Linda Priseler was among the Village residents who spoke at Tuesday night's RMA meeting. (Click photo for larger image.)
The Rancho Murieta Association board voted unanimously Tuesday night to impose a $62.40-a-month fee on Village residents who want unrestricted access to RMA amenities like the parks and lakes. The board's action allowed for the possibility of negotiating a different arrangement with the Village before the fee takes effect on Sept. 1.
About 20 Village residents were among the two dozen people in the audience. In board discussion and audience back and forth that lasted nearly an hour, there was applause for speakers who supported the Village position and muttering in response to some who didn’t.
Alex Bauer, board president, said the RMA has tried to discuss this issue with the Village, claiming a 2015 meeting resulted in “hostility, demands and threats.” He mentioned a related “serious concern” that motivates RMA – the future construction of homes, already approved by the county, across Murieta Drive from the Village. Those residents might expect the same access, he said.
“The current and prior RMA boards have struggled for many years with the difficult issue of fees for Village residents who wish to use our facilities,” Bauer read in a prepared statement. “Murieta Village residents are neighbors, friends and family of RMA residents. But the board has a fiduciary duty to its members and residents. How can the board allow non-members to have a better deal, in this case free access to parks, than RMA members? RMA members pay for the maintenance, operations, insurance, reserves and security fees to CSD monthly for all lakes, parks and amenities, so ultimately this issue is about equity and fairness.”
Disputing some of the legal claims to access made by Village residents, Bauer read from legal advice he said the RMA received in 2006: “We are not aware of the basis on which the practice was initiated of RMA permitting the Village residents to use the facilities at no charge. However, even assuming the Village residents are entitled to use the parks, that does not lead to the conclusion that they are entitled to use the parks for free, and certainly not to have their use subsidized by a private entity such as RMA.”
Bauer concluded by saying the Village doesn’t allow RMA members the unrestricted use of its clubhouse or pool and that the RMA remains open to “an honest and civil discussion” of the issues.
The RMA’s plan calls for Villagers to pay the access fee on a yearly basis. Those who don’t want to pay would have their gate-entry bar codes disabled, though they could still be called in by friends or family to visit. In the company of an RMA member, they could use facilities like parks and lakes.
The Village was the first residential construction in the community, opened 45 years ago. When the first gate arrived, and through the years, Village residents have had unrestricted access.
The RMA board had agreed beforehand that Village residents, who aren’t RMA members, could attend Tuesday’s meeting and that three would be allowed the customary three minutes each to speak.
The Village’s lead speaker, Garland Alcorn, said despite the fact that the RMA seems to look down on the Village, the Village is similar to the RMA: It has a homeowners association, its residents own the land under their homes, and it’s a planned urban development.
The difference, he said, is that the Village is for people 55 and older, which is an asset for the overall community. “Did you realize that you have a retirement community at your front door?” he asked.
“We are your future,” Alcorn said in a Texas twang. “I’m looking around the room tonight. It’ll take another 20 or 30 years for most of you to be as old as I am. I’m 80 years old. But folks, you will get there. ... You will grow old. And you may find yourself wanting to be near your children but not physically able to keep up a large place.”
He told the story of a Village resident whose daughter, a Murieta resident in her 40s, had a debilitating stroke that left her unable to care for her pre-teen son. For this woman, getting through the visitor gate to help her daughter would be “such an inconvenience, it’s hard to imagine that,” Alcorn said.
Tom Viner, another Village resident, asked the board to table the issue and allow time for both parties to appoint committees that can negotiate an equitable settlement.
Wendell Baker, a Village resident for 31 years, said his neighbors have always had the right to “come across the street and enjoy the countryside.” He added, “This has been the precedent for decades, folks, until you, the present Murieta board, came into power.” He said CSD records show 33 Villagers a day come through the gates.
Baker warned the board that few Villagers would be willing to pay, and “you’re not going to cure whatever your financial problems are.”
Jeffrey Gibson, a member of the Retreats HOA, which pays the equivalent of full RMA dues for each member, suggested that the RMA come up with a plan to address inequitable dues assessments across the HOAs in the community.
Judy Bernal, a longtime Murietan who works as a financial officer, said the community profits by offering housing for every stage of a person’s life. She said her mother was able to live independently in the Village, close to Bernal. “Had we lived anyplace else, I would not have been able to do that,” she said.
Tim Maybee, a former RMA director who was the lead speaker in the RMA’s 2015 meeting in the Village, said the RMA has tried to negotiate with the Village but with no success. “Everything that everyone has talked about, this great community, the amenities, that costs something,” he said. “That costs all of us as residents. You benefitted from it.”
John Merchant, a past RMA president, asked if Villas residents have bar codes (no, the board replied) and if the RMA is contemplating handing them a bill for RMA amenities. “I think you have the same situation, with the only difference being they’re already inside the gate,” Merchant said. The board argued that the circumstances are different and Merchant disagreed.
Charlotte Spurlock said her mother lived in the Village and her sister still does, and they were “invited” to be part of the community behind the gates, even to the point of putting the bar code on the car for them.
She asked if any RMA members in the audience visit the Bookmobile, which parks weekly in the Village, or use Village streets to visit family members. “I’m embarrassed,” she said. “...I’m embarrassed (to) my neighbors to say we’re doing this to people in the Village. ... They’re on low incomes. They can’t afford this.”
Despite the plan to limit Village residents to three speakers, several speakers stood up in the audience during the rest of the discussion, disagreeing with the board or asking questions.
In the directors comments, Cheryl McElhany encouraged the two sides to attempt a negotiation. Director Larry Shelton replied that he was part of an RMA group that tried to hold talks and they were told the subject wasn’t negotiable.
McElhany asked if the representatives of the Village board were in attendance. Told they weren’t, she said, “I just find that very curious. Why would they not be here?”
The Village board had only responded to the RMA’s request for comment the day before, when board members voted to stand with Villagers who had circulated a petition opposing the RMA’s plan. Until then, the Village board had taken no stand.
Director Rob Brown read from the Village petition, calling it insulting and threatening: “‘We’re sorry you folks can’t manage your money.’ ... ‘We’re going to protest with several hundred senior citizens.’ And ‘We’re going to hire a lawyer.’”
That doesn’t sound like a party ready to negotiate, he said. Brown offered a motion to approve the fee, saying the action could be reconsidered if the Village board and RMA can negotiate a different approach before Sept. 1, when the fee would be enacted.
“We need to talk,” said Linda Priseler, who has lived in the community for more than 30 years, in the North, South and Village. “Most of our residents have not heard anything about this (past negotiations).”
Director Stephanie Bianchi said she doesn’t see the RMA action as a disrespect to the people of the Village, her elders or to war veterans. She said it’s just about her fiduciary responsibilities as a director of the association. She added, “Just like in any community, any business, unfortunately, times march on and things move forward....”
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