A meeting organized to allay the concerns of local residents regarding a proposal by iTennis to operate the tennis center at proved inconclusive as residents still left with questions unanswered.
Organized by the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation (LADPR), Thursday's meeting at the park’s community center was attended by approximately 70 disgruntled residents and tennis fans.
fee hikes and claims of a new membership system should iTennis, a Pasadena based company founded by former tennis pro John Letts, receive the contract, as expected.
While representatives from the LADPR were able to assure attendees that no fee increases would occur during the first year of the new contract, they admitted that the new contractor would have the latitude to propose fee increases before the director in subsequent years.
“The director has delegated authority to approve any new fee increases,” said Kandy Hays, the contracts division chief and the main speaker of the evening. “But anything he will decide upon will be done in the best interests of the public.”
Hays was unable to speculate upon the likelihood or the scale of any potential fee increase. As it stands, available courts are free to the public. It costs $4 to reserve a court.
Hays said that the facility would not become a “pay to play” facility, and that no membership would be required. A new system, comparable to a “frequent fliers” card, would be introduced, but that would only offer certain types of discounts and was not the same as a membership card.
The proposal by iTennis will be placed on the agenda of the Board of Supervisors, probably in March. The Board will then decide whether to green light the contract.
Asked whether the public would be able to see the proposal before it goes to the Board, Hays said that it would be available to the public the Thursday before the Board’s Tuesday meeting.
A number of queries were raised regarding the process by which the proposal put forward by iTennis was chosen by the LADPR at the expense of other concessionaires. These included Rusty Miller, who has managed the facility since the 1980s.
Miller’s contract ran out in 2007. Since then, Miller has been operating on a month-by-month basis.
Hays said that all proposals put forward were evaluated, and suitable candidates chosen. All those who put forth a proposal were then given a debriefing to explain how the department came to their decision. All contractors dissatisfied with the explanation were then given the opportunity to petition the decision before a county review panel.
“All the proposals, every single one, proposed fee increases,” said Hays.
A number of vocal attendees, however, believed that there was a lack of transparency in the evaluation process. Most notable was Andrew Chang, who in partnership with Dave Hagler submitted a proposal to the LADPR.
Last December, Chang wrote a letter to the L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, arguing that the bidders were “misled,” which created “unfair competition” in the whole process.
Similar concerns were raised by Chris Diamond, a Glendale resident who has worked at Arcadia’s tennis club for 26 years, in response to Hays’ assertion that the LADPR would solicit fee increases from other tennis facilities in the local area.
“The problem is, the guy who is going to run our tennis club runs all the other tennis clubs in the local area,” Diamond said.
According to its website, the company operates the tennis center at the Rose Bowl, the Whittier Narrows Tennis Club in El Monte and the Andulka Tennis Club in Riverside.
The Rose Bowl offers free use of the courts to the public upon availability. Court rental at Whittier ranges between $6-$10 an hour. Individual membership is $50 a month - for families it is $70 a month.
Hays said that the LADPR’s recommendation will be going forward to the Board.
Letts, who spoke only briefly during the meeting, said afterwards that many of the staff and instructors who worked at the club were independent contractors, but that if they wished to remain on, he would be “more than willing to discuss it with them.”
As part of his proposal, he said that he would resurface the courts, refurbish the locker rooms, and provide new nets, amongst other plans. As for any fee increases, Letts said that the last fee increase was in 1996.
“If you look at increases in the cost of living in the last fifteen years, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to make a modest increase,” said Letts. “I do want to say though, what a great job Rusty Miller has done here. really is a great place for tennis.”