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Local News

Santa Barbara Hands Golf Course Management Contract To Petaluma Company

Bringing an end to the organizational dismantling of the Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Course that started last March, the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday approved a contract with a Petaluma-based company to manage the course.

Santa Barbara will keep the gross revenues, and for four-plus years starting July 1, 2016, the city will pay CourseCo $80,000 to manage the golf course, with an option to renew in 2021. 

The company will run the Pro Shop, hire and train all staff, stage tournaments and events, make all golf programming decisions, and attempt to grow golf participation. 

CourseCo will hire its own employees to do the work currently done by unionized city employees. 

Play at the municipal golf course has declined dramatically since the mid-1990s, and city officials believe that the course would be profitable and less of a financial burden if it is managed by a private company. 

The vote was split, 4-3. Councilmen Dale Francisco, Harwood “​Bendy" White, Randy Rowse and Frank Hotchkiss supported the plan, but liberals Mayor Helene Schneider and council members Gregg Hart and Cathy Murillo opposed it.

“This is a bet and I don’t think we needed to make this bet,” Hart said. “The only way to solve this problem is to grow rounds on the golf course. We are betting that you will do that. We’ll find out.”

White, a moderate Democrat, sided with the conservatives on the council, swinging the vote toward privatization as he did earlier this year when the council initially voted to privatize. 

The vote means current full-time, permanent Service Employees International Union Local 620 employees who work at the golf course will either be transferred to other city parks jobs or possibly get hired by the new company. 

Two employees have already moved to parks maintenance jobs and another employee opted to retire in 2016. The city expects that some of the seven remaining full-time golf club employees will either retire, get hired at CourseCo, or be transferred to other parks jobs. 

In a worst-case budget scenario, the city will spend $617,000 to retain the employees in parks jobs, should CourseCo hire none of them. CourseCo has 100 percent control to hire or terminate employees.

Hart was upset at Parks and Recreation Department staff for failing to bring up that cost earlier, to shift those existing employees to other parks jobs if none are hired by CourseCo.  

Hart said that “no one can say with a straight face” this is a good business deal. 

“In the next fiscal year it is going to be a loss,” he said.

“Our first year we are going to spend $600,000 on city employees in the parks department instead of the golf course. It eliminates any potential savings for this effort.”

Murillo said the parks staff inflated the amount of savings by privatizing the golf course.

“I will be thinking about employees who are facing job insecurity during the holidays,”​ Murillo said. 

Councilman Dale Francisco, whose term ends this month and served his final council meeting on Tuesday, swung back at both Hart and Murillo’s statements. 

“I can say with a straight face this is a good business deal, in the short term and the long term,” Francisco said.

“The cost of having SEIU employees do this work is twice as much.”

Francisco said any extra cost of retaining these employees is temporary and a step to make sure that those city employees “are well-compensated and well taken care of at this holiday time.”

Hourly employees who work at the golf course will get the opportunity to interview for a job if they wish to remain at the Golf Club.

At the meeting, CourseCo executives said they manage 26 golf courses and have never had a contract canceled or failed to renew.

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity work in the city of Santa Barbara,” CEO Michael Sharp said. 

Tom Bugbee, vice president of operations, said he sees a large opportunity to increase rounds among “the visiting tourist.”

He said he expects a 4-percent growth during the first year of management and 3 percent each year after that. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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