Thursday, October 22, 2009

How I became envolved in this issue

While this essay is specific to the Courts at Poinsettia  Park in Carlsbad California, as described in this column by Logan Jenkins on October 4, 2009, it touches on many wider questions of social policy.   I suggest you read Jenkins' column for background and then continue back here.

When the YMCA closed their courts several years ago, the following was printed as an OpEd, which was the opening statement of my unanticipated role as a "Tennis Political Activist."

Excerpts of OpEd article in San Diego Union Tribune 2/6/03
Regional Tennis Center  (full article here)
There are plenty of courts in the area; some in exclusive private clubs, others scattered in public parks and private residential communities.  What is missing is a public tennis center like those in LaJolla and Balboa Park.  These were built on city land with city funds, but now operate at no further cost to the public.  Each has a tennis association, open to all at moderate cost, that pays for all maintenance and runs the programming.  And what programming they have.  Tournaments for all levels and age groups up to 90 year olds, (where just showing up gets you a medal) leagues, mixers and clinics. Pee Wee and junior classes along side of senior games.  Balboa even has a special challenge court, no reservation needed,  just pop in and play.

The key to the success of these centers is the concentration of courts in one location.  There is a minimum number, around ten, that is required to produce special events while maintaining regular weekly programs.  With this activity level, facilities such as rest rooms, food stands and pro shop become self sustaining.  In Manhattan, one such tennis association has fund raisers featuring top tennis pros and world class entertainers. People are eager to volunteer their services and join the association.   

This type of public-private facility has been successful across the country. More than just an amenity, it becomes an attraction that adds luster to its surroundings. Our unique strip of sun kissed paradise deserves nothing less. 

Al Rodbell

After the OpEd was published, I visited the Recreation Department of Carlsbad, where we were then living.  It was a happy surprise when the director of park development showed me the master plan of Poinsettia Park with 11 courts and a sizable clubhouse.   The problem was that it was a bit dusty, already a couple of decades old, with no public demand to build more than the three courts that were already there.

I made my case to the members of the city council, spoke at the Parks and Recreation Commission, and got a commitment from each council candidate to build the rest of the courts (campaign promises are easily elicited); but low and behold, when the massive appropriation for the new golf course was voted on, they also funded the seven new courts I had been pushing.  So, it was with great pride that I, along with several other people who independently had been promoting the same agenda, attended early meetings on the organization of the courts.

I was disturbed a few weeks ago that my suggestion, and the consensus of a public meeting, for some form of an organization described in my OpEd had been changed, under the public's radar, to what was described as a "done deal" with a private tennis management company, and a long term one at that.   I contacted Jenkins, with the article linked above the result.  Another effect of Jenkins' shinning the light of the press on this negotiation is that we have gained time to see if the idea that I, and the audience at the public meeting supported, is a doable preferable option. 

Now comes the difficult part.   In this age of public cynicism, will we find the critical mass of individuals who can come together to form the user based non profit organization that can satisfy all of the varied needs and desires of various parties?   It's a tough challenge, to bring together people with ideas of their own, yet who are willing to remain part of a coherent organizing association even if their own specific plans are not accepted. 

The user based non profit organization faces these challenges that commercial entities overcome with the profit motive, which provides the common incentive of the old "bottom line,"  the potential financial gain that displaces ego needs.  This profit based enterprise model shouldn't be dismissed, as it has provided many good things in our world---along with some pretty awful things---but that's a discussion for another day.

Contact me for more information, or if interested in the organizational process. 

Al Rodbell

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