The CSD board hears from residents during Wednesday's meeting. (Click photo for larger image.)
After 90 minutes of conversation, the Community Services District voted unanimously Wednesday night to pursue a proposal to try to buy open space around the community’s lakes and the land under the Country Club.
John Merchant, one of the creators of the proposal, said such a purchase would benefit the CSD, the Country Club, the community and the developers – “a global solution” to problems facing the community.
He said the CSD would secure Country Club land it uses to dispose of the community’s treated wastewater; also, it would gain open land to protect our water supply; the Country Club would get help at a time when it needs it, and the open space would enhance everyone’s property values. By reducing development density, the developers would gain an easier time through the county approval process, Merchant said.
There were two dozen people in the audience, a substantial crowd at a CSD meeting. Eight of them spoke.
Merchant said he and Director Jerry Pasek had discussed the idea with CSD staff and, recognizing legal limits, shared it with no one else on the board.
“We don’t even know at this point what’s for sale,” Merchant said of the developer land. He added he has spoken in the past with developer Tom deRegt, who told him the property around the lakes is for sale. In a brief interview outside the meeting, developer John Sullivan, a longtime Murietan, said when Merchant notified him of this action in a brief courtesy call a few days before, he told him he’s willing to talk.
Sullivan said, “When John called me the other day, I said, ‘Hey, I have no problem with conversation. Conversation’s good.’ I think it’s gotten everybody’s attention. And it’s good to have everybody focused, because ... the club’s got to figure out what to do.”
Sullivan, deRegt, Carol Anderson Ward and a number of investors purchased the land in 2013, buying almost 750 acres of North land for about $12.2 million, or $16,573 an acre, according to a 2014 property appraisal. The appraisal set the value of the land at $22.1 million. The development group is also the Country Club's landlord.
The CSD board seemed to be approaching the idea in full for the first time at Wednesday's meeting. Even Pasek took things a step further than his partner in the idea. Merchant spoke only of buying Country Club land, while Pasek mused about taking over the club business and bringing in a golf operator to run it.
Continuing, Pasek said he thought the Country Club’s clubhouse should become Rancho Murieta’s community center and the developer should add amenities like a fitness center or pool, whatever the community decides. He said the entire community would have access to the club’s amenities, but he warned there would have to be a solution about membership for houses built outside the gates, which have been approved by the county.
He made the point that only CSD could issue a municipal bond for this purchase, the cheapest way to do it, but a process that will require 12 to 15 months.
Mark Pecotich, the board president, brought interim General Manager Ed Crouse to the microphone to talk about a survey done 25 years ago that assessed the community’s wishes for parks facilities. Crouse is a longtime CSD general manager who served 20 years with the district.
The RMA was made the owner, operator and manager of parks, Crouse said, because the prevailing legal opinion at the time was that any parks owned by the CSD, a public agency, would have to be open to the public at large, not just the Rancho Murieta community.
“Since that time, though,” Crouse said, “the legal-opinion pendulum has swayed a little bit, so now it’s the community at large that pay into those facilities are the members that have access to them.”
Pecotich had a list of questions and concerns, and he emphasized the need to involve the Rancho Murieta Association in any conversations and for the RMA to be transparent about their conversations with the developers.
He said the RMA’s failed 2012 vote on a community center should help the CSD frame the key question residents will ask: “What is it going to cost me to do all this?”
Director Morrison Graf endorsed acquiring the club land because it’s needed for CSD operations. “(Buying) the club itself is a whole new concept I hadn’t even considered,” he said. “I’m not sure how to react to that.” Later in the meeting, he urged the CSD do some spadework before approaching the developers to discuss a purchase.
The only real opposition came from Director Les Clark, who said the CSD was starting this process in the middle or maybe at the end.
The CSD has no written code on recreational powers, Clark said, urging that the process begin there, with goals and objectives for the CSD’s role in recreation, which could only come from the community. “We haven’t even polled the community,” he said. He also argued that CSD has no business in land-use decisions.
He got some support from other directors, but by the time the board finished its opening comments, it appeared a majority favored the idea.
After the directors finished, the first of the public speakers was Cheryl McElhany, an RMA director and head of Saving Our Lakes & Open Spaces, a group that tries to influence development. There were a number of SOLOS members in the audience. Merchant is one of the leaders of SOLOS.
She said the organization was thrilled to see the idea they’ve pushed for two years – acquiring open space around the lakes – on the CSD agenda. She said she recognized that Clark was speaking his beliefs, but she called him “a Debbie Downer,” adding, “For Pete’s sake, this is just a proposal.”
(Clark returned to this later in the meeting, saying he wanted the community to know that when he was running for the CSD board, McElhany asked if he could guarantee he would vote for diversion of water augmentation fees to the purchase of open space. He said he was offered campaign flyers and advertisements if he would stand with SOLOS. He said he turned her down.)
Jeffrey Gibson, a resident of the Retreats development, said he’s anti-SOLOS, but after hearing the presentation by Merchant, “whom I seldom agree with,” he thought the conversation was “very interesting and very worthwhile.” He added, “I fully support this, which really surprised the hell out of me.”
Late in the discussion, as Pecotich attempted to curtail Merchant’s comments to keep the meeting moving along, Merchant refused to stop talking, saying, “We’ve only done like three really important things here in the last 30 years. This is one of them.”
The board spent 13 minutes hashing out its motion on the idea, incorporating language to accommodate Clark, Graf and Pecotich. In the end, the vote to approve the swollen motion was unanimous. Given the size of the motion, Merchant expressed concern about the timeline. “Are we going to take four years to do this?” he asked.
Collecting fees for parks
Since park development began in the 1990s, some CSD fees for parks have been deferred. The fees involved were for water supply augmentation and capital improvements. “We were trying to cobble together the biggest bang for the buck,” Ed Crouse, interim assistant general manager, told the board. “Because when you look at rolling 20 percent of the cost into a fee, that’s 20 percent of the park that isn’t being built. At that time, we had no parks. We had no Stonehouse, we had no Riverview.” The consensus of the Parks Committee at the time was to build parks and defer the fees, Crouse said.
Park construction is funded by per-lot contributions from developers and the Rancho Murieta Association that are triggered by new development. In the beginning, the funds “trickled in,” Crouse said.
When development essentially stopped a decade ago, the RMA began to advance funds for parks projects, receiving credit from the Parks Committee for its future contributions. This year the long-delayed development of the Greens Park was able to proceed using $174,000 from the Parks Fund, which includes about $70,000 in fees paid by the Retreats subdivision. The rest of the $358,443 cost was advanced by the RMA.
Crouse said the intent is not to collect the fees at this time. The goal is to recognize and keep track of “these outstanding liabilities for the parks. But also we need to go back to the RMA to get them to recognize that when we start putting budgets together moving forward, that we include these fees to be paid,” he said.
The report has two approaches for calculating the fees. Using the old fee schedule, the current parks owe about $200,000 in fees, with the amount increasing to over $500,000 under the proposed fee update, Crouse said. “It’s kind of up to the board to set policy of how much and when we should collect that fee.”
“Needless to say, you can’t collect that fee unless there are some funds available,” said Director Jerry Pasek, who had requested the report on the fees. He suggested tying the fees to the payment of the parks fees when development occurs, and devising a plan to pay what’s owed to date.
Director Les Clark advocated approaching the RMA with a “sound plan that includes timely reimbursement of those deferred fees from the parks that have been constructed to date so that the problem doesn’t languish into the future.”
- Additional roles for General Manager Mark Martin as district treasurer, Regional Water Authority Board member, Sacramento Central Groundwater Authority representative, designated labor negotiator and real property negotiator.
- A new camera system for the South Gate with license plate recognition camera in an amount not to exceed $23,100 including tax and a 10 percent contingency. Funding to come from Security replacement reserves.
- A cost overrun of $1,105 for additional repairs to the James L. Noller Safety Center. Funding to come from Security replacement reserves.
- Interviews with potential Security chiefs will happen at the end of October and the beginning of November, President Mark Pecotich said.
- The ongoing discussion of approaches and next steps to maintain the quality of Laguna Joaquin continues with a meeting on Oct. 27 between RMA and CSD representatives. The CSD expects to add about 500 catfish to the lake later this month.
- Development of a comprehensive approach to detention basin maintenance and operation in cooperation with RMA.
- Undeterred by the RMA board’s rejection of an ad hoc committee on trails, President Mark Pecotich said he intends to work with the RMA and the developer “to close the gap” on a trail master plan.