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Feel the Burn: Spa Fitness clients are upset over changes in membership dues.


Muscled Out

Tempers are flaring and the mood is sullen over at Spa Fitness Centers, and this time it's not over the long wait for the Stairmaster. Seems that many longtime members of Santa Cruz' favorite health club are getting hit with a rate hike in their annual membership this year, anywhere from 10 percent to 100 percent.

With the price of everything from gas to cigarettes skyrocketing, no one should be surprised. Unless, of course, one thought one had bought a "lifetime membership" that guaranteed no rate increase with each year's renewal--ever.

Some think the Spa decided to figure lifetime expectancy in dog years, and dozens of members are howling like they got their hind leg caught in the Butt Blaster.

San Jose attorney Richard Schramm returned calls on behalf of Spa Fitness. According to Schramm, all those muscleheads are getting their jockstraps in a twist over nothing. He refers us to a faxed press release that he requests we quote from: "No owner or official of Spa Fitness ever made such a promise to any member. No owner or official of Spa Fitness has ever entered into such a verbal agreement with any member."

Not willing to quit while he's ahead, Schramm tries another legal tactic. He makes note that the original Spa Fitness, located at the corner of 41st Avenue and Soquel Drive, moved down the street to bigger quarters in 1977.

"Contracts entered into [between] 1973 and 1977," explains Schramm, "would cease to exist as a matter of law, because the facility no longer exists."

"That's baloney," snorts Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Morgan Taylor. "It's the same company. You don't make a contract with a location, you make a contract with a person or a company. That's absurd!"

Schramm then quoted the various civil codes passed in the 1970s that made contractual agreements with health clubs void after seven years. (They are now void after three years.)

"Since its inception, Spa Fitness has always complied with the California Codes regarding its membership contracts," states Schramm's press memo.

In fact, copies of three contracts provided by Spa Fitness to the District Attorney's Office of Consumer Affairs from 1976, 1978 and 1979 do have the clause that services will not exceed 84 months.

But there's one tiny problem. Turns out a former employee remembers verbally promising the lifetime guarantees, and sold a ton of 'em.

"It was the $99 option," recalls Martin Krieg, who says he sold memberships for Spa Fitness from 1986 to 1988. "If they bought a two-year contract at $485 for the first two years, then it would be $99 for every year after, for the rest of their lives."

Krieg, now an event promoter, public speaker and author, recalls that in his job "you were encouraged to be very aggressive."

Asked if he recalls the clause that would void the membership after seven years, Krieg doesn't hesitate.

"No way was there any clause like that," says Krieg. "I'm really emphatic about that."

"I don't know what he's talking about," retorts Schramm. "We have not instructed our managers or officials to give lifetime memberships."

Maybe there's something in the Jacuzzi that's making all those folks think that's what they bought.

Aptos couple Dwayne and Eddy Harris joined in 1982.

"We both remember we were told that we would pay 'x' amount for the rest of our lives as long as we kept the contract up."

Remodeling contractor David Kaltenberg joined Spa Fitness Center 28 years ago when it first opened. He says he rejoined again about 10 years ago, paying $700 for two years with the understanding that he would pay $96 a year for the rest of his life. Kaltenberg just found out that his rates will be more than doubled to $197 a year.

"Maybe it's mass hysteria that we all heard it was this price for life," he adds.

"Spa Fitness never promised that," insists Schramm. "Whether these people heard that on behalf of Spa Fitness, I don't know."

So far, the law is on Spa Fitness' side, since everyone can produce memories and recollections, but none of the members interviewed can find a copy of their contract from 15, 20 or 25 years ago. According to

Taylor, the California Civil Code takes precedence over written contracts, which take precedence over oral promises.

Spa Fitness might have good reason for kicking up its rates. As Schramm points out in his press release, "Spa Fitness now offers some 30 to 40 times as much property and equipment to its members as the Club did during the 1970s."

While raising membership dues makes economic sense for a health club known for its reasonable rates, the spa brouhaha is turning into a public relations nightmare for beleaguered owners Harry and Anna Jenkins.

In a bizarre turn of events, one member had her membership terminated and was escorted from the sauna by Capitola police for flexing her power of free speech.

Jeanell Martin had been a member since 1980 and when she got her rate hike in the mail (from $96 a year to $192 a year), she began asking other old timers about what they remembered of the lifetime guarantee.

Martin states she was summoned into manager Toni Jones' office and was asked politely to quit jawing about the rate hike with other members. This was perhaps the wrong person to issue an ultimatum to. Better known as Jeanell Montero (her former married name), Martin has blazed a path through Santa Cruz politics with her outspoken views on everything from landlord rights (more power to 'em) to Measure L (it stunk). A Republican with a strong leaning towards Libertarian rights, Martin says she let Toni know that this being America and all, she was gonna talk to whomever she wanted.

Last Friday when Martin came in for her workout, staffer Brooke Valentine told her to pack up her gym bag and leave, since Spa Fitness had sent her a letter of explanation and a refund for her remaining three weeks of membership.

Martin, stating she hadn't received the letter and refund, decided they could just kiss her glutes and headed off to the sauna. Within five minutes a couple of Capitola's finest come in to escort the bikini'd and steaming Martin out of the steam.

"When I went in to get dressed, two of the [Spa Fitness] employees came in and watched me," says Martin. "Then the police escorted me to my car."

Schramm has a different version.

"She was terminated for making threats against Spa Fitness and for acting belligerently against our employees," says Schramm. "She came on to the premises and the manager told her she did not have membership. [Martin] said, 'I'm not going to leave the premises.' The manager then said she would call the police, and [Martin] told her to [go ahead]."

Schramm says that Martin's flexing her free-speech muscles in the wrong place.

"[Martin] said she was going to be as vocal as she wanted to be, insisting that she had a right to organize people to tear down Spa Fitness.

"She was asked to control her speech, but she couldn't use the facilities as a playground for tearing down Spa Fitness."

Assistant DA Taylor is still investigating, stating that any resolution will be difficult because of the statute of limitations, but reminds everyone that a body by Nautilus is no excuse for a mind by Mattel. Referring to his copies of membership contracts with the 84-month clause, he says, "I think it's important for people to read their contracts."

Tunnel Vision

Spurred by news that Thoth will prayerform during the Santa Cruz Independent Film Festival, if a suitable venue, preferably a tunnel, can be found, the Downtown Association is exploring the possibility of opening up the Cooper House walkway during SCIFF.

Reached by cell phone, Thoth said, "I am the Tunnel Blesser. People will look differently at the tunnel; the whole city will be affected by my going in there and playing!"

The walkway, which is currently barred by two heavy metal gates, is already a favorite with local street musicians on account of its arched walls which offer superior acoustics, even to those playing outside on Pacific Avenue.

Tim Redwood of the Downtown Association says the walkway is closed because the property isn't rented. Tina Marie Romo, property manager for the Jay Paul Company, which developed the Cooper House, says she has a tenant for the property, but isn't sure if they'll be moving in and therefore opening the walkway in time for SCIFF, which takes place May 7-11.

Thoth said if the venue was available, "it would be the perfect reason to return to Santa Cruz." Stay tuned ...

SCAP's Moved!

Metro Santa Cruz has a new neighbor, the Santa Cruz AIDS Project. SCAP moved into its new home at 113 Front St. last week in the second floor of the 1894 Leonard Building, which boasts a stellar cupola and beautiful arched windows. Curious to know what the cupola looks like from the inside, Nu-z got the grand tour from SCAP's Development Director Cloyce Wall. Wall explained that SCAP made the move because "our lease was up and we got an incredible deal, so much so that we're saving money compared to our last location."

Wall believes the new location "will bring a lot of dignity to SCAP and its clients, many of whom are under a lot of emotional duress." One thing's for sure, the building, which was pretty much gutted during the earthquake and had to be retrofitted. is spacious and beautiful. Check it out for yourself during SCAP's Grand Opening Ceremony, May 10, from 2 to 4pm. Call 427.3900 for details.

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From the April 10-17, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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