News

City prepares to go out to bid on pool contract

 

Perhaps learning from history, the city of Menlo Park released a staff report on the contract renewal for the Burgess swimming pools almost two weeks in advance of the next City Council meeting.

When the council voted four years ago to hand over the then brand-new Burgess facility to Team Sheeper, a private contractor, without charging rent or putting the contract out to bid, some residents were outraged. The current lease expires in May 2011, so residents have plenty of time to wade into the controversy.

Community Services Director Cherise Brandell said the city is releasing the documents early "to ensure a transparent and contemplative process."

To read the staff report and draft request for proposals (RFP), go to City of Menlo Park, select "City Council," then click on the Aug. 11 agenda.

The council will consider the request for proposals at its next meeting on Aug. 24, with an anticipated deadline to receive proposals in October.

Prior to the deadline, the staff report states, the city intends to mail a survey to pool users, seeking input about operating hours, services, and fees.

Comments

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Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 16, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I haven't yet seen the City staff report, but I can say from personal experience that Tim Sheeper & Co. are doing a good job of running the Burgess Pool complex.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 16, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Thanks Hank (uh, I mean "James Madison"), but it was never the point as to whether Sheeper is doing a "good job" or not - and, by the way, it's easy to do a "good job" when you're rolling in dough thanks to a sweetheart, no-bid deal!


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 16, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I just did a quick read of the city's RFP - it discusses a base rent of nearly $20,000 per month, based on the facility's cost ($7 million), spread over 30 years and ignoring interest.

So basically, Sheeper's been paying $0 for something he should have been paying $20k month for. Taken over the 5 year contract he's had, he's saved (and, in turn it's cost the city/us taxpayers) $1.2 million!

Sweetheart is NOT the right word here - OUTRAGEOUS is more like it!


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Posted by reality based decision
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2010 at 7:54 am

In addition to getting competitive bids, how about some reality-based decision-making? Both issues were problems the first-time around.

It is odd that the city is asking the bidders what they want to pay as rent, rather than telling them. Staff, or better yet a committee of council and commissioners supported, or both should do some research about fees charged by other public swim facilities to those using them and about rents charged to those who operate the facilities. That effort shouldn't take very long and could prove helpful in the process.


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Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:02 am

I swam with Menlo Masters for each of the six years I was employed by the Town of Atherton as its Finance Director. I swam with the club at Sacred Heart, at Herkner and most recently at Burgess.
To his credit, Tim ran a first class program, no matter how modern or antiquated the facility. Regardless of where Menlo Masters winds up, I have every confidence that it will remain the envy of California masters swim programs.
I now live in Davis, home of the Davis Aquatic Masters (DamFast). The Davis program is highly regarded. However in my opinion it doesn’t even come close to the quality of the program and the quality of the relationships that TeamSheeper (aka Menlo Masters) offers.
I am deeply disappointed at Menlo Park’s decision to bow to public pressure and open this contract up for bid.
I am not an attorney. However in my role as the purchasing officer for the Town of Atherton I believe I speak with authority when I tell you that there are provisions in the California Government Code that allow the kinds of “no bid” arrangements that Menlo Park entered into. I speak with authority when I say that Menlo Park could have and should have given Tim Sheeper a renewal of his contract without competitive bidding.
Admittedly I am biased in my thinking because of my fond memories with Menlo Masters. However, I am of the mind that the City of Menlo Park is wasting valuable staff time by going out to bid. I also believe that to do so in view of the quality and the breadth of the program that Tim Sheeper built up shows a lack of regard for the “sweat equity” that Tim Sheeper has in Burgess.
Just about any city in California can issue bonds and build a facility as good at Burgess. However, it takes more than water, concrete and a hole in the ground to build a first rate recreational facility. It takes people with skill, energy, talent and vision.
The fact that Burgess was to be closed for lack of funds after having been built is a clear example of Menlo Park’s deficit, not in financial terms but in human terms, that rendered it unable to put Burges to its highest and best use. That is until Tim Sheeper showed up.
Now the City thinks it can generate $240k per month as base rent, based upon a $7 million capital cost. This is simply unrealistic. For those who think the Burgess lease to Sheeper is a sweetheart deal. This is utter nonsense. From what I know about the size of the program and the range of what is being offered I doubt very seriously that Tim takes home in net income more than what a director level employee at Menlo Park takes in, while taking on just as much responsibility and far greater business risk.


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Posted by reality based decision
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

With all due respect to Mr. Johns, the issue here is the public facility and its programs, not about the quality of the privately run masters swim program.
Sheeper is widely respected, and runs a far better operation than the city did or probably could ever have done.
At issue before and now is whether the arrangement is the best for the taxpayers and residents of Menlo Park. Obtaining competitive bids is appropriate due diligence in my book.


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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:35 am

This is why Johns gets run out of town. RFPs are a bad thing, open legal government processes are cumbersome. Great value add, Johns.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 10:44 am

I really don't have any skin in the game when it comes to the Pool. I don't swim there, I work in MP, but don't live here. However, I do have friends and coworkers who do use the pool. From all I've read and heard on all sides of the issue of whether the original deal should have been bid out, on whether the renewal should be bid out, on whether the City should/could get $20+K/mo. in rent; I can't recall reading/hearing one single person say that Mr. Sheeper's operation of this facility is anything short of first class. To that point, I would just like to urge City staff and Council, in evaluating bids, to keep two old adages in mind, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "you get what you pay for".


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:02 am

This RFP is ridiculous. It was written to get no outside bids so Heyward, Kelly, & Rich can turn it over to the Unions. Someone should seek injunctive relief.

Tim Sheeper is an operator of the pool. He does not own equity in the pool. He can not sell the pool. The current arrangement is a common oneknown as a GOCO ("Government owned contractor operated"). The City is entitled to charge rent. But be aware any rent charged will be passed on the the people using the pool. But to charge $20K/month is absurd. All it will do is turn the operation of the pool over to the SEIU. So we get more featherbedding, much higher salaries and benefits that have to be borne by the residents and inferior pool operation.

This is clearly another reason why people should not vote for Robinson and Cline. And while we are at it we should recall Kelly Fergusson. She has simply been a horrible council member.


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Posted by swimming in debt
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm

A few comments:

* Sheeper indicated, before he was given a brand new pool for free, that he would be willing to pay rent, just as he paid rent to previous pool owners. The other third party vendors who use city property pay rent. Even organizations like Little League and AYSO pay rent, and they are nonprofit, all volunteer organizations!

* It's simply illogical to say that the alternative to Sheeper is a union operation. Sheeper had never run an aquatics facility before the pool was handed to him. There may be some prospective operators with actual experience who might be interested. Hence, the RFP.

* According to research that the city itself conducted (never published in the local press) other cities run their aquatics program at a profit, or at least breakeven. It's fallacious to suggest that Menlo Park could not do the same. (Yes, the city did lose money on the old pool because it kept breaking down. The new pool does not incur those costs.)

* Sheeper, by all accounts, does a fine job with the masters program. He hasn't done so well by other programs. Remember the issues with Solo? And a recent discussion of his children's programs -- published on a popular mailing list for local parents -- drew dozens of complaints and only a handful of compliments.

* Any operator will pass along the rent to the customers. And what's so bad about that? We taxpayers already subsidize the pool. We shouldn't be subsidizing the swimmers too. It's perfectly appropriate for them to pay extra.

For whatever mistakes the council/city management have made, I am glad to see they are not repeated their major gaffe of 2006 and are putting the contract out to bid.


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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Don't you get it?

The RFP was rigged with such a high monthly rent that there will be no bidders. The City will then resign itself to operating the pool on its own. Which is what it always wanted to do. The City does not want anyone to bid on the contract!


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm

"the RFP was rigged with such a high monthly rent that there will be no bidders" --WHAT??? I just read the RFP (available quite conveniently on the City Council page of the City's website (way to communicate well Staff-excellent job). A few points for MP residents who otherwise might just buy off on Hank's BS information-The RFP does not stipulate a monthly rent; thats part of the bid. It does state that "preference will be given" to bidders who also bid on the other two pools. I don't know if Sheeper currently operates those, but it does make sense to at least try to narrow down to one contract service provider. Lastly, the RFP has not been approved by Council yet--thats the purpose of it being on their agenda for 8/24. Hank, I DO get it--nice try!


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Posted by Almanac Reader
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm

The City released a staff report on August 11 recommending rent of $20K per month.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Aug 18, 2010 at 8:33 am

To Almanac Reader--thank you. I went back and re-read the staff report. I had not read the last section on impact on City resources and indeed, it does contain information for Council that Finance staff had done a calculation of how much rent would need to be in order to recover the $7 million investment, without interest, over 30 years (answer, just under $20K/mo.) It does, however, go on to say that depending on what is proposed by the responders, the rent could be either offset by payments for specific uses, or by the final negotiation with the winning bidder. I read that as input to Council, not a recommendation, but in any event I stand corrected.


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Posted by Multi-service User
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm


I am a frequent user of the programs offered by Menlo Swim & Sport, including children's swim lessons, summer camp, open swim, lap swim as well as a Menlo Master's swimmer. I have also had occasion to swim at other pools in the peninsula including Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Redwood City and Portola Valley. It is my firm opinion that there is no other program being offered that is as excellent, responsive, and dynamic as that being offered by Menlo Swim and Sport.

I also had the opportunity to use the pool before the rebuilding and change in management to Menlo Swim & Sport. As a master's swimmer the program was enormously inferior to the master's program offered by Tim Sheeper at the Redwood City Herkner pool. While both pools at that time were old, the Menlo pool was still superior, so it's clear that the management had an enormous impact on the quality of the experience.

With respect to some of the other posters hyperbole above, please remember that Menlo Swim and Sport has absorbed all operational costs for the pool over the last 5 years. To say they got a sweetheart "free" deal is pure posturing. Frankly, I think it's a waste of time and taxpayer money to put out this RFP given the excellent service the community has been obtaining. If the RFP process does get approved, I certainly will be a vocal supporter of MS&S's proposal, and insist the review committee apply significant weight to the history of superior service that MS&S has provided.



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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm

The City should put together a bidder's list and send out RFIs to each potential bidder. If there is more than one outside RFI respondent then an RFP should be issued. If there is only one outside respondent then the RFP should be canceled and the City and the sole bidder should enter into contract negotiations.

Under no circumstance should the operation of the pool be brought in-house.


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Posted by Mike Anderson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Having been a user of the Burgess Pool before the "reformation" as well as after (the Tim sheeper era), in my judgement the present management of said pool is a "no contest" issue..Sheeper and company has done an exceptional job in developing a fun, clean, well run program for all ages.. this program is truly a blessing for the city of Menlo Park..God forbid that it would fall back into the hands of the City and /or its union minions..


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Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm

The city staffers who wrote the RFP and suggest the $20,000 per month rent for outside bidders are members of the privatly owned and operated SEIU (Service Employees International Union). In 2006 they aggressively fought have MSS run the pool (sfter denying them access) and proposed running it themselves at a cost to the city of $600,000 to $700,000 per year.

Tim Sheeper now saves the City that much per year. Therefore when Tim's contract is up in May the City will have recouped over $3 million of the $7 million invested.


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Posted by One more point
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

The RFP is also asking bidders to bid to run the Belle Haven pool which, according to the staff report, costs the City $190,000 per year. So, it seems the City Staff likes this outsourcing! And, no wonder. With the City projecting budget deficits for the next ten years and tax revenue falling off the cliff, how could they do otherwise?

I should only hope that our City's elected officials will ask the City Staff to look at other programs that can be outsourced. Maybe then our budget can get in balance, and we will have money to fix up our disgraceful residential streets, etc.


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Posted by Need Info
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm

If the city expects to get $20,000 a month in rent, what are its expenses? Granted if the city had invested the $7 million in investments like... well perhaps Lehman Brothers, they would be rolling in nice monthly payments. Menlo Park paid for a pool. They have a pool. How in the world does anyone figure that it should "pay off" in thirty years? Will the library pay itself off? If the pool is being run without any other costs coming from the city that's great! If Mr. Sheaper is making money, that's also great, but figure what the city is not paying in salaries. If the city is paying for expenses, then those should be covered by the facility before anyone takes any profit. It would also be nice if there is a fund being built up to pay for upkeep that will be necessary. Pulling $75k per year to put into a fund for the pool would be great. If they are going to pull the money out to use for something else, this is a terrible idea.


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Posted by swimming in debt
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 18, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Looks like Sheeper has rallied his posse to come over here and post love letters.

I'm thrilled that you Friends of Tim like his program, but fact is that the city should not be subsidizing any private business. Your adoration for Sheeper, no matter how deserved, does not obscure that fact.


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Posted by Y'all R Stupid
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

You only know what to charge in rent if you know what the income is. Until you figure that out ... y'all r stupid.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 18, 2010 at 11:33 pm

"You only know what to charge in rent if you know what the income is. Until you figure that out ... y'all r stupid."

Actually, that's a great point - City Council should demand that Sheeper open his books first if he wants to bid this time around.

And whoever does win this time around should have to open their books too.




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Posted by reality based decision
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 19, 2010 at 9:02 am

There are several issues here, including the ability to operate the pools well, the ability to run the city's swim programs at a comparable quality and cost to other public programs, and the overall financial relationship for the taxpayers of Menlo Park. Each of these must be addressed through this process.

The issue of rent to be paid is fair to discuss, and fair to compare to other facilities. What other type of for-profit business gets to use rent-free a new taxpayer-financed facility?

Sheeper runs some major private programs that would have to pay rent for use of facilities wherever they are run, just as programs like SOLO have to pay to use the facilities.

Hank Lawrence's suggestion of issuing an RFI before an RFP is very reasonable. However, perhaps the staff already have asked potential bidders if they might like to bid, in which case it makes sense to go directly to an RFP.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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