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The Community Services District board took another step Wednesday night toward the possible purchase of open space and the Country Club, agreeing to involve other community organizations and craft a vision for the deal.

General Manager Mark Martin offered a half-hour presentation on issues and questions that surround the purchase of the land, first proposed at last month’s board meeting. (See his slide show here.)

As has been reported previously, Martin said CSD is already over the first hurdle – approval by the Local Agency Formation Commission to handle recreation responsibilities. It actually occurred in 2005, he said, adding that the CSD, wanting “belt and suspenders” certainty, has asked LAFCO for written confirmation.

Answering complaints voiced last month by Director Les Clark, Martin said the CSD could begin to fill out recreation goals and policies by employing a parks and recreation report done for the CSD in 1989.

Martin’s presentation also listed a lot of open questions, among them:

  • How many lots is CSD talking about buying?
  • What facilities would be constructed? A pool? A fitness center? A community center? (The presentation offered some rough drawings.)
  • Who would operate the Country Club?
  • How could the CSD make the club successful when it’s having trouble succeeding now?

The presentation set the number of development lots to be purchased at about 300, plus or minus about a dozen. Given that, he projected about 3,800 lots in the community when development is done – and 3,800 lots that would be paying into any land purchase.

Development map

Mark Martin's map of the proposed open space purchases. Option 2, which you can see in the presentation, adds back 24 homes north of Puerto Drive at the western end of Village H.

He made the point that unlike the Rancho Murieta Association community center plan that voters rejected in 2012, this plan would amortize its expenses over the 30-year bond, eliminating the large upfront expense of the RMA’s plan.

In legal questions, he addressed whether the CSD, a public agency, could own facilities that weren’t open to the general public. The prevailing legal view for years was that no, the CSD couldn’t. Martin said contemporary legal research found “there’s significant flexibility” and “a number of scenarios” open to the CSD. In another legal matter, he said a Country Club bankruptcy under Chapter 7, which is a possibility without CSD intervention, could result in the CSD losing the agreement that allows it to discharge the community’s treated wastewater as irrigation on the club’s courses. 

A bond would require two-thirds approval of those voting, he said.

Among financial considerations, Martin listed the fact that moving hundreds of lots from planned development to open space would eliminate the property taxes and security fees that would have been paid for those lots. Also, those lots were part of the calculation to finance the new water-treatment plant.

Another financial issue is the cost of pursuing the bond. If the election succeeds, the costs can be wrapped into the bond, Martin said. If it’s not, the CSD will have to absorb the costs.

Clark, who had the most skeptical response at last month’s meeting, continued to push for a methodical process, starting with a clear statement of goals and objectives based on community wants and needs, not the needs of this project. He spoke for 18 minutes and, when reluctantly wrapping up his comments, said he still had more points and questions.

He argued that the idea should be divided into two very different proposals – one for the club property and one for the open space, “both of which are major changes, both to jurisdictional and operational aspects of CSD and the community.” They must be evaluated separately, he said.  He cautioned, “This cannot be rushed through without careful introspection.”

He challenged the way the CSD handled the enabling of latent powers a decade ago, the basis for the interpretation that LAFCO has already granted CSD the power to handle recreation. He also challenged the notion that buying land to keep it from being developed would protect the watersheds of the community’s reservoirs. It could be some of the development would be on  “the back side of the hill” from the reservoirs and not impact them, he said, adding that the reasoning for these arguments has to be fact-based.

All costs – the capital costs, plus financing and bond costs – must be provided to the community, Clark said. “We can’t just consider the initial costs; we have to consider the long-term financial costs and, again, the operational and maintenance costs,” he said.

After recognizing the financial difficulties the Country Club has faced, Clark asked, “How do we expect a large and burdensome government agency to manage a golf course much better?”

Director John Merchant, the chief proponent of the idea, responded over 14 minutes by saying he wanted to take the conversation back to a vision. “I mean, before we get into the 155 reasons we can’t do something,” he said in apparent response to Clark, “I think it’s really worthy of exploring why we should and what we could do.”

As he has explained before, Merchant said he paired the Country Club and open-space possibilities because neither on its own would have a chance of attracting enough votes to get a bond passed. “It’s a coalition of two different lifestyles,” he said – golfers and people who value open space.

And he said this is the opportunity to address other global issues that affect the community – the disconnect between development plans and the Mutual Benefit Agreement and the threat of multiple homeowner associations. He cast the possibilities of the deal as: “How do we fix all of the problems that currently plague us?”

For at least one more meeting, he said he wanted the crowd to look at the vision instead of focusing on negatives. He called on the community “to take one shot at fixing this stuff.”

If Clark sees two parts to the project, Director Morrison Graf said he sees seven. He added that the Country Club land includes riparian water rights, which the CSD doesn’t have now, so that would be good. And he said the idea could bring the community together. “I’m certainly not against it,” he said of the proposal, “but there are a lot of hurdles....”

“This is a question entirely about: ‘Why are we here?’” said Mark Pecotich, board president, saying Murietans have a variety of reasons for living here. Pecotich said the board needs to develop and communicate a vision, which he heard each director say, though in different ways.

And while other directors saw three organizations at the table, Pecotich offered a fourth – the developers. He sided with Merchant on the need to keep the approach unified. “We can’t keep piecemealing this thing to death for the rest of our lives,” Pecotich said. “We’ve got to make the action now.”

His motion, which passed unanimously, said the CSD needs to set a vision, including written goals and objectives, that reflects conversations with the other stakeholders and approaches the community as a whole. Community polling would follow, he said. 

Director Jerry Pasek, who made the initial proposal with Merchant, was not at the meeting. He is a past president of the Country Club board; his wife, Chris, is a current club director.

Two dozen people turned out, and almost all of them departed following the discussion of this issue.  Among the two dozen were current and future Country Club directors, one Rancho Murieta Association director and two RMA candidates (Jim Crowder and Tom Reimers) and the general managers of the club and RMA.

Despite the large turnout, there were only three audience comments.

Dick Brandt, a past CSD president and an incoming Country Club director, said he thought Merchant was correct about the moment of opportunity. “Now is the time to try to get the three organizations to cooperate together,” he said of the CSD, RMA and Country Club. “We’ll probably never have it again.”

Listen to audio of the land-purchase portion of the meeting:

Previous coverage:

In other business...

  • Board President Mark Pecotich said the CSD is going to advertise again to hire a new Security chief. The acting chief, Steve Mobley, resigned last month, citing family obligations, and withdrew his name from consideration for the permanent job. His resume was among a handful of finalists. The prior chief, Paul Wagner, was dismissed last May before the completion of his probationary period. During his three months as interim chief, Mobley won a lot of kudos, in particular from the Rancho Murieta Association, for his efforts to work amicably with the RMA and other community organizations.
  • With the connection of the water treatment plant to solar power last week, the CSD’s solar project is complete, said Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations. The wastewater treatment plant and administration operations went solar previously. The primary goal of the project with SolarCity was to save the CSD money, and in the next month or so, as the billing process settles down, the savings can be tracked, staff told the board.
  • With little discussion, the board approved an ordinance to revise community facilities fees. The ordinance will return for board approval next month. 
  • The board approved spending $26,233 for new South Gate cameras, $39,091 for a new truck and $68,531 to repair the main lift South stormwater pumps.
  • Ed Crouse, the longtime general manager who has come back twice to fill in when the CSD needed help, was recognized, applauded and thanked for his service. He is beginning to ease into a reduced schedule after helping the new general manager, Mark Martin, take over the job.
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Audio of CSD meeting added

We've added an audio recording of the 90 minutes of conversation about potential land purchases. You'll find it at the end of the portion of the story that deals with that subject.

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