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[Updated May 21] The Rancho Murieta Association board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday night to try a month's experiment tending the front lawns of 10 homes that are being foreclosed. A board member also got into a heated discussion with members of the audience about the development agreement negotiated by a previous RMA board five years ago.

Speaking of the foreclosed homes, board President Jack Cooper said, "The neighbors deserve to be protected from the blight of a home that affects their property."

The board instructed Maintenance staff to water and trim the lawns at the homes and report back in a month on the costs and time involved.

Dead lawn

George Roper said he and other neighbors tried to save this landscaping but failed.

RMA General Manager David Stiffler said he was aware of 10 foreclosures in the community, which he thought could be handled for about $1,000 a month. He said Community Services District officials told him earlier in the day that 40 homes have had their water service shut off.

Maintenance Manager Rod Hart was instructed to see about acquiring an inexpensive water truck that could be used to irrigate the lawns.

Neighbor George Roper spoke of a home near his where the trees and lawn died last year despite the neighbors' efforts to keep them alive. He urged the board to act now and debate later.

"Unless you get that water truck out there and start saving (the lawns), this place is going to look like a war zone," Roper said.

Stiffler suggested the 2009 budget allow for this expense, as the problem of foreclosures figures to continue.

Red square See recent forum posts on this topic here

Addressing development agreement reopens old wounds

A discussion over how to undo the cable-TV component of the Mutual Benefit Agreement turned into an angry exchange about development between Director Mike Martel and members of the audience. President Jack Cooper stepped in and called a recess in the meeting, but the argument continued through the break.

Director Chris Pedersen proposed creating an ad hoc committee -- Directors Paul Gumbinger and Jack Cooper with John Merchant, a former RMA and CSD director -- to renegotiate the cable piece of the MBA, hoping to free the RMA of the responsibility to provide cable to new development. Gumbinger proposed adding Director Mike Martel to the group.

Martel began his response calmly, saying he didn't have the time or will to serve on the committee.

He addressed Merchant, who was instrumental in the MBA: "John, I'm going to respectfully say this to you. I've been here almost 23 years. I don't believe anybody's intent was to do any harm. But I think the MBA has absolutely divided this community to no end, to absolutely no end."

And then he addressed John Weatherford's longtime concerns about the cable system: "I think the MBA was the Judas in this community, that document. Everybody who's involved in the cable agreement has a connection to the MBA, which I don't want to be a part of. ... I fought five years against the MBA, and I don't want to serve. ... If this (board) wants to create an ad hoc committee, God bless you. I don't want to be a part of it."

Merchant offered his perspective on the MBA.

"Ten years ago, 1999, [developer Bob] Cassano walked in the door and said, 'I'm here because I'm buying the rest of Rancho Murieta'..." he said.

"We understood two things when we negotiated. Number one, we couldn't keep [the developers] out. Number two, we couldn't make them annex. We understood that from the very beginning. There were seven people on that board who really understood..."

Martel interrupted, saying the undeveloped land had been annexed. Merchant disagreed, saying Martel's recent efforts to prove that had come to nothing, which Martel disputed.

With Merchant continuing to speak, Martel shouted over his comments, "Ask the community if they think you did a good job on the MBA."

John Merchant

John Merchant, left, and George Roper wound up arguing with Director Mike Martel, below.

Mike Martel

Merchant continued, "Ten years later, you went downtown [to the county supervisors] and lost 4-1..."

"...Because of the agreement that you were involved in," Martel shouted, pointing into the crowd, "and his son-in-law, and your vice president, Mike Burnett, and everybody else. ...

"Stand up, John, and talk about the MBA," Martel shouted as he rose from his chair. Cooper loudly gaveled a break in the meeting.

The reference to a son-in-law was directed at neighbor George Roper, whose son-in-law, Mike Schieberl, negotiated the MBA during his time as RMA director and president. Roper and Martel also exchanged sharp words during the brief shouting match.

During the break, still talking across the room but now in a quieter tone, Martel told Merchant, "I have no development education or skills. Nobody on this board, except maybe Paul [Gumbinger] ... has any type of expertise or education to manage pretty much everything. What makes you think that your board or the boards after us ... have any experience negotiating any type of [developer agreement]?"

"I don't understand," Merchant said. "Just like we're asking you to do something [about cable], if we didn't do it in 1999, 2000 and 2001, then who was going to do it? And if you don't do it now, Mike, who's going to do it?"

When the meeting reconvened, Director Dick Cox said, "I agree with Mike [Martel]. I think the MBA was absolutely the worst thing that ever happened to this community. We are suffering and will continue to suffer from the MBA. ... We've gone through six years of fighting with the developers -- not this board, because the MBA hampered our ability to do that and hampered the ability of all future boards to do anything but be silent."

Cox picked up a thread offered multiple times in the meeting by Martel, saying the board hears the loud voices speaking about the cable system but doesn't truly know how the majority of members feel.

"The board -- since 2004, which I sat on, until now -- has never really gone out to find out what this community wants," he said. "Now, there may be 800 members out here that have dishes, and there may be 800 members who don't want to have to pay dues, but we don't really know what the other people want."

Later in the meeting, Martel asked that next month's agenda include an action item on gathering the community's views on the cable system.

Cox said he believes members have the right to try to make the system voluntary.
He said if the system goes under -- he offered an early estimate of basic cable fees topping $100 a month in a voluntary system -- then the answers to the MBA cable requirement need to be in hand.

He said the negotiations should be limited to RMA board members because they have the responsibility.

Earlier in the session, he said of the negotiations, "There's going to be more involved, we believe, than just cable television."

Red square See a chronology of the MBA with links to past stories here

Two directors named to help study community's government

The board selected Directors Dick Cox and Paul Gumbinger to serve on a Community Services District committee that will examine the community's form of governance.

The committee will have nine members. CSD will appoint six members, one from its board and five from the public. A developer representative will take part as well.

In accepting the position, Cox said, "I think it would have been wonderful if CSD, in their infinite wisdom, had asked us to participate in an ad hoc committee to eliminate our association or to join these two things together, in that we do represent maybe 90 percent or so of their taxpaying constituents. But Paul (Gumbinger) and I, I think we'll get our two cents in."

Director Mike Martel echoed Cox's sarcasm, saying he hoped to get a good return on his years of investment in the RMA when the CSD assumes control of both organizations.

The other neighbors who expressed interest in serving on the committee were identified by President Jack Cooper as Richard Brandt, Wilbur Haines, Ted Hart, Andy Keyes, John Merchant, George Roper, Frank Simmons, Jack Tavolario and Lisa Taylor.

Board grants long-running exclusive-use request

The board granted an exclusive-use permit to neighbor Dennis Barsam. His long-running application had been approved by the Architectural Review Committee but rejected last month by the board, which said its decision reflected new law.

The RMA was brought to Small Claims Court by neighbor Wilbur Haines on the question of exclusive-use permits. Haines won there and when the RMA appealed the decision.
The RMA's interpretation, supported by legal opinion, is that the board is able to vote to approve exclusive uses because 60 percent of the community approved CC&Rs giving them that right a decade ago. Haines argued that the law requires 67 percent approval of the membership to issue new exclusive uses unless the CC&Rs specify a different percentage.

Red square Previous coverage: Court upholds neighbor's win in suit over RMA's exclusive-use policies (April 25, 2008)

Board sticking to request for payment for radio tower property

President Jack Cooper said the board was standing by its position that the RMA should be paid rent in exchange for allowing an emergency-services radio tower to be built on RMA property. He said the RMA is offering other options as well -- deeding the tower to RMA, talking with CSD about property for the tower, or allowing RMA to lease space on the tower.

Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Chief Don Mette made two visits to the community last month, urging the RMA to allow use of the property without charging fees.

Red square Previous coverage: Fire officials pay second visit, again make case for radio tower (May 1, 2008)

Board delays extending vote to reduce quorum requirement

The board voted to extend the voting period by 30 days on a measure that would reduce the quorum required to elect an RMA director from 40 to 33 1/3 percent of the membership. But when challenged about its action, the board held the measure in abeyance until a legal opinion can be obtained.

John Merchant, a former RMA and Community Services District board president, came to the microphone to back Director Mike Martel's view that the voting period couldn't be extended because with 1,022 ballots in hand, the quorum threshold of 928 votes had been met, and the voting period could not be extended. "I think you just broke the law," Merchant said.

General Manager David Stiffler tried to argue that the quorum for a change in the bylaws was 50 percent plus one vote, and that threshold had not been met.

Security criticized for car burglaries, failure to help

When resident Carl Gaither made a public announcement about more than a dozen vehicle burglaries occurring on the South overnight, his message was, lock your cars and put them into the garage whenever possible. "All the cars were parked in the driveway. All the cars were unlocked. They opened up the door … they took anything from cell phones to cameras … and then left. A lot of them left the door open even," Gaither said.

President Jack Cooper said his vehicle had more than $600 in damage after a March break-in when he was out of town. He left the car parked in the driveway again when he left town Friday, this time with the windows down because of the heat. "They got in again," he said.

"Isn't it wonderful to know we don't have any security problems in Rancho Murieta? According to our friends at CSD and their survey," Director Dick Cox commented, referring to a recent CSD survey that found Murietans reasonably satisfied with Security's service.

It wasn't the last criticism aimed at CSD and Security.

Evon Cascio, who lives on Zancada Court, said her family has gone to Security about problems with neighbors but has gotten no cooperation. "I think we definitely have a problem out here, and I think Security is not doing their job," she said.

The board suggested Cascio attend Wednesday night's CSD board meeting.

Cox returned to the theme of the CSD's survey, acknowledging the positive response.
"But since that survey was taken," he added, "by my count, we've had 32 car break-ins in the last month and a half. We've had burglaries.

"I keep hearing that the sheriff can't do anything, or the sheriff won't do anything because we're not shooting one other, we don't have gang activities. We had six kids busted for marijuana and the district attorney wouldn't prosecute. Where do we go? What do we do? There's gotta be some answer. ... We pay about $18 million a year in property taxes to the county of Sacramento and we get absolutely nothing in return.

"We represent these people who live inside the gates of Rancho Murieta. Our constitutents pay ... what is it -- $21 a month for security fees? And what do they get in return for it? Not a whole lot. We need to represent them somehow. Maybe we need to look at hiring a different security operation. ... Quite obviously, CSD is hamstrung. They can't do the job, by their own admission."

Marklin Brown's picture
Joined: 08/12/2007
Posts: 196
Post rating: 104


Glad the important things were agreed upon; property values are at risk from all sides.

I wish the cable could be used to hang those discussions.


Wilbur Haines's picture
Joined: 08/07/2007
Posts: 474
Post rating: 470

Right move

Congrats and thanks to the Board for making the right decision at least as to the dying lawns. Good idea, too, to track the expenses. We may yet find somebody to bill for the expense, and in any event it would be good to know from recorded experience, rather than just guess, what such emergency lawn maintenance in fact costs to perform.

As to the other issues, well..... I'll just stick to saying good job on the lawns issue.

Doug Lewis's picture
Joined: 08/08/2007
Posts: 165
Post rating: 322

water truck

Rod an option for a cheap water truck might be an old fire or brush truck.  Saw a couple on area craigslists for around 5 gs.  Most not only have pumps to spray and water on board but also have the ability to draft water so they can be used for emergency pumping for flooding or draining.  Unknown if the capacity would be adequate.....  Hey maybe sac co fire has a surplus truck they could trade us for a years tower use! 

Doug Lewis


Doug Lewis

Pamela Haines's picture
Joined: 12/10/2007
Posts: 23
Post rating: 17

Mulch vs lawn Saving

Mulch vs lawn

Saving landscaping does not have to mean saving a lawn.

The house pictured in the article about "saving landscaping" is a circle lot. The lawn area is almost all RMA common area landscaped with a "license", not a lease, when the house was built.

I would suggest, as I have been suggesting for years, that it is in everyone's best interest for RMA to return the common area to the more natural look originally intended in this community: rocks and mulch. It might even be more cost effective, depending on how long RMA ends up taking care of the lawns.

There would then be no need to purchase a water truck or have RMA staff time tending those lawns once a week.

When the house does finally sell , RMA should not grant a new
license for a landscape that includes lawn - one of the highest water
use plantings for a landscape.

Remember, home lawns use metered, treated (and currently rationed in some areas of the North) domestic water, not the reclaimed water used on the golf courses.

Pamela Haines

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