The San Fernando City Council may be looking at Los Angeles County to completely take over the operation of the city’s Aquatics Center.
On Monday, Sept. 29, the council met in closed session, with discussions ranging from an outright purchase of the center to leasing the facility, according to persons close to the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. Said discussions have been ongoing for several weeks.
City Manager Brian Saeki said the city’s cost of operating and maintaining the pool continues to severely impact San Fernando’s budget, which began the current fiscal year (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015) with an almost $4.6 million deficit.
Saeki said the city had budgeted $576,000 for operation and maintenance. That does not include $350,000 in debt service on the loan toward of paying for the construction of the pool. A portion of the repayment is funded through Community Development Block Grant funds, and the city’s general fund.
“It costs the city several hundred thousand dollars a year to run the pool,” Saeki said. “That is a net cost to the city; by that I mean what the actual operation expenses are for the pool. The revenues do not offset the cost of running the pool.”
Rumors abound that an agreement could be reached shortly. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, who would have jurisdiction at the facility if a deal is made, have been seen driving around the area.
“We really need this to happen,” Mayor Sylvia Ballin said. “Unfortunately the upkeep of the pool is not sustainable for the city. The decision to build the pool, they should have thought it through a little bit more because of the long term cost for the staffing level, the insurance and overall cost of maintaining the swimming pool.”
The aquatic complex, which opened in 2008, was built at a cost of $14.5 million. Part of its cost was covered, in part, by city-issued bonds that San Fernando residents have been paying off through property tax.
It includes a 50 meter Olympic-sized pool, a 25 meter recreation pool, and a “splash zone” for both recreation and competitive swimming. There is also a 16,000 square foot building with locker rooms, class rooms and an all-purpose meeting room.
When it was opened, the pool was to be available to the general public year round. But city officials were never been able to provide or attract the necessary funding to sustain that plan. In 2010, then sitting council members Mayor Pro Tem Brenda Esqueda, Mayor Mario Hernandez, and Maribel De La Torre voted 3-0 to close the facility to the general public for nine months out of the year, making it available during the summer months. Other council members Ernesto Hernandez and Steve Veres were not present at the meeting when the vote was taken.
The pool’s operational deficit has reached as high as $2.5 million. The current deficit has been said to be around $400,000, a figure Saeki would not confirm or deny.
The council in 2010 entered negations with SFV Aquatics, Inc. to take over management of the facility but an agreement was never reached. City officials blamed SFV Aquatics representatives for not meeting contractual deadlines. Adrian Dinis, one of the management partners of SFV Aquatics involved in the negotiations, said the city’s demand that their company pay for the city’s attorney’s fees was a deal-breaker.
Ballin said the plan to sell or lease the center “was considered long before” the current city council was seated.
“There were discussions; but with everything went on before” — referring to the scandal over the affair between Hernandez and De La Torre and Esqueda’s affair with former San Fernando police sergeant Alvaro Castellon, which ultimately led to Hernandez, Esqueda and De La Torre being recalled in 2012 — “it just wasn’t a priority. It’s priority now because we have so many financial challenges we are trying to address.”