Rinconada Pool outsourcing plan up for a vote

Palo Alto council to decide Monday whether to sign contract with Team Sheeper to expand learn-to-swim program

Palo Alto's debate over whether to expand and outsource the learn-to-swim program at the popular Rinconada Pool could be settled on Monday night, when the City Council is scheduled to consider and potentially approve the proposed changes.

The council is set to vote on a $143,000 contract with Team Sheeper, the company that also manages swimming lessons at Menlo Park's Burgess Pool. The company is no stranger to Palo Alto, having been retained by the city in each of the last two years on an emergency basis because of staffing shortages.

But whereas the prior contracts were stop-gap measures that allowed the city to meet its commitments, the new one is far more ambitious and controversial. Under the plan, Team Sheeper would offer six times more lessons than are available today, partly by utilizing the round children's pool that often sits empty, partly by offering classes in the spring and fall (in addition to the current offering of summer classes), and partly by requiring that swimming lanes be shared more frequently. Fees would also go up, though the increases would be partially offset by subsidies from the city.

For Community Services Department staff, who are recommending the switch, the new contract is a great way to both solve the staffing problem and to make the valuable resource available to more people. A new report from the department notes that City-hired part-time staff can only work up to 1,000 hours per year.

"This issue leads to staffing shortages outside of the summer season," the report notes. "In addition, pay rates for lifeguards and swim instructors are not as competitive compared to other employment opportunities for high school and college students."

Furthermore, many of the aquatics employees are students who have a limited ability to work after the summer. The pool, however, has a need for employees who can work year-round and staff the lap-swim program, the report states.

In addition to meeting its current commitments, staff has been looking for ways use the pool more efficiently and to make it available to more swimmers. The report notes that the goal is to "improve programs and services for residents, and better meet the needs and interests of residents that results in an increase in overall access to Rinconada Pool and an enhanced experience for more people."

Not everyone is buying it. In November, more than two dozen Rinconada swimmers attended a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission to argue against the outsourcing proposal. Greatly expanding the offering of classes and forcing swimmers to share the lanes more will diminish -- rather than enhance -- the experience at the pool.

"Think about somebody who says to a football team, a baseball team and a soccer team, 'You're all going to use the same turf for your practice. You're all athletes. You'll all get a little. No problem. Your workouts will be great,'" argued Gwenn Fisher, who has swum laps at Rinconada for the past nine years. "It doesn't work. The same with the sharing of our pool. We are different types of athletes, different types of swimmers. We have different needs, different wants."

Cathy Mak, a resident who also swims at Rinconada, told the commission that the community of pool users includes swimmers of varying styles, speeds and needs. The current system, in which Rinconada Masters swimmers have exclusive pool use on some mornings and lap swimmers have exclusive use on others, has been working well, she said. If the city is to move ahead with a major change at the pool, it should proceed with caution and not rush toward privatization.

"I think the wholesale handing over (of) the pool to private management is not in the interest of the community, and it's not in the interest of the swimmers," Mak said.

The new program will also come with price increases. For group lessons, rates for residents will go up from $11 to $16 (for nonresidents, they would increase from $12 to $22). For private lessons, the cost would rise from $24 to $35 (from $26 to $63 for nonresidents). The new rates will reduce, though not eliminate, the city's subsidy of the swimming lessons (the city would still contribute $6 for each group lesson and $28 for each private lesson to reduce the cost to residents).

Rob de Geus, director of Community Services, told the crowd of swimmers at the November meeting that the goal is to both support the current swimmers and to provide service to people who don't swim because, under the current setup, the pool is not available to them.

"We need to think about how we can create opportunity for others to have access to this pool," de Geus said. "I get the sensitivity. Overcrowding doesn't work. We're not suggesting that, but we do think that some sensible, fair sharing at certain times when there is low demand is possible."

The new contract with Team Sheeper pertains only to the learn-to-swim program at Rinconada and not to the broader management of the pool or to the pool's two existing swimming programs: Rinconada Masters and Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics. That, however, may change in the months and years ahead. The staff report notes that officials will be evaluating the resource impacts for the aquatics program in the coming months and "explore the costs, opportunities and challenges of continuing to offer in-house aquatics programs versus a more comprehensive agreement with Team Sheeper Inc. to oversee the City's aquatics program."

The $143,000 contract is listed on the council's "consent calendar" for the Jan. 9 meeting, which means it will be approved with all the other items on the calendar without discussion unless at least two council members agree to pull it off consent for future deliberation.


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8 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2017 at 12:22 pm

With the exception of vital interests such as public safety, outsource as many city services as possible. This should be an easy call as it relates to pool services at Rinconada Park. Tax payers will save money in the long run. Additionally, let's add animal services to the outsource list as well. I strongly support the decision to outsource.

5 people like this
Posted by Tony Pasalino
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2017 at 7:31 am

Sheeper has done a wonderful job at the Burgess Park pool: professional staff, clean facilities, and many different programs offered.

If he and his team can provide something similar to Rinconada, users of this pool will be the big beneficiaries!

4 people like this
Posted by Judith Schwartz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2017 at 8:03 am

This is a fake controversy. Both the PASA youth swim program and Rinconada Masters are outsourced to private entities and have been for decades. Tim Sheeper runs terrific programs (swim, triathlete, tennis and fitness) and encourages community based charitable efforts by his teams. We are lucky to have him manage a kids swim program at Rinconada for our citizens.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2017 at 9:01 am

We only have one public year round pool and it should prioritize residents over non-residents. I have no problem with it being outsourced, but residents should not have to lose swim times so that non-resident type programs can be invoked.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2017 at 9:04 am

I would not include PASA as defined as "outsourced to a private entity". PASA rents the pool from the city. They also rent pool time from Stanford and local/private swim clubs. They are a USA Swimming affiliated team, a private company. There is no connection to city government or programs. You can't "outsource" something that was never a city program to begin with.

8 people like this
Posted by SwimFanatic
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2017 at 7:47 pm

This comment: "Sheeper has done a wonderful job at the Burgess Park pool: professional staff, clean facilities, and many different programs offered." is not true. Burgess pool is crowded, dirty, and unpleasant. There has been at least one near-drowning at that pool within the last two years. The lap swimming schedule at Burgess is perfectly miserable; the entire operation is tuned for maximum profit. The pool was build with taxpayer money for the benefit of the community, not the profit of a private operator. Definitely a step in the wrong direction!

7 people like this
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 11:54 am

It costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year to maintain the position of city manager and his senior management staff's salary and benefit package. Rinconada pool maintenance and staffing costs are minimal in comparison. Perhaps the city should encourage keeping services that benefit Palo Alto residents and outsource or eliminate city management positions that only benefit the persons receiving six figure salaries at our expense and whose employment offers no tangible benefit to city residents.

2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2017 at 12:35 pm

I'm not a fan of Sheeper but at the same time, the pool is underutilized.

An educated an opinion is that many of the negative responses are from lap swimmers who want a lane all to themselves and don't like to share or split a lane. Meanwhile a masters workout will have anywhere from 2-6 people per lane. No offense, but the *city* pool is not a private club pool where you can demand to have your own lane!

Like this comment
Posted by An educated guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm

@crescent park dad - and how exactly is that an educated opinion? maybe provide some facts or actual observations...

2 people like this
Posted by It's not that
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 10, 2017 at 2:36 pm

It's not that is a registered user.

@CrescentParkDad -- FWIW, I'm not a fan of sheeperizing the pool, and it's not because I don't like to split a lane. I do that all the time. It's that sometimes it's nice to swim in a low-key way, with your neighbors, many of whom are not triathletes or competitive swimmers. The lanes have a certain vibe. The locker room has a certain vibe. The whole place does. It is not the same when half the pool is taken up by a competitive swimming program with competitive swimmers coming from all around and excited coaches on the deck. I guess it's just nice to have a low-key place, and those are getting fewer and farther between with all the competition at all ages in all things in this area.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith Schwartz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2017 at 3:15 pm

I find it disconcerting that people on this forum hide behind aliases while impugning the integrity of decent people who contribute to our local communities.

1. Tim Sheeper is a good guy who runs good programs. He's not a corporate raider or swimming pool slum lord.
2. I've swum with both the Menlo Masters and Rinconada Masters over the past 30+ years and they are both excellent programs with different strengths. Both are open and welcoming to residents and non-residents alike. No one is treated like a second class citizen.
3. Burgess offers more lap swim hours on more days than Rinconada. Rinc has more lanes open on the days/times when lap swim is offered.
4. Tim is not going to have anything to do with lap swim or Masters this year at Rinconada so it's a non-issue.
[Portion removed.]
6. To Crescent Park Dad--Tony Batis has been running the PASA team and Carol MacPherson has been running Rinconada Masters for years. The former may do a rent for lane time deal and the latter a percentage of revenue. It's immaterial to the swimmer.
7.What is the big deal if Tim Sheeper runs a good kids' lesson program open to residents and others under either model? The City can't find enough lifeguards and qualified instructors to support the programs they had historically provided. This solves the problem.
8. The entire reason pools are required to have lifeguards is because sometimes swimmers get into trouble. It's common that a kid's parents, friends, or nearby swimmers might need to alert the lifeguard to a particular situation.
9.I don't know when SwimFanatic has gone to Burgess but it's hardly the awful place he or she describes. During the summer, when lots of kids and teens have been in the Rinconada locker rooms, it's pretty filthy until they get cleaned up.

We have a lovely pool in Palo Alto with space available to accommodate all of our residents and people who work in town who would like to swim. I hope you'll come out to swim either in the Masters' or lap Program, PASA or take lessons with either swim4Fitness (offered by Carol MacPherson) or the programs this summer.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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