Above, tubers float the San Marcos River using tubes from the San Marcos Lions Club tube rental. Daily Record photo by Lance Winter
Tubing talks float to city council
The San Marcos Parks & Recreation Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend city council support changes to the Lions Club Tube Rental and vending lease.
In advance of the upcoming lease renewal in April, the parks board saw several reasons for a renegotiation. The board members cited recent city budget constraints and efforts to increase parks budget revenue by increasing fees for facility rental for both nonprofit and private uses as well as increasing activity center membership and program fees. They note that fee increase to facility rentals was not extended to facilities that were under long-term lease, such as the Lions Club Tube Rental facility.
They also cite the current monthly lease of $900 per month as substantially less than the market value of a commercial riverfront rental property.
“The Parks and Recreation Board recognizes the need to: provide a variety of recreational opportunities for the citizens of San Marcos and visitors; manage the flow and volume of users; control litter from entering the river; balance recreation with ecological function; supplement and retain revenue streams; and to ensure accessibility for users across all demographics and economic backgrounds,” the resolution states.
The resolution suggests limiting the days of operation to provide the river with a recharge from the tubing operation and allow citizens to utilize the river for active recreation. It also asks for an employee to be dedicated to trash pickup from the riverbed two hours each day.
The lease has historically been signed in five-year increments, however, the parks board suggests shortening the next lease term to two years, which is intended to provide the city with options for more flexibility if it finds future changes are necessary.
The resolution also suggests council direct city staff to determine fair market value for lease of the property based on local commercial real estate rates and similar municipal leases in other municipalities. They also propose a surcharge of $2.00 per tube rental and shuttle service must be added and provided to the City of San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department to support operations and improvements within the parks.
“I felt like these four parts are common sense but they are changes to the lease,” said Parks Board member Keith Ubben as he explained why another recommendation in the original resolution to ensure financial transparency was removed. “It was easy, I felt for the council to get these done. But getting them to open their books wide open, just seemed trickier.”
Lions Club President Dennis Gutierrez felt they were not given the opportunity to negotiate “in good faith” with the parks board in any of their meetings. Gutierrez was online available for questions, but did not feel like they were involved in finding what could have been “a happy medium.”
“We felt like it was a fair lease and we are willing to talk to parks and council to come up with an amenable dollar amount,” Gutierrez said in an interview with the Daily Record. “But they want to raise the rent and do a $2 surcharge, it’s a double whammy. We don’t think that is right ... It’s just an oversized storage unit with AC. They haven’t said what is fair market value.”
Gutierrez said the Lions Club understands the city is in a difficult financial position following COVID-19 and needs to raise more funds, but noted that they lost $200,000 in revenue last year and only ran 25 days of tubing due to the pandemic themselves.
As for reducing impact to the river by decreasing operations days and adding a cleanup staff member, Gutierrez said, “We are good stewards of the river,” explaining that the Lions Club funds river cleanups twice a year and they already have staff conducting cleanups of the river every shift. “We understand the impact of tubing on the river. We make donations to the Greenbelt Alliance and to the Meadows Foundation to make sure our rivers stay a safe haven for people to go enjoy,” Gutierrez said
“We do a lot to help other organizations to make sure the river stays safe and in a good environment,” he added. “Nobody on the board gets paid a salary ... We don’t recklessly spend out money, it goes back into the community. We try to keep our costs low so we can give out more money. We are always trying to find ways to increase what we can give to our community.”
The San Marcos City Council will have to consider the resolution before any changes can be made.