By Doug Pritchett
With the new commercial-use ordinance and regulations implementing revised policies impacting a whole range of activities, including tennis and pickleball instruction, the city of West University has decided that making a buck is more important than resident-driven use of the parks.
If you have not heard of the ordinance yet, you will. It criminalizes commercial conduct in city recreational spaces. An entertainer or caterer at a child’s birthday party in the Pavilion; a trainer meeting her group at Colonial Park; any event sponsored by a resident on city recreational property; a tennis lesson organized by a resident; league play on a court — all are now a Class C misdemeanor subject to a $500 fine.
When I first heard of the ordinance and the proposed regulations, I was surprised. After all, the regulations in place for years stated, “All West U residents who wish to make a reservation and play with their tennis pro are welcome to do so.” So, what changed? Why has an activity that was “welcomed” in September become criminal in October?
To answer this question, I went to a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Board. I learned that the board members were at a loss to understand why the new policies were being enacted. When members asked what data was relied upon to support this change, the director of Parks and Recreation admitted that there was no data.
In short, the new policy is being enacted without any understanding of the prior use of the courts, whether there was a problem that needed to be addressed, or how to tailor regulations to any need that might exist.
In various statements, the city offered the following justifications:
(1) Tennis pros are “unchecked” in using courts to conduct tennis camps and lessons;
(2) Residents cannot get court time, and the new rules will give residents greater access;
(3) The proposed fee (20 percent of a lesson rate charged by the pro) will pay for the administrative costs of the program;
(4) Participation by pros on the tennis courts represents a liability to the city.
Not only are these justifications based on supposition — no data, remember — they are fundamentally flawed and reveal a lack of understanding of how courts have been used under the prior regulations.
Pro Use: In the preexisting system, a pro could only teach (1) at a resident’s invitation, (2) after the resident made (and paid for) a reservation, and (3) if the resident was present for the entire lesson. These regulations show that when a pro was on the court, it was either because of a resident-driven, resident-sponsored, and resident-organized reservation, or the pro is simply walking on. Walk-on instruction was expressly forbidden and could be enforced by the city under trespass law. Therefore, when a pro was on court, it was a resident who was driving the use and providing the “checks.”
Resident Access: The reservation system gave equal access to all residents who registered to use it. Anyone who wanted to play on Saturday for example could log in to the reservation system on Wednesday morning and book a court. Residents who wanted to use a pro had the same chance of getting a court as any other resident. What the new regulations do is disallow access to certain residents (those playing with a pro) in favor of others (other tennis activities). This does not increase resident access — at least not equitably.
Administrative Costs: The regulations co-opt court use in which the resident found the pro, reserved the court, and recruited the other players. It then redefines this lesson as a “class” and indirectly charges the resident for “administrative cost” to provide the lesson that the resident did all the work to create. Furthermore, the 20 percent fee is based on what a club pro pays for giving a lesson. At a cClubs, the facility provides locker rooms, showers, toilets, water, towels, balls, storage for equipment storage, court reservations and full-time teaching etc.in exchange for the fee the pro pays. What does the city provide for this fee?
Liability: Apparently, this process started with a concern over the city’s liability due to the presence of pros. This is puzzling. The city has sovereign immunity. That means that its can only be sued under the Texas Tort Claims Act if its employee causes property damage, personal injury or death or and for premises and special defects. The pros at issue here are not employees — at least not under the prior regulations — and the pros are not responsible for defects on the tennis courts.
In short, the city had no data to show that this ordinance and regulations were even necessary. Its justifications are flawed at best. Under the prior rules, court use was determined by residents, for residents, and of the use best suited to each individual resident. The city claims it knows better, but all it really seems to be about is collecting that fee.
Supported by Lara Lehmann, Marcia and Leandro Carboni, Karen and Bilal Mokaddem, Michelle DeFilippi, Lynette McGlamery, Marilyn Bick, Marcelle Ho — West University residents
This is in response to an article appearing in the September edition of Essentials Magazine and viewable here.