Controversial Tennis Center Renovation Back in Anaheim Budget

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

Tennis players at the Anaheim Tennis Center.

A controversial tennis center renovation that was pulled from the Anaheim budget in 2013 after sparking outrage among Latino activists and Mayor Tom Tait has found its way back into this fiscal year’s budget.

The privately run Anaheim Tennis Center and Wagner House is already home to several courts, a lounge area with hardwood floors, large windows and a stone fireplace with an ornate mantle. The $6.4 million renovation budgeted in 2013 would have added “lockers, showers and restrooms… and a new historically-themed outdoor garden for social gatherings” and a tournament level center court with permanent seating, according to budget documents and city staff.

The project, however, was pulled from the budget  after the activists and Tait said it was evidence of how the council majority was tone deaf to the needs of the city’s Latino residents, who makeup more than half the city’s population. Tennis isn’t a popular sport among Latinos, they noted.

But now it’s back, and the price tag has jumped 23 percent to $7.9 million.

Tait said in an emailed statement that the money being spent on the tennis center should go toward acquiring “desperately needed” parkland for neighborhoods. He also pointed out that the tennis center is already in great shape and isn’t free to residents.

“I’m surprised and disappointed it continues to be brought forth,” Tait said.

City officials had said they had little choice but to spend money on the tennis center renovation because the city is bound by a contract with the center operator, although Community Services Director Terry Lowe had said the contract doesn’t stipulate a deadline.

Also, the project’s revenue source comes from Platinum Triangle developer fees and can only be spent around that area, which includes the tennis center.

City spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz continued to defend the project in an emailed statement to Voice of OC, highlighting again that the city is contractually obligated to finance the renovations. Also, she said the pricetag had increased because of “the delay in construction,” which spiked construction costs due to changed building codes and a better economy.

“Similar to our parks, playgrounds, nature center and dog parks, we look forward its updates and renovations, further offering residents opportunities for recreation, play and healthy activities in Anaheim,” Ruiz wrote.

The area near the Platinum Triangle is extremely short on parkland. And during the tennis center controversy in 2013, Councilwoman Kris Murray said she asked “15 ways to Sunday if we could put that money in other places.”

Yet just last week, Murray, Councilman Jordan Brandman and Councilwoman Lucille Kring voted to rezone seven acres near that location from parkland to industrial the city prepares to sell the land to a developer. Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt voted against the rezoning.

City officials said the land wasn’t an ideal spot for a park because, among other reasons, it is close to a major freeway, and there are air quality advisements against such park locations.

Tait said the rezone decision makes the budgeted tennis center renovation “particularly disturbing.”

When the tennis center renovation was initially budgeted, its cost was $1.1 million more than all the other budgeted park projects combined. However, this year’s budget also includes $10.7 million for improvements at Ponderosa Park, which is in largely working-class Latino central Anaheim.

The Ponderosa Park additions will include a “new gymnasium, playground, water feature and skate park,” according to city budget documents.

Also in the budget are improvements at Little People’s Park, which activists highlighted as particularly in need of renovation when they first criticized the tennis center project. The park will get a “reconstructed gazebo, fountain, upgraded turf, a barbeque area, and a reconfigured basketball court that will accommodate full-court play,” budget documents state.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek