Anaheim Tennis Center Project Moves Forward Despite Mayor’s Disapproval

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

Tennis players at the Anaheim Tennis Center, which is scheduled for a multi-million dollar renovation.

Controversy has once again erupted around Anaheim’s plans to spend millions of taxpayer dollars renovating a privately run tennis center.

The City Council Tuesday voted 3-2 to continue a plan to begin accepting bids for what budget documents show has become a nearly $8-million proposal to rehab the Anaheim Tennis Center and Wagner House, which is located in the middle of town, just north of the Platinum Triangle.

But accompanying the council majority’s approval were howls of disapproval from Mayor Tom Tait, who, along with Latino activists, has for years railed against the proposal as a poster child for the city’s penchant for steering resources to affluent neighborhoods and the resort area at the expense of mostly Latino and working-class neighborhoods.

The project first appeared in the city’s general fund budget in 2013 with a price tag of $6.4 million. But it was pulled after condemnations from Tait and the activists.  However, last year it reappeared in the 2015-16 fiscal year budget, with the cost ballooning to $7.9 million.

In an effort to derail it again, Tait last week asked for a council discussion before the city released a request for bids on a design-build contract for the project. And at Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor bluntly criticized the project as a “gift” to the private operator who runs the center as a for-profit business. Tait said the money would be much better spent acquiring desperately needed parkland.

“It wouldn’t make my top 100 list of where I’d spend $6.5 million on parks,” Tait said.

Tait’s comments reflect a discrepancy between the city budget and the figure told to the council by Community Services Director Terry Lowe. The city budget states the project will cost $7.9 million, but Lowe said Tuesday night it would be $6.5 million.

Tait’s criticism, however, did not keep council majority members Jordan Brandman, Lucille Kring and Kris Murray from voting for the project. The mayor’s ally on the council, James Vanderbilt, also voted no.

City officials have defended the project as necessary because of a contract with tennis center operator Mike Nelson that calls for the city to pay for infrastructure improvements. Specifically, the contract requires “complete rehabilitation/reconstruction of the clubhouse and auxiliary buildings, landscaping, sidewalks, cleaning of drains, and parking lot improvements, signage and other major systems, including plumbing and electrical.”

However, the contract, signed in 2007, doesn’t bind the city to a specific timeline for improvements. And city officials are taking the project beyond the contract requirements to include things like a historically themed outdoor garden and the “relocation and lowering of the facility’s main tennis court,” according to a city staff report.

City officials had also said the funds for the project come from park fees levied on developers at the Platinum Triangle, and that the money is restricted to an area in or near the mixed development of high-density residential and commercial buildings.

On Tuesday, Members of the council majority continued to defend the project as an overdue investment in an aging city-owned facility. And the renovations will also benefit low-income children who will be able to use the center at “little or no charge,” according to a city staff report.

“They do bring kids in and some of them don’t pay. It’s probably on a sliding scale. And they get free lunches at school, so they get a free tennis lesson,” Kring said.

Kring also said that, because the revenue comes from developer fees, the money wasn’t technically “taxpayer money.”

Community Services Director Terry Lowe also outlined givebacks operator Mike Nelson had made to the community, including sponsorships of high school local tennis teams.

Lowe described the tennis center and Wagner House renovation as the second step of a three-phase plan that also includes renovation of the adjacent Boysen Park playground and additional parkland.

But Tait contended that the city would not be getting a good return on its investment. The city received a base rent of $30,000 a year, plus a share of the center’s revenue, which Lowe said means the city gets between $80,000 and $100,000 annually.

Tait says for the investment to be worthwhile, the city should receive closer to $500,000, a figure Lowe acknowledged was unrealistic. However, Lowe said his “primary responsibility is to provide quality facilities for our residents, and that’s what I’m attempting to do.”

Without a sound business reason to make the investment, Tait said the next reason to spend the money would be the public benefit. But there isn’t public benefit because there isn’t free entry at the privately run tennis center, he said.

“When the taxpayers pay, and someone else gets a big return, 80-90 percent of the gross, whatever it is, to me that’s a gift,” Tait said. “[The operator] should be investing in it. It’s his business.”

Vanderbilt attempted a compromise by restricting the project to only the improvements required by the contract with the operator. However, the council majority rejected Vanderbilt’s proposal.

“I do think we are long over due to complete this project, and I would like to move forward,” Murray said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

  • Shane Jones

    I live in the Platinum Triangle and it is so irritating to see our park funds paid by developers to build parks in our neighborhood-first shifted out to the Panderosa neighborhood for a new fancy skate park and community center and now there shifting funds to the Anaheim tennis center–Both outside of the Platinum Triangle! ..And what do we get?–two tiny miniature pocket parks the size of a small backyard. Not enogh space for all the residents that live here and the many more that will be moving in soon. This is NOT right!

  • Philmore

    After re-watching the Meeting video, ANOTHER forehead slapper, was HOW staff could claim, NOT having cost breakdown of contractual and added elements. then HOW was the Budget figure of $6.5 Million reached, if NOT by adding up component costs ? ( Dice? Magic 8-Ball? Oija Board ?) WHY was that question NOT asked of staff ?

  • 6eaie2

    Anaheim’s Mayor is on point, again. Spending $7M on a private tennis center while the city’s roadways consistently rank as California’s most deadly has no justification. 2,000 – 2,400 people are killed or injured on Anaheim streets annually, a rate of 7-8 people daily. From 2008 through 2013, California Office of Traffic Safety ranked Anaheim as deadliest 2x, second deadliest 2x, third deadliest 1x, and fifth deadliest 1x. For drunk driving, Anaheim was the #1 most deadly large city in the state 4 of those 5 years. The Happiest Place on Earth? Yeah . . . if you’re rich enough to belong to a private tennis club. District elections can’t happen soon enough.

  • Paul Lucas

    Crony capitalism is running amok in Anaheim.

    • Philmore

      Celebrating its 60th anniversary !

  • astar2b

    Have not seen nothing yet… Wait until the Angels come knocking about stadium upgrades or whole new one…

    • Cynthia Ward

      You have no idea how closely connected the tennis center and Angels development might actually be,..this is an incestuous bunch.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Buyer: Here is a cashier’s check in exchange for the bill of sale for your car. The agreement also includes your promise to repaint the car and repair the torn upholstery in the back seat, correct?

    Me: Correct, Since you needed the car right away, here are the keys, and next week when you have time off and don’t need it we will take the car to the shop.


    Buyer: Hey, the auto shop called, and asked what kind of pinstripes and detailing I wanted on the car. We only agreed to repaint it, I had no expectation of a fancy paint job.

    ME: Well, it WAS my car, and you are doing me a favor buying it from me, so I figured it was the least I could do. I also threw in some Recaros to replace the front seat to complement the back seat we had reupholstered to repair the tear, and I dropped in a new engine, I hope you like the hemi, and of course it needed new tires and sport suspension.

    Buyer: You know I am not paying you more for all of this, right?

    Me; Hey, you live in the neighborhood, we can’t have a junker car parked in the driveway lowering our property values around here. Plus the private bodyguard-driver will be at your home Monday to get you to work. 7 am work ok as an arrival time? He will bring Starbucks and danish so you don’t waste your time stopping on the way in to the office.

    Buyer: Uh….all this extra value exceeds the cost of the car itself! Seriously, I could buy a brand new car of the same make and model for less than you have added to this used car purchase! What gives?

    Me: Well, you ARE a great neighbor. You go to work every day, pay your mortgage on time. mow the lawn faithfully every Saturday, you’ve not turned your house into an STR and disrupted the block, and the cash you gave me helps me buy another car, so you are really helping me out. Besides, I tapped my retirement account to pay for the upgrades. It’s not like it’s MY money, so why should I care how much I give you? Now if you are done objecting, I would really like to get this done today. After all, it is my responsibility. We have a contract.

    • David Zenger

      I bet Pringle likes tennis almost as much as he likes the “design/build” clause he put into our city charter.

      • Cynthia Ward

        OH yes, I had forgotten that part. I was so busy being angry at the blatant gift of public funds, that I blew right past the REASON for that item on the agenda. Technically they did not “approve” the project, so much as they asked for permission to issue an RFP for design/build firms. As we learned from the Convention Center, this means “NO BID” firms. Yes, we will be watching to see whose name pops up for the work, with the sneaking suspicion they have already been selected. This is especially bizarre, since staff points out the DESIGN was COMPLETED and reviewed by the community. So what part of “design-build” does a finished design fit? Are they scrapping the design we already paid for? Or using the same design which simply shifts the issue back to no-bid contract? At least the good news is we have one more whack at this pinata when it comes back to Council to approve the design-build vendor. This time I trust there might be more than one lone housewife waving a stick at this chunk of papier mache? I cannot be the only one reading these agendas, Obviously others are angry at how our money is being spent, are you angry enough to show up for a meeting and say something? Or is a keyboard as far as we get to gripe about things?

  • UnitedWeStand

    Outrageous!! “Good ole” conservative Orange County proving Bernie Sanders right!

    • David Zenger

      Brandman is a Democrat.

      • UnitedWeStand

        May be, but I stand by my statement!

      • AJMintheOC

        Brandman is a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) and should be disowned by the Democratic Party of OC.

    • cynthia curran

      You are correct on that one. Anaheim really doesn’t do real conservatism for example the city still owns the utility there. Why doesn’t the city of Anaheim go private on utilities. Now I can understand the convention center. Cities use convention centers to generate sales taxes but a Tennis court. I heard of good news of building housing near the industrial park

      • Philmore

        ” Why doesn’t the city of Anaheim go private on utilities. “?

        Well, how happy are you (assuming a non-resident) paying SCE’s costs for their San Onofre fiasco, that would normally(ethically) come out of corporate and stockholder wallets? Anaheim exited SanOnofre ownership a decade ago, and its shutdown costs are capped by a now-funded trust. The decades of blatant giveaways to the Council-controlling Tourism Industry (Example, after diverted TOT (hotel) tax pays off the bonds for Disney’s Parking Structure, Disney GETS FULL TITLE TO THE (City built) STRUCTURE AND LAND !) far eclipse one of the FEW City ventures with DIRECT taxpayer benefit (lower rates) and such Crony Capitalist spoils would be FAR AHEAD of the Utility on the ‘elimination’ list for flaunting Conservative practice, but not holding any breath for EITHER.

        “I heard of good news of building housing near the industrial park”
        Since you omit specifics, are you referring to our Plutonium, excuse me Platinum Triangle area? Industry (and its decent JOBS) were KICKED OUT there in a previous Crony deal to create the area for developers, who are eliminating the initial vision of walkable retail for FURTHER profit of HIGHER density multi-story future tenements, with a “breath-taking” view of traffic from the greatest freeway choke point in North County. The Council Majority’s gifting of PluTri park funds for Tennis Club rehab instead of area park land PURCHASES comes on the heels of their selling off 7 acres of park-designated land, deemed too “freeway close” (evidently NO barrier to high density (and profit!) HOUSING) for park use. But Kring, for one evidently feels the early stages of development mean “Hey, there’s lots more f(r)ee money where THAT came from !”, too bad that may also seem to imply lots LESS discression how to spend it. The “good news” ? Only if you are a Developer or Building Trade member.

  • kburgoyne

    It’s not very well privately run if it fails to charge enough for the use to fund any future renovations. Sounds a lot like more corporate socialism. The “private” part gets profits while society gets to pay the expenses. I love those sweet deals. Who do I pay off to get one myself?

  • RyanCantor

    “Kring also said that, because the revenue comes from developer fees, the money wasn’t technically ‘taxpayer money.’ ”

    You’re fired, Lucille. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

    Utterly unqualified to lead.

    Anyone seen a soccer field in Anaheim lately? Completely and utterly ridiculous to spend $8,000,000 of TAXPAYER MONEY on a private tennis center.

    • professor

      And her comment about the kids getting free lunches…Priceless!. Murray is just as disconnected…At an earlier council meeting she went through a long drawn out charade about how local high school students use the tennis facility…Her tone was as if to say “game, set, match! those poor brown kids get use it all the time” while in reality the school uses the center for league finals one day per year. I don’t know about you but, 7 million for one day doesn’t seem like such a great deal. All three of the Pringle/Disney/Arte puppets must go!

  • David Zenger

    Economic Engine! Economic Engine!

    • Philmore

      …… but with totally disconnected Steering Wheel and Brakes ! Yet the apathetic taxpayers somehow believe they are SAFE in the crosswalk !! .

      • David Zenger

        I would love the kleptos to explain someday what is NOT an economic engine. I’m pretty sure the alligatored asphalt on our street is not an economic engine.

        • Philmore

          Silly taxpayers ! HOW could someone get contractor campaign funding and great brochure pix by a bulldozer, if everything got done (quietly and efficiently) as /when it was supposed to ? If things get budgeted “around” in favor of other “favors” until they become a crisis, THEN, restoring what was bypassed, they can play ‘savior’ and claim they are “Fighting for You !” Whoo, Whoo, Whoo !