Dozens of Orange County Soccer Club (OCSC) fans, advertisers, and some of the club’s top executives took to Irvine City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 9, to express opposition to a proposal that would potentially eliminate the club’s ability to play inside the Great Park.
While the council removed the study session item from the August 9 agenda prior to the meeting, local fans made their opinions heard during public comment for items that did not appear on the meeting’s agenda.
Fans expressed the fear that the proposal would ultimately evict the Orange County Soccer Club from Championship Stadium and give exclusive rights to the LA Galaxy for Division 3 use. Presented by the City Manager’s office, the proposal takes into consideration complaints from community groups over access to the facility.
James Keston, owner of Orange County Soccer Club, was one of the first people to address the council, adding that he was “saddened” by the circumstances.
“We love Championship Stadium, we love Irvine and more than anything else we are troubled by the series of events that have occurred over the past week,” he said.
Keston added that his team has worked to establish new terms with the city, but with no success.
“We have been pursuing new stadium negotiations for many years. We do not understand why the city would consider groups from outside Irvine — even outside Orange County — to play inside Championship Stadium,” he said. “We do not understand why when the local group OCSC has submitted multiple stadium partnership and stadium management proposals to the city over the past year — at the urging of the City Manager.”
In his speech, Keston questioned why the city would present terms to LA Galaxy when OCSC was the most qualified bidder during the RFP period.
“We cannot even get the city to sit down with us to discuss a longer-term stadium deal to keep us in Irvine,” he said. “Yet, the Los Angeles Galaxy were able to not only get the negotiations with the city of Irvine, they proposed a scenario under which they would have exclusive use of the stadium and exclude all other professional teams.”
With more than 30 public speakers addressing the issue, Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi said he felt like there might be some misunderstanding of the proposal.
“I think there have been some gross misstatements that have been put out regarding what was intended for tonight. I think there have been mischaracterizations related to the issues at hand, related to the overall stadium,” Chi said. “Initially, there was no decision tonight, on ultimately what we’re going to do with this stadium. There was a planned study session to review possible options, given that our existing MOU with the Orange County Soccer Club is said to expire in November of this year.”
Chi added that due to the frequency of professional soccer at the stadium, the city is continually fielding complaints about access from community groups.
“The challenge is this: the soccer stadium is a city-owned stadium, it was built with taxpayer money, it’s funded and maintained with city taxpayer money — we certainly heard concerns with issues from different groups in the community, that they have challenges accessing the stadium based on the way we’ve started to utilize it more for professional events,” Chi explained.
While many expressed their will to protest the potential arrival of the LA Galaxy, Chi said that a deal with the Los Angeles-based team never existed, only discussions. He also added that OCSC was kept in the loop during the decision-making process.
“There was no deal with the LA Galaxy that has been contemplated — there have been discussions with LA Galaxy. It’s not accurate to stipulate that the soccer club wasn’t aware that those conversations were happening,” Chi said. “We kept OC Soccer Club and their representatives in the loop on the decision-making process, let them know that this was a chance to engage with the City Council in a discussion of the options.”
The item was pulled, according to Chi, because the United Soccer League is now in litigation with Major League Soccer and Orange County Soccer Club requested to postpone all discussions until the behind the scene issues are resolved and a transparent conversation can be accomplished.
“We were informed that the USL and MLS are currently engaged in some kind of litigation and OC Soccer Club sent the LA Galaxy a strongly worded legal letter, which preceded and precipitated our request at the staff level to withdrawal that item until the issue has been resolved,” Chi explained.
This is a developing story.
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