Malibu Marlins swim club advocates for community choice in city recreation programs

The Malibu Community Pool is located on the Malibu High School campus and is operated by the Community Services Department during non-school hours. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT.

New community swim club voices frustration over exclusive city vendor contracts

The new Malibu Marlins swim club is voicing frustration over obtaining swim time at the Malibu community pool at Malibu High School. The Marlins were formed over the summer when the Malibu Aquatics Foundation (MAF) fired coach Erik Ran over the objections of many in the program it ran, the Malibu Seawolves. 

“MAF didn’t listen to participants in the program and essentially forced us, because of their non-engagement, to start our own club,” said Marlins treasurer Robert Brinkmann.

Marlins parents say the termination of a popular coach without the input of a large number of participants was unfair and they’re advocating for choice.   

Former Seawolves parent Dr. Amora Magna said she wishes city vendor employees like Ran were “treated fairly.” 

“A majority of parents boycotted due to MAF’s decision to let go a qualified coach who worked with our children for many years,” she said. “The city should have taken a stance to protect this coach from the poor decision making of MAF. It is a joint program.” 

Magna said her children had been participating in the Seawolves for years. 

“I find it unfortunate that we had to begin a new organization because of the way the MAF board conducted themselves,” she said, alleging that of the four MAF board members, only two have children on the team.

With Marlins quickly able to sign 50 swimmers — most of them former Seawolves who treasured Ran — the club applied to be a vendor for the city of Malibu.

Brinkmann claimed “City staff was supportive, informed us and essentially were planning on having us be an option,” although city recreation guides had already been printed without Marlins’ information included.

“When I was speaking to Recreation Manager Kate Manisco, she told me that two weeks into the fall schedule she would review pool utilization and would reassign lanes based on how many swimmers were signed up.” Brinkmann said. 

He believed at the time that the Marlins club had a majority of swimmers and could get lane assignments from Parks and Recreation. The Marlins indicated they would share the pool while the Seawolves ran practices simultaneously. 

“Sharing is not a problem,” he said. “It happens all the time.”

In August, Brinkman asked the Parks and Recreation Commission to reconsider pool utilization so kids who use swimming to meet independent study requirements would have access. “They did a 180,” according to Brinkmann, who suspects political influence. 

The commissioners asked if Marlins swimmers had given the new coach a chance, but Brinkman countered, “If we did that, we would lose Erik which is the whole point. If we can’t pay Erik, he could leave. We want the coach our kids want to train with.” Other parents have echoed their praise for Ran. 

Now, the Marlins have no pool access through the city. The club resorted to renting the pool from the school district at 6 a.m., an inconvenient time for families with younger swimmers.

Manisco explained the Marlins did apply to be a city vendor and would be evaluated on qualifications and whether the city already offers a similar program, but did so after the city had executed an agreement with the current vendor, the MAF. 

“The city has been working with MAF for 10 to 15 years,” she said. “They did go through a name change but it’s the same organization. I informed Robert we already had a contract with MAF. I told him in the event they did not meet their program minimums that it would be excellent to have their application.”

Brinkmann disputes MAF as a long-time vendor for the city. 

“Seawolves Swimming was the original vendor, but you can search the California Secretary of State website and see that it has been defunct since the pandemic,” he said. “The Malibu Aquatics Foundation was formed afterwards to take over the business and is only a 3-year-old vendor. They are using the Seawolves name, but they don’t actually have any rights to it.”

Still the Seawolves did meet minimums with nearly 50 swimmers, although some Marlins parents believe those numbers are bloated with paid, non-swimming participants as well as students with no other choice than to return to the Seawolves to keep independent study (ISPE).

When asked if two swim programs could use the pool Manisco replied, “Right now there isn’t any more space.” The city operates the pool from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays and various times on weekends. With swim lessons, aqua aerobics, and other water sports Manisco stated there are no lanes left.

“I’m aware the Marlins accepted registrations and checks for a program that was not under contract,” Manisco said. “This is a unique situation where the city has an existing vendor and an application for the same type of program on a limited facility schedule.” 

On Sept. 19 at the Parks and Recreation commission meeting an ad hoc committee will address if having two vendors is feasible. 

“I believe the commission will look at it from a broad perspective and what are the procedures looking forward,” Manisco said.

In Manisco’s 18 years with the city she said she does not recall any specialized programs such as swimming with the same demographics duplicated. “No, only because we are such a small community with limited facility resources,” she said.

Brinkmann said the Marlins club is advocating for choice. 

“We are duplicating an existing program because we want to create a club that represents its members. All our members have a voice, not just four board members,” he said.

Magna called it “outrageous to only offer elementary school children a 6 a.m. swim time. Kids need a reasonable swim time. Our community is too small for us to not be working together.”