The San Fernando City Council has agreed to lease operational and maintenance control of the city’s Regional Pool Facility to Los Angeles County.
The council voted 4-0 in favor at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 6. Mayor Sylvia Ballin had called the council meeting to order, but said she was still recovering from a weekend automobile accident “and my body is saying go home.”
Mayor Pro Tem Robert Gonzalez ran the rest of the meeting with council members Jesse Avila, Joel Fajardo and Antonio Lopez in attendance.
The agreement has an initial term of 35 years, but includes two additional 10-year terms, meaning the deal could last 55 years. The pool was not sold outright to the county, and there are provisions enabling both sides to end the lease before it contractually runs out. But while under county control, the city will have no say in how the facilities are operated and maintained. That would include the meeting rooms and community room on the facility.
According to the lease, the county will charge and collect fees it deems appropriate for use of the facility, and any revenue generated and collected belongs to it. The county also has the right to control use of the pool parking (and is solely responsible for its maintenance), as well as the right to hire employees, vendors and service providers. The county is also responsible for security, primarily through the Sheriff’s department.
The agreement must still be approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, who next meet on Oct. 25. If passed, county officials would assume full control on Nov. 1.
San Fernando City Manager Brian Saeki called the agreement “a win-win situation” for the county and San Fernando, especially on the financial side.
The aquatic center, which includes three pools and a 16,000-square foot building, was built in 2008 at a cost $14.5 million. But the cost of repaying loans and operating the center had proven too much for San Fernando, and was a serious drain on the city budget. City officials previously considered shutting down the facility entirely and emptying the pool; it also negotiated with SFV Aquatics, Inc. to take over operations, but no agreement could be worked out.
City officials had earmarked $576,000 in 2014-15 fiscal year budget to operate and maintain the facility, but are also paying $350,000 in debt service on the loans used to pay for construction (of which $120,000 was coming out of the city’s general fund).
Saeki said the county agreed to pay off San Fernando’s existing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) loan debt balance of $677,000. “That would all go away Feb. 1 of next year,” he said.
This would enable the city to free up $230,000 it was using for loan repayment that could now be used for capital improvements, i.e. curb, gutter and sidewalk repairs, or provide funds for events held by local nonprofit organizations, Saeki said.
He went on to say the city stood to have substantial savings in future budgets by no longer having to operate the center. Saeki projects at $147,000 saving in this year’s budget. For fiscal year 2015-16, he projected a $450,000 saving. And in fiscal year 2016-17, a $463,000 saving.
That would help the city toward its goal of eliminating all its debt, Saeki said.
“We are focused on balancing our budget. Right now the revenues we have are not offsetting expenditures,” he said.
Saeki added that registration fees charged by the county for aquatic programs, including swim lessons and junior lifeguards, would be less than what the city now charges. “And there will be no fee for recreational swims. Free access will be available to all users for recreational swims. And there will be reduced fees for swim teams and schools, about a 35 percent reduction.”
As for the length of the agreement, Saeki said it was something county officials wanted “given they’re going to be making a significant financial investment into the property and facility, and we’re okay with that.”
John Wicker, chief deputy director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, told the council and members in the audience they would offer many of the same aquatic programs the City of San Fernando already has in place and “would work with the community to see what kinds of additional programs they would like us to offer.”
Resident John Blue, a social and community activist and a long time user of the pool, thought the deal was well crafted and “benefited all parties.”
There was a downside: Aquatic Supervisor Joe Goss, a full-time employee, will lose his job if the county assumes control.
“It’s not really an option in the current contract, so as it stands [his job] will end on the day they assume control of the facility,” Goss said. “It’ll be tough, but I understand it’s a business decision. It’s the right move with the city to partner with the county. The term ‘it is what it is’ might be a cliché, but it is what it is at this point.”
Lifeguards Tommy Verenchik and Antonino Lavato, who are part-time employees, will have a chance to keep their jobs. They were required to file applications with the county by Wednesday, Oct. 8. County officials will come back to the pool on Oct. 25 and administer a standard test: all applicants must be able to swim 500 yards in nine-and-a-half minutes or less. If they pass the physical test, both Verenchik and Lavato will then be interviewed for lifeguard positions.
“I am [happy] with the fact we’ll get the opportunity to keep our job.,” said Verenchik, 20, who lives in Newhall. “I’m 100 percent confident in our ability to meet L.A. County standards, no questions asked….It’s comparable to what I had to do to get other [lifeguard] jobs.”
Lavato, 20, who lives in North Hills, also expressed confidence. “Our standards are [equal] with the county’s if not greater. I think the lifeguards who test will do great.”