The City Council said Tuesday that the best way to figure out whether to outsource the golf course operation is to ask private operators and the city to compete in a bidding process.
That's what the council directed city staff to do in a study session Tuesday on Shoreline Golf Links. The course is running a growing deficit, estimated between $900,000 and $1.5 million next year, and has burned through reserves this year. Council member Margaret Abe-Koga was the only opponent to what she apparently thought was a reckless rush to cut costs.
"Why didn't we talk about this four or five years ago?" she said.
A city survey of 18-hole golf courses in the area found that privately operated courses at Palo Alto and Santa Clara were paying half of Shoreline's $1.8 million in employee costs, while Sunnyvale, the only other city-run course in the bunch, was spending $400,000 less on employee pay.
The city is still working on a way to cut costs at the course without outsourcing, but that plan will be compared in detail with bids from private operators to manage the course, according to council direction Tuesday.
The city's golf course employees, represented by the Service Employees International Union, are caught in the middle of the problem, and Community Services Director Dave Muela said he could not say that their pay could be lowered enough to make the course viable. However, a reduction in the number of personnel is on the table, he said.
If outsourced, as many as 11 union employees could be out of a job, said council member Mike Kasperzak, depending on whether the private operator hires them back.
The city will not be asking for bids to lease the golf course, only to manage it. Such agreements typically last five years, and cities pay the operator a fee to operate the course. But the city would still be largely responsible for the course's budget. It's the most popular method of outsourcing city-owned courses in the Bay Area and "would afford us easier access to the golf course for ongoing maintenance" of the landfill underneath, Muela said.
Muela added that the need to close down sections of the golf course to maintain the landfill caused tension with a golf course operator who leased the course until 1995. The course opened in 1983.
Operators will also be asked to bid on running the pro shop only, as some City Council members believe that may be enough to cut costs.
To reduce costs, the city has not filled two vacancies in the pro shop where there were five full time employees selling golf gear and offering lessons. A maintenance worker position has also been left vacant.
With $4 million in expenses this year and only $3.2 million in revenues, the city-run course has run out of reserves. Without changes it may begin taking as much as $1.5 million from the general fund in June, leaving less for core city services like the library and police.