Off target

Clubhouse operator’s struggles frustrate migrant Southside Park Neighborhood Association as city privatizes community centers

Bill Magavern (left) and Tony Lopez for the Southside Park Neighborhood Association stand ground outside Southside Clubhouse, which they have spent a decade running.

Bill Magavern (left) and Tony Lopez for the Southside Park Neighborhood Association stand ground outside Southside Clubhouse, which they have spent a decade running.

Photo By photo by kayleigh mccollum

To contact the Southside Clubhouse, call (916) 930-0904.
The Southside Park Neighborhood Association holds its meetings the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. The May 9 meeting is tentatively scheduled to be held at Southside Park. Email Bill Magavern at for more details.

It’s been the plot of one too many feel-good movies: A group of sassy orphans and their tough-loving coach have to save a beloved community center from greedy developers, often by hosting some sort of overly choreographed dance-a-thon fundraiser.

Only here in Sacramento—where the plots are always more convoluted—it’s the city’s depleted general fund that’s the primary threat to one of Sacramento’s 15 community centers. And the proverbial dancing orphans and gruff authority figure aren’t getting along.

Members of the Southside Park Neighborhood Association say they can no longer afford to hold meetings in the clubhouse they spent a decade running, and claim the nonprofit that took it over in October is no longer returning their calls.

It all started late last year, when the city appointed Target Excellence to operate the Southside Clubhouse. The nonprofit has yet to offer any of the promised youth programs or activities that made it the city’s “No. 1” choice to temporarily inherit the center.

And now, after years of paying nothing to the city, Target Excellence is asking the SPNA to fork over $35 an hour to access the Sixth Street facility.

“We think it’s outrageous,” said SPNA president Bill Magavern. “They actually want to make money off our neighborhood-group meetings.”

While the city charges the same rate to rent out clubhouses across Sacramento—and as much as $100 an hour for its larger ones, according to a parks and recreation department document from October 2011—the SPNA never paid any fees during the decade it occupied and volunteered work hours at the clubhouse.

The city’s financing of the long-sought-after clubhouse in 2002 helped ease the community’s tensions toward a controversial transitional housing development, recalled SPNA vice president Paul Trudeau. It also gave its association board a respectable place to meet after years of cramming into unsuitable city facilities, like the women’s locker room at the Southside Pool.

For roughly 10 years, the clubhouse was where the association held monthly board meetings, planned community events and facilitated a youth program, until grant money dried up a couple of years ago. Now that the fat times are over, SPNA is having a rough time adapting to new private management.

“For years they had free reign, going in and out when they wanted to. Not one year, not two years, but many years. And I think the change has been difficult,” opined city neighborhood-services director Vincene Jones.

In October, city officials chose Target Excellence to take over the Southside Clubhouse in part because of a pledge to offer an after-school youth-business academy, weekday tutoring and beginners’ reading programs, a city staff report states.

However, six months into its two-year lease, the nonprofit has yet to offer any of the above programs, as well as others mentioned on its website. (The website still refers to procurement of the clubhouse as an event occurring in the future, and also lists an old phone number for the facility that directs callers to a parks and recreation official who formerly oversaw operations.)

Sacramento officials began looking to temporarily unload community-center leases in August 2010. Aside from the Southside Clubhouse, East Sacramento residents successfully raised $45,000 to keep the Clunie Community Center open. Jones said many others are works “in progress,” and the city hasn’t been able to find any suitors for the Oak Park Community Center.

Jones points out that there is still demand for these facilities. The George Sim Community Center, for instance, averages 175 young visitors a day and has seen as many as 259 cram into the building for activities. A schedule change last year resulted in the center closing its doors to the public Thursday through Sunday.

“We’re in really hard times,” Jones said; her division has eliminated half of its positions since the recession began, and the city is staring at another $16 million deficit this fiscal year.

The hard times extend to those coming to the rescue.

Target Excellence concedes that it is not running any programs out of the Southside Clubhouse just yet. Other than a grand opening in October, the center has been utilized for Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous meetings and a handful of rental events, explained Target Excellence CEO Keith Herron.

“Nothing as structured as we’d like,” he acknowledged. “It’s a longer process than I thought.”

He says the biggest challenge has been raising money. And—he laughed—getting the phone lines established.

“It’s the little things that always come up,” he added, “but we’re moving along.”

Not quickly enough, though, for the SPNA, which has been couch-surfing through different meeting spots over the past nine months. The group’s nomadic existence has made it difficult to attract and keep attendees, board members say. And at a time when the association has been scheduling one-on-one meetings with potential city-council candidates, who would be seeking to represent the Southside Park neighborhood in the District 4 race.

SPNA’s Magavern says it’s been weeks since anyone at Target Excellence has responded to the neighborhood association’s request to negotiate.

“We’re certainly willing to talk to them about it, but they don’t seem willing to talk to us,” Magavern said, adding that Target Excellence “has done a very poor job of reaching out or even communicating with our community.”

“They’re definitely on our list of people to get back to,” said Target Excellence administrative-operations manager Rene Hamlin.

As for the seemingly exorbitant clubhouse-rental rate of $35 an hour, Hamlin said “there have been discussions … to accommodate everyone’s needs.” But the extra money, she noted, could help cover costs.

That’s help Target Excellence could apparently use. Hamlin says the nonprofit is still seeking funds for programs that were promised when it took over the center last year.

“It’s not as easy as it looks. Everything costs. People don’t understand that,” Herron added.

“I’m sympathetic to the fact that the city is strapped for funds,” Magavern offered. But the neighborhood association, he added, has the “longest and strongest ties to this building. … Target Excellence is not from this community.”