News

Menlo mayor to swim clubs: Play nice

Council to vote on contract next week

The water fight over pool time at the city's aquatics centers may dry up in one week. Team Sheeper and SOLO Aquatics have that long to work out their differences, or the City Council may do it for them.

"Both groups can end up losing," Mayor Rich Cline told representatives from both clubs at the Feb. 15 council meeting. "That's not where you want to be."

The meeting included a lengthy staff presentation by Cherise Brandell and Katrina Whiteaker that clarified several issues regarding how the city calculated break-even costs, lane allotments, and profitability.

Those issues arose after SOLO sent an e-mail to its members that highlighted what it considered misleading information released by the city. For example, the staff report shows that SOLO, with 45 lane hours allotted at the Burgess pools, has more lane time than Team Sheeper's comparable youth program, the Mavericks, which had 42.5.

However, looking at the Mavericks website showed the youth program was scheduled for 61 hours a week — not 42.5.

Fine-tuning the numbers

Why the difference? It turns out the city, using data provided by Team Sheeper, averaged the number of hours Mavericks actually uses each week versus the maximum it could use. But the program, which owner Tim Sheeper says has grown by 35 percent, could expand, while SOLO is limited to the number of hours it can rent.

Ms. Brandell said that's the crux of the challenge with SOLO and Mavericks. "Since the pool is currently at 100 percent capacity, giving more time to any one group inevitably takes away from other uses. Both SOLO and Sheeper have a future vision to expand," she said.

Those other uses include lap swimming for those who just want to swim, instead of participating in a competitive club.

The new contract states that Team Sheeper would pay $3,000 a month to lease the Burgess pools, a $6.8-million public facility; be responsible for all operating costs; and operate the Belle Haven pools for at least three months a year. According to Community Services Director Cherise Brandell's analysis, that would save the city approximately $90,000 a year.

SOLO would get a regular late afternoon practice time five days a week at a discounted rate of $6 per hour. SOLO would also get an equal share of bulletin board space to advertise its programs. During the summer, however, the SOLO program would be scheduled only at Belle Haven.

Suggested changes

On Feb. 3, the Parks and Recreation Commission suggested amending the lease, which is still under negotiation, to include: a five-year lease instead of 10 years, with an automatic five-year extension if everything is going well; financial and operational reviews each winter instead of June, so the review takes place before the busiest swim season; annual presentations from the aquatics users group regarding customer satisfaction; and reserving the right to control 10 percent to 20 percent of pool programming if needed.

The council appeared to agree with those suggestions, and also asked staff to consider raising rates for non-residents; currently swimmers from outside Menlo Park pay only $5 more to use the pools. The contract returns to the council for approval on March 1 at the earliest.

Both Mr. Sheeper and Steve Zanolli, president of SOLO's board of directors, said that the two groups were closer than ever to working out their competing demands.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Be Precise
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Dear Sandy:

Your paragraph regarding the costs saved by the City is extremely misleading, so much so that I wonder if you are intentionally trying to stir up controversy?

The $90,000 savings refers only to the expenses saved by Menlo Park in having Team Sheeper operate the Belle Haven pool. When you include the operational costs for the Burgess aquatic center, the total savings to the city amount to well over $600,000.

The uniformed could easily read your article and infer that a $6.8 million dollar facility is being provided to Team Sheeper for only a $90,000 cost savings, which is understating the savings by about 7 times. You have spent so much time on this issue that I know you are familiar with the numbers. Please be precise and stop trying to stir up anti-privatization sentiment. I find this behavior appalling.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

That sentence specifically refers to the Belle Haven pool.


Like this comment
Posted by You can fool some of the people
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm

No need to muddle the issue by insisting that a private entity running the pool "saves" the city money. This is true only if you assume that swimmers don't pay to use the facillty. Although it is true that the city is saving the cost of running the pool, it is also giving up substantial amounts of revenue -- revenue that well exceeds the cost. (If this were not the case, two clubs would not be interested in running the facility!)

While it may make sense for a private entity to run the pool, assuming that city residents are not overcharged (as is currently the case), it's simply disingenuous to suggest that the business model only has one side.


Like this comment
Posted by Adam Kerr
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

With regards to the previous poster's comment on overcharging residents, I found the fees are in line (.50 or .75 difference) with other pools in our immediate area (Rinconada, Mountain View) so I don't understand the basis for their comment.

Bottom-line, and I mean literally bottom-line of the article, there seems to be some hope that this issue will soon be laid to rest and the Menlo Park swimming community can move on to more enjoyable pastimes which is great news!


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Precise is right Sandy
"The new contract states that Team Sheeper would pay $3,000 a month to lease the Burgess pools, a $6.8-million public facility; be responsible for all operating costs; and operate the Belle Haven pools for at least three months a year. According to Community Services Director Cherise Brandell's analysis, that would save the city approximately $90,000 a year."
Your first sentence refers to both pools. Thus any reader would infer the savings mentioned in the second sentence applies to both pools.


Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm

That is why I made the post - to clarify what that sentence was referring to.


Like this comment
Posted by Here'a A Thought, Mr. Mayor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

How about stipulating that only a non-profit can run it, instead of letting this guy Sheeper roll in the dough on the taxpayers dime?


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:26 am

Sandy
Read it again - your sentence refers specifically to BOTH pools. What you wrote clearly implies that the total savings for BOTH pools is $90,000. If that's not the case rewrite it so there's no confusion.
Stating in the comments that you meant something else doesn't clear it up for readers of the article only.
So please be a sport and rewrite to make it clear to all - just add eight little words.
Perhaps - According to Community Services Director Cherise Brandell's analysis, that would save the city approximately $90,000 a year on the operation of the Bell Haven pools.


Like this comment
Posted by frustrated fact checker
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 9:52 am

Actually, no one knows how much is "saved" for the Burgess pools. In 2006, staff estimated that $590,000 would be saved(not counting overhead that would be reallocated to other city departments). Now staff tells us that the costs of operating Burgess is nearly $1.8 million.
There has been NO reconciliation or public reporting of the actual costs for things like heating, etc. that the city is reimbursed by the operator. There has been no scrutiny of how much of Team Sheeper LLC's costs that aren't for the pool are included.
The city is allowing a for-profit operator to set up multiple businesses on city property, hasn't been charging rent, and now the financial information is known only to staff.
The City has an obligation to the taxpayers to provide more complete information, and not have staff hold all the cards. The lack of information does not pass the smell test.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 9:57 am

Frustrated fact checker states:"The City has an obligation to the taxpayers to provide more complete information, and not have staff hold all the cards. The lack of information does not pass the smell test."


Accountability only works if the citizens demand accountability.
Why do the good citizens of Menlo Park allow this to happen?????


Like this comment
Posted by frustrated fact checker
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The Council has to demand it, and they seem very weak.


Like this comment
Posted by frustrated fact checker
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Now Tim Sheeper has sent out an email blast to all his lap swimmers telling them that a lane renter wants to take away their afternoon lap time. Isn't a big issue here that Tim took away SOLO's lane time, gave it to his new Mavericks program? The problem is of his own making.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Peter Carpenter states:"Accountability only works if the citizens demand accountability."

Fact checker states:"The Council has to demand it, and they seem very weak."

No, the citizens have to demand accountability and the citizens don't appear to care very much about accountability.


Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 25, 2011 at 10:29 pm

If it adds any perspective --The drama between the Solo coach and the Menlo Masters coach has a LONG LONG history. I believe those two started out as friends or even team mates as boy athletes. This competiton between the two, now grown up men will go on forever even though Tim won his race along time ago.


Like this comment
Posted by Masters Swimmer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm

As a Masters swimmer/ dad / I am watching what is going on with great amusement.
You apparently got the coaches of two Masters/Youth Swimming programs fight their little silly war on the back of your city council and at the cost of Menlo Park citizens and swimmers.

Right now I couldn't recommend to anybody signing up with either of these two Aquatics programs.
Both appear to have quite some issues that they are not willing to resolve, creating a toxic climate for all athletes involved in either program and casting an ugly light on the state of swimming in this community.


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

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