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COSTA MESA : Bids to Be Studied on Golf Operations

A plan to let a private company operate the city’s public golf courses, controversial in part because it could cost the jobs of 18 city workers, will be considered by the City Council tonight.

At issue is management of the Costa Mesa Public Golf Course and Country Club, two 18-hole courses that have been under the city’s control for more than 20 years. Eleven bidders have put in proposals to operate the concession stand and maintain the courses or a portion of the two.

Tonight the council is expected to sift through the proposals and tackle the issue of how to handle the 18 employees whose jobs hinge on the decision.

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In a report to the council, a five-member team formed to study the bids suggests turning over the entire operation to a private firm. However, the team made no recommendation on what to do with the employees.

American Golf, which operates several courses in Los Angeles County, is listed as the committee’s top choice, followed by Mesa Verde Partners and Environmental Care.

“The committee believes that American Golf ranks first by virtue of its significant experience and the strength of its financial proposal,” a report to the council states.

Community Services Director Keith Van Holt, who served on the committee, said top bidders have indicated that they would consider hiring the current employees. But nothing would be guaranteed. They would still have to go through interviews and be chosen for open slots.

Bill Folsom, president of the employees’ association representing the course workers, worries that even if they get jobs they will have to take huge pay cuts.

The bidders “have all said the workers make too much money. This is what kills us,” Folsom said. “Every one of those contractors seems to think it is not OK to make $11 an hour, but it is OK to take millions of dollars off the golf course and put it in their own pockets.”

To counter the private businesses, the employees submitted their own cost-savings proposal. In a 52-page document, they outline ways to generate more than $1 million in profit by keeping control in the hands of the city. The proposal also includes about $400,000 in improvements to the course.

Van Holt said the employees’ proposal was not studied by his group.

Also missing from the list of recommended bidders is the current operator of the concession stand, Harry S. Green Inc. It was the expiration of Green’s contract that prompted a study of the golf course operation and ultimately the decision to send it out to bid.

Throughout the majority of their history, the courses--which opened in the late 1960s--have turned a profit. But facing a city budget crunch, an advisory committee suggested that the courses might be a way to bring in more cash to financially strapped city coffers.

Last week the mood was solemn in the break room of the Costa Mesa golf courses as workers gathered to discuss tonight’s meeting.

The stress over the last few months has taken its toll, workers said, but all agree that they enjoy working for the city and just want to keep their jobs.

“The city has been great to me,” said one worker. Added John Skinner, a supervisor who has worked at the courses for 24 years: “We are just hoping for the best.”


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