October 26, 2009
City manager, Carlsbad CA
Dear Ms Hildeband
One thing that distinguishes Carlsbad from other cities is the many ways that citizen participation is fostered, much more than the minimum required by law. It is a soft asset, one that doesn't show up in measurable criteria, but one of the things that makes the city a more attractive place to live.
I was living in Carlsbad when I walked into Mark Streyaert;s office about five years ago seeking more tennis facilities, and he rolled out the master plan for Poinsettia park, with eleven gorgeous tennis courts. I spoke before the Recreation Commission and lobbied each member of the city council to get a commitment to build them. And sure enough, when the Golf course was funded so were seven new courts.
Even before the courts were built Mark and the other Recreation executives held a meeting for suggestions about organizing the courts. And then about a year ago there was an open house, perhaps two hundred people, all offering suggestions on how to meet the needs of various stakeholders-----existing players, youth development, city revenue and others.
With this preface let me insert part of an oped that I have just submitted, that conveys the disconnect, the breach of trust, in my opinion, between those citizen users who felt they were responsible participants in this process and the Recreation department. First I describe the three broad categories of management choices:
A: a free facility run by the city open to all. This is the current arrangement at these courts and that of Kit Carson courts in Escondido. It is the ideal when there are generally available courts sufficient to demand, as it allows the most regional use. The ongoing maintenance, which is quite low for unmanned courts, are 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.
Things have changed since the open meeting of users.
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 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 twenty 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.
Next is what I consider inconsistent with the spirit of citizen participation that defines Carlsbad. Sue Spickard sent a letter to all of those who objected to this, personalized so those who didn't actually read it felt their objections were being addressed. But they were not.
She said that the negotiations with i-tennis are "in early stages" which implies uncertainty of outcome, but actually means an agreement in principle with details to be worked out. Yes, the city council will have to approve the contract, but to the best of my knowledge they never approved Option C, and certainly the hundreds of people who went to meetings had no idea this had been decided.
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, 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 being 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.
I'm asking you to intervene, as according to the organizational chart you have authority over the Parks and Recreation department. I suggest that you un-circle the wagons, that you explain to the Recreation department that users, and citizens, have reason to be upset, and even angry about the process of deciding management choices of these courts.
These courts mean a lot to many people. They are a success exactly as they are, which says much about the city government and the people who use the courts. It is appropriate to take a step back, to have an open discussion of which option is best A, B or C and then go on from there.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.