The Riding Park: Open Space or Commercial Business?

     Serious questions raised about the use/abuse of Open Space

Did SJC residents vote for Open Space for use by the general public, or did they vote for a for-profit commercial equestrian business on Open Space? That was the basis of a discussion at the last two Parks and Recreation Commission meetings. Discussion also included the following issues:

· Conflict of interest

Melissa Brandes of Blenheim Facilities Management was contracted by the city to manage the 70-acre “Riding Park” (part of the Open Space purchased by SJC taxpayers at Ortega and La Pata). However, Brandes works simultaneously as VP of Marketing for Blenheim Equisports, an equestrian events company co-owned by her father, RJ Brandes. Thus, Blenheim Facilities Management rents fields to its other entity, Blenheim Equisports.                    

· SJC taxpayers restricted from using the property

    Blenheim Facilities Management office at the publicly
owned Riding Park is pictured above, with Blenheim
 Equisports "Showpark" offices located in the building
 in the background. Questions raised include why the
two related entities are allowed to both manage and
largely monopolize the open space for money-making
   equestrian events serving mostly out-of-town equestrians

 Because Blenheim Facilities Management gives the lion’s share of event dates to Blenheim Equisports, commissioners questioned whether this amounts to a monopoly, pointing out that the company rents fields essentially to themselves in order to generate significant profits for their events company, while restricting the use by SJC taxpayers who pay the mortgage on the open space property (approximately $2 million per year) through increased property taxes.                                   

 · Eliminating competition for Riding Park field rentals 
San Juan sports teams are supposed to be given priority for field rentals however, property manager Blenheim Facilities Management charges field rental fees that are so steep (four times higher than field rentals of other city parks) that most soccer and other sports groups are priced out of the Riding Park. This in turn frees up more event dates for her own company to continue to generate profits. In addition, soccer groups have been charged up to $7 per vehicle for parking at the Riding Park, while parking for equestrian events is often free.

  · No-bid contract  
City code states that Professional Services contracts amounting to more than $125,000 per year must be put out to bid. There are three exceptions to this rule however, Blenheim does not appear to meet the definition for exception. Records indicate that no bids were solicited or obtained for management of the Riding Park open space property; the contract appears to have been simply granted to Blenheim.

 · Possible code violations

Photos taken at the Riding Park during a recent tour were shared with the Parks, Recreation and Youth Services Commission at their July 18 meeting. The photos depict what appear to be code violations, health and safety issues and conditions prohibited by Blenheim’s management contract (see "Riding Park Powerpoint presentation - July 2016" under Community Links to the right).



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