Elings Park Foundation Clears the Air on Taxpayer Subsidized Tennis

Elings Park believes building and supporting a thriving tennis community in Santa Barbara is worth working for. We are well on our way to tackling the difficult task set before us.

Elings Park Foundation is a 501(c) 3 Non-profit foundation. Our mission is to create the most amazing park for all to enjoy.

Four years ago, the City of Santa Barbara came to Elings Park with an offer. They asked us to consider taking over the operation of Las Positas Tennis Courts. The City noted the tennis courts were operating at a significant annual deficit and were identified as needing $1.1M in capital improvements. Money the City did not have then and does not have today.

The Elings Park Board discussed the offer long and hard. We know that the game of tennis does not make money. At that time, about 150 tennis players played at Las Positas for which they paid $150 a year for unlimited tennis access, which equates to an individual cost of approximately $2.88 per week. Those fees produced $22,500 a year in revenues. That does not maintain much of anything, much less a quality tennis complex.

Ultimately, the Elings Park Foundation agreed to take on the management and operations of the Las Positas Tennis Courts. We did so because the facility falls within the Park parcel boundary and had been built in 1974 as Phase I of Elings Park, then known as Las Positas Park. More importantly, the promotion of outdoor recreational opportunities is a key part of the Park’s mission.

The City originally leased 95 acres for $1 a year to the Elings Park Foundation. The City gave us a landfill. In return, we gave the citizens of Santa Barbara a Park. Everything you can see here came from donations… from corporations, foundations and individuals. None of it from taxpayer dollars.

Consistent with our successful private-public partnership, the City once again proposed to lease the tennis facilities to the Park for $1 per year. The lease negotiations took several months and were ultimately approved by the City Council in 2010.

The Mayor and Council very publicly thanked the Elings Park Board for taking on this substantial responsibility.

Contrary to what you may have heard, this is not a “failure of local government.” It is an example of good government, of creative City leaders recognizing and pursuing an opportunity to partner with a non-profit to save public programming while eliminating a substantial taxpayer liability.

Elings is a non-profit foundation-run park, not a city park. With no capital in the budget, City Parks and Recreation did the only sensible thing in asking Elings to help out here. Elings took a landfill and turned it into a well-run, low-cost beautiful asset for our city. Elings was the ONLY viable option for saving those courts. City Parks and Recreation should be commended and the City Council applauded for doing the right thing.

The reality is that Elings took on a rundown tennis facility with 39 years of deferred maintenance. In exchange, the Elings Park Board is determined to raise funds, renovate the facility and create dynamic programming to promote the sport of tennis for kids, adults and seniors. In the last three years, Elings Park has begun cleaning up the facility, pruning back the overgrowth and making plans for restoring the complex.

We are proud of the fact that we have managed to eliminate this burden from the taxpayers. The few thousand dollars previously generated by user fees, when collected, did not cover staff costs or maintenance, or improvements. The tennis facility would eventually have closed due to declining conditions. Elings stepped in, as asked, and assumed the burden of decades of deferred maintenance, to keep alive a beloved sports activity that does not carry its own weight financially.

No one likes change, especially when change means additional costs. Though a few individuals may be upset because the taxpayers are no longer subsidizing their tennis play at unsustainably low rates, the City as a whole is better served under this new arrangement.

Elings has already begun undertaking the maintenance and improvements the City could not. The new reality is that fees will now have to be realistic, rather than taxpayer-subsidized, and the maintenance will have to be performed for this to continue as a viable tennis facility.

While our fees help offset the costs of operating the facility, they clearly do not cover the costs of sustaining the complex. Despite our best efforts to keep fees as low as possible, Elings Park cannot charge the same fees as the City. That ignores financial reality. Elings Park Foundation is not subsidized by taxpayer money, nor do we want to be.

Elings’ fees for unlimited tennis play are $21 a month for seniors and $42 a month for adults. Day passes are $8, the same as the City. Kids are never turned away. In fact, we are working hard to encourage our community’s youth via the Santa Barbara Tennis Patrons to use our facilities. And our efforts are working.

The reality is that it is the programming that really pays for a tennis facility. Programming means classes, lessons, tournaments and activities for kids, teens, adults and seniors. It requires energy and vision.

Ultimately, the Elings Park Foundation Board is confident that the Las Positas Tennis Complex will be well run, tennis protocol supported, youth programs promoted and the facility brought back and improved to its original stellar condition.

We are determined to create a safe and pleasing environment where seniors, kids and adults can all feel comfortable in taking up and playing the great game of tennis. It is a lifelong sport and a metaphor for life.

Over the last 32 years, Elings and the City have had a durable and long standing public-private partnership in providing recreational opportunities for our citizens. We certainly appreciate our community’s continued support as we move forward to create the most amazing park for all to enjoy.


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