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Will emotion trump business once again at city golf course?

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POSTED July 12, 2017 12:56 a.m.

Manteca’s 76,000 residents — whether they are golfers or not — should have a high expectation that the five elected people they have entrusted with city assets and their tax dollars will make a solid business decision when it comes to hiring the next golf pro.
There are two contenders for the job that want to be given the keys to a $10 million plus public asset that has a history of very non-business decisions by previous city councils that have hurt the golf course and hurt taxpayers.
One is Jeff DeBenedetti. He’s a PGA golf professional  that lives in Tracy and has a 12-year track record of running one of the Bay Area’s most successful municipal golf course’s —  Las Positas in Livermore. He’s been there since 1991. The other is a partnership between two assistants with the current Manteca golf pro operation being overseen by Alan Thomas’ widow, Marjie Thomas. They are Wes Bloodgood and Brent Beck. Both have worked at the Manteca course for 15 years.
There is a need to revisit past councils’ mistakes that favored emotion over solid business given there is pressure being placed on the current council to once again favor emotion over solid business.
The golf course is a community asset. While everyone may not golf, having the course provides Manteca with an amenity that is part of an overall community package.
The golf course isn’t a freestanding entity that doesn’t require an infusion of tax dollars. Even if you take out the much debated and vilified cost recovery charges — which the city has suspended for nearly a decade — the course has required at least $2.3 million of general fund money over the last 15 years. This is not bad business. This is how most cities operate their golf courses due to the nature of the beast.
The city earmarks $155,000 each year on the pretense of subsidizing youth and senior play. It’s a pretense because if it was indeed what the money was directly subsidizing the city would be ignoring sound legal advice that they apply to everything thing else in the city — you can’t use general fund money to subsidized lower rates for sewer, water, and garbage users or even low-income kids to access recreation programs for either a free or reduced rate. It’s called a gift of public funds and it is illegal as hell. It is why there is a golf tournament at the course this week so non-city funds can be raised to subsidize recreation program access for low-income kids.
And let’s be clear on this — there is nothing wrong with the city underwriting the costs of recreation facilities used by specific segments of the community. You are only fooling yourself if you think soccer teams that use Woodward Park fields pay high enough fees to cover every city expense incurred in providing a soccer field. 
The real emotional stuff is what costs. It started with the decision to build the mother of all public golf course clubhouses back in the late 1980s. Those with business heads at the time argued Manteca was overshooting the runway. The elected council at the time bought the song sung by those saying Manteca needed to make a statement.
And what a statement they made. They built a two-story clubhouse with the idea of have a high profile restaurant on the second floor. The only problem is they built it without benefit of a market analysis or even consulting restaurant operators to see how the kitchen should be designed. It sat empty for years until the council — under public pressure to do something — hired a consultant to help land a tenant.
What they got was obvious. The consultant told them the Union Road location was far from being ideal for lunch or dinner trade for a seven-day-a-week restaurant. The clubhouse with a six figure annual payment for 25 years sat empty cutting into green fee revenue.
Desperate to fill the space, the city went through two back-to-back contracts with groups of individuals who were willing to open a restaurant. In both cases, the city failed to thoroughly vet their financial wherewithal. In the first case the city fronted the operators the money they said they needed to replace equipment that they said was inadequate. When they went belly-up the city discovered the operators had pocketed money advanced for new kitchen equipment.
The second venture went sideways as well but not before the city was left being owed over $30,000 for power, water, rent, garbage, and other expenses.
The bleeding stopped when the city partnered with a businessman with a track record and a bank to back him — Frank Guinta.
Another emotional move that abandoned solid business practices was the late Mayor Bill Perry leading the charge to spike green fee hikes recommended by staff to keep the course from going into the hole. The reason given each time? There was an election coming up and it could tick off voters.
Now to the bottom line:
Bloodgood and Beck have been pre-approved for an unsecured $62,000 line of credit from First Midwestern Bank of Minneapolis. They also provided a letter from Stockton’s Swenson Park PGA professional Joe Smith offering to be a part-time PGA Class A Head Golf Professional for Bloodgood and Beck.
DeBenedetti maintains a $150,000 line of revolving credit with Heritage Bank of Commerce in the Bay Area. DeBenedetti is already a class “A” golf professional with the PGA.
So here’s the question: Which is the emotional choice and which is the solid business choice?

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