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 Cable petition

Damon Lykins talks with John Weatherford about the petition Weatherford is circulating outside Plaza Foods.  The petition asks that Murietans be free to choose whether to subscribe to RMA's cable system.

Controversy about the future of the cable system surfaced at the Rancho Murieta Association board meeting Tuesday, and the head of the Communications Committee urged residents to express their views to the board.

"I campaigned last November on the position that we should close down the TV system. Despite being appointed chair for Communications, I am still in favor of shutting down or selling the system," Director Mel Standart said. "I encourage each of you who pays dues  to look at the assessment you have to pay in 2008 to keep the RMA television delivered to your home whether you want it or not, and whether you use it or not."

Standart urged RMA members to use the RMA web site to e-mail board members their views. Forum posts and story comments on this issue that appear on RanchoMurieta.com will be printed out with the sender's name and delivered to the RMA board.

RMA members pay for basic cable service through their dues, a cost of about $28 a month in the 2007 budget.

Resident John Weatherford, a vocal critic of the cable system, responded to Standart's comments by saying, "That's the most refreshing thing I've heard from a board member in a long, long time, at least in regards to the cable issue."

Weatherford is collecting signatures on a petition to make subscribing to RMA cable TV voluntary. He and others intend to have it included on the ballot for the November RMA election.

Director Mike Martel questioned including cable services revenue in the association's preliminary budget for 2008, which hasn't been released to members. A workshop on the budget will be scheduled for the week of Oct. 8.

"I was under the impression that we weren't going to use any income from the cable or broadband to be placed into the budget, to make sure that this thing ran on its own. But in '08 it looks like there's a couple hundred thousand dollars' worth of revenue," Martel said, as he quoted from the preliminary budget.

Financial Manager Colleen Hagyard replied, "The Communications Committee and (General Manager David Stiffler) came up with those numbers and the projections are pretty minimal. The net revenue impact for 2008 is only projected to be $16,000."

Stiffler was not present at the board meeting, and Directors Chris Pedersen and Jack Cooper were also absent. About a dozen people attended the 1½-hour meeting.

The board voted last year to adopt a multi-year plan to repair and upgrade the cable system to offer more programming and better picture quality.

At Tuesday's meeting, Standart announced that 245 premium channel subscribers made the transition to the new digital service, the first phase of the plan. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime changed from analog to digital broadcast Aug. 1. The subscriber number was 292 at the beginning of the year, Standart noted.

He also said "persistent technical problems" in parts of Murieta North "seem to have been satisfactorily resolved by relocating channels, including broadband, to eliminate signal interference between channels and between power signals.

In addition, he said a fiber-optic cable installation is almost complete, and work the board approved last month was in progress. A new controller for Channel 5 was expected to restore programming to the community channel, he said.

Director Paul Gumbinger commented, "I'm really satisfied with the video and broadband services that we get. Sure, there's some bugs here and there, but overall I think we have great programming going on now.  I don't have any problem with the cable."

Martel said the RMA is legally obligated to provide cable service under the terms of agreements with the Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers, the original developer of Rancho Murieta. Standart said he believed the obligation could be removed by negotiating with the PTF because there are now other options for providing TV service.

 

Addressing bridge vandalism

Concerning vandalism at the pedestrian bridge, Director Paul Gumbinger said, "I indicated at the time there should be some security cameras.  We need to pursue that jointly with CSD so we can have surveillance."  He also suggested a return to joint meetings with the CSD to have dialogue about the issues. The RMA board recently voted to disband the Joint Security Committee.

At Wednesday's CSD meeting, CSD General Manager Ed Crouse reported that RMA General Manager David Stiffler and Security Chief Greg Remson are looking into the cost of security cameras and will bring the information to the Parks Committee.

The Parks Committee authorized the expenditure of $10,000 to $15,000 for cameras from the parks fund last November, when it approved fencing and other projects required for the opening of the bridge.

A web-cam and motion-detection lighting have also been suggested as security measures.

 

Martel challenges Parks Committee contributions

Director Mike Martel said he disagrees with the Parks Committee's review of the parks matrix and its priorities for parks projects, and he wants to withhold RMA contributions to the parks fund

The parks fund is made up of contributions from developers and the RMA. At present, the RMA contributes $734 and developers contribute $2,573 on a per-lot basis for new
development.

The Parks Committee has five voting members -- two from RMA, one from the CSD, and two from the local development community.

The Parks Committee meets 4 p.m. Sept. 27 at the RMA Building.

 

RMA election news

Candidates Night takes place 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the RMA. Dick Cox and incumbent Jack Cooper are running unopposed for the two seats on the board. Director Anne Denker is leaving the board.

Write-in votes are allowed on the ballot and there can be nominations from the floor at the annual meeting.

Director Mike Martel raised the possibility that a vote on exclusive use may be included in the ballot

The election takes place Nov. 15 at the annual membership meeting at the Country Club

The board approved Richard Silvis as inspector of elections.

Oct. 8 was set as the date of record for voter eligibility. Quorum for the election is 40 percent of the 2,320 lots. Drawings for a video iPod and $25 gift certificates to local restaurants are being offered as voter incentives.

 

In brief

  • The board approved a new color palette for home exteriors that features a "much larger variety of colors," according to Director Paul Gumbinger. Bright yellows and blues are basically the only colors eliminated, he said. The color samples are available for viewing at the RMA.
  • The board approved Troop 633 Boy Scout Kyle Gipe's Eagle Scout project for Lake Calero. He will build and install three exercise stations. The plan was reviewed and approved by the Architectural Review Committee and the Maintenance Committee.
  • A question about "preferential treatment" at the gates brought up by Director Mike Martel was addressed at the CSD meeting the following night. Residents who are insistent about having a contractor come to their homes on a Sunday or holiday will be accommodated, but they will be cited for violating an RMA rule, CSD staff said. The issue received attention after a security log entry indicated a board member pressured a gate officer to allow a contractor in.
  • A non-architectural rule requiring vehicles to stop for school buses will be published to the membership for 30-day review.  Assistant General Manager Danise Hetland suggested changing the rules to remove the warning about crossing Highway 16 in a golf cart since legislation has been passed making the crossing legal, provided the cart is properly equipped.
  • A recommendation from the ARC for an architectural rule that addresses the siting of homes to preserve a daylight plane goes to the Governing Documents Committee for review.  Director Paul Gumbinger cited instances of homes that are 10 feet apart, or a two-story home built next to a one-story home, reducing the smaller home's daylight.   The rule would pertain to the 55 remaining unbuilt lots and to teardowns occurring as the community ages, Gumbinger said.
  • The board approved a lease for space on the RMA TV tower.  The cell phone service provider, MetroPCS, will pay the RMA $16,700 a year under the agreement.
  • Director Bonita Jones' motion to have CC&Rs pertaining to maintenance reviewed by the Governing Documents Committee was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Director Mel Standart opposing it.

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

Voluntary first, then pursue divestment

1. For the short term, RMA should make participation in the cable TV system entirely voluntary, as presently is the case regarding broadband and premium TV services. When the system was created in the 80s and there was NO other way to get TV out here, it made sense to assume everyone needed RMA TV and to thus charge everyone for it. Since then hundreds and hundreds of dishes have been put up by residents seeking better signal and programming choices, obsoleting that assumption long ago. And now those households who really only want to see the local channels can now receive them free on any HDTV or HD receiver with a thirty buck indoor antenna and no bill from anybody. RMA is paying very substantial per-customer programming charges for many hundreds of homes who don't watch RMA TV and would gladly unplug from their system and spare RMA from those charges if permitted to drop out. Since those homes will never buy RMA premiums, they generate no revenue and their involuntary participation in the system is pure loss to RMA. Releasing them from the system would save RMA money. The board needs to follow through on its commitment to make the TV/broadband enterprise self-supporting, and should do so by means more stringent than creative and wishful accounting. It should be cut off from expenditure of our general dues entirely, with basic cable billed separately as broadband and premium TV are, and priced in a way to ensure it covers its own operational and reserve costs. Anything less guarantees a continuing bleeding of dues money.

The Board should put a non-binding advisory question on the November ballot, asking the members whether cable TV should continue to be mandatory and supported out of general dues, or should be voluntary and self-supporting like broadband. Dare to ask us, at last.

2. For the long term, I agree with Director Mel Standart that RMA should be aggressively pursuing a way to ease itself out of the role of being the community's cable provider. It has never been something we do well. We only got into that role out of manifest necessity, and it is no longer at all necessary. Despite the infusion of hundreds of thousands of members' dollars in recent deferred maintenance and upgrades, we continue to have significant customer satisfaction problems. Doing it right requires a 24/7 customer service capability. We simply don't have the scale to support that and still provide a cost-competitive product. Doing this right requires a large and stable highly trained staff. We have been going backwards rather than forward on that score. The costs of recruiting, training and retaining an adequately sized and highly trained staff vastly exceed this venture's overly optimistic budget projections. Doing it right also requires a stable management structure, not just the employed managerial staff but also the governing board. Any casual observer knows how volatile we are in both regards. Running a stable business, especially one selling services to non-members who have legal and contractual rights denied to the HOA's own conscript members, simply isn't a good fit with the inherently volatile amateur governance paradigm of HOAs.

The provider relationship under the MBA is a prescription for disaster. New North residents, who will not (barring a miracle) be RMA members, will also be involuntarily charged for RMA cable which many or most will not want, and it will not be their own association, but someone else's, ripping them off. But the contract gives them a right you and I don't have: the right to force an outside audit to determine how to compute the true "cost of basic cable" which they are obliged to pay. This will reveal weaknesses not only in how RMA fails to capture and account for all of its costs (hidden losses already lost in the budget), but also weaknesses in its ability to document and "prove up" some of its costs which it DOES show in the budget, such as the current guesstimates of the portion of the compensation of several high-cost administrative and managerial personnel should be "booked" to basic cable. Another dicey question which will hit the table is how does one apportion personnel and hardware costs between "basic cable," for which they must pay, and "premium TV services" from which RMA skims a profit? Expect that difficult question to be pressed, hard, because nonmembers will suspect their cost share is being padded to enhance RMA's profits on the other line of business. RMA draws lines in that regard which suit its own internal purposes. Those lines may well not hold in an independent audit. The bottom line is that forcing nonmembers to pay for RMA cable is a prescription for dissent and the invocation of legal remedies which are not available to unhappy RMA member customers. I predict it will become an ugly and costly ongoing dispute with the new associations' members at a time when we will really need to be trying to assimilate them, and that RMA, unable to prove up all of its costs, will end up having to SUBSIDIZE those nonmember customers with RMA members' dues.

Director Standart correctly answered Director Martel's question regarding RMA's obligations under the old Cable Agreement and more recent MBA. The developers don't particularly want RMA to be the cable provider. They really don't want any more entanglements with RMA than they have to have. If Comcast, AT&T or another provider could be lured into the market, the developers would be thrilled to sign off on an amendment letting THEM out of the TV deal and enabling them to offer new homebuyers a competent, professional, brand name cable provider. Otherwise it is entirely foreseeable that, when they're building model homes 2-4 years from now, people will STILL be grousing on these public forums about problems with their cable service, which will NOT be good for their sales. The developers, who aren't dumb, know that. The big cable providers won't be interested in RM until it becomes clear that at least several hundred more homes will be built in the next few years and that at least several hundred will follow a few years later, realities which may be more concrete a year or so from now. The commercial providers won't be interested, I imagine, unless those new homes are freed from the obligation to "pay twice" which afflicts the hundreds of RMA homes which have dishes. They would be all the more interested if RMA took the gun away from the heads of its own members and freed THEM from having to "pay twice." The prospect that they could pick up a couple of hundred RMA homes as well as a substantial portion of the new homes market could make it pencil out that much more reassuringly for the cable providers, whose costs of getting here continue to drop and to whom the opening of the initial New North phases is a magic window of opportunity if opened to them as competitors on a level field. Let's not fret and dither our way out of that window of opportunity.

RMA needs to have serious discussions with the developers and providers about the viability of making this transition happen. Just this once the discussions should be conducted by someone who hasn't already made up their mind it would be a bad idea which should be discouraged, which is my informed impression of previous approaches to Comcast when I was involved in this planning process several years ago. I'd suggest the entire board, rather than a designee, should participate and each form their own direct impressions rather than receive filtered information. Substituting the private market pros would provide RM residents with more and better cable choices, and it would get RMA out of an operation which has been a huge source of distraction, heartbreak and expense, and promises much more of the same if RMA indeed goes into the business of selling cable to hundreds or thousands of nonmembers.

RMA also needs to let go of the dream that somebody is going to pay us millions for the right to use our infrastructure. Under the original Cable Agreement by which the developer gave RMA custody - NOT ownership - of the system - the system itself is sort of held in trust, subject to a provision that can divest RMA of the system in favor of an all-developments coop, with no "profit" going to RMA. It's NOT OURS TO "SELL." We could in a transfer fairly conceivably recoup the money we've spent upgrading it, but trying to pocket a huge "profit" from "selling" it will just draw another lawsuit and other costly, distracting legal maneuvers.

Instead of trying to play venture capitalist, the Board should remember why and how RMA got into the cable business in the first place: to ensure that RMA members got TV service at a reasonable price. The market is poised to provide that now, and by squatting on the market RMA is obstructing the market's ability to provide. Speculating with members' money and RMA's future in pursuit of a fiscal windfall was never the purpose of the CATV enterprise until a few years ago, and speculating in the business world is an inappropriate activity for a homeowners' association. That speculation goal is actually working at cross-purposes to the original, legitimate purpose of meeting members' TV needs.

 

Holding unwilling members hostage to the system to try to enhance its imaginary "sales" value, placing a "book" value on them as conscripts, is, well, just plain reprehensible. I certainly hope that's not part of the calculus in resisting the call to render participation voluntary, though sometimes I wonder if it is, and just isn't being examined in that unflattering light. It should be.

Let's turn the business of TV provision, at which we've never been very good, over to professionals in the private sector, and get back to what we're supposed to be doing, enforcing CC&Rs and maintaining the common areas.

Meanwhile, let's let members choose whether to buy basic cable from RMA. We no longer need forced "socialized TV," and any business plan which depends upon it for its viability is unworthy of us.

Robert Irelan's picture
Joined: 09/24/2007
Posts: 4
Post rating: 8

Cable TV

I don't know nearly as much about the cable tv subject as I should. Still, I worry that by making participation voluntary the base of revenues needed to maintain and further improve the system will evaporate. And, while I am not against constructive change, we all knew that at least basic cable was part of the RMA dues system when we built or purchased our homes. Anyone voluntarily installing a dish or other system knew at the time that they were not opting out of the RMA obligation. So, I come down on the side of the present system. It's adequate for my personal needs and, since converting to the cable box system, the reception is very good. Bob Irelan

 

John T. Weatherford's picture
Joined: 08/06/2007
Posts: 66
Post rating: 0

Available for signing

If you wish to sign the "Freedom of Choice Petition" we will be in front of Plaza Foods Monday thru Friday this week from 3:30 to 6:30 PM.

John T Weatherford

Bill Duncan's picture
Joined: 08/07/2007
Posts: 38
Post rating: 48

Share the Burden

In the past, I have shared my concerns about the RMA cable system.  In reading Wilbur's most recent letter on this issue a few items seem to be repeating themselves. We hear from John Weatherford that we should be allowed to "opt-out" of our financial responsibilities.  Unfortunatly this is an oversimplistic solution.

 Remember, we are the "owners" of this corporation. ( RMA-r-Us.)  We control a cable system that, at this time is poorly managed and badly maintained. However, it would be irresponsible to dump this system and ask a smaller group of members to carry the load.

 I am a premium TV and a broadband subscriber.  I am one of the residents who apparently finds some value in the system. I pay an extra, but fair price for those broadband and premium services. Remember, broadband is part of the cable system too.

The problem is that that our RMA Cable managment is less than competent. That fact alone hinders the growth of technical and customer services that are necessary to compete with the cable company(s) that will soon be coming to our gates. The board has chosen to spend our dollars to keep a broken system working.

I have been fortunate in that quality of signal is not usually my complaint.  (Except for the sound on Ch 28 on HD Tv's) Service has been slow or nonexistent. It is obvious that the RMA employees are working politely and diligently to meet our cable needs, but they are forced to take time away from their usual and needed duties. Service calls go only to the loudest and most critical problems.

So, what do we do?

 First of all we need good management at the RMA. Our current general manager was hired despite having no experience managing homeowners associations, and for sure no experience running a cable tv system. Secondly, the board must quickly approve a "new" plan that is realistic regarding our future with cable. Allowing residents to decline to use and pay for cable is not realistic or fair. We need to get out of the cable business in an orderly and competent fashion. Simply closing it down or allowing members a choice is not the answer.

 It is clear that previous boards committed all of us to this plan.  We can and should change direction, but it will require ingenuity and courage from our board of directors, and competence from our management.

Frank Pumilia's picture
Joined: 08/08/2007
Posts: 134
Post rating: 187

In or Out

I agree with Bill Duncan.  RMA is either "in or out" of the cable business.  Wilbur's history is accurate and describes how the association got to where we are today.  Bill's assessmet is also correct and I agree with him that the system is working well now.  However this is not the question.  The question is "do the members want RMA to continue to provide their basic cable, premium offerings  and hi speed internet service".   The idea of allowing members to opt out of the system is not workable.   The only way to determine the will of the members is to place the issue on the up coming ballot to elect directors.  With only two candidates running for two positions it will be difficult to get a quorum.  Adding the TV question will get many more people to vote and give some guidance to the newly elected board. If the decision is to stay in the business then we need to fund it and do it right.  If the decision is members want out, then the best way to get out must be researched and followed.  This decision should be made by the members telling the board what they want.  Not seven board members deciding based on their personal opinions.

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