wrong about airplanes and stadiums. The San Jose arena (HP Pavillion, where the Sharks play) is directly under the final aproach where jumbo jets land every few minutes. Go to an event there and stand outside and you will see and feel the airliners overhead. They are incredibly close.
Ken Conroy February 09, 2013 at 08:52 PM
NIMBYism is extremely powerful. It has been my experience that neighbors become so fearful of change that any hint of an adverse effect on their property values and/or way of life, these neighbors convince each other that the sky will fall and to be distrustful of anyone who will tell them otherwise. It has been my experience that this fear is so strong that they become unwilling to hear and digest facts which would otherwise supplant their fears. Once this happens these feelings and opinions will not change until the project is built and fully operational and the naysayers will see and feel for themselves that the sky is not falling. I know the above paragraph will rile opponents but this has been my experience in Marin. Red Hill Park in San Anselmo and pro baseball at Albert Park drove the exact same emotions and arguments from neighbors. In both instances once each was fully operational the neighbors quickly realized that there were a small number of people who had been promoting the fear mongering and that their fears were unfounded. I suspect that the court will see the facts of the case and the many years of environmental study and review and rule against the plaintiff. In a short period of time I believe the soccer complex will be regarded as a community asset much like Red Hill Park and the pro baseball at Albert Park.
John Parulis February 09, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Notice, for a moment, the array of adjectives and names used by Mr. Rowley and his sports complex supporters: "cry babies", "sore losers", "NIMBY crybabies", "bozos", Santa Venetia as "septic tank", "dump" and "Love Canal", "Richmond's rejects" ...what does it say of the quality of mind and discourse to resort to frequent name calling?
Craig Belfor February 10, 2013 at 12:01 AM
Eloquence, or lack thereof, does not make the argument, Facts do, and as I'm prone to abrasive, arrogant tactics, at least I engage the argument. Get used to it. You have no right to bitch this development because you don't like development as much as they have the right to tell you what plants to put in your yard.
Craig Belfor February 10, 2013 at 12:05 AM
P.S. I don't know Mr. Rowley and don't necessarily support all that he plans. I just believe in property owner's rights, as long as they don't hurt their neighbors.
Craig Belfor February 10, 2013 at 01:42 AM
I see the camomile tea sipping grandmas on the other side of the straddle trench we call Gallinas Creek are trying to turn this into a chick flick over grammar and word choices, now that they see they can't win the real argument over property rights. Sorry ladies, but if the sounds of kids playing a healthy sport carry over the airport and that turd infested cesspool you call a creek, then you need to turn up the volume on your Kenny G album. Once again, be lucky it's not affordable housing.
Craig Belfor February 10, 2013 at 02:19 AM
Stick to the subject, wrinkles. it's about property rights, as long as they don't interfere with the neighbors' rights.
Gabrielle Cullen February 10, 2013 at 03:53 PM
I find it a disheartening that so little of this conversation has mentioned how amazing of an opportunity this will be for the kids of Marin County. With a near epidemic on our hands, regarding overweight and unhealthy children in the country, I'm saddened and shocked to see this rage. Let the complex be built, give our kids somewhere to go instead of hanging out on a street corner or playing video games while drinking soda. Seriously people, where is the sense of community?
Ken Conroy February 11, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Good point Gabrielle. The overwelming majority of people do support this. It is a relatively small number of passionate people who feel their property and way of life is going to be adversely effected. I am confident those people will settle down when the complex is fully operational and they realize their fears were unfounded.
Kevin Moore February 11, 2013 at 02:49 AM
I see two sides to this argument. One posts as if this is another soccer field for kids in soccer leagues to play on. The other posts I see say this is a "private club" field and may require membership. So what will it cost for kiddies to play on the field? Will parents be put off by the cost? Will leagues split the cost for league games played on the private and public fields?
Kevin Moore February 11, 2013 at 02:52 AM
I keep wondering if the soccer complex goes in, in a couple of years will there be a decision the airport really is a danger and the airport should be shut down. Then what to do with the land? Oh put in a lot of housing.
Ken Conroy February 11, 2013 at 03:34 AM
Kevin - it just means the fields are privately owned as opposed to a public park. Currently virtually all organized teams pay for field rental whether they are playing on public or private fields. Rental are on an hourly basis and the rates vary based on the location and quality of the field and facilities. Owners of the best fields are able to charge a little more and it makes little difference whether it is a public or privately owned and operated. For instance the rental fees to play at Redwood HS, Drake HS, and Tam HS (3 public high schools) are comparable to the rates charged by the private schools like Marin Catholic and Marin Academy. Teams currently will drive to play in places like Davis, Modesto or Visalia where fields are plentiful and rental fees are much lower. Teams will pay more to play locally in good facilities.
Kevin Moore February 11, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Thanks Ken. That answers my rental fee question.
John Parulis February 11, 2013 at 05:49 PM
The Hamilton soccer complex will put Joe Shekou's below sea level, over-priced, airplane hazard place out of business real fast.
Ken Conroy February 11, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Kevin - I don't think it is zoned for housing. A change of zoning would be a big deal and there would be no community support for that like there is for soccer.
Ken Conroy February 11, 2013 at 06:02 PM
John - the proposed Hamilton complex is mostly baseball. I think it includes two soccer fields. There is so much demand for quality soccer/baseball fields in Marin Hamilton will not put a dent in the business of the San Rafael complex. Hamilton is a few years behind and they have a huge NIMBY problem up there too.
Michael February 11, 2013 at 08:14 PM
for me the thing that sticks out is the comment I saw where I think it was someone on the council who said we need this because San Rafael is 'desperate' for this new field. Desperate?Really? People who have nothing to eat or drink might be deemed desperate. People who live in poverty might be deemed desperate. Those looking for a place to kick a ball around are not desperate. We need to remember those on the city council who voted to approve this against the input of the neighborhood where it is located. Although the developer will give lots of money to re-elect them the developer (if they even live here) can still only vote 1 time (unless our council in their wisdom have somehow given developers a pass for more than one ballot vote?). We taxpayers and citizens are desperate for leadership that listens to what the people want. Remember this at the ballot box citizens.,
Sandra Florin February 11, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Sandra Florin 2:30 pm on Monday, February 11, 2013 Ken, I think there ia a huge difference between this facility and the fields at Marin Academy and Sir Francis Drake High School. Those fields are located at non-profit institutions where the sports fields are rented to the community for a little extra income to further their primary mission of education. Take a look at the hourly rates Sport City (Rowley's operation) charges the general public. They range from $85.00 to over $150 per hour. http://playsportscity.com/rentals-123/ This compares to rental rates at public fields like McInnis which are $40.00 per hour. The purported "need" for more sports fields are full size, outdoor fields The best the City and Developer can say about the indoor facility is that they believe it will be successful. The indoor facility will need to create demand for itself. It is not filling an existing demand. One could just as easily argue the City "needs" an ice scating rink, a Casino or a theme park since none of those exist in San Rafael either.
John Parulis February 12, 2013 at 12:49 AM
Thanks Michael. I remember during the first design review meeting in 2006, Andrew Rowley stood up and stated that he looked all over Marin for a suitable site and found none but the airport. Strange that Hamilton has now emerged with a bigger and better suited offer for youth soccer. Traffic congestion is only one problem with the airport. Levee maintenance has never been fully explained nor has any entity come forward to say who will do the actual maintenance. The airport is happy to have the tax payer pay for that on its "private" commercial venture. Jeff Monk's deficient biological assessments will now come under the scrutiny of the court. This project stank from the beginning. Yes, the developers have used the kids to promote this folly placing them at risk next to the airport runway. That's the educated assessment of the California Pilots Association. Anybody who fights a developer, no matter how screwey the development is a "nimby". We will win this one and Mr. Rowley will be proven wrong.
Simon Cooper February 12, 2013 at 01:12 AM
Mr. Moore, there isn't a field in Marin that doesn't cost money. I doubt parents will be put off by the costs unless the 'cost' of this project reaches heights where they have to charge an undesired amount due to the actions of these opponents. Which many believe is the goal. Leagues will pay for time so that they are able to put their teams on the field. Nothing is free and the demand IS "Desperate" as space is at a premium. Did you know not a single new athletic field has been built since 1980 at San Rafael High School? At the same time, soccer was not popular, and sports like Lacrosse, Rugby, and even field hockey did not exist in our community.
Simon Cooper February 12, 2013 at 01:18 AM
Sandra, you are completely uninformed. The amount of families traveling north to the facilities fill a great deal of the demand. The public schools we rent from actually charge more money than surrounding communities (except for SF) where renting a field for a game outside of the weekend is $140.00. You speak like a demand will have to be created when in reality the demand is already there. That is why this complex will be successful. If you had any clue about the soccer community you would know that it "IS FULFILLING AN ALREADY PRESENT DEMAND"!
Simon Cooper February 12, 2013 at 01:26 AM
Again, the Hamilton Project is a Baseball project. It also emerged because the government is giving them the land. The cost when looking at Hamilton previously was impossible. Amazing you are even toting it considering it also sits behind Levee's which is one of the main arguments. Before making judgments about the 'desperate' need for fields in this community read my comments above about not a single field in San Rafael since 1980. Instead of making an analogy with the hungry why not really know the other sides statistics and realities. It's unfortunate you don't understand that this is only a band aide for a much bigger problem. As for the polls, and vote...yep, you're right, but a majority of the people who are against this project won't be voting...they are unincorporated.
Ken Conroy February 12, 2013 at 08:43 AM
Sandra Florin – you suggest that rental fees charged by non-profits (public schools) are nominal. This is simply not correct. The public schools I mentioned – Drake, Redwood, and Tam charge $100/Hr to rent the OUTDOOR turf soccer/football field to the general public. Synthetic turf fields are at a high demand because they are flat and true, they play year round, and they play immediately after a heavy downpour of rain. I coached and administered a club youth baseball team for several years and was responsible for renting fields and scheduling games and tournaments. Baseball fields, like soccer are in short supply in Marin so my job was part coach and part travel guide. We made many trips in an SUV carrying kids to Davis, Redding, Woodland, Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, Manteca, and Visalia just to name a few of the better spots. The “close” venues include Martinez, Redwood City, and Fairfield. My time booking fields has passed, but Marin and the community in general will benefit with this new facility comes on line soon.
Ken Conroy February 12, 2013 at 08:45 AM
Sandra Florin - your claim that the INDOOR facility will need to “create demand” is also not true. There exists current demand thanks to a thriving indoor soccer leagues. One league run by Dave Fromer has been in existence in Marin for 28 years! They currently play in small gyms, mostly elementary and middle school. The indoor game in a gymnasium is less than ideal but a hugely popular game among the kids. Most gyms in Marin are booked solid on weekends with CYO basketball being dominant and indoor soccer filling the remaining gaps. The gymnasium rental fees vary by site, but Drake and Tam are used by the indoor soccer league frequently. The rental fee is $80/Hr for the smaller gyms which is the most frequently used. For comparison the larger gyms at Drake and Tam cost $110/Hr. and the large gym at Redwood HS charges $160/Hr. Gyms are barely adequate for indoor soccer due to size limitations which also restricts the age to boys 15 years and under and girls 17 and under. Indoor soccer facilities like the one to be built in San Rafael will accommodate older boys and girls, co-ed teams, and adults of all ages. Yes Sandra, I am a supporter of this project but I have no financial interest. I am not even a soccer fan. I am a big supporter though because kids love the sport and it is a much better workout than the Xbox. Soccer is terrific for youth fitness and developing coordination and learning the principals of sportsmanship.
Ken Conroy February 12, 2013 at 08:48 AM
Sandra, lastly thanks for mentioning an Ice Rink because we do need one of those in Marin! As a kid I played Ice Hockey at Raydines Ice Rink on Fifer Ave. in Corte Madera. The undersized rink on Fifer Drive (now a gym called Fitness SF) was very popular and supported youth hockey, figure skating, public skating, and broom hockey! My late uncle Paul Gaboury was a co-founder of the Northern California Junior Hockey League in 1960 and the league still thrives today. There exist a number of Marin kids and adults who travel to Santa Rosa, Oakland, or San Francisco to play/skate. Ray Schramm the owner of Raydine’s closed the rink down due to high insurance rates and the desire to sell the property to cash out. I doubt there is a new rink on the horizon but there is a need!
Sandra Florin February 12, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Conroy and all you others suggesting that everybody else is misinformed, take a look at the Novato Hamilton proposal before saying it isn't for soccer and won't compete with the proposed airport facility. The proposal calls for four lit outdoor soccer fields and a 120,000 square foot building big enough for four indoor soccer fields. The investors behind that development would be foolish to cater only to baseball!. And Conroy, I am sure you will be pleased to know that Ken Shapiro of San Rafael Pacifics fame is one of the investors at Hamilton. http://novato.patch.com/articles/sports-complex-at-hamilton-draws-early-opposition#photo-11879351
Sandra Florin February 12, 2013 at 05:53 PM
http://novato.patch.com/articles/sports-complex-at-hamilton-draws-early-opposition#photo-11879351
Steve B February 14, 2013 at 09:15 PM
John, this is the Patch, not the WSJ... Plus, saying things like "Richmond's rejects" is simply a matter of being concise and to the point. It is easier than writing "socio-economically challenged, uneducated, entitled, welfare-collecting, criminal, disrespectful, fifth-generation bastard, trashy, low-class-perpetuating breeders" Go cruise the Canal if you are confused about what this means. Still confused? Walk the Canal at night.
Craig Belfor February 14, 2013 at 10:09 PM
I remember the original Raydines on the Miracle Mile. It was a great place to go for birthdays, or any other reason.
Ken Conroy February 15, 2013 at 03:09 AM
Craig - good memory. In fact Ray & Nadine actually had his first rink in Mill Valley prior to Miracle Mile. It is too bad we don't have a rink in Marin but the economics of running an ice rink are tough to be viable unless they are somehow subsidised.

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