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San Diego finds that allegations of wrongdoing by La Jolla Tennis Club board require no action by the city

The La Jolla Tennis Club is a public facility at 7632 Draper Ave.
The La Jolla Tennis Club is a public facility at 7632 Draper Ave.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Anger continues among some members of the La Jolla Tennis Club over its board’s firing of certain tennis professionals more than a year ago and other conduct they found questionable. So much so that some called for an investigation by the city of San Diego.

That investigation concluded recently with the city calling the dispute “an internal matter” at the club that required no action by the city.

In April 2021, the club terminated the teaching privileges of Ronald Agenor (a Black man), Jennifer Dawson (an Asian woman) and Mark Davis (a White man), leaving only White men remaining with contracts.

Some critics claimed race was a motivating factor in removing some of the coaches. Agenor told the La Jolla Light last July that he had been “treated unfairly by the club” and that “if I were White, I would still be coaching at the club today.”

The board emphatically denied that and said several other factors were considered, including the coaches’ length of service, interest in taking on new clients, the membership status of their clients, whether the pros had a formal or informal arrangement with the club, and their general involvement with the club outside of private lessons.

The board also had told club members in April last year that the number of teaching professionals would be reduced from seven to four because “the board has heard consistently from members, and from the pros, that there are too many pros at the club,” leading to conflicting “demands for court time between pros and members.”

The board is responsible for running the club as a nonprofit service to the city, which owns the nine courts.

In March this year, the city was asked to investigate the circumstances of the terminations and an attempt to remove a Tennis Club board member who in February spoke against the board’s decision to use a search firm to help it hire a new club manager at a cost of $20,000.

When it comes to effective tennis operations, Mike Van Zutphen, the new manager and director of tennis at the La Jolla Tennis Club, has written the book.

Board member Iraj Aalam disagreed with hiring a search firm, and he criticized his board colleagues for what he said was a lack of transparency by not consulting the general membership before authorizing the expenditure.

Days after Aalam’s comments, the board held a special meeting to discuss his “recent conduct, including exposing La Jolla Tennis Club to potential lawsuits by divulging confidential details about a contract signed by the club and ... his attempts to sabotage the relationship with [search firm] McMahon Careers,” Alex Brown, who was elected board president March 8, said at the time.

Aalam reportedly did not attend the special meeting, and all the trustees present voted to remove him from the board. However, the group relied on a section of club bylaws allowing for the removal of an officer, which Aalam is not. Therefore, he remained on the board and is currently listed as a board member.

As part of its investigation into whether the actions were warranted and executed properly, the city Parks & Recreation Department “had a conversation with the La Jolla Tennis Club board president for an update regarding allegations of wrongdoing by the board,” city spokesman Tim Graham said. “As a result of the conversation, the city determined that the allegations raised about the board’s conduct is an internal matter with the La Jolla Tennis Club.”

The city concluded that the board’s stated explanations for the contract terminations were sufficient.

“The Parks & Recreation Department’s primary role is to ensure that the special use permit holders, in this case La Jolla Tennis Club, maintain the facility in accordance with the contractual terms outlined in the SUP,” Graham said. “As La Jolla Tennis Club is an independent entity contracted to provide the game of tennis at the La Jolla tennis complex, the city does not play a direct role in the day-to-day management of the facility, nor does it establish business processes approved of by their elected board members.”

However, two people whose club memberships were terminated this year made a presentation to the La Jolla Community Recreation Group during its June 22 meeting, arguing that the investigation needs to be reopened.

The memberships of John Dyer and Anthony Hathuc were ended for what Brown, the board president, said were actions “detrimental to the club,” in accord with its bylaws.

Hathuc said he observed “a majority of the board together” at a local restaurant “the day before the board was supposed to meet to make a determination on ... the next manager of the club.” He believed the trustees were meeting improperly and proceeded to video-record them. He said his membership was terminated soon after.

Dyer said his membership was ended because “I made a phone call … [and] left a voicemail with McMahon Careers.”

According to a letter from Dyer’s attorney, Andrea Myers, that was sent to Tennis Club board members and given to the Light, the board asserted that Dyer made the call without “proper authority” and that the call was intended to “improperly threaten” McMahon and persuade the firm to terminate its contract with the club.

Dyer’s termination letter indicates he can reapply for membership in five years. Myers did not respond to the Light’s request for comment.

Steve Hadley, representing the office of City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, told the Community Recreation Group that “it’s tragic when a group in the community has conflict and people are hurt, and this is a dear institution to this city, to this community. I think it hurts all of us to hear that there is conflict at the Tennis Club.”

However, he said, “we will not be involved.”

La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.