Candidates with equine management experience and the desire to assist Los Altos Hills with maintaining Westwind Community Barn as a public facility are invited to step forward before Friday with proposals. In a bit of a twist, the Los Altos Hills City Council determined at its Nov. 5 meeting that its first call for proposals was flawed.
“We were asking them to respond to so many things in so many ways,” said Councilman John Radford of the town’s first request for proposals. “It was impossible.”
Before soliciting new proposals, town staff and Radford, acting as the council’s liaison, spent the week interviewing concessionaires and vendors interested in serving as “inspirational community leaders who want to build the barn back up.” According to staff, an additional six individuals or organizations have indicated potential interest.
With the possibility of a subsidy on the table, councilmembers said the right barn operator(s) could devise a plan to reduce the town’s contribution, launching more profitable initiatives and reinvigorating the Year-Round Riding Program.
Jitze Couperus, a member of Friends of Westwind, a nonprofit organization that operated the barn for 30 years prior to the town’s management takeover in 2008, noted that the entity operated with a much smaller subsidy, approximately $1,000 a month, even without programs that offered significant profit potential.
Residents who spoke at the meeting attributed skyrocketing town subsidies for Westwind Barn’s operations in recent years to poor management and the steady loss of boarders and equestrian program participants as program facilitators and riding-arena conditions deteriorated. Numerous residents who moved their horses to alternate facilities over the past few years said they would return to Westwind if operations improve.
Proposal Evaluation Committee member Roddy Sloss noted that his analysis showed that significant savings were possible, but a subsidy of at least $75,000 to $100,000 would still be needed. Most members of the town’s Finance and Investment Commission found the subsidy level appropriate as long as operators have an incentive and opportunity to reduce the town’s burden.
Sloss said that unlike the model used by Friends of Westwind, the new operator(s) would have to contend with additional expenses, such as meeting the town’s code for 24-hour surveillance at commercial barns and hiring an accountant. The council requested that planning staff modify the code requiring on-site attendants to permit electronic surveillance if a new operator determined it a more financially and logistically palatable option.
Several residents expressed continued resistance to any barn subsidy based on the small percentage of boarders who are residents, but the council and most members of the public argued that the barn’s diverse programs benefit more than just a small group of equestrians and riders.
“People in town want to be able to drive by there and see a horse,” said former Los Altos Hills Mayor Breene Kerr. “People do care about it, even if they don’t own a horse.”