Cuesta Park's tennis courts will have a new operator since the city decided to replace hometown favorite Tim Foley over a number of alleged breaches of contract.
Foley barely survived a contract-renewal fight three years ago, but since then has run afoul of city administrators, who say he failed to perform employee background checks, obtain a business license or report his finances to the city.
Dressed mostly in track suits, several prospective tennis court operators met in the Cuesta tennis building on Tuesday afternoon with recreation supervisor Henry Perezalonso, who characterized the community as "passionate about tennis, especially at Cuesta."
Perezalonso discussed the contract requirements with the prospective operators, who are eager to win the lucrative right to schedule court times and provide tennis lessons and other services at the complex beginning in June.
Three years ago, Cuesta regulars packed the City Council chambers to support Foley and oppose a city recommendation that he be replaced, expressing fear that a commercially oriented operator would hurt the informal atmosphere there. Foley had originally gotten the job when a previous operator somehow transferred the contract to him. Despite objections from city staff, some council members and prospective operators, Foley's supporters were able to keep him in the job.
But in the time since, city staff report that Foley "has not complied with various items in the agreement which have included financial or reporting obligations, business license and insurance requirements and background checks for employees contractors and volunteers."
"I'm disappointed because it turned out as I expected," said council member Tom Means, who unsuccessfully fought to have the tennis operator pay bills for court maintenance. "A lot of people from the community gave him high marks," he said, but according to others, "Tim's a nice guy but he's not a business person."
Foley did not return a phone message left with staff at the Cuesta Tennis Center.
Community over revenue
Perezalonso told prospective operators that the city was looking for an operator who would provide tennis court access to everyone as a priority over generating revenue for the city, a policy that came from the community, not staff. Operators would provide minor upkeep of the center, manage volunteers and employees, help organize tournaments and league play while paying the city $24,000 a year (increasing by $1,000 a year) for the exclusive right to charge for tennis lessons and classes on city tennis courts and collect user fees.
The city's goal is to recover about half of the city's annual tennis court maintenance costs. That concerns council member Means, who says operators in Sunnyvale and Cupertino make hundreds of thousands a year on city tennis courts.
"People say the golf course is draining the city, but that's nonsense," Means said. "The tennis center is a bigger drain, I guarantee it."
In a March 11 city staff report, Perezalonso warned that the city may increase the operator fees in the future because of the city's "increasingly difficult financial situation."
The prospective operators got a tour of the facility Tuesday, and combed over every portion of the Cuesta tennis building as if buying a new car. Business plans from them are due April 16.
Wearing a business suit, prospective operator Dana Gill stood out from the crowd. He operates city tennis centers in Pleasanton and Cupertino, and was the favored operator of city staff three years ago. Staff said he offered expanded hours, new programs and greater revenue, but would possibly reduce availability for walk-on play.
"This is one of the most storied community facilities in Northern California, second only to Golden Gate Park," Gill said. "This used to be one of the most popular facilities around." It's a place you want to come just to "hang out," he said. "They don't make them like this anymore."
Locally, Cuesta was the center of the 1970s tennis boom. For over 40 years it has been the home of the Mountain View Open, a tournament that has seen many of its competing pros go on to the U.S. Open or Wimbledon.
But lately Cuesta hasn't been utilized as much as it could be, Gill said. The eight courts at Rengstorff Park, originally envisioned as a second tennis center, have never been well utilized.
But that all may change with a new operator, as tennis is "definitely" becoming more popular, said Todd Dissly, who came in second in the city's 2006 selection process. Dissly runs tennis centers in San Jose, Los Gatos and Saratoga.
Today the Cuesta courts are dominated by about 100 players who are as "passionate about tennis as they were when [Cuesta first opened," Gill said. Ever since the controversy in 2006 over Foley and the future of the Cuesta Tennis Center, Gill said he has learned to respect this group of players. But he adds that "there's room for everybody" as he considers ways to educate a new crop of players on the Cuesta tennis courts.