By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley Tennis, located at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center, is undergoing some changes due to new permit requirements from the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. Courts are open more to the public and court rates have now been lowered to $5 an hour.
According to Clay Bingham, deputy director of the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, the city decided to update and improve its permitting process late last year, changing the required tennis permit to a special use permit.
New requirements of the permit are that a club be a non-profit as defined by the IRS, some very specific insurance requirements, and a maximum fee of $5 per court an hour.
The clubs also must allow access to the public 20 percent of the time and that 20 percent of the time has to satisfy the Parks and Recreation department.
“It can’t be Sunday morning from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., it has to be a reasonable time,” Bingham said.
Bingham said that while there was a goal date for the new changes to go in effect for July 1, they didn’t get signatures from all the permit holders until August.
“To prove non-profit status and get all the financial statements, there’s some allowance for it, it takes some time,” Bingham said. “Most of the clubs were already non-profit, but Carmel Valley had always been a different operation.”
Bingham said Carmel Valley and operator Becky Kuba had the biggest adjustment to make with the new changes.
It took more time for Carmel Valley to accomplish all the requirements, but Bingham said Kuba has satisfied them all.
Shelley Susman, a Carmel Valley resident who is determined to make tennis available for all, said she was disappointed in the city for not going through a request for proposal (RFP) and allowing an open bid process for the operation of the facility.
Susman runs a non-profit called Tennis 4 Anyone and has a vision for free, community-based tennis instruction available for all. With her organization, she advocates her “no tennis tax” theory to free up public courts at low or no cost and provide free programming and equipment.
“Requiring a public use time of 20 percent is minimal, it isn’t extremely wonderful but at least it’s better than it was,” Susman said.
Bingham said that 20 percent is considered the base and typically operators provide more time than that.
Susman said that awarding the CV Tennis facility to Kuba never went through a city process or out to bid.
“Carmel Valley Tennis began on courts that were free and open to the public and was not city-approved, but [when Kuba took over she] ran a for-profit operation,” Susman said. “No competitive bid for the community has ever been created since then.”
Bingham confirmed that their original permit was different than any of the other city facilities.
“They did get a permit to do things in a certain manner, but it isn’t the way we would do it today,” he said.
Susman is fighting for a RFP process to be put in place rather than simply issuing to the current operator.
“This way things are transparent and properly addressed through an independent panel of all those interested and not just one,” Susman said.
Bingham said when they first talked to the tennis club operators about the permit change and requirements, they weren’t sure that Kuba would be able to or even want to make the changes. Without Kuba, they looked into the possibility of putting out an RFP to find someone to replace her.
“Going forward we found out that not only was she willing but she was able to meet all the new requirements,” Bingham said. “Secondly, she is very highly regarded by the Carmel Valley Recreation Council who had worked with her for years and wanted to continue working with her.”
In light of Kuba’s willingness to stay on, the RFP process was halted, Bingham said. Additionally, he said, the city department that handles RFPs was swamped and would not have the time for the process.
“It was not felt that the RFP was the way to go this time,” Bingham said.
Susman is still hoping to get that RFP process done, although it would likely take an action by the mayor.
“I’m ready for a fight, I’m fighting for what’s right for the community and for me because I’d like to be in on that proposal,” said Susman. “I’m not accepting that.”
Bingham has spoken to Susman several times and Susman said he has been very cooperative and forthcoming. Bingham said he hopes to continue working positively with Susman in the future.
The decision to allow operators to run city facilities in the first place was made years ago to help with the city’s fiscal restraints.
The city couldn’t afford to maintain their courts at the level that the community desired, Bingham said, so they opened the opportunity up to non-profits and other organizations to come in and operate and maintain every facility with more than three courts.
“For years these non-profits have done a great job maintaining these city facilities and any improvements made are property of the city of San Diego,” said Bingham, who said staff reviews courts and ensures proper maintenance is upheld. “It’s been very successful. … They are all well-used facilities.”
For now, CV Tennis’ current permit will last three years. Bingham said that it’s important to note that there will be a new mayor this year and it’s possible the way that tennis facilities are operated could change.
Carmel Valley Tennis did not respond to a request for comment on this story.