Here is a more detailed summary of the HRB discussion regarding the tennis courts during the September 2, 2014, meeting.

(If you are looking for the rest of the September minutes, here they are.)

Tennis Court Usage Discussion

HRB invited several residents who had submitted written complaints to attend and discuss problems with tennis court use.  The primary complaint was that one instructor has allegedly been monopolizing the courts for lessons and inhibiting access by residents wishing to play recreationally.   They described heated confrontations between themselves and the instructor, and they alleged a number of inappropriate behaviors, including (a) teaching non-residents, (b) improper use of the timers, (c) holding of the court for multiple consecutive lessons even when others are waiting, (d) use of both courts at once, (e) derogatory remarks to residents who approach him to complain.  They objected that instructors are currently not charged a fee to use our courts.

Later in the meeting, HRB interviewed the instructor involved, as well.  He claims that he often relocates his lessons to the UCI Crawford courts when the UHills courts are in use, or when others are waiting to play, and is always willing to do so.  He acknowledged that when people ask, he sometimes says he has another student coming, but does not mean this to suggest he is holding a place for them.  He confirmed that he understands that he can only hold consecutive lessons when no-one else is waiting for a court.   He does hold group clinics sometimes, and if the 2nd court is not being used, he makes use of both courts (but says he does not set a timer for the 2nd court, and cedes that court to anyone who arrives wanting to play).  He said he thought that complaints about him were limited to a small number of residents, and said he generally gets along fine with other players.  He said he did not think his lessons were significantly impacting overall availability.  He noted that he has the ICHA-mandated insurance.  (ICHA confirms this, and notes that he is currently the ONLY instructor who has submitted the required proof of insurance.)

HRB established that the instructor understands: his only standing, regarding court use, is as the guest of a resident.  Court use is entirely first-come, first-serve, and he may not hold places in line for students.  HRB impressed upon him that many residents (younger ones, particularly) may not be comfortable approaching him, or asking him to cede the court, and that he should not mislead or intimidate anyone regarding their right to use the court upon expiration of the timer.  HRB also reminded him that as an instructor of young students, he has a responsibility to set a good example and model mature behavior during interactions with others, regardless of who is at fault.

Subsequent HRB discussion considered whether the existing rules were reasonable, and what changes, if any, might be appropriate. 

Adding capacity:  The small number of courts leads to congestion at peak times.  (Pools, similarly, are often empty, but can be crowded during peak periods.)  The Phase 10 amenity survey that ICHA conducted 2 years ago, found that a Jr. Olympic swimming pool was the overwhelming preference among residents, followed by a recreational pool, with additional tennis courts being the third “big-ticket” choice among those options suitable for the space in question.  Andrew floated the idea of replacing the half-court and swings at Gabrielino Park with an additional tennis court.  Scattered courts would be harder to navigate than courts all at one location, particularly given the existing “show up and see” system.

Policies regarding instructors:  HRB noted that instructors provide a useful service to residents, and that banning an instructor, or banning instruction altogether, or restricting times when instruction is allowed, punishes those residents.  Our current philosophy is that we do not distinguish between residents based on their intended use.  The first-come first-serve rule is simple, and applies equally to all residents.  A resident who wishes to invite a guest for a match has the same status as a resident who wishes to invite an instructor for a lesson, and the same rules regarding timers and waiting one’s turn still apply. 

Fees for instructors would be passed on to residents, so this amounts to requiring some residents, but not others, to pay ICHA to use the courts.  It could be reasonable to require display of an ICHA-issued permit, to help enforce insurance requirements and make it easier for residents to file complaints. 

If necessary, we could establish different rules for instructional vs. recreational use, but they would be difficult to enforce, complicated to remember, and if many residents are taking lessons on our courts, then maybe that is simply an indication of residents’ usage preferences.

Laissez-faire arguments regarding instructors depend on the assumption that the existing rules are actually being followed.   If instructors are teaching non-residents, preventing actual first-come first-serve use, and denying others from having an equal chance of getting on a court, then some systemic disincentive may be appropriate.

Known limitations of the current system:  The current system is “fair”, when followed in good faith, but does have associated inconveniences and limitations.  (1) The timers are not resettable until they run out, so if someone leaves early, the next user can’t restart the timer.  (2) The system can be gamed in various ways.  (3) The system requires human-to-human interaction when one arrives to find someone playing on the court.  One has to talk to them!  This is tougher for younger players, especially if adults are not respecting the rules. (4) There is always uncertainty regarding whether courts are open, how long the wait will be, etc.  Many with busy schedules might be dissuaded from trying to use the courts at all.

Concerns about changing the system:  There are turnkey web-based court-reservation systems that could be employed, and could be configured in a variety of ways to suit our needs if desired.  There are a number of potential drawbacks, however:  (1) Users might reserve times and not show up, particularly if there is no penalty (and who wants to deal with enforcing penalties…).  (2) Users would need to check the site before going to the court (particularly if both courts are reservable).  (3) What if people show up late?  [Too bad for them.]  Is the reservation forfeited?  [Um, yes.]  (4)  People would need to bring proof of reservation.  (5) Peak times would still be peak times – but more people would be scrambling for the prime timeslots when the system opens them up.   (6) Reservation systems can also be gamed, with fake names, instructors who log in as their students, etc.  (7) Most of the day, reservations aren’t needed anyway.

Other miscellaneous observations:  The existing rules do allow for an instructor to be the guest of back-to-back students, provided no-one else is already waiting when the next student arrives. Disallowing consecutive lessons seems unnecessary if no-one else is waiting.  Consecutive lessons when someone else is waiting are already against the rules.  The existing system relies on the honesty of the people using it, lends itself to abuse if people don't act in good faith, and makes it hard for kids, in particular, to challenge any adult who is not abiding by the rules. It was suggested that a hook on the fence could be added, for establishing who is next, but the person waiting must still remain present.  Andrew volunteered to procure a few hooks.  If people simply leave when courts are in use or when other people are waiting, it is difficult to assess how overloaded the courts really are.  Group lessons advertised community-wide during prearranged off-peak times might be worthy of an exception to the established rules, but such use must require formal approval.

The HRB decided that, at the very least, the signage at the court should be updated to spell out the rules more clearly, so that they would be more difficult to circumvent or claim confusion about.  Before making any changes, Steve suggested that we seek broader feedback about the existing system first:  he plans to conduct a neighborhood-wide survey to get feedback from a larger number of tennis players about their experiences with the system we have, and about ways they think it could be improved.

[Back to the rest of the September Minutes]