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July 22, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 22, 2005

Mayor says city fumbled Cuesta deal Mayor says city fumbled Cuesta deal (July 22, 2005)

Still no contract for tennis center despite months of talks

By Jon Wiener

If anyone knows exactly how much money was spent in the botched bidding process to find an operator for Cuesta Tennis Center, they're not saying -- but Mayor Matt Neely believes it was too much.

Neely told the Voice last week -- five months after the city scrapped a plan to renew the contract with the current operator -- that he believes the city has already invested more in staff time than it makes in one year of revenues from the center.

"We spent way too much time on that," said Neely, days after a recent city council meeting at which his colleagues debated the amount of subsidy they would give the center. "That's not how we should be doing our business."

At the last council meeting before the summer recess, supporters of current operator Tim Foley once again turned out in droves and spoke about the benefits of a community-oriented program.

Many of the same tennis players, among the nearly 300 members of Mountain View Tennis Club, had already bent the ear of officialdom for hours at a Parks and Recreation meeting in April and a city council meeting in June.

Foley pays the city about $14,000 a year for use of the courts and lights, though council members recently voted to increase that amount by about half. In return, Foley is free to charge drop-in users, run lessons and hold tournaments.

The council was set in March to renew Foley's contract for five years. But some bidders complained that the city's request for proposals (RFP) had failed to specify criteria and ignored proposals that promised to net the city tens of thousands in added revenues. City manager Kevin Duggan responded by removing the item from the council's agenda at the last minute, eliciting howls from the tennis club.

A series of meetings since then have focused on what the selection criteria should be -- particularly, whether the center should continue to be run as it has in the past or become more of a commercial operation. Another parks commission meeting is scheduled before the new RFP comes out in September, and two more will be held before the selection is made.

Community services director David Muela, whose department manages the contract, said the complaints from other bidders were little more than frustration that they were not chosen. But he also took responsibility for not being specific enough about what the city wanted in the original RFP. Rather than choose between competing bids that were crafted to meet different standards, the city staff opted to go back to the council for direction.

Muela's department has little experience issuing RFPs; when Foley originally took over the operation of the center, he simply inherited the deal from the previous operator. But Muela stressed that was no excuse.

"I don't think it was as finely tuned as it needed to be, that's the bottom line," he said.

Duggan defended his staff, and refused to join Neely in criticizing council members for micromanaging the details of the contract, saying instead that the protracted discussions were driven by input from concerned residents.

"It's a substantial amount of time for the dollars involved, but there's been a substantial amount of community interest," said Duggan. "To some degree, people kind of misunderstood the city's interest in being thorough and careful and making sure the process was done right."

But that process may ultimately leave the city with little to show for its efforts. The criteria the council selected all but eliminate the possibility that a bidder could win by offering more revenue to the city -- meaning Foley looks likely to get his contract renewed after all. That certainly would be no problem for the hundreds of loyal tennis players at Cuesta, but the exercise has cost the city thousands of dollars in lost staff time just to get back to the starting point.

Muela, for one, said that defining a vision for the center's future has been well worth the effort, even if took longer than he expected.

"I don't really see the time as having been wasted. Would we have liked to have already had an operator selected and an agreement in place? Absolutely."

The mayor, on the other hand, remains critical of the process, especially the amount of time spent on repetitive public input and detailed council deliberation.

"We need to do the $5 million decisions and not the $10,000 ones," he said.

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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