Saturday, October 24, 2009

Privatization of Carlsbad's Poinsettia Park

Carlsbad Poinsettia Tennis Courts: Recreation or “lesson factory.”
as printed in N.C Times Community Forum, 10/27/09


When seven new tennis courts were added to the Poinsettia Park complex last year, it was part of a master plan going back almost three decades. The Carlsbad Parks and Recreation department held an open meeting where players from the courts discussed how they should be managed.

There are three general options:

A. A free facility run by the city open to all. This is the current arrangement at these courts and those at the Kit Carson Park courts in Escondido. It is the ideal when there are generally available courts sufficient to meet demand as it allows the most regional use. The ongoing maintenance, which is quite low for unmanned courts, is paid by general city revenues.

B: User-volunteer organization that charges a fee from $100 to $250 a year, with nominal single-use fees. This depends on volunteers for the board that allocates court usage, with the city's approval. The organization can become a virtual social club, sponsoring special events that bring the community together.

C: Private, for-profit, management company. Such organizations are common for golf clubs, where there is a pro shop, restaurant and lessons that do not use the same facilities as the links. Such private management is rare for tennis courts of this scale, for good reasons. The resources that provide them with their profit, the courts, are the same that are used by recreational players.

When the open meeting to discuss these options was held, the economy was flying high, so "B: the user-volunteer option," was discussed in depth; the couple of hundred dollars or so annual membership fee was not seen as unreasonable. Now with the highest unemployment rate in decades, even a small fee will shut out people who are now using the courts.

Among those who are now playing on these courts, at least one group of 20 mostly older players who have been together for a couple of decades, but still welcome anyone to join them every morning, could lose their courts. They certainly will if they can't afford the fee, which will have to cover not only profit for the company, but additional capital expansion.

Somehow, unbeknown to present users of the court and at least one member of the City Council, the recreation department chose option C, and have now entered into exclusive negotiations with one private company for a long-term contract to manage the court. In spite of lack of public discussion of the merits and the serious disadvantages of this choice, they are proceeding ahead, even after the disclosure of this three weeks ago brought a deluge of objections.

Demands for a meeting to discuss the direction the city has taken have been ignored. It seems they have circled the wagons, and only a concerted effort by current and prospective users can bring a reasoned discussion of the future of this great facility.

Al Rodbell can be contacted at

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