Carol Anderson Ward and John Sullivan – longtime Murietans, Country Club members and more recently North developers and owners of the club’s land – say club officials are promoting a fiction in this month’s election when they give the impression there are ongoing talks with Bob Husband about the possible purchase of the club. Further, Ward and Sullivan say they’re no longer interested in selling to Husband.
They called RanchoMurieta.com Wednesday to make the point that the club, working with Husband last year, exercised a lease option to force the sale of the land. That option can only be exercised every five years, they said, so the club can’t do it again until March 2021.
“The conversation with Bob Husband isn’t an ongoing negotiation,” Sullivan said. “It’s just the status that Bob Husband said, yeah, he would be interested if the obligation for the unfunded pension liability were to go away, in some form or fashion, he’d be interested. We’re not going to solely negotiate with Bob Husband. Murieta Club Properties is the owner of the property. The club doesn’t have an option until 2021, so they need to stop talking about they’re working on a purchase. They have no right to work on a purchase until 2021.”
John Sullivan and Carol Anderson Ward
In a story Tuesday, Husband, a longtime golf industry executive, said he’s still interested in buying Rancho Murieta Country Club – land and club – if a $3 million-plus problem with the Operating Engineers unfunded pension liability can be overcome. That liability, which blew up his planned purchase of the club this summer after 18 months of talks, prompted plans for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by the club, which has divided the field of candidates in the club election.
In particular, Ward and Sullivan were critical of Vince Lepera, the club’s president, for comments to club members in which he said there are companies interested in buying the club even if Husband has walked away. Lepera says that's the case.
Murieta Club Properties is landlord to the club under a 55-year lease that runs until 2028.
Ward said her company’s contact with Husband since the deal collapsed has been minimal – “a couple of emails went back and forth.” She said Husband lost an investor who moved on after the pension issue surfaced.
“We really do not plan to sell our property to Bob Husband after what we’ve been through for the last 18 months,” she said.
Would she turn Husband away if he showed up, money in hand?
“I still don’t believe he’s a buyer with money in hand,” she said.
Sullivan added, “You’ve just heard from Carol and I – between she and I, I think we’re a majority of the club ownership – that we’re not interested in going down the road with Bob Husband again.”
Lepera, who’s running in the club election, favoring Chapter 11, said he absolutely believes there are potential buyers, but the club never represents itself as making a deal for the land owned by Murieta Club Properties.
“I am not representing the land,” he said. “I cannot force them to sell the land. I understand that completely. We never once thought that. We just believe that, based on their actions to date, and the conversations I’ve had, they’ve asked me, ‘Are there people that are interested still in doing a deal?’ And I immediately say, ‘If we find someone, I will turn them over to you first.’ Because it’s more important to sell the land first, then acquire the club.”
To make his point, he shared an email he sent Sept. 21 to Tom deRegt, the principal of Rancho Murieta Properties LLC, the development company he shares with Ward and Sullivan, that gave contact information for a deep-pockets investor who had inquired about the club. “That’s how I operate.” Lepera said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
Ward and Sullivan said they have had numerous conversations with potential club investors.
“We are talking to all the interested parties that have come forward as to whether there is some form of ... additional equity infusion, or restructuring of the way we’re handling things. But we’re talking to people every day,” Sullivan said.
The club sent Ward a letter this week, asking that she waive the rent for the next year – more than $300,000 – following her “passionate comments about how much you love Rancho Murieta and the Country Club” at last week’s town hall meeting. The letter added, “We were extremely impressed with your comments and compassion” and included club financials and a list of the infrastructure projects that need funding.
On Wednesday, Ward and Sullivan said the letter hadn’t been received yet.
“Their issues are not ours unless we take back the club,” she said. “They were supposed to be keeping up with that maintenance and not obligating themselves way beyond their means.”
Sullivan said, “This is a self-inflicted problem that they’ve got, and they have to figure out a way to get out of it.”
He added, “We’re not saying no to anything that the club may discuss, but this election needs to get over with, there needs to be a new board, and there needs to be cooler heads prevailing, because this has turned into a bunch of politics that are unnecessary. The club knows what its responsibilities are to the lease.”