For some 30 years, Stephen Sacks has been playing tennis in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park.
A good number of people did, Sacks said—at least 200 or so would spend evenings playing tennis and often teaching kids to play. During peak hours, they switched to doubles games so that more people could play, and they limited how long they occupied a court if others were waiting.
“We all knew each other, and we understood what was fair and what wasn’t,” Sacks said.
Sacks and other WeHo tennis players had a lot of love for the informal old system—but they’re fuming at what city contractor iTennis is serving up now.
Formerly, court access was free during the week; only on weekends did one need to make a reservation and pay court fees. That’s all changed with iTennis managing tennis concessions for the city, Sacks says, and local tennis players feel displaced.
That’s because courts can now be reserved for up to two hours on weekdays at a cost of $5/hour for WeHo residents and $7/hour for non-residents (the same rate that is in place on weekends, when all play is by reservation only).
Players can still drop in and take an open, unreserved court at no cost if one is available. However, players say that is harder to do with iTennis using so many courts during peak hours for its group and private lessons. iTennis is advertising one-hour and two-hour classes for $20 and $30 respectively, or $200/300 for 10-class sessions. The iTennis contract requires the company to pay either $5,000 or 10 percent of its gross proceeds (whichever is greater) to the city each quarter.
Oscar Ringel, 92, who has been playing tennis in Plummer Park since 1960, said he has coached many young people at the park over the years, and many have gone on to excel in the sport and win scholarships. The tennis community has been like a family, he said, and “I’m still the sheriff.”
But for this sheriff, it’s feeling a little bit old West.
“Now the kids don’t show,” Ringel said. “I call it a desert now.”
Many WeHo tennis players signed a petition urging the city to re-instate free weekday access to tennis courts.
“I met with some folks that are not happy with iTennis,” Mayor John D’Amico said. “I understand their point of view and think the city needs to do more to increase open court play times.”
The city provided the iTennis petition to WEHOville.com and confirmed that more than 100 people had signed, though it noted that “it is not known if the signatures are from tennis players or park patrons — nor can it be determined who the breakdown of signers are: residents versus non-residents. Also, the petition describes a loss of children’s tennis programs — however, as the data shows, there has been a substantial increase in all tennis programs.”
According to the city’s Recreation Services Division, headed by Olivia Walker, the contract with iTennis came about after the addition of new tennis courts at West Hollywood Park. The city issued an request for bids for tennis concessions, gathered information from tennis court users and completed a public bidding process, according to the information that Public Information Officer Joshua Schare provided to WEHOville.com.
Tennis programs have brought in $17,895 for the first three quarters of 2014 since the contract with iTennis started in January, the city said. Prior to iTennis management, the City received approximately $1,600 per month in court reservation fees. The city said that 97 percent of those who reserved courts from April through September were West Hollywood residents.
The city acknowledged, though, that there are tennis players with concerns about the iTennis system and said that “City staff has met with concerned tennis players and we will continue to listen. The city is concerned about the needs of everyone using tennis courts in the city’s parks. With iTennis, there has been a substantial increase in all tennis programs and we have worked to keep open court times balanced so that community members can make reservations and count on having a court available to play.”
City staffers will provide an “asset management perspective” on the matter to the City Council at its meeting on Monday. The report will include “the percentage of use of courts by lessons, court rental, and free time for the Plummer Park courts during the 2014 summer months,” according to the city.