News

Rinconada Masters may be forced out of the pool

Operator of Rinconada Pool opts not to sign new agreement with Palo Alto's adult swim club

Carol Macpherson, coach of the Rinconada Masters swim club in Palo Alto, coaches members during their morning workout on Oct. 24, 2018. MacPherson founded the club 46 years ago, and is one of the oldest masters clubs on the Peninsula. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Edith Gelles has been swimming with the Rinconada Masters for 35 years and, as a history professor at Stanford University, she is particularly sensitive about the club's legacy in the region.

The adult swimming program, which has been using the city-owned Rinconada Pool in Palo Alto since 1973, was the first and only masters swimming program in the Bay Area for decades, Gelles said. These days, it's more than a swimming group; it's a family.

"When someone has a birthday, we celebrate.  When someone has a baby, we celebrate. When someone passes, we grieve," Gelles, 82, told the city's Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday night.

Now, the family is struggling to keep its home. Last week, the swim club was informed by Rinconada's new operator, Team Sheeper, that its contract will not be renewed in January. The announcement came as Menlo Park-based Team Sheeper is negotiating a new five-year deal with the city to manage the popular pool, which it has overseen since August 2017.

Tim Sheeper, founder and president of Team Sheeper, did not respond to the Weekly's inquiries Tuesday about his decision not to renew the contract with Rinconada Masters. But both city staff and members of Rinconada Masters said that Sheeper attributed the decision largely to safety concerns.

Earlier this year, the city commissioned a complete safety review by an independent aquatics professional to ensure that it employs best practices, said Jazmin LeBlanc, senior manager for strategy and operations of the city's Community Services Department. The consultant identified the need to have two lifeguards around the pool, with at least one on deck.

The city, she said, includes this requirement in its contracts with the various groups using the pool. Rinconada Masters hasn't always followed that requirement, she said, which influenced Team Sheeper's decision not to renew the group's contract.

"It's a serious enough concern for us that we felt like this was justified for Team Sheeper to move forward with overseeing the masters program (itself)," LeBlanc said.

The pending departure of the Rinconada Masters club is part of a broader wave of changes at Rinconada, which has grown much busier since Team Sheeper took over last year as part of the city's push to privatize pool operations. At that time, the city was struggling with staffing shortages and surging demand for aquatics programs.

In many respects, the switch to Team Sheeper has been a success, according to city staff.

Participation in the swim-lesson program has doubled to nearly 900 community members, LeBlanc said. Team Sheeper has also opened a new summer camp program, which was attended by 315 children. It transformed the seasonal recreational-swim program into a year-round one and it has significantly expanded lap swim hours. Feedback from customers, she noted, has been very positive in general.

But for Rinconada Masters, the switch from a public operation to a private one could mean the difference between existence and extinction. Under Team Sheeper's agreement with the city, the pool must maintain a masters program and a youth program, though it's up to Team Sheeper to decide whether to run these programs in-house or to hire subcontractors like Rinconada Masters. Earlier this year, Team Sheeper informed Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (the other major swim club that uses the pool) that it plans to renew its contract. Rinconada Masters, meanwhile, was told that it wouldn't get a new deal.

More than 40 adult swimmers came to the Tuesday meeting to push back against Team Sheeper's determination. David Levinson, who has been swimming with Rinconada Masters for 40 years and credits the program with turning him into an eight-time masters champion, called on the commission to "not abandon us swimmers."

"The Parks and Recreation Commission needs to decide whether to hire Team Sheeper to serve the swimmers of Palo Alto's programs or whether the members of the commission believe that we swimmers exist to serve Team Sheeper," said Levinson, one of more than a dozen swimmers who asked the commission for support.


Several members of the group also took their pleas to the City Council Monday night -- among them Carol Macpherson, coach of Rinconada Masters. The team, she told the council, welcomes both competitive swimmers and those who just want to swim to stay fit, to improve their strokes or to learn how to swim.

On Tuesday, Macpherson said she hopes the group can still work out a deal with Team Sheeper. The problems Team Sheeper had identified are solvable, she said. Though she did not dispute staff's finding that the group didn't always have two lifeguards on duty, Macpherson maintained that there was always at least one lifeguard. The lap swimming program, she added, also often uses just one lifeguard, she said.

"To say we never had any lifeguards on the deck is very incorrect," Macpherson said.

The commission agreed that the lifeguard problem has a fairly simple solution: the hiring of more lifeguards. But now, there seems to be a bigger issue between Team Sheeper and Rinconada Masters: growing mistrust. LeBlanc said that Team Sheeper has indicated that it doesn't have the confidence that the team will have as many lifeguards as it needs.

She said Team Sheeper also complained that the environment at Rinconada is "not always respectful" between the different groups, another reason for its determination not to renew the contract.

LeBlanc also noted that while oversight of the masters program is set to change under the proposed terms, the masters program itself is not going away. In fact, under the proposed Sheeper agreement, just about every Rinconada program will remain in place, with very few changes.

"Everyone who is in master swimming is absolutely welcome to continue being a master swimmer," she said. "I know it doesn't necessarily feel the same to every participant (to have a different management), but there is the same masters programming at the same time and almost the same exact pricing."

The commission largely sympathized with the speakers, with Commissioner David Moss calling the swim club "a city treasure" with a "national reputation." His biggest concern, he said, was over transparency. Though the city has been going through the bid process for a long-term pool operator since July, the Rinconada Masters didn't learn about the decision not to renew their contract until Oct. 16.

"It's the blind-siding that I find disturbing," Moss said.

He and his colleagues also took issue with the bidding process, which resulted in only one bid -- from Team Sheeper. LeBlanc said other operators were turned off by a provision that allows the city to approve or reject changes to the pool schedule. If the city were to reject Team Sheeper's bid, it might have to stop or suspend all aquatics programming because of insufficient pool oversight, she said.

"It's not ideal to walk away from this," LeBlanc said. "We would certainly do this if it looked like it would cause a problem."

While no one on the commission supported dropping Team Sheeper's bid, Commission Chairman Don McDougall said the outpouring of concern from the Rinconada Masters should change how the city negotiates with Team Sheeper as it finalizes its agreement. The biggest issue, he said, is broken trust. Solving it will require collaboration from the city, the pool operator and the various users of Rinconada Pool, which he called a "scarce and valuable resource."

"We have to find a way together. ... This message of trust needs to be passed on to our contractor," McDougall said.

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Comments

51 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 4:48 am

I watched the entire meeting because I was told it would be good theater... wasn't disappointed.

What became clear from the vague and evasive answers from the city staff person (if you know how to read between lines, yet got clearer after she was heavily pressed) is that there are serious safety and under-usage problems with this group... for the city to hold this position implies serious issues.

Summary -- The pool will continue to be open during the EXACT SAME HOURS but with different lifeguards, but open not just to this club exclusively. Meaning, they have EXACTLY the access they had before but with other folks being able to be there too?!?!

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this reads as a typical Palo Alto tempest in a teapot. Where is the outrage against our tyrant President who yesterday called himself a "Nationalist" (dog whistle anyone?) or the thousands of migrants marching through Mexico? But y'all will show up to protect other folks from sharing the pool with you?

Rant over... but really, get real Palo Alto!


43 people like this
Posted by III
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2018 at 8:41 am

III is a registered user.

Wow, it used to be so simple. Now again, typical
Palo Alto.... ITS ABOUT THE MONEY....
1) Since 1973 how many Masters Swimmers from Palo Alto drowned?
2) Since 1973 how many Masters Swimmers have needed
medical emergency assistance?
3) Sleeper group does not believe Masters Swimmers will supply
the ONE life guard they are required too?
ITS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY HONEY.... Sleepers is a For Profit Group &
Program.....
Next will be the Palo Alto Tennis courts.... Sadly
III


27 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2018 at 8:42 am

Two big questions are unaddressed by this article:

(1) How different will the weekly swim routine be for these individuals. The comment above implies they'll merely now have to share the pool at those times. Are there other advantages, other than exclusive access, this group is losing?

(2) Are we talking 400 weekly users? 200? 100?

In short, we need to know these two things so we can calculate (number impacted) x (size of impact per person).


48 people like this
Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 24, 2018 at 9:24 am

Masters has been running since 1973. If sheeper takes it over, will it be run for another 45 years? No! They'll shut it down as soon as it becomes unprofitable. don't privatize Masters swimming.

It's totally reasonable to give Masters additional time to remedy their shortcoming s instead of blindsiding them two weeks before the meeting.


26 people like this
Posted by Learn to share if you want to over populate
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:05 am

The Masters program has ruled over the pool and kept it all to themselves for years.

Time to share in this crowded crazy world that we have become.

If you don't like it, fight against the ridiculous growth that is going on in the area. Stop office development and adding more people to the city. More people who want to use the limited services. But don't just take a city resource and deny access to others.


31 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:16 am

Masters swimmers can die during a workout. This has happened at both Stanford Masters and Santa Cruz Masters workouts.

Masters swimmers can also suffer massive heart attacks during workouts. This happened to a national champion Stanford Masters swimmer in 2009 (fortunately four MDs were in the water at the time to provide CPR before the EMTs arrived four minutes later).

No matter what your water skill level, it’s important to have trained lifeguards on deck to watch what’s going on.


31 people like this
Posted by Dave Hoffman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:17 am

The change to 'Team Sheeper' has not been for the better at Rinconada; as one commenter above mentioned, it's clearly no longer a community facility, it's a for-profit facility, and that's unfortunate.

I'm unclear of the consequences of this decision for the Rinconada Master's group -- do they have to relocate to a different facility? If so, given that Burgess pool already has a Master's program, as do nearly all the public pools on the Peninsula that I am aware of, where are they to go? And if there is no other pool capable of hosting them, then help me understand why Team Sheeper was permitted to make this decision on the city's behalf? It seems to me the for-profit manager of a community facility ought to be working to accommodate community groups like the Rinconada Masters, not eliminating them.

In addition, during the transition, the city kept the unspent pre-paid funds loaded onto membership cards and reversed its stated policy for refunds: initially we were told to expect a refund to be mailed from the city, only to be told months later the burden was on swimmers to contact the city to request a refund. How much money did the city misappropriate from Rinconada swimmers?


23 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:58 am

Dear Weekly,

After sifting through the facts in the article and opinions in the comments, I would reprimand you for putting a click-bait headline on this. No one is being “forced out” of our pool. It appears, to the contrary, that access is being broadened, albeit to the chagrin of a group that has enjoyed private use. The facts in the article indicate that the city’s contractor (Team Sheeper) is bending over backwards to keep hours, access, and pricing as close to how they have been for years for these master swimmers.

Most importantly, it seems clear that that Team Sheeper is deeply concerned about its relationship with this sub-contractor regarding safety. That seems not only reasonable, but an essential pillar of their duty to us taxpayers and citizens. Pool safety and management should not be pieced-out to sundry sub-contracting groups. Is is job #1 of our contracting partner.

I am appalled that our pool has been operating, up to now, with this critical safety oversight pieced-out to sundry sub-contracting groups. That’s a compliance and liability and tragedy nightmare waiting to happen. With that context, I can see why the city and Team Sheeper would go to bat for this.

Finally, the history of the Masters program and dedication of its members is inspiring. They should continue to have a place to swim as they have for years, and it sounds like they will. Only without the keys to the kingdom and the lifeguard shack.


18 people like this
Posted by Bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 24, 2018 at 12:36 pm

I swim with the Stanford Masters team and I know how important that morning family is separate from your main life to get you through the day. Don't discount the things that are important in other's lives. And we don't have a lifeguard. Many adults swim in the ocean in the morning without a lifeguard. It's too much policing. Save the program


4 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 12:51 pm

For maximum usage, Menlo Park Masters shares the Burgess pool with lap swimmers during workouts. Lanes on one side of the pool are designated for lap swimming, usually 2-3, and the other lanes are shared by Masters swimmers. A lap lane often has two people sharing a lane; Masters lanes often have 4-6 swimmers that swim in a line. It all works.


38 people like this
Posted by Motheroftwoboys
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2018 at 12:53 pm

I was one of the more than 40 people who attended last night's meeting in support of Carol McPherson's Master Swim program. I heard three issued aired (not all of these were covered in the Weekly):

1) People want Carol, not Tim Sheeper, to run the Master program. Mostly because of the community Carol has fostered. But also because of the nature of the team - it's low-key as opposed to Tim's highly energetic Master program at Burgess.

2) Master swimmers want to keep the same time/lanes. (As a lap swimmer, I didn't agree and would love to lap swim in the mornings.)

3) Carol runs a Master program, but she also runs a program to teach adults how to swim better. Only one person brought up this issue and it was not mentioned in the Weekly, but I think it's very important. Jazmine LeBlanc agreed that Team Sheeper will not continue this program. I see multiple people (6-8) utilizing this program; as far as I know, it's the only program of it's kind.

What was most disappointing, after all of the testaments in favor of Carol, was to hear Jazmine LeBlanc say that the city doesn't have a choice. The city wrote the RFP so that Team Sheeper can decide to not renew Carol's contract. When pressed, Jazmine admitted that she could have written the RFP differently, but now it's too late. Either take Tim Sheeper's proposal or close the pool as of Jan 1st. It seems to me that Jazmine wrote the contract with Team Sheeper in mind. She said that nobody else wanted to bid because of the clause where the city controlled the schedule. Then she ought to have taken that issue back to the drawing board. She also should have addressed the issue of safety straight up and let Carol rectify it, instead of blindsiding her and kicking her out.

I feel the city did not do a good job of outreach. Jazmine talked about 'snack chats' on Oct 16 and 18. I was there both days and saw nothing of the kind. What questions did they ask? Did they ask if we are happy with the way the pool is being run? (I would have answered yes). Or did they ask if we want to replace Carol and eliminate the Swim for Fitness program? Did they ask lap swimmers or Master swimmers? What were the responses? We heard none of this, we only heard that the responses were 'mostly favorable'.

This entire process was fishy. After the City removed all the trees on California Ave, I thought they would know to do a better job of community involvement. I am seriously disappointed. I feel the city owes it to us to find a way to keep Carol McPherson in change of the Master Swim program at Rinconada.


27 people like this
Posted by Joe Meyers
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2018 at 1:02 pm

I have never been a Masters swimmer, but I empathize with their concerns. Why don't they get as many of their members certified as lifeguards as possible and guarantee (with consequences if they fail) to have two lifeguards on duty at all times. That shouldn't be too difficult. Meanwhile, the city should require renewal of the Masters' contract as a condition of any party's acceptance as a swimming service provider. City council, act like the owners you are! Support your citizens!


5 people like this
Posted by Save The Program
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Could any alternative sites be considered?

Either at Foothill or De Anza Colleges, or perhaps the San Francisco Bay?


9 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 3:10 pm

BikerMom said: “I swim with the Stanford Masters team . . . and we don't have a lifeguard.”

Stanford is a private enterprise and has its own guidelines. Rinconada is a public facility.

FWIW, I swim occasionally with Stanford Masters and it surprises me that there are no lifeguards on duty for Master workouts there — especially when they are doing a workout in the 50 meter pool (that’s because a stricken swimmer can be underwater at one end for nearly a minute before her lane mates are aware she’s missing and that something might be wrong).

Important to note: because of our high cost of living, every pool around here has its challenges to get and keep good certified lifeguards. It would be easy for some swim programs to cut corners on this matter. I’m glad some facilities are not.


5 people like this
Posted by Maya
a resident of University South
on Oct 24, 2018 at 3:26 pm

When we eliminate all other noise about the Rinconada Pool subject, it boils down to money, or in this case to BENEFITS. City, represented by its paid employees with benefits, doesn’t want to hire any more city employees, in this case, the lifeguards. Therefore, City subcontracts the pool to a private party that can keep lifeguards with no benefits (healthcare, pensions). Only young people who have other insurance and other income (from parents) can afford to work there and not too many are applying. Of course, Rinconada Masters cannot resolve this and is stuck with discussing other issues while the BENEFITS in the room is avoided.


7 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 3:27 pm

And we finally get to the crux of it. Having lifeguards actually on deck and on duty is, in their opinion, even after all this hoopla, "too much policing."

Not a pool partner I would want to have. Can you blame the contractor for refusing to be forced to sub-contract with a group that thinks that way? I wonder how many times they gave lip service to Team Sheeper about safety compliance before we got to this stage of distrust.

Even if the completely improbable were to happen, and council were to fail to renew a highly successful contract, it would be a Pyrrhic victory for this group. The pool would close to everyone for a few months, and then would open again under city management. But then, I can't imagine the city would contract directly with this masters group in any capacity that would imply safety oversight or exclusive use.


11 people like this
Posted by NeighborhoodSwimmer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2018 at 4:13 pm

It would be a shame to end the Rinconada Masters. It truly is a unique program that spans a wide range of ages and abilities. I have swam at the Rinconada, Menlo, and Stanford workouts and have found the Rinconada team to be the most enjoyable for many reasons, including the low key approach, the coaching, and the camaraderie. If Tim Sheeper is allowed to start his own team here, instead of renewing Rinconada Masters, it will undoubtedly be an expansion of the Menlo Masters team which is more intense and not a great fit for less competitive individuals.

I also find it odd that the city of Palo Alto pays for all the maintenance and upkeep of the pool, but Sheeper gets the majority of the profits. It seems to me that our taxpayers money is pretty much being handed over to Sheeper. He is also developing quite the swimming center monopoly in this part of the peninsula which should also be concerning to all of us.

Finally, I was at the meeting last night, and feel like Jazmine was misrepresenting the alleged safety violations of Rinconada Masters. She said she knew of times that Masters did not have the required 2 lifeguards present, yet had no documentation or proof. It should also be noted that at lap swim, which is run by Sheeper, there are times when I have seen only 1 lifeguard on the deck.


5 people like this
Posted by Safeandslowlapswimmer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2018 at 5:39 pm

We need a pool behavior culture change. In my experience Master Swimming programs can literally push slow and steady swimmers out of any public pool. I am not saying this about Palo Alto Masters - I have yet to share open lap swim with them. But I know from experience Master Swim clubs can be highly aggressive and too competitive for open lap swim hours. I want to get back in the pool but fear the Masters lane and it’s wake might be too much for my fragile physical state. Cudos to Team Sheeper for strengthening and growing the love of swimming for all ages and abilities. They have taken a flelgling program and made it safe and successful for everyone to participate.


13 people like this
Posted by Rick Schwartz
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 6:06 pm

I am having the darndest time understanding this thread. It seems that several of the reactions are based on a false notion that masters swimming is ending at Rinconada. If I understand correctly, it's continuing under different auspices. It also seems that until now the masters program was allowed to operate like a club given full rights to the facility. There seems to be an adverse reaction to a "for profit" entity taking over, yet no one indicates any specific impacts of that, other than the club being asked to cede control of the facility. And there seems to be a false notion that "for profit" means "big profits" (it definitely does not, with a pool operation) and that big changes will be made in order to increase "profits". I can vouch from personal experience over many years swimming at Burgess, that Sheeper programs (1) are incredibly inclusive, (2) manage coexistence of many different pool programs serving the diverse community, (3) address needs of all ages, skills, and physical (dis)abilities, (4) are priced appropriately, (5) are NOT at all about the money, and (6) and are led by an individual whose heart - sometimes even to his personal detriment - is 100% aligned with the people and community that he serves.


6 people like this
Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2018 at 8:01 pm

This is what I learned but cannot say for sure: Masters is a PRIVATE entity just like Sheeper or PASA. It is not owned by the swimmers, the community or the City.

Half of Rinconada swimmers are Palo Alto taxpayers or residents. The City subsidizes the pool operation.

I guess this helps explain some of the confusion.


2 people like this
Posted by Guards are scarce and $$
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 24, 2018 at 10:33 pm

Guards are scarce and $$ is a registered user.

One thing the Rinconada Masters team may be running up against is that guards are getting harder to come by, and more expensive. Many pool programs in the area are struggling with this.

FWIW, I was in the pool at Stanford Masters when the swimmer died, and guards would have been no help. Several Stanford doctors and nurses were in the water, including an ER doc, and they responded very quickly, but were not able to help. It was a massive heart attack, and the implication was that he would have died even in a hospital. It was a terrible and sad thing to witness, right before Thanksgiving.


5 people like this
Posted by Deborah
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:26 pm

I swam with Rinconada Masters for four years, then moved to Mountain View Masters. I left because of Carol. So did a lot of other people including the long time assistant coach, Cindy Baxter. Team Sheeper wants to get rid of Carol. I suspect she's given them good reason to try and do so.


3 people like this
Posted by josh
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 25, 2018 at 6:02 am

Does Rinconada masters not have a coach? Aren't coaches required to be qualified in CPR and first aid? I can see the need to have someone with knowledge of those life-saving skills on deck when there are masters swimmers present. Even with a pool full of triathletes, the risk added by being in the water seems like it would be no higher than if everyone were on land exercising. Yes, something can happen, but a pool full of swimmers and a coach can provide just as much care as two lifeguards.


12 people like this
Posted by Swimmer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 25, 2018 at 6:27 am

Interesting that in one of the photos the gate leading to the park is wide open. The gate should be closed in the event a child who can't swim walks in, falls into the pool and drowns while all the Masters swimmers swim away.

And I agree, Masters swimmers can really be elitist and pushy. Why always the need to compete?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2018 at 8:23 am

Posted by NeighborhoodSwimmer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> It would be a shame to end the Rinconada Masters. [...]

Agreed.

>> I also find it odd that the city of Palo Alto pays for all the maintenance and upkeep of the pool, but Sheeper gets the majority of the profits. It seems to me that our taxpayers money is pretty much being handed over to Sheeper.

The operating cost of the pool, except for cleaning locker rooms, is very insensitive to the number of swimmers. The "problem" which the outsourcing of the operations was intended to address is that of lifeguards and management of lifeguards. I don't agree with the outsourcing, but, that's what the Sheeper outsourcing is all about from the city point of view.

Posted by Safeandslowlapswimmer, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> We need a pool behavior culture change. In my experience Master Swimming programs can literally push slow and steady swimmers out of any public pool. [...] I know from experience Master Swim clubs can be highly aggressive and too competitive for open lap swim hours.

Agreed. And private competitive swimming clubs (I will just use PASA as an example-- they are mostly all the same) are even worse. These clubs are their own worst enemy, because they usually end up either taking over completely, or, getting thrown out completely. There just doesn't seem to be any middle ground.

Posted by Guards are scarce and $$, a resident of Fairmeadow

>> One thing the Rinconada Masters team may be running up against is that guards are getting harder to come by, and more expensive. Many pool programs in the area are struggling with this.

With the outsourcing trend, I think it will get worse. The City of Palo Alto and other public pools in effect trained lifeguards for all. The lifeguards who then spread out into the community to support smaller programs. As in many things, it is cheaper to do a bunch of people at once, and, see who actually makes the grade. At the city pools, with the city program already running, adding lifeguards was a matter of scheduling and marginal cost.

Now, it is privatized. The city doesn't have to worry about that one in a hundred teenage lifeguard who will land a job working in Parks and Rec and have a few more years of service on the retirement record. (In the meantime, we are paying how much for our city top management to keep facilitating the construction of more office space we don't want and need?)


14 people like this
Posted by JoAn Chace
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2018 at 1:51 pm

JoAn Chace
Resident of Professorville


As a Rinconada swimmer reading Team Sheeper’s arguments, I find the issue of lifeguards exaggerated, even questionably so. For most of the 7 a.m. to 8:30 time for which I can speak, two coaches are watching the swimmers closely, Carol Macpherson, a national champion many times over, and Terry Baxter, an Olympian of 1980. Both know CPR, either is capable of rescuing the victim of a heart attack. Indeed, Carol has done so. Recently they trained some of the stronger swimmers for certification as lifeguards. Will lifeguards hired by Sheeper be as well qualified as they are?

And both are coaches. After a workout, or even during one, one of them may suggest stroke improvements to a swimmer. Will the lifeguards hired by Sheeper be watching as closely?

Yes, sometimes only one coach is on the deck, and—rarely-- a substitute takes charge. This situation is a problem for Team Sheeper. The pool is separate from the program, and, in case of an accident, Sheeper might be liable. Still, if Sheeper is sincerely concerned about the safety of his swimmers, he should hire a lifeguard, or even two, for which the Rinconade Masters would be obliged to pay. Why has he not done so? Why does he not resolve the problem by positive steps, instead of refusing—on very short notice--to allow the Masters, a strong community organization with a long history, to renew their contract? The process Sheeper has followed contradicts one of his arguments--flimsy enough to begin with--that the Masters group does not communicate well with him. Sheeper’s surprise refusal to renew a contract is hardly an example of good communication.

Another soluble problem, one that gets some attention in the thread, is that lanes are often open during a workout (again, I speak for 7 a.m.) and that many lanes have only one swimmer. Team Sheeper, I understand, wants maximum use, all lanes full and all lanes with at least 4 swimmers. In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, when Rinconada was the only club in the area, we swam regularly with 4 to a lane. Sheeper could tighten up the pool by insisting that two or even three lanes be opened to lap swimmers if Rinconada cannot fill them. Why does he not use his contract to enforce changes instead of forcing the Masters out of the pool? One can’t but wonder, is it really about money? Fully privatize the pool and then, what? Raise the fees?

The Rinconada Masters have a long history of which Palo Alto can be proud. That success rests on the club’s coaches: they have improved their swimmers’ skills, and they have fostered a strong sense of community. Because no one writing in favor of Team Sheeper has mentioned coaching, I decided to try a simple (and sporting) test: who wins? Specifically, which team, Menlo Masters or Rinconada Masters, has done better in a competition sponsored annually for the last 10 years by the Davis Aquatic Masters, the Ross Yancher Brute Squad event (200 fly, followed by 400 IM, ending with 1650 free)? Well, Rinconada wins. In 2017, Rinconda took two 1st places, one 2d, and one 6th. The Menlo team, managed by Team Sheeper, took a 4th and a 14th. Have the Rinconade Masters not won the right to stay in the Rinconada pool? One would think that Team Sheeper would value this distinguished program instead of putting an end to it.
We know that the contract, which may have been poorly drawn, favors Sheeper. Perhaps persuasion from the City can encourage him not to push his advantages to the limit.



9 people like this
Posted by Oh My the Irony!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 25, 2018 at 4:33 pm

OMG Swimmer, you are right!

This is the funniest thing ever. The Weekly, and its attempt to do a photo op in favor of this group, inadvertently documented and published an egregious and illegal safety violation. Now we'll hear all the reasons the rules, policies, and laws don't apply to them...

You better not take it down Weekly! It is the heart of the question. Your picture is worth a thousand words... the bias on this one has come to an unfortunate end.


3 people like this
Posted by Gautam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 25, 2018 at 7:47 pm

I know Tim not only looks out for the best interest of Masters swimmers but also the entire communitys engagement with swimming and fitness.
This includes lap swimmers, kids teams, age group, triathletes, masters, water polo, water exercisers, etc.

Maybe a middle ground could be reached with Carol being one of the coaches ?

Not possible to get around financial and liability commitments.

While it may be a little inconvenient to share the pool with lap swimmers and allocate a lane, would be for overall good.


30 people like this
Posted by Seen this movie before
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 25, 2018 at 9:06 pm

This was very predictable to any community member in Menlo Park who is not on Tim Sheeper's Menlo Masters team. Palo Alto residents who would like to know what is coming should just read archived editions of The Almanac about Menlo Park concerned residents / SOLO pool negotiations, but here is an abridged version of what Palo Alto can expect:

- Public/ private partnership means the city saves on pensions, etc. But it comes at a community cost because Sheeper does not care about preserving long standing community programs. In fact, he has publicly stated that they are antithetical to his private business (my words, not his, but same meaning).
- Elimination of any third party non profit or provider if Sheeper can make more money having his own program:
(a.) Phase one will be to eliminate the Rinc Masters program under any pretense so that he can extend his highly lucrative Masters program.
(b.) Phase two will be to not renew PASA Rinc's contract (he may wait a year or two) unless the city created an iron-clad stipulation that PASA be guaranteed space at a reasonable price. (It does not sound like they did.) He will then start his own swim team for the revenue OR will charge astronomical pool fees for the (4-7PM) time slot PASA is used to (he calls this "peak hours"); he will message that anything less means he is "subsidizing" PASA and there will be a bitter portrayal of the club. (Read up on SOLO for the foreshadowing.)

In my experience observing a decade of Menlo Park battles with Tim Sheeper, he does not operate from a "win win" philosophy; if he did, he would have simply told the Rinc Masters program how many lifeguards they needed from this day forward. He is a business man and this is business, not community, to him. The city of Palo Alto picked him to run the business of the pool and the city benefits from that. Just know that from now on, this is his world and these programs are just living in it.

Sorry for the spoilers but I've seen this movie and it does not end well for the long-established community programs. Good luck Rinc Masters and Rinc PASA; you are going to need it.


13 people like this
Posted by Kubilay Demir
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2018 at 4:29 pm

As a regular lap - swimmer, I would be happy to see Master's share 2-3 lanes with us on M/W/F mornings. Currently, we are limited to T/Th, which is not fair. #swimmingwhilelapswimmer #fairlaneallocation


12 people like this
Posted by Chito
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Chito is a registered user.

As a fellow Masters swimmer, I'm heartbroken about this situation. I'm shocked Tim Sheeper could not work out what seems like a very easy solution with the Rinconada Team, according to the article: put another lifeguard and split the pool between Master swimmers and regular lap swimmers.

And to some of the lap swimmers' unbased and bitter comments against Masters swimmers: @Swimmer, most masters swimmers do not compete and are just average swimmers. Most of them just enjoy the structure of a coached workout, the opportunity to improve fitness and stroke, and the community around the program. @Safeandslowlapswimmer, Masters programs don't push out anyone at all. Completely the opposite, it encourages people of all levels to participate. Lap swimmers always have their assigned lanes that do not mix up with lanes taken by Masters. So if you have felt "pushed out" it may have been a fellow lap swimmer, not a Masters.


2 people like this
Posted by Ronin
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2018 at 8:18 am

It's interesting to read the comments to realize how poorly the article was written and/or edited. The comments lay out the facts. I used to swim laps at Rinconada in the morning and back in the day I resented how the Masters program took over the pool. It seems like the Masters program considers the pool its exclusive right and doesn't want to share. The article made it seem like all masters programs were ending, but it's just the exclusive club that is not getting a contract renewed. The pool is a community resource and we should all share it.


14 people like this
Posted by More lessons from Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2018 at 10:57 am

It might be helpful to provide Palo Alto residents with a few lessons learned from Tim Sheeper taking over the operation of Burgess Pool in Menlo Park.

First, City Staff should not be the mouthpiece of Mr. Sheeper and the media should insist on speaking to him directly about his decisions. In Menlo Park, Mr. Sheeper was successful in not directly defending his decisions and ascribing that role to Cherise Brandell/ City Staff. The proper role of City Staff should be to represent the concerns of the community to Mr. Sheeper-- to be community advocates-- and to make sure he irons out issues/ creates win/ win solutions. Their role should not be to represent Mr. Sheeper to the public.

Second, Palo Alto is in a difficult situation in that they put out an RFP and had only Mr. Sheeper responding. Once the third party Rinc Masters program is eliminated / taken over by Mr. Sheeper, the city will be even more dependent on him for his services. Palo Alto could be more creative in looking for a service provider; recall that Menlo Park never initially put out an RFP for Burgess Pool-- the city simply asked Mr. Sheeper if he would like to run it. (Which to his credit, he successfully created a model for. He did not have an example to look to.) Palo Alto could create a new Tim Sheeper-- find a private coordinator who manages the different service providers (e.g. the lesson program could be offered to Kings Academy and Masters and Swim Team already exist). The city could approach Stanford for ideas on how their SCRA facility was run with the help of PASA for programming. Tim Sheeper does a good job at providing services; the problems come when he has the monopoly and uses that to eliminate beloved community programs and create problems between user groups.

To that previous point, a third lesson from Burgess is that it is important that community user groups are brought together to cooperate. Unfortunately, in Menlo Park, there are examples of Mr. Sheeper pitting user groups against one another to help facilitate the elimination process. For example, during his attempt to eliminate SOLO Aquatics from Burgess, he posted fliers on all of the doors alerting lap swimmers that SOLO was attempting to eliminate their lap swimming time and urging lap swimmers to protest that. The result included on-deck issues of lap swimmers yelling at swim team families (I witnessed one first hand.) If lap swimmers in Palo Alto are feeling they need lanes during Master swim times, then the Masters need to cooperate to provide some lanes. Mr. Sheeper’s role should be to facilitate that process. If he cannot, then the City should reconsider if he is the best service provider for Palo Alto.

Given that safety concerns seem like they could be easily addressed by requiring Rinconada Masters to hire an extra lifeguard, the taking over of the Rinconada Masters program seems to be most likely about money. In Menlo Park, Menlo Masters participation costs between $85 - $185 a month depending on the membership level. Multiply an average cost by twelve and by hundreds of swimmers and it is clear; Mr. Sheeper makes a great deal more money by running the program himself with only the hourly cost of lifeguards and coaches. His supporters routinely point out that he is a businessman and this is simply good business. This would be a fair point if Mr. Sheeper had built the pools. However, the pools are built and maintained by the city residents, and this is a public / private partnership, not a private business opportunity in which he took the risk of building a sports facility like SportsHouse. Priority should therefore be given to the community groups who are historically based and beloved by the city.

What to do?

Concerned Palo Alto residents need to get individual city council members to understand what is going on. Only through vocal outpouring in Menlo Park was the City Council able to incorporate some level of protection for SOLO Aquatics in Mr. Sheepers contract. The City Council directs City Staff, and therefore concerned residents need to make their voices heard to the council.


8 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 29, 2018 at 12:56 pm

@more lessons

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Rinconada Pool and Burgess Pool.

I hope that the city will become more involved so that a solution can be reached so that the Rinconada Masters program can continue!


9 people like this
Posted by Lap swimmers be careful what you wish for
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 29, 2018 at 1:54 pm

I’ve been at times a lap swimmer and a masters swimmer. They both have positives. I am currently lap swimming with a masters program in the lanes next to me and it works well. Lap swimmers, before you shun Rinconada Masters, you may want to consider they may be your best ally. Recall that Team Sheeper is run as a profitable business and lap swimming does not make money. Lanes filled with swimmers makes money. If you take a look at the Menlo Park Burgess pool schedule you’ll see lap swimming is scarce on weekend mornings (prime lap swimming time) and that is with 17 lanes at Burgess. The grass isn’t always greener—show some community cohesion and work with long-standing Rinconada Masters.


1 person likes this
Posted by In-crowd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2018 at 9:23 am

“It seems like the Masters program considers the pool its exclusive right and doesn't want to share.”

From comments here sounds like if you are not part of the MacPherson in-crowd you don’t get to play. How much does she make from this program? And why should one group monopolize a public pool?


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Posted by Exclusive access??
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2018 at 9:39 am

Are times on RM website the. hours that they have access to entire pool? Web Link
If yes they essentially own the pool excluding others?


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2018 at 10:18 am

Posted by Exclusive access??, a resident of College Terrace

>> Are times on RM website the. hours that they have access to entire pool? [..] If yes they essentially own the pool excluding others?

Not sure how it is now, but, in the past, there were periods where one city lifeguard would open the pool and oversee safety, but, RM were assumed to keep themselves from drowning. If it is still that way, then, the problem is that there isn't necessary an official lifeguard on deck at all times like there is during public recreational swimming. So, the "excluding others" is kind of a red herring.

As I said above, swim clubs can be their own worst enemies, and yes, I have seen them, in other contexts, be rude to non-members who want to lap swim.

At the same time, I think the outsourcing of the lifeguards was misguided, and, I agree with the critics that it is the job of the city oversight person to make Team Sheeper toe the line and serve the public, not defend Team Sheeper and its business model. Sheeper can and will do that.


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Posted by Rude to Non-Membrs?
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 30, 2018 at 10:37 am

Rude to Non-Membrs? is a registered user.

If this is true "I have seen them, in other contexts, be rude to non-members who want to lap swim." then time for change, What is this high school? Cool kids rule?


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2018 at 11:41 am

Posted by Rude to Non-Membrs?, a resident of Community Center

>> If this is true "I have seen them, in other contexts, be rude to non-members who want to lap swim." then time for change, What is this high school? Cool kids rule?

I was speaking in generalities, because, specifics could identify a third party that I have not consulted about this. But, yes, sometimes swim club members do act, as you say, "cool". I'm using this moment to caution them that it does come back to bite them. At the same time, the "change" that has been initiated seems to have a lot of unwanted, unintended consequences. Time for change, even if the result is worse? "Cutting off your nose to spite your face."



14 people like this
Posted by More lessons from Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 30, 2018 at 12:18 pm

So that Palo Alto lap swimmers have proper expectations: assuming that Tim Sheeper runs Rinconada the same way as Burgess, please do not envision your own lap lanes whenever you want them. Saturday mornings when I want to get a workout in, Tim's Menlo Masters dominates the pool and I have to wait until later in the day. During other programming, you will have three lanes (most likely). The pool schedule is online. Menlo Park has two lap-friendly pools so has an advantage over the Rinc facility in that way.

Palo Alto Parks and Recreation-- please step in to protect your city's long established programs and get these issues with the Sheeper contract in front of the Council. City Staff wants to get this in the hands of someone, and unfortunately, Sheeper is currently your only someone but that does not make it right for Palo Alto.

Commissioner David Moss and Chairman Don McDougall: thank you for being thoughtful and concerned about what you are already seeing. The lack of transparency you describe with the blind-side to Rinc Masters is just an early glimpse into the transparency problem Menlo Park residents have been complaining about for years at Burgess-- just check City Council email logs and Almanac articles like this one (see comments from residents: Web Link). We've been asking to see operational financials for years and have nothing to show for it.


8 people like this
Posted by Heated Palo Alto Elks Pool good option
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 30, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Heated Palo Alto Elks Pool good option is a registered user.

For those who just want to swim and not deal with all of this, the Palo Alto Elks Pool is nearly always empty, especially off season (and early in the day all year), two lanes reserved for lap swimming during Rec swim, and now with Solar believe it is heated year round. Web Link (Elks membership with pool/workout facility runs about $1100 per year for a couple).

JCC in PA also has a nice outdoor Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2018 at 11:01 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

According to the staff report, we are charging this guy $10,000 for the first $1M in revenue? I'd say keep the pool closed until we figure out why the other 59 RFPs did not bid.

I've rented Cubberley Community Center (and Mitchell Park El Palo Alto room) more than 100 times for music events and pay more than 50 percent of my revenue to the City, guaranteed.

By that measure Team Sheeper, Tim Sheeper should be paying us $500,000 of the first $1,000,000 he collects in fees.

What am I missing here?

Also, the idea that we are showing the door to Carol McPherson and Olympian Paly Grad Terri Baxter bothers me.




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