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COSTA MESA : City Chooses Firm to Run Golf Courses

After nearly three hours of debate, the City Council early Tuesday decided to enter into exclusive negotiations with Mesa Verde Partners for the operation of the city’s two public golf courses.

Mesa Verde Partners, whose members operate several courses around Orange County, beat out 10 other competitors for the lucrative deal, which could deposit more than $28 million in ailing city coffers over the next 15 years.

Despite the late hour, several people stayed to hear the testimony, which ended about 3 a.m. when the council voted 3 to 2 to open negotiations with Mesa Verde. The vote, however, left in question the future of 18 full-time city employees at the facilities, who could see their pay cut as much as 25%, according to a company official.

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Mesa Verde was No. 2 among the top three choices ranked by a five-member team established to consider golf course proposals after the council decided to put course operation up for bid last year. American Golf and Environmental Care were listed as the No. 1 and No. 3 prospects, respectively.

Included in the bid by Mesa Verde Partners were several changes to the 18-hole courses, including reseeding with Bermuda grass at a cost of $605,000, expanding the lakes at both courses and putting in new drainage and irrigation systems. The company estimates it will pay the city as much as $28 million in rent over the next 15 years.

Citing a variety of concerns, council members Joe Erickson and Sandra L. Genis voted against negotiations with the partnership. Genis said the company’s financing plans were not adequate, and that questions about the 18 maintenance workers whose jobs hinge on the decision were left unresolved.

“I felt we had a little more cushion with the employees with the other (bidders),” Genis said. “But I think, assuming they get financing, they will do a good job.”

During the testimony, several residents also expressed concerns over issues from escalating green fees to the end of complimentary games. Others came to praise American Golf and the other contenders, as well as express support for the current concession stand operator, Harry S. Green, who also lost out in the deal.

Some of the finer details raised have not yet been discussed but will be included in contract talks, city officials said. Included in the negotiations will be how to handle the 18 city employees.

“What will happen to the original concept that the golf course was founded on?” asked resident Dan Gott. “Will this be at the expense of the residents of Costa Mesa?”

In response, Scott Henderson, managing partner for the Mesa Verde company, said that green fees will not go up during the next few years and that seniors will still get discounts. The current employees will be offered jobs, but must be prepared to take a significant cut in pay, he said.

“It is going to be a reduction in what they’re making now,” Henderson said, adding that the employees could expect a 20% to 25% decrease in pay and benefits to keep them equal with other golf course employees. “It is up to them to accept. We are going to work hard to keep them.”

Bill Folsom, head of the employees union representing the maintenance workers, could not be reached for comment. Folsom has expressed outrage in the past about the prospect of pay reductions for the workers, some of whom have worked at the courses for more than 20 years.

A contract with Mesa Verde is expected to go before the council later this summer for final approval. If it is approved, the company will begin operating the courses in September.


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