There was little room to spare in Los Altos Hills’ City Council Chambers Jan. 14 as residents and guests jammed the space for the evening’s hottest topic – selecting a concessionaire to run Westwind Community Barn.
“We should have charged admission, because this was a really great show,” said Councilman Rich Larsen of the presentations.
Since the town assumed management of the barn in 1998, the facility has operated under a deficit. Councilmembers expressed optimism that an experienced concessionaire could increase the barn’s revenue and restore it to full operation. Although the town will continue to provide maintenance, 24-hour surveillance and barn oversight, the new manager will oversee commercial boarding, parks and recreation riding programs, facility scheduling and 4-H equine services.
Choosing between two candidates – young riding instructor Torie Dye and 30-year veteran Laura Stevens – the council voted 3-2 to accept Dye’s bid. Her three-year contract is slated to begin Feb. 1.
The selection process
Appearing before the council last week for final interviews, Dye and Stevens conveyed their passion for horses and their commitment to cultivating human-equine bonds.
Based on the number of people who attended the meeting to support her, Dye shouldn’t lack for riding students at Westwind. Dye has served as head instructor/program manager at Fremont Hills Stables in Los Altos Hills. She revealed plans to expand Westwind’s Pacific Ridge Pony Club as part of a larger effort to boost boarding revenue.
Stevens shared a vision for a barn focused on trail riding and balancing community programs with boarding.
Councilmembers volleyed questions between candidates before laying out their opinions.
“If I were a manager and these were my employees, how would I look at the assignment?” Councilman John Harpootlian said of the hiring decision. “Is the one person ready for it or does she need some additional experience? We may be giving Torie a more difficult challenge than she’s ready for. The more conservative route would be to select someone who has quite a bit more management experience.”
Harpootlian ultimately cast his vote for Stevens.
Larsen, a Dye supporter, seemed more confident in his decision.
“As a guy who comes from the high-tech knowledge world, I’d like to see a Westwind Barn 2.0,” he said. “I think we need some change. We need somebody with vision and skills to create new programs, to get more kids involved, to get more Los Altos Hills residents involved.”
A flurry of emails sent to town staff and councilmembers prior to last week’s meeting showed support for both candidates, but the mobilization of a cadre of supporters on Dye’s behalf at the meeting may have swayed opinion in her direction. Dye’s students and other advocates wore colorful campaign buttons and praised her when they stepped to the podium, vouching for her capabilities as a riding instructor and leader. For every comment in support of Stevens, Dye received four.
Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan, who voted for Dye, said the decision proved “one of the toughest nights” on the council.
During the first year under new Westwind management, the town voted to allocate no more than $72,000 for operating subsidies, $10,000 for a one-time mobilization fee and a monthly boarding subsidy not to exceed $72,000 annually. Subsidy allocations will be reviewed and adjusted after the first six months of operation and council anticipates a reduction in subsidies over time.
The council also approved a $115,000 contract for renovation and repair work to the facility’s lower arena.
Dye said she is eager to jump-start programs and plans to host a welcome barbecue at the barn to kick off her community engagement efforts.
“My biggest priority is to revitalize Westwind Barn and bring it back to the wonderful place it can be … to get all user groups reinvolved,” she said.