At tonight’s meeting, the Town Council will consider an exclusive, 10-year lease agreement (with two 5-year extensions) to outsource weddings at the Hacienda to Wedgewood Weddings, a full-service provider of wedding services.
The staff report indicates this will save the town nearly $230,000 in annual costs associated with providing wedding services.
While we generally agree this arrangement makes financial and operational sense – the Town has never been particularly adept at wedding management and has bled red ink for years as a result – the process the town has undertaken is, unfortunately, reflective of its historic transparency/governance “misses” and contains some provisions that seem suboptimal from a negotiating perspective.
The past week, alone, is something of a microcosm of Town decision making: last week, the Town posted notice of a “community meeting” with Wedgewood – which occurred on Monday - to understand their business model, lease terms and ask questions. This evening – just two days later – the Town Council will consider approving the lease that residents just heard about. Beyond the short timeframe for public notice, review and input, residents have expressed concern that this is occurring at the beginning of summer when residents have left for vacation. During the Monday informational meeting, immediate neighbors of the Hacienda indicated they hadn’t received any specific notice of the proposed lease and the recent meetings were the first they’d heard of it. While there had been noticed, closed meetings at Town Hall along with one or two mentions during prior council meetings, Hacienda neighbors in years past have consistently expressed concern about lack-of-notice relating to the use of the Hacienda.
Some believe the Hacienda as a public park ought to be its primary purpose, while others believe that the facility is nothing more than a white elephant - with a waning contingent of people who are attached to it emotionally – with expenses that ought to be minimized to the greatest extent possible. This process hasn’t resolved the Town’s actual stated purpose or intent through community engagement.
The lease agreement presupposes that weddings ought to be a core function of the Hacienda and that outsourcing them long-term is the most appropriate use of this town facility. Without any articulated strategy for the Hacienda and its intended purpose, it’s simply not possible to parse the arrangement against a stated intent or strategy. In our view, the Council first ought to be putting a stake in the ground to clearly define the Hacienda’s intended purpose (e.g. public park, wedding venue, etc). That simply hasn’t occurred. Further, while the staff report contends this agreement will enable additional public use of the Hacienda, we fail to see how that can be the case when two-thirds of it will be handed over to Wedgewood for its exclusive use. The contention is marketing spin.
A 10-year initial lease term seems too lengthy to us, eliminating any flexibility for the Town for what is an experimental public-private partnership (albeit one that appears to make good financial sense). Ideally, the Town should endeavor to reduce the term of the agreement while offering some form of protection to Wedgewood, which will be investing capital to improve the wedding and catering facilities. As an example, this could be accomplished through a 5-year lease and by offering to “rebate” a portion of their capital expenses if the lease isn’t renewed.
One notable item with which we strongly object is buried in the staff report: a recommendation that nearly half of the “savings” from this arrangement be used for additional town hall staff to work on special projects that supposedly can’t be accomplished due to time constraints. Conflating and commingling staff allocations with a lease arrangement is wholly inappropriate. Staffing decisions and allocation of resources (money, people) ought to be part of the overall annual budget process and have nothing to do with reviewing a lease agreement. To be sure, there are far higher spending priorities in town than additional, nondescript headcount (which in Moraga becomes perpetual): asset replacement, pension liability, traffic safety, ADA compliance, and increased reserves among them.
Since the lease already has been negotiated entirely in closed sessions and the timeline for public input so compressed, our guess is the agreement will be approved as presented. While likely a good financial decision for the Town, the process itself should leave residents wanting.
Click here for the staff report and proposed lease agreement