A recent incident raised the question, and local officials delivered the answer: Members of the news media have no more rights than the general public when it comes to entering the gated community.
After reading in the Security logs that a River Valley Times reporter had been refused entry at the North Gate in January, Community Services District Director Bobbi Belton brought the issue up at the CSD Security Committee meeting Tuesday.
"We're talking about freedom of the press," Belton said. "I am a firm believer in free press and I will fight this one tooth and nail."
"The bottom line is, does the press have free access through the gates of Rancho Murieta or do they not?" replied Security Chief Greg Remson. "It's press in general. It's people in general. They just don't have carte blanche in the community. ... One of the reasons people live here is so they won't have some stranger knocking on their door."
Remson said CSD gate officers carry out policy set by the Rancho Murieta Association. The policy requires visitors to be called in by residents.
Asked for the RMA's views on the matter, Assistant General Manager Danise Hetland said the RMA Compliance Committee reviewed the policy at its February meeting and confirmed that the media should be treated like other members of the public, unless the board of directors wanted to change the gate policy.
According to past entries in the Security logs, newspaper and TV reporters have been turned away at the gates during fires and other news events.
But residents have also called in the media when they wanted coverage, and the Sheriff's Department has held press briefings inside the gates for major news events -- fewer than a handful of times in the last decade.
Belton noted there are members of the media living here and said denying access to the non-resident River Valley Times reporter constituted "inequitable treatment."
The Jan. 16 log entry reads, "REFUSED ENTRY / NORTH GATE / RIVER VALLEY TIMES / REFUSED PER CHIEF / REFUSE ALL MEDIA UNLESS CALLED IN."
At the time, the CSD was in emergency mode, working to restore water pressure and water service to a large part of Murieta North after a main broke earlier in the day.
Judith Unzner, managing editor of the River Valley Times, said the gate officer told reporter John Motsinger he was being refused because of safety concerns. She added she was giving the CSD the benefit of the doubt because "through the years we have never been denied access."