For the first time, people will be paying fees to use the Santa Clara Senior Center’s amenities, and in August, Parks & Recreation held an informational session about the new annual fees. The fees are part of an overhaul of Parks & Recreation fees that have been in the works since last year, and the Senior Center isn’t alone in instituting fees.
Senior Center Two-Tier Membership
The basic Senior Center membership is $12 a year for residents and provides access to the game rooms, seminars and the computer lab. The premium membership is $37 per year and includes use of the fitness center, the Center’s three heated pools — the natatorium — and free admission to the International Swim Center and other City pools. Some financial assistance is available for those who can’t afford the fees.
Memberships aren’t needed to have lunch at the Senior Center, participate in the health programs, visit the lobby or register for classes.
The new fees will be charged when membership is renewed, so current members won’t have to pay anything until their membership expires. There’s no plan to raise the fees annually, said Senior Center Supervisor Jennifer Herb.
The greatest pushback concerned the cost of using the Senior Center pools. Since their post-COVID reopening, there has been no free swimming; only paid exercise classes that cost $94 to $124 monthly for two classes a week. Swimmers say this is unreasonable, especially as there are no open swim hours.
Parks & Recreation Director Jim Teixeira counters that Santa Clara, like the rest of the country, is grappling with a lifeguard shortage. The City is working to train new lifeguards, Teixeira said, but many of them are high school students who won’t be available during school hours.
In addition, Herb said that the pools’ automatic controls need repairs before they can be fully open.
One person isn’t having any of it.
Joan Cabral, who says she swam at the Senior Center every day it was open pre-COVID, said, “You’ve had two and a half years to fix the controls. The [City’s] lifeguards aren’t being shared equally with all pools. But you can find lifeguards and instructors for high paying classes — $1,820 a year. It’s discrimination.”
Cabral has proposed an alternative fee plan of $30 monthly or $300 annually to use the pools.
“At this price, all three pools need to be available during all open hours, not tied up by classes for a fee just so the Senior Center makes extra revenue,” she wrote in an email.
“In the past, too many classes tied-up the warm water pool every day,” she continued. “This [proposal for] premium membership will cover all the revenue needed to keep the Senior Center pools open.”
There wasn’t much complaint otherwise about the fees. “I’d like to thank the City and the Council for giving us a free facility all these years,” said longtime resident Paul Shumaker, who specifically asked that his comment include, “no thanks to Lisa Gillmor.”
The pools are part of an $11 million Senior Center renovation in 2006. The renovation tripled the size of the Center to roughly 50,000 sq. ft. and added the three pools.
A Six-Month Recreation Fee Review
The new fees are part of a cost-recovery strategy that the City Council approved in June. This is the first time the City has set fees based on an articulated strategy with clear priorities, according to Teixeira.
In the past, there seemed to be little rhyme or reason to fees charged. For example, Santa Clara-based sports leagues paid nothing to use City athletic fields while Santa Clara Swim Club paid for use of City pools. (The Weekly has asked several former Council Members about the reasoning behind this and none could remember any specific reasons beyond “supporting kids.”)
In 2021, Santa Clara hired Clearsource Financial Consulting for a comprehensive analysis of the City’s user fees. This analysis and a proposed fee structure were introduced at the Apr. 5 Council meeting, further discussed on May 17, and finalized on June 21.
California law limits public service and activity fees to the “estimated reasonable cost” of providing them. Beyond that, Clearsource’s approach was simple: “Generally, fees for service are targeted to full cost recovery, inclusive of operating, direct, indirect, and capital costs, except in cases where the City Council cites a public interest in lower fees.”
The fee policy approved by the Council establishes six tiers of cost recovery, from zero to 100 percent:
- 0%: all of the community benefits; for example, parks and libraries.
- 1-20%: most of the community benefits; for example, the Senior Center and nonprofits serving Santa Clara.
- 21-40%: segments of the community benefit; for example, therapeutic recreation. Often these programs are eligible for public grants.
- 41-70%: many individuals or community groups benefit; for example, fitness and recreation programs, junior theater.
- 71-90%: individuals largely benefit; for example, sports tournaments.
- 91-100%: commercial enterprises and non-residents benefit; for example, venue rentals for corporate events.
The fact is that after the $50,000 study, most fees — for all City services — are unchanged or changed by 5 to 10 percent, according to Council reports. And senior center fees aren’t the only recreation fees that have increased. Soccer leagues will now pay $30/day for routine use and $100/hour to use Santa Clara’s high-quality fields. Some fees have gone down — for example, meeting room fees have dropped for resident use.
You can find the 2022-23 Santa Clara Parks & Recreation fee schedule on the City’s website.