Monday, November 9, 2009

Some Movement by Recreation Dept on Poinsettia Court Management

This article I wrote that appeared in the North County Times Oct 27 provides some background for those unfamiliar to this issue:
Poinsettia Tennis Courts, Recreation or Tennis Factory

When seven new courts were added to poinsettia park complex last year, it was part of a master plan going back almost three decades. The Parks and Recreation department of the city held an open meeting where players from the courts discussed how it 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 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.

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.

Somehow, unbeknownst 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.

Al Rodbell

Right after submitting this OpEd I wrote this letter to the city manager, since there had been no substantive response to the many letters sent to Sue Spickard, the Recreation Department Director.    I was happily surprised to get this letter from Sue, prompted by my letter to the city manager.

Dear Al,

The City Manager received your email and has asked that I respond.

As I am sure you are aware, we have received quite a bit of correspondence regarding the management of tennis at Poinsettia Park. I assure you that the comments are not being taken lightly. We too, want the best for the park and those that enjoy playing tennis at that location.

You are correct, we are in preliminary negotiations with one potential contractor, and we are making every effort to address as many concerns that have been raised as possible. Our goal is to provide a balanced tennis program so that all can enjoy the complex. Yes, there will be fees, however, we feel strongly that beginners and those who just enjoy casually playing tennis will be able to do that at an affordable rate.

The City Council directed staff to pursue this partnership, and we will continue to do that. If negotiations are successful and a contract is agreed upon, there will be opportunities for the public to be heard before the City Council makes the final decision. The item will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission before it is brought to the City Council. We are also planning to hold another open meeting with all who are interested to share what exactly is being proposed. As to the dates and times of those meetings, unfortunately, I don’t know at this time. However, we will be in contact with you and others to let you know when the meetings are scheduled. Again, I encourage you to contact the City Clerk’s Office (760) 434-2808, so that you may be notified of any public meetings relating to tennis.


Previous to this letter, the Recreation Department's position was that the only opportunity that we would have to express any new ideas, or objections to giving the management contract to a private entity would be when it was presented to the City Council for approval of the contract.   This has been expanded to presenting this issue to the Recreation Commission for discussion and holding an open meeting.

Whether or not this represents genuine openness to an alternative approach,  it does present an opportunity for a coordinated response to what had been described as a done deal.   This puts the ball in the court of the users who feel that a user-volunteer group is preferable to a private operator.   The other issue is whether any new system is necessary, or whether during this time of economic hardship for many, the status quo, free open courts is a better option.   But this is a decision that has to be made by the elected city council of Carlsbad, who have been expecting funding for a new court and clubhouse, or even if that is postponed, the expense of ongoing maintenance and repair of the courts to be paid by users.

I suggest anyone interested contact the City Clerk’s Office (760) 434-2808, email to be put on the list for notification of the promised meetings.   And for anyone who has the time and interest in active participating in a Volunteer-User group I can be reached at, or leave a comment here to be shared with others.