A controversial $6.4-million tennis center project in Anaheim, which was pulled from the city's budget earlier this year after it sparked outrage among Latino activists and Mayor Tom Tait, is likely to move forward anyway, a council study session revealed last week.
The city-owned Anaheim Tennis Center and Wagner House already features several tennis courts, a lounge area with hardwood floors, large windows and a stone fireplace with an ornate mantle.
The renovation will include "additional lockers, showers and restrooms,” a “new historically-themed outdoor garden for social gatherings and weddings” and a tournament-level center court with permanent seating, according to budget documents and city officials.
The $6.4 million to pay for it all would come from developer impact fees generated by the Platinum Triangle development, approved for nearly 19,000 homes, that must be set aside for parks and recreation.
Tait and Latino activists have argued that the money would be better spent creating more public park space in and around the development, which is in a park-poor area of Central Anaheim.
However, it is clear from comments made at the study session that a majority of the City Council remains in favor of spending the money on the tennis center, which is about 1½ miles from the Platinum Triangle, and will at some point put it back in the budget.
“There was a great deal of community support for that,” said Councilwoman Gail Eastman. “Those are amenities that appeal to all of the people in our city, not just people who are a tennis player.”
That is not the opinion of activists like Jose Moreno of the Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County who point to the renovation, which would be the most expensive parks project in the budget, as evidence that the current all-white council is tone deaf to the needs of working-class Latino neighborhoods.
Moreno said it would be "infuriating" if the entire $6.4 million went to the tennis complex.
“That money is better used building a school-park library complex that can really be a jewel of the Platinum Triangle community, versus adding one tennis court and renovating a house at the tennis center that ultimately is still owned by a private company, and our residents and children will still have to pay to utilize,” Moreno said.
Moreno is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Anaheim by lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that the city's current electoral system violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act, which requires adequate representation for minorities.
Officials defending the project note that the developer fee revenue that would be directed to the tennis center is restricted and may be spent only in the “sphere of influence” of the Platinum Triangle.
Nonetheless, that money can be used to buy more parkland in the sphere of influence. In fact, city officials have been talking to developer Lennar regarding joint-use athletic fields, according to an email from city spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz.
Some other projects that would receive fee revenue include Ponderosa Park's community and family resource center, which was estimated at $6.1 million but has since been revised to $7 million, and an expansion of Boysen Park, which is adjacent to the tennis center.
“It's the limitations of the law and the availability of land that constrain me. It's not for lack of trying,” said Community Services Director Terry Lowe. “We will be looking at every opportunity to buy land.”
Tait has argued that if the city scales down the tennis center renovation it will have millions of dollars to buy parkland from a developer in the Platinum Triangle. He said the current park space there — a handful of “pocket parks” and a three-acre green-belt — is not enough to handle the nearly 2,000 families that could live there.
“Of all the needs we have, this isn't one of them,” Tait said. “It's contrary to the needs of the city.”
Yet city officials contended it's more complicated than just shifting money in the budget. They said at least part of the renovation is required under a 2007 city contract with operator Mike Nelson. Though the specific price tag for the city's contribution isn't spelled out in the agreement, the officials say it amounts to between $3.5 million and $4 million.
The banquet area and center court, which make up the rest of the cost, are not required under the contract and can be carved out, according to city officials. But spending the money on the reception area will ultimately mean more rentals, and officials said the city's share of that revenue, which will go to the general fund, will triple over time and the city would recoup its investment in about 20 years.