SANTA CLARA -- Until further notice, I declare Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews to be the most prescient man in the universe.
All right, maybe not in the universe. But definitely in the 408 area code.
Last month when Levi's Stadium was being opened and dedicated in Matthews' city, speechmakers clogged the air with optimism. But I knew there had to be angst behind the scenes. So I asked Matthews to name one concern that was keeping him up at night.
"Traffic and parking," he answered honestly. "The first time around, there are always going to be some hiccups and problems. It's inevitable." Give that man a crystal ball with a nicked fender.
Saturday, when Levi's staged a "soft opening" with an Earthquakes soccer game, the hiccups were more like a clogged trachea. Some fans reported having a flawless experience getting into and out of the stadium. But far too many were delayed in automobile quicksand or by the inexcusably unprepared Valley Transit Authority (VTA) train operation.
I checked in again with Matthews on Tuesday for his assessment. Santa Clara is not in charge of the game-day traffic plan. The 49ers are the ultimate overseers. But politicians are always the ones who get the phone calls. Plus, the city does have planning input and provides law enforcement support.
"We've learned a lot," Matthews told me. "That's what was supposed to happen with this game. That's the reason we had it. We were supposed to learn. We're committed to learn. We're excited about making the changes and refinements that will improve things."
Unfortunately, that does not help the 48,765 people -- about two-thirds the size of a 49ers crowd -- who attended Saturday's soccer match. They basically paid for the privilege of being crash-test dummies. This was hardly fair, even if they were crash-test dummies stuck in zero-miles-per-hour jams and long security lines to enter the stadium.
The scene was frustrating for all involved. At one point, Santa Clara Police Chief Michael Sellers left his command post to personally direct cars on Tasman Drive outside the stadium. In the game's aftermath, 49ers executive Jim Mercurio and VTA spokeswoman Colleen Valles have promised that the situation will improve significantly for the first NFL exhibition game at Levi's on Aug. 17.
They better be right. The VTA, especially, has its reputation on the line. You simply can't air radio advertisements that urge people to take your trains to the stadium and then be astonished when 8,000-plus people show up to do so. That's what seemed to occur Saturday. Train cars were overstuffed. Many riders waited up to an hour for their homeward trip. Supposedly, the VTA's new "pocket tracks" on site will be finished by Aug. 17, thus allowing multiple trains to be parked and ready for the postgame rush. We'll see.
Also, malfunctioning trains weren't the only gaffe. For a while during the pregame rush, word was sent to traffic personnel that the large civic parking garage on Tasman Drive was full -- but it actually wasn't. People with prepaid garage passes were therefore mistakenly (and angrily) turned away until the mix-up was rectified.
Meanwhile, several weeks ago, there had been internal Santa Clara worries when the Great America theme park that adjoins the stadium announced a special promotion for Saturday -- after the Earthquakes game had already been scheduled. The resulting larger Great America attendance created extra congestion.
So did patrons at the nearby Mercado 20 cinemas whose films ended when the game did.
The good news: Freeway traffic never backed up, before or after the game. And those extra theme park/cinema vehicles probably simulated the impact of a 68,500 crowd for 49ers games. The bad news: Santa Clara's ability to handle all those people remains spectacularly unproven, even if Great America has promised the 49ers little overlap in park-opening times during regular season Sundays.
My feeling, though, is that eventually the folks in charge will figure it all out. This story isn't unprecedented. In 1955 on the day that Disneyland opened in Anaheim, the result was similarly ugly. Walt Disney, renowned for his visionary mind, thought he had anticipated every potential problem. He had not. Twice the number of expected people showed up at the Disneyland gates, stifling the nearby roads. Concession stands ran out of food and beverages. Rides broke down. Water fountains didn't work. A gas leak caused a brief evacuation.
As you'd expect, media reports were brutal. There was speculation that the park would not last long and be a complete flop. But we all know what happened. Disney's people went to work and fixed the problems. Disneyland did not flop.
Neither will Levi's Stadium.
The VTA issues are the most troublesome element. Perhaps they'll simply have to limit tickets and sell them all in advance, so they can guarantee non-overcrowded trains.
However, as Matthews notes, the operation should be smoother when 49ers season ticket holders learn their favorite or best ways to enter and leave, then repeat those trips.
All I know is, when I cover my first Levi's game, I'm calling the mayor first for traffic tips. And perhaps a score prediction.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com.