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Elings Park chief Danny Vickers lambasted some Las Positas tennis players leading the charge against fee increases, accusing them of boorish behavior and ulterior motives.

Paul Wellman

Elings Park chief Danny Vickers lambasted some Las Positas tennis players leading the charge against fee increases, accusing them of boorish behavior and ulterior motives.


No Love on the Courts

Elings Makes Case for Fee Hike at Las Positas Tennis Courts


Thursday, February 28, 2013
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Taking a page out of the playbook of Confederate General Robert E. Lee ​— ​who famously opined that the best defense was a good offense ​— ​Danny Vickers, director of Elings Park, held a press conference to lambast the leaders of the small but determined cadre of tennis players angry about the threefold fee-increase Vickers imposed at the Las Positas Tennis Courts at the base of Elings Park. Vickers charged that the boycott of the Las Positas Tennis Courts waged by former players is not really motivated by sticker shock but is in reality a “fight over control of the facility.” Vickers contended the courts ​(which were publicly managed until City Hall leased them to Elings Park two years ago, a lease that expires in 2028 along with the lease for the rest of the park) have long been dominated by a small group of tennis-playing men who are now upset they will have to share the courts with children, families, and new members.

In a 13-page report, Vickers charged that outsiders seeking to use the courts have been made to feel unwelcome by the leadership of the opposition. “We have heard and witnessed many examples of this behavior,” Vickers stated. He claimed that some especially territorial and entitled players have refused to yield the courts to new players when their time was up, that park monitors would be “yelled at or ignored,” and that Elings Park staff “routinely empty trash cans full of beer cans where groups would drink alcohol at the facility.” Some players were sufficiently aggressive, Vickers added, such that “the general public, particularly families, was not comfortable playing there.”

Vickers took pains to state his criticisms were not aimed at all the 500 people who’ve signed a petition protesting the increase in tennis fees, just the leadership. Vickers didn’t mention David Niles by name, but he may as well have. Niles, who estimates he’s played three to four times a week at the Las Positas courts for the past 18 years, has emerged as a leading voice of the resistance in the form of LasPositas­Tennis.com. Niles contends that Vickers and Elings Park want to transform what for years had been a city-built, -owned, and -operated municipal tennis court into a “new luxury court with a junior tennis academy.”

Niles claims the higher new fees have chased off players of limited means and wants City Hall to reclaim the courts. “Public tennis is public tennis,” he stated. “There’s low monitoring, low amenities, low overhead, and low fees.” And Niles denied Vickers’s allegations of territorial hooliganism by some tennis players. He said players willingly cede the courts when their time is up, that children play there all the time, and there’s no yelling or hollering. “They can say all this stuff,” he said, “but it’s not true.”

City Hall leased the courts to Elings two years ago at the height of a budget crisis that depleted the number of Parks and Recreation staff by 25 percent and the department’s general-fund contribution by one-third. Parks and Rec chief Nancy Rapp said the city would save more than $15,000 a year turning the operation of the courts over to Elings and avoid $1.1 million in long-term deferred improvements. Elings, one of the few privately owned but publically open parks in the nation, appeared the perfect fit.

Vickers bristled at Niles’s accusation that the Las Positas courts are going Gucci ​— ​“That’s just not accurate” ​— ​but he acknowledged big changes are afoot at Las Positas. Everything but the courts themselves, he said, will be leveled under Elings’s master plan and replaced. “It will be solid, not lavish,” he stated. The bathroom has been leaking for 10 years, he said, and will be replaced. Likewise, a new parking lot will be paved, new lights installed, new offices built. “If you’re going to level the place, you may as well add things to make it sustainable,” he explained. To this end, Elings has proposed building a brand-new multipurpose exercise room, where yoga and fitness classes could be offered.

All this, Vickers said, will cost about $1.2 million to build, and about $120,000 a year to maintain. The new membership fees, he said, will generate half that. The rest will be generated by programming ​— ​tournaments, kids’ classes, drop-in lessons, clinics, and social mixers. Elings has leased out management of the courts to a private tennis pro, he said, who will help supervise the courts so that families feel comfortable dropping off their kids. It will be a community asset used by the entire community, Vickers explained.

But for players used to the courts’ off-the-beaten-track, low-key profile, these changes could well seem jarring. And the prices are decidedly higher. Beginning this January, players saw their annual membership fees increase from $139 a year to $450, or $41 a month. Seniors, however, will be charged $25 a month, but the daily fee will remain $8. But even those discounted rate increases may prove too high for some players, Niles insisted. Vickers countered that the new rates ​— ​while admittedly higher ​— ​pale in comparison to those charged by private clubs, some of which require as much as $15,000 to join.

Both sides claim they tried to hammer out a compromise, and both accuse the other of scuttling peace talks. Niles has collected nearly 500 signatures on an online petition demanding City Hall repossess the courts, and he claims he has 60 active supporters who will show up at meetings. Thus far, the players haven’t secured much purchase among city councilmembers, even those sympathetic ones who worry the public process leading up to the lease assignment was not all it should have been.

Since the new rates went into effect, former Las Positas players appear to be staying away by the droves ​— ​though Vickers insists it’s too soon to say ​— ​they’re bad-mouthing Elings Park’s plans throughout Santa Barbara’s tight-knit tennis community, and Niles is talking about hiring an attorney. Whether Vickers’s press conference helps quell the revolt has yet to be seen. Given that Vickers’s plans for Las Positas face about two years’ worth of public hearings at the Architectural Board of Review and the Planning Commission, the stakes are clearly high. And in the meantime, David Niles hasn’t played much tennis. “I’m too upset,” he said.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

It's nice being rich, retired, bored, and drunk in a public park.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 10:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There are enough places were rich folks can play in fancy clubs. The fact that some facilities charge as much as $15,000 to join doesn't make $41/month affordable to lower income families. Santa Barbara needs to learn to leave it low key, leave it bare bones, and leave it affordable for the members of the community who are not millionaires.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 12:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with poodles, it's de facto privatization of a public tennis court.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 1:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I wonder how much money the city could save and spend elsewhere if maintenance of red brick sidewalks weren't a yearly drain.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 1:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Elings were handed the best place in SB for tennis and turned it into a ghost town. Danny Vickers somehow thinks hundreds of new tennis players are going to magically appear in this town and want to pay the highest membership fee for a "public" tennis court in the US.

srf (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 2:47 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Best place in SB for tennis? Are you crazy? The buildings there are literally crumbling. They had to shut down the restroom because its a public safety hazard. Biggest misperceptions Niles continues to put out there is that just leaving this place alone was an option for the City. The City was LOSING money desipte the fact that it was run down and not being maintained. Part of the reason was because people like Niles and his friends were dodging the City monitors who came by to collect user fees. Sorry, but I personally don't see why I should have to pay more taxes so Niles can pay less on his tennis membership fees. I like to golf, any chance we can get the City to raise taxes so the municipal golf course can be even cheaper than it already is?

WilliamMunny (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 6:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

William, I think your comments are a little off.

First off tennis is played on the courts not in the buildings.

In order to have a vibrant facility you need active players. Elings fees structure has driven away the active public players making it a ghost town.

The bathrooms may need a little work but primarilly just needed to be cleaned (and they were cleaned by members when Elings didn't do it for a year and a half).

The city may or may not have been losing money, they claimed the loss was $15,000 per year, coincindentally, that was the approximate cost to run the lights at night, which Elings has now turned off since they now routinely lock the parking lot at sunset.

David Niles was a paying member for many years as were most of his friends. Any failure by Elings to collect day fees was their poor management.

Why is Elings Park charging fees that are higher than virtually any other Public Tennis Facility in the United States?

Does it make sense for them to charge these high fees and have few public players?

Could it be that Elings Park wants to have few regular public tennis players so that they can control the courts and let their for Profit Partner run an academy catering to a few local kids and out of town boarders who can afford to pay $2,500 to $3,300 per month as advertised?

If you doubt this, check out Elings Partners website at http://www.sbschooloftennis.com/Tenni...

Nejust2004 (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 9:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's not unusual for outdoor facilities to charge a quarter or so to turn on lighting. Have a minimal "work light", players who want to use the courts at night deposit 50 cents for an hour of light and cash drain solved.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 28, 2013 at 9:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Next time I'm looking for an example of "people with waaaaay too much time on their hands" I'll know where to turn.

SezMe (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 2:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Get your facts straight William. The restrooms were never shut down for being a “public safety hazard.” Work was done to repair plumbing to lines and replace a urinal but that's it. And players such as David Niles encompassed the 150 annual permit holders who paid to use the facility. Now all those permit holders are gone and in their place is a tennis school by some wheeler-dealer that bills itself an elite international training academy. They have no incentive to serve the public. Because in the end that is all Danny Vickers cares about: prying more money out of their rich donors.

srf (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 6:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

They have no incentive to serve the public? Are you really claiming that a non-profit entity that turned a dump into a public park without any tax dollars has not served the public? Thankfully taxpayers are no longer being asked to pay for your tennis instead of funding more important things. The self-entitlements with some of these people really is a sad commentary. Of course, SRL just joined here to specifically comment on this article so the bias is to be expected. Again, let me know when you want to start paying for my rounds of golf

WilliamMunny (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 7:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I dont understand the controversy. To play free tennis in SB, all one needs to do is go to any of the high schools, which actually have pretty decent courts. Ive played at Las Positas before but not recently; It sounds like this would be more like a low cost athletic club that would lie between the high school and tennis club experience.

Bajades (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 8:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Vickers' approach is really a low blow. I was previously part of the Save Las Positas Tennis Committee (the leadership of the opposition to Elings Parks' efforts), but I bowed out about a month ago for lack of time.

I previously thought Vickers and Elings Park were acting honorably, but ultimately against the public interest, with their plans to triple fees and build new facilities. Now I know that Vickers is not an honorable actor.

The allegations in this new report from Elings Park are just silly and wrong. I've played at Elings for over ten years, sometimes as much as three or four times a week, in the morning, mid-day and evenings. I know just about every regular player there.

I've never seen the boorish behavior that Vickers discusses. I've seen some beer drinking on a couple of occasions, but it was completely respectful and not at all "hooligan" behavior. I don't doubt that some people tried to dodge the City monitors who come by to collect fees, but the large majority of players have always paid their fees. Regardless, that's a moot point now b/c Elings has a monitor on court at all times so there's no way to dodge paying fees.

As for a bunch of men resentful about having women and children play on these courts, really?? This accusation is just doltish.

Santa Barbara tennis players deserve a lot better. And it really disappoints me that Vickers and his team would stoop this low.

The ready solution is to phase in higher fees over time, rather than a three times fee that induces immediate sticker shock. And Elings Park has not been at all transparent about their finances with respect to the tennis facilities. From what I can tell so far it looks like Elings decided to make the tennis courts the cash cow for the whole park, but a bit more transparency would allow these kinds of fears to be laid to rest.

The bottomline is that the City giveaway and Elings' management of the Las Posita tennis courts has destroyed a decades-long tennis culture that was really vibrant and important for a lot of people. This is a tragedy. But the tragedy could still be averted if Vickers and/or the City council step up and take some reasonable measures to lower fees, or to phase in higher fees over time.

TamHunt (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 11:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Again, butchering the facts there William. The group David Niles is apart of came up with a competing operating model that would be run as a member co-op. It would be run with no tax dollars. Elings rejected it because Elings doesn't want to maintain the Las Positas courts. Instead they want to convert them into a country club/academy. No one is asking for “entitlements”. Let me ask you William, did your course fees pay for that $1.38 million storm water project that runs through Muni? No, that came from tax dollars. So imagine if the City said they wouldn't pay for that project. And instead the City would give over Muni to an organization that would fundraise for the $1.38 million project and as a result would allow for Muni to be turned into a private club where they could charge whatever they liked for green fees. I imagine that wouldn't sit well with you.

srf (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 12:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Bajades, I've always gone to UC to play free tennis, but then had to pay for parking.. Didn't realize the high school courts were open to the public, but I doubt you can just go and play there any time. Probably after school and on the weekends I'd imagine? Any lighting?

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 12:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Obviously the plan that keeps the courts most accessible is the one to go with, they are the PUBLIC courts after all.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 12:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

RIP - Las Positas Tennis Courts. Another mad greedy dash for imaginary gold courtesy of the wolves who have run off the game. Bravo, Vickers, well done, sir! See all you courtbums down at Persching, Muni, and elsewhere.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 1:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The picture says it all. No one playing tennis at Los Positas on a nice sunny day.

melvin (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 1:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I didn't realize the 400-500 people who signed the petition to keep public tennis public were a "small but determined cadre of tennis players angry about the threefold fee-increase".

I didn't realize that many people used the courts. Years ago I went to Los Positas to play and after 20 minutes or so a person from the city came onto the court and asked for $5. I didn't have it so we had to leave. I haven't been back.

Fees for public recreation are unethical when the City spends money hiring employees to collect fees and hires a Tennis Services Coordinator. The annual cost of those employees could pay for maintenance leaving the tennis courts public for EVERYONE to use for free.

It's sad that the City Council is repeating mistakes about double taxation for recreation purposes. If someone had the time and money they could take this to court and win, just like what happened with the "Adventure Pass".

These public courts were paid for by the public, and now only the upper classes get to use them. Regressive thinking from City Hall. Maybe the City Council could lease me City Hall for $1.00 per year and I could rent it back to them for $10,000/month.

Georgy (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 1:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The world famous tennis courts at Libbey Park in Ojai are free to the public. In fact Ojai is famous for tennis.
Mr. Vickers might be quite surprised what 400-500 determined people can accomplish when they are in their ethical and legal rights.
I hope the tennis players and fans in this town can work together and defeat this de facto privatization of the public tennis courts.
How much were the Occupy people fined for camping? More than a dollar I bet.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 1, 2013 at 2:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with TamHunt. Although I'm not a Las Positas regular, I've been playing tennis in SB since I was a kid and have never observed @LP the behavior Vickers describes. It's really a pretty congenial crowd.

Also agree with Ken_Volk ... defacto privatization. Are we also going to start paying fees to take our families to play basketball, softball, or just toss a frisbee in a public park?

Goleta's public tennis courts are ALL free community assets:

- Evergreen Park
- Stow Canyon Open Space
- Berkeley Park
- Kellog Open Space
- DPHS, San Marcos HS (restricted public use)
- UCSB (lights,restricted public use)

Santa Barbara's public courts:

- Oak Park
- SBCC (lights, restricted public use, fee seasonal)
- SB Municipal courts (lights, fee)
- SBHS (restricted, often locked)

I didn't include Las Positas because at those prices, I don't think of LP as a public facility ... the current management's profit motivations not withstanding.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
March 2, 2013 at 11:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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