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[Corrected July 22] The Rancho Murieta Association board of directors has extended the changeover of RMA cable TV premium channels like HBO and Showtime from analog to digital broadcast to July 31 because there is a backlog of subscribers waiting to be switched over to the new service.

Analog broadcast of the premium channels was scheduled to end July 16.

A total of 27 digital channels will replace the four analog channels. The basic cable service RMA members pay for as part of their dues will continue to be broadcast in the analog format.

At Tuesday night's RMA board meeting, General Manager David Stiffler estimated about 200 of the 266 premium channel subscribers will be converted to the new digital service by the end of this week. The service requires installation of a set-top box.

Interviewed Friday, Stiffler said he thinks the RMA will be "right on target if not better" with the number of conversions. The business plan projected 244 and they're at about 200 now with about 40 installations scheduled for next week, he said.

The changeover of the premium channels allows the RMA to provide tiers of digital and high definition programming to compete with satellite dish offerings and generate income for the association under a five-year plan the board adopted last year.

On Wednesday, the RMA announced it will launch the new services in August after the premium channels are converted. The new services include a high-definition package with ESPN, Golf Channel, Discovery Channel, Food Network and HGTV and an expanded digital package with approximately 56 channels offering sports, family and music channels. The lineup for digital cable is available here.

The premium channel and high-definition lineup is here.
The board approved the expenditure of $200,000 from reserves last year to replace failing cable on the North and upgrade the system to accommodate digital programming, and a similar expenditure was budgeted for this year.

Director Mel Standart, chair of the Communications Committee, told Tuesday's meeting the $15,000 fiber-optic cable project the board approved last month as part of this year's expenditures is expected to be installed within the next 45 days through "a cooperative effort between the Communications and the Maintenance departments to reduce costs." Standart said the fiber run will provide a "backbone" for the cable system on the North to improve TV reception and "significantly increase the value of the system."

"The main … fact is that we need to improve our infrastructure on the North," said Justin Jordan, a former Communications Committee member who has contracted with the RMA for the digital changeover.

After a resident came to the microphone and asked how the association is going to handle the departure of two cable technicians, Stiffler acknowledged that the two are leaving, and said there is a replacement for one and a possible replacement for the other. He added that the association is about to recruit a new cable manager. The position has been vacant since April.

The board approved spending up to $14,000 for additional smart encryption modulators. Standart said one will serve new channels on the cable system and the other will be used as a backup. The modulator encrypts protected video content on cable channels for delivery to customers.

Legality of exclusive use policy is debated

A challenge to the association's exclusive use policy for cottage, circle and townhouse lots sparked a lengthy discussion about ways to resolve the conflict.  

Resident Darlene Despard said her enjoyment of the “greatest view in the whole development” from her home on Camino Del Sol was threatened by a neighbor’s plan to build a pool on common area acquired under a lease agreement for exclusive use approved earlier this year.

At Tuesday's meeting, she read a letter from her lawyer that argued granting the exclusive use was "a blatant violation" of an amendment to the Davis-Stirling Act that requires a 67 percent affirmative vote of property owners in common interest developments like Rancho Murieta.

"We want to make sure we are within the law and complying," said RMA President Jack Cooper as he introduced RMA attorney Steven S. Weil of Berding & Weil Inc.

Weil explained that his legal opinion upholding the association's right to enter into leases for exclusive use is based on language in the amendment that specifies the 67 percent vote is necessary to grant an exclusive use "unless the governing documents specify a different percentage."

Weil said there are some statutes of the Stirling-Davis Act "where they want to dictate how you operate and there are some statutes where they only provide a default if your CC&Rs provide something different."

He said RMA's CC&R provisions "constitute a separate approval percentage, and the members, when they adopted their second amendment to the CC&Rs, chose to give this power to the board …. And, in my judgment, this law was not intended to take that power away."

Weil said the amended CC&Rs adopted in 1996 "talk about every owner's right to use the common area which is owned by the association," and also allow the association to enter into lease arrangements with owners of cottage, townhouse and circle lots for up to 1,200 square feet of common area immediately adjacent to their lots. The property can be used for heating and air conditioning equipment, propane tanks, patios, landscaping, swimming pools and other uses provided that conditions set by the association are met. Weil said the board has the power to change the fees charged for exclusive use.

The exclusive use provisions themselves could be changed by amending the CC&Rs, he said.

"I'm not buying it," resident Wilbur Haines remarked when Weil completed his explanation of the legality of the current process.

Haines, a lawyer, said he supported the statute when it was being drafted and believes the RMA is at risk of being sued over the "illegal pools" it's allowed.

[Correction: In a letter after this story appeared, Haines said he supported the parent bill that contained this statute when it was being drafted, but he did not endorse this particular code section. His letter said he believes the RMA is outside the law for exclusive uses granted after January 1, 2006, when the law took effect.]

"We now have a not-too-thinly-veiled threat of litigation," he said.

Haines suggested using a small-claims action to get "a temperature check on how the judiciary might react" to the RMA's exclusive use policy.

While terming it "an extraordinarily creative solution," Weil said a small-claims ruling wouldn't constitute a judicial review. He added that judicial resolution "would not be my recommended way of handling it. … It's an outsider telling you how to run your project."

Other residents attending the meeting attested to the value of having the exclusive use option in dealing with the limitations of circle lots. The woman who applied for the exclusive use for the pool said she purchased the home on the 70-foot circle lot with that expectation. “I think it would be a very big disadvantage for us not to be able to put that pool in knowing that we have those rights,” Sherry Carrillo told the board. Her home is situated on Guadalupe Drive below Camino Del Sol.

The board approved a resolution to allow four exclusive use applications already in the pipeline to complete the process. The association will look into ways to deal with exclusive use, and the disputed application will remain on hold.

Exclusive use agreements were approved in a special ordinance for Rancho Murieta the county Board of Supervisors passed in 1977, a senior planner said at a county meeting in 2005.

At the RMA's request, the problematic circle lot concept was abandoned in favor of estate lots when the South was developed. On the North, the Fairways is the first subdivision to have only estate lots.

Parks Committee makeup is challenged

The Parks Committee meets July 26 at 4 p.m. at the RMA Building. Director Paul Gumbinger will move up from the alternate position to serve as an RMA representative, and Murieta Holdings developer Robert J. Cassano will return as a developer representative. Cassano resigned from the committee during the bridge project because of liability considerations.

The five voting members of the Parks Committee -- two RMA directors, two representatives of the development community in Rancho Murieta, and one CSD director -- control the parks fund, which consists of developer contributions and smaller, matching contributions from the RMA through dues. The fees are paid on a per-lot basis for new development. Committee members approve funding for projects identified in a master plan for the community's parks.

At Tuesday's meeting, Director Mike Martel questioned the CSD presence on the committee. "I'm still trying to find out why CSD has a seat on Parks if they do not contribute any money to nor do they collect the money that they are obligated to collect," Martel said. "I don't believe they should have a voice in how we spend RMA money."

The CSD is the sole public agency on the Parks Committee, and it assumed the role of lead agency for the pedestrian bridge based on its committee participation. In recent months, the CSD has requested a detailed accounting of parks fund expenditures for the bridge after learning the RMA took $88,351 from the fund for its legal expenses without the committee's authorization.

At the May board meeting, Martel stated the RMA spent $250,000 on the bridge project. After he was asked about that figure, Martel checked with staff and reported he had been mistaken, and the money had come out of the parks fund.

Except for RMA legal expenditures, the bridge costs were reviewed and approved by the Parks Committee.

Gumbinger chairs Nominating Committee

The board selected Director Paul Gumbinger to chair the Nominating Committee for this year's election. The seats on the board now held by Directors Anne Denker and Jack Cooper will be up for election in November.

Gumbinger appealed to members to volunteer to serve on the committee, and asked for candidates for the three-year terms.

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