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Menlo Park floats option to take over Burgess Park and new community center pools

Original post made on Feb 9, 2022

As the city's contract with Team Sheeper is set to expire and a new community aquatics center is on the horizon, Menlo Park City Council explores the idea of the city running both pools.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 9, 2022, 11:56 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by [email protected]
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 9, 2022 at 12:47 pm

[email protected] is a registered user.

I hope the City will strongly consider renewing the contract with Sheeper or with another private company. Local government is typically not very good at managing programs themselves. They do not have the expertise, flexibility, focus, time or motivation. It's ok for the outside company to mix public access and private sports teams usage. It's necessary for the economics and good for the community. Thank you, Tim Sheeper, for all your work and devotion.


Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 9, 2022 at 12:56 pm

Long Time Resident is a registered user.

The City considered operating the pool itself or getting proposals from other operators when it opened in 2006 and again in 2011. What they discovered was that there are no other qualified operators and City staff is not capable of providing Tim Sheeper's programs. To provide new staff with the required capabilities is enormously expensive, if you can find them. Far beyond what Sheeper charges. I have been a year round masters swimmer with Tim for 25 years and have seen the incredible wealth of programs he offers everyone. The City will be far ahead financially and in program quality if it can work out operational problems with Tim Sheeper.


Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 9, 2022 at 1:15 pm

Steve Schmidt is a registered user.

The City spent public funds to renovate its aquatic center. The intention was not to provide a profit center for a private company. It's past time to cut Team Sheeper loose and give our facilities back to the residents of Menlo Park.


Posted by West Menlo Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 9, 2022 at 1:36 pm

West Menlo Mom is a registered user.

As a long time user of Burgess pool for lap swimming, I'm stunned. I think Team Sheeper is doing an outstanding job maintaining the pool and also providing access to the public. I doubt the city is able to provide the access and programs that Team Sheeper provides.


Posted by James Pistorino
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 9, 2022 at 1:55 pm

James Pistorino is a registered user.

I want to state my support for Team Sheeper. Having Burgess Park Pool is an asset to Menlo Park but it would not be if the pool was not properly maintained or staffed, and there were not a variety of programs to hit various age groups/interests. No government staff would be as responsive and/or offer as much as Team Sheeper for even close to the same cost. The cost is very reasonable ($6/visit or $65 for a monthly membership).

Further, it is a fact of life that there is tremendous demand for pool time from numerous competing groups (swim teams, water polo, swim lessons, independent swimming, masters swimming, kids play time, water aerobics, summer camps, etc). Try going to Stanford or any other pool and see what the demand/availability is. Given the demand, there is going to be friction about who uses the pool and when. I think Sheeper is striking a healthy balance.

At this point, thousands of kids have been taught to swim at the pool, it is one of the most vibrant parts of Menlo Park, and greatly contributes to the sense of community. Do not try to fix what is already working. Let's hope Sheeper can keep doing what he has been so successfully.


Posted by Happy Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 9, 2022 at 2:03 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

I am certain that the City Council should renew the contract with Sheeper. It could consider another private company, but history shows that there are no other qualified operators available. Menlo Park proved over many years that it was not good at managing pools and programs. Menlo Park needs Sheeper to have the expertise, flexibility, focus, time, and commitment to manage and succeed with the pools and all of the programs all together. These talents are necessary for the economics and good of Menlo Park.


Posted by Scott
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 9, 2022 at 2:23 pm

Scott is a registered user.

"I'm from the government, and I am here to float an idea."


Posted by Frozen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 9, 2022 at 2:27 pm

Frozen is a registered user.

Most local cities run their own aquatics facilities, and Menlo Park did not prove it could not manage pools. The challenge was trying to maintain a decrepit post-WWII facility that was replaced using funds from Measure T -- our tax dollars. The brand new facility was handed over, for free, to Tim Sheeper. Kind of like having a rich relative pay all the capital costs for starting a business, except we, the residents, were that rich relative.

Tim is a nice guy and apparently an inspiring coach. This is not a knock on him. His fans are extremely devoted, and I'm not surprised that they are already showing up here in droves to praise him. However, the rest of us get the leftovers -- the time and space that Team Sheeper doesn't need or want. Although my family lives within walking distance of the pool, we haven't been there since Sheeper took over operations because we don't feel welcome at the private club.

I don't usually agree with Steve Schmidt, but he nailed it.


Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 9, 2022 at 4:49 pm

Steve Schmidt is a registered user.

Yes, @frozen MP property owners passed a bond measure that included a new swim pool at Burgess. Nowhere was there a plan to hand it over to a private operator without competitive bidding. The decision occurred during a city council meeting when Tim Sheeper coincidently "happened" to be in the audience. Political theatre at its worst. Motion, second and passed. It is a public facility and should be available to the public, not private clients or members of Team Sheeper. It is irresponsible that the City has not been allowed to see Mr. Sheeper's financial records, and is being pressured to renew his contract because he claims he can barely make a profit. Is Mr. Sheeper's contract running the Palo Alto public pool is also a drain on his wallet?


Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2022 at 7:52 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Our city will NEVER be the right operator of the pool. as an entity they can barely keep our city running. and the last thing we need is another 30+ employees on the pension system.....horrible idea.

Roy Thiele-Sardina


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2022 at 8:06 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

There's a lot Roy and I don't agree on, but he's spot on in this case.


Posted by Marianne Brems
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 12:42 pm

Marianne Brems is a registered user.

I think it is misleading to call Tim Sheeper's Menlo Swim and Sport operating at Burgess Pool a private club. The company offers a wide variety of programs which anyone can participate in. There is no initiation fee and the cost of the programs is commensurate what is provided. What Tim Sheeper offers is expertise in running a well-rounded aquatics program. In fact, several other city programs have consulted with him on how to make their facilities operate more efficiently. It seems to me that his purpose is the same as what any public or private organization that runs a pool would need to have if they want to offer quality programs to the greatest number of people at a reasonable price.


Posted by Nearby Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 5:27 pm

Nearby Resident is a registered user.

I've been using the Burgess pool year-round for at least 10 years. My sons have done swimming, lifeguard, and camp programs at Burgess. Team Sheeper has been doing a great job running the pool. The complaint in a previous post that the pool is like a "private club" is bizarre to me. Anyone can drop in. I've even seen people from all walks of life use that pool. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I wonder what our City Council is thinking.


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 10, 2022 at 6:59 pm

Iris is a registered user.

This conversation needs to distinguish between what is required to operate the pool, to create and manage a schedule of offerings (including open swim and fun time), and to teach or coach programs.
Many in this thread seem to assert that either the City staffs all these functions or someone else does whereas there are many possibilities in between that draw upon some City staff and also upon providers of programs.
For example, organizations like Sheeper’s could rent and teach classes in lane space at times identified by the City to best serve Menlo Park residents, who are paying for the facility.
I think this is a healthy conversation and evaluation for the city to conduct.


Posted by marucamig
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 10, 2022 at 9:38 pm

marucamig is a registered user.

At the beginning of the pandemic a family of 4 could rent the shallow side of the Belle Haven pool for an hour. It was a great form of exercise and stress release 2 days a week my family looked forward to since we live across the street. UNTIL the day we saw a coach and 2 young kids on the side waiting for us to get out. Low and behold another gentleman comes over and says "That's enough, time to go" with 15 minutes left of our hour. Come to find out our family time, that was already paid for, had been double booked. All other bookings I had for that time slot were cancelled because renting out to another program was more important then a paid resident across the street.

That pretty much explains what it's felt like at the other pool in Menlo Park run by Team Sheeper. Residents are not the priority. And let me not get started how all those Menlo Swim & Sport emails never mentioned anything about Belle Haven pool schedule/swim classes.

Next summer Belle Haven gets a new pool area. Whatever the city decides on I hope they choose something where residents, NOT out of city programs, get proper/timely access to pool.


Posted by James Pistorino
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 11, 2022 at 12:39 pm

James Pistorino is a registered user.

In my view, the first issue is whether the City should be operating the pool or a private entity (whether Team Sheeper or someone else). At base, a private entity will always do a better job at lower cost than government employees (who would then get on the pension bandwagon). If a private entity fails to perform, they can always be fired/contract not renewed. Government, not so much.

Once you are looking at private operators, I am not aware of anyone that could do a better job than Sheeper for the same price. If there is someone, let's hear from them. Objectively speaking, it is tough to say that Sheeper has not done a great job.

As to those raising the issue of what voters approved when they approved rebuilding the pool/recreation complex. In my view, the voters are getting exactly what they voted for: a Menlo Park owned facility (unlike Stanford, e.g.), that offers great programs, is well maintained, and and is an asset to the community. Voters should be pleased with what they got and are getting for their money.

If you look at the report attached to the February 8 City Council meeting, there is a detailed comparison of Burgess to other pools in the area on a variety of bases. Basically, that report shows that Burgess is right in the middle with regard to cost, while outperforming its peers on availability, etc.

One interesting thing in the report is that more than 40% of pool visitors are not Menlo Park residents. That tells you that the pool is so much better than alternatives/the only option, it is drawing people in (even at a slightly higher cost than offered to residents). In my view, the pool should be welcoming to all, resident or not. However, if overuse/lack of availability is an issue, then I suppose the non-resident cost could be increased, which would presumably reduce some of that 40%. To be clear, I do not favor this idea.


Posted by Frozen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 11, 2022 at 6:11 pm

Frozen is a registered user.

"One interesting thing in the report is that more than 40% of pool visitors are not Menlo Park residents."

Thank you for highlighting the problem. My Team Sheeper acquaintances live in Atherton, Portola Valley, Hillsborough. Many have their own pools! Team Sheeper is known for attracting a number of local CEOs and VCs, and at least some of the draw for members is the chance to network with movers & shakers. (This isn't just speculation: I've heard discussions on this topic from the TS crowd.)

That's great for them, not so fine for those of us who live here, don't want the private club ambiance, and aren't looking for investors for our next fund.

It's sad to read the comments from Sheeper members. I understand that you don't agree with residents, but could you at least try to respect that we have a different view of the world? It's reasonable for us to want a pool that serves the whole community.

If Sheeper's contract is renewed, I hope the city will require him to provide more open swim hours for residents. We shouldn't have to join the team to get to use the pool we're paying for.


Posted by MACA
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 11, 2022 at 8:17 pm

MACA is a registered user.

I really like all the programs the Sheeper management provide! I have two gripes: 1. the women’s shower area was not designed well. It is like a damp dark cave and the showers don’t work so well. 2. The cost for non resident senior swim at. $9. seems costly. I lap swim at a public pool a 20 minute drive away for $1.75 per swim.


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 12, 2022 at 8:15 am

Iris is a registered user.

Regarding "a private entity will always do a better job at lower cost than government employees"
It is not a given that City employees for at least some roles would cost more than a private entity to whom the City outsources. The reason is that in the outsourcing business, the outsourcer tacks on profit whereas the city is not in the business of generating a profit. Outsourcers still can provide services at a lower cost when they have the advantage of scale, which doesn't seem to be in play here.

I believe that decision makers should look harder at the possibility of the City "owning" the programming (schedules and uses of lanes) and the basic operation of the pools with a goal to serve Menlo Park residents rather than paying an outsider with profit motives. Then the City should look at renting out lanes and times to program providers rather than hiring additional City staff for all of those roles.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2022 at 8:48 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Iris:

You are correct that the private operator tacks on profit. What you're missing is that city employees get pensions. The costs of those pensions exceed any profit tacked on by the private operator. Not to mention, those costs carry on long after the employee has retired. Have you read of the massive deficit that exists in the Calpers retirement system? Anything that can be done to outsource city services is a financial positive for the city because of the pension costs.


Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2022 at 9:07 am

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

I appreciate the Council's decision to revisit the pool contract arrangement with Team Sheeper. I've also heard complaints from neighbors and friends about various aspects of the arrangement, such as the limited open swin hours.

Accordingly, I attended the July 28, 2021 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission where Team Sheeper gave an update. I advocated for the City Council to look into the complaints. That night, I also learned about the fees charged for swimming lessons. To me, the fees seemed high. I could well imagine that those fees could be a real burden for parents, especially lower-income parents.

Knowing how to swim is a matter of safety and also one of equity and inclusion. I would like Menlo Park to prioritize helping all residents learn how to swim, no matter their income levels. This skill is best learned when one is young. Our youth also need the ability to fully participate in social activities involving water, such as pool parties. I don't want any youth to feel a stigma because his or her parents could not afford swimming lessons. That stigma could lead to declining invitations to activities that offer the potential of developing friendships across a broader mix of people. Swimming ability should be for all.

The Staff Report gives background. Web Link The minutes also include Team Sheeper's presentation, which I found light on financial details.
Web Link

The Almanac has written prior articles on the topic, which also incliude Town Square concerns. One may find these by searching under "Team Sheeper."


Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 12, 2022 at 11:45 am

Iris is a registered user.

I understand that city staff get pensions, but I am hopeful that those are being managed better now than in the past by our city at least.
BTW I am not suggesting that all the swim pool staff be city employees. That doesn't make sense when some are seasonal and some may have specialized skills that could be used at multiple pools in our area (e.g., teaching).
I do think our city ought to manage the use of the pool - the when and the what - to optimize its use for the enjoyment, health, and education of its residents.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2022 at 2:54 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Iris:

you may be hopeful, but pension costs and all staff costs are NOT being managed better.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 12, 2022 at 11:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The fact is that the city has ZERO ability to manage its pension costs except by controlling its TOTAL payroll.

CALPERS controls the pension costs given whatever is the city's total payroll.

The city's total payroll can only be changed by changing the number of employees or the compensation of those employees.

If the city contracts for services it pays the full cost at the time it receives the services and the city has no future pension liability - that liability rests with the contractor.

If the city hires new employees to perform a service then the city has pension costs every year in the future based of the salaries of those employees.


Posted by LaurelMom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 13, 2022 at 12:00 pm

LaurelMom is a registered user.

I don't know enough about the reasons why the city would consider taking over the management of the pool. I suspect that there are good reasons to evaluate it, though I don't know what the "right" answer would be.

I do caution the commenters on this thread who think that the city taking over management of the pool would somehow miraculously give more access of the pool to the community. The pool is an inherently finite resource, and there will inevitably be people who are disappointed by the options available that suit their and their families' preferences. I also caution folks not to draw too many conclusions based on the extreme restrictions during the pandemic. Everyone I know in communities across the country was disappointed by pool availability during the pandemic. Friends in other cities were very envious that we even had the option to send our kids to swim camp during the past two summers.

Our family has been very happy with the swim options provided by Team Sheeper. We especially appreciated the after-school camps that they offered during the pandemic that were held exclusively outdoors; something that wasn't offered by the after-school programs at our public schools.

But are there ways that the options provided at the pool could better suit our community? Maybe. Should we charge higher fees for people from outside of Menlo Park? Maybe. Should we provide a better system for subsidizing lower income families? Maybe. Should we require that the pool offer more free swim time for families? Maybe. Should we require that the pool have more options for older adults to exercise? Maybe.

We all have different needs and preferences, and we shouldn't assume that Menlo Park management of the pool would meet our individual preferences. It might; it might not. I support the city looking into this, and I caution this group not to make assumptions.


Posted by Lauren Zina John
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 15, 2022 at 12:38 pm

Lauren Zina John is a registered user.

I live within walking distance of the pool and use it frequently in warmer weather. At the height of COVID, the protocols were excellent and staff, from the lifeguards to the check in people were superb. I can honestly say that Team Sheeper kept me sane, safe and healthy last summer. I am 64 years old and am not a tech mogul. I am not a champion swimmer. The pool has always been welcoming and safe and I have always felt welcome. I have never heard a VC conversation at the pool in the decade that I have been using it.
I have never felt exclusivity. I have seen happy families, exercising seniors, nannies exercising on a break, swimmers with disabilities using the pool lift to swim in the shallow part of the pool, and community members from all walks of life. Please don't disrupt an excellent service and system by bringing in a new team of workers hired by the city--at least not at Burgess. I can't speak for the management of other Menlo Park/Palo Alto pools.


Posted by John Higgins
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 15, 2022 at 6:45 pm

John Higgins is a registered user.

I've lived in Menlo Park for 20 years and swim several times a week at Burgess. Both of my daughters learned to swim there and swam for the Mavericks and I couldn't be happier with the job that Team Sheeper does managing the pool and running its many great programs. I regularly see my neighbors their children there and many of the kids have worked as lifeguards and staffed camps during the summer. I'm also happy that non-residents use Burgess. They prove that the pool is well managed and good value; otherwise they'd swim somewhere else. Their business helps keep the costs down for everyone. I hope that the city council will listen to the large number of people like me who use, know and love Burgess as it now is rather than just destroy it in response to complaints from a few who don't even go there and may or may not ever use whatever replaces the current system.


Posted by carol mayer Marshall
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 20, 2022 at 5:17 pm

carol mayer Marshall is a registered user.

I don't understand the comments that the pool and facilities are not for Menlo Park residents. It is open to ALL and the reason that some participants come (and pay) to use these facilities is because they are so well maintained. What in the world is so evil about hiring someone in the private sector to do the job? If the government could do the job, they would have taken it on in the first place. Where is the common sense that says "if it aint broke, don't fix it"?


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