Santa Clara PAL BMX racers protest at city hall for new management

Dozens of families with Santa Clara's BMX racing community gathered to protest outside Santa Clara City Hall Tuesday evening ahead of the city council meeting to bring attention to the fact that their track is currently closed. They want the city council to allow a new management structure to open it back up.

Parents whose children race at the Santa Clara BMX track, managed by a local nonprofit called the Santa Clara Police Activities League, say their young competitors are caught in the middle of a power struggle that's preventing them from racing, and place blame squarely on the PAL. 

KTVU reached out to PAL for comment but did not hear back.

The Santa Clara track is one of the top-ranked among the 300 nationally recognized USA BMX tracks in the country. In the past six years, its popularity has jumped to heights no one expected. Now, the track grosses a quarter-million dollars a year, according to Nick Valencia, volunteer track director of BMX operations, who has been instrumental in the track's success and growth.

"We've gone from about 50 kids coming out three times a week, to now our throughput in a year is about 23,000 people who are coming out to the track. Economic impact in the millions of dollars," Valencia said.

But in recent weeks, the track has been closed. The reason, Valencia and parents say, is money. They claim PAL wants USA BMX, the national sanctioning body, to pay more money for the track to hold races. It recently hosted the world qualifiers in late March. USA BMX agreed to pay nearly $20,000 to PAL for hosting the event, Valencia said. 

This past weekend, Valencia and other volunteers who keep the track running, were fired by PAL. The locks to the track's gates were changed. 

In a statement sent to KTVU, USA BMX said that since PAL fired its volunteer operator, "the track is currently not sanctioned by USA BMX or insurance, and will only resume when an arrangement is in place."

Valencia filed a petition on Mach 29th with Santa Clara City Council, requesting the council consider adding an agenda item to a future meeting to discuss taking control of the track away from PAL and give it directly to USA BMX, the city's Parks and Recreation Department or even his nonprofit, Foundation for a Better Ride, that can pay to keep it running.

"It's bigger than a mom-and-pop thing," Valencia said. "It definitely needs more oversight, dedicated volunteers or a dedicated paid staff."

Justin Travis, director of new track development for USA BMX, attended the city council meeting virtually on Tuesday and spoke in public comment which lasted close to an hour, stretching to nearly midnight.

The city council was considering allowing a 90-day period for PAL and USA BMX to hold negotiations, but Travis and others pushed for that time period to be reduced, which was accepted by City Council.

"We would like to see the lease restructured," Travis said in his comments to the city council. He also advocated for Valencia's nonprofit group, Foundation for a Better Ride, to take over the lease of the track.

"Should the city of Santa Clara restructure the lease to the highly experienced volunteer group known as Foundation for a Better Ride, USA BMX will commit to hosting the 2023 Nationals once again in the city of Santa Clara," Travis said.

As it stands now, City Council will return in about a month, on May 24, with a report on the status of auditing the track's financials and other management concerns raised by Valencia. 

The Santa Clara City Council will also report at that meeting on the viability of the City's Parks and Recreation Department assuming responsibility for the track. For now, the track remains closed.

Chase Perkins, a 4th grader who qualified to be on Team USA in the BMX World Championships, held in France in July, can't practice on his home track these days.

Instead, his dad drives over an hour to Napa, even to Salinas, for practice multiple times a week.

"Every day of training counts, and every day that this track is closed is taken away from the opportunity of the twelve to 15 kids that qualified, just from this area alone," Jason Perkins, Chase's dad, said.

Chase added that the long drives take a toll.

"It's very annoying. It's hard to do homework in the car when you're driving somewhere else," he said. "