Scott Abraham of the Murieta Bulldogs challenges how the RMA charges youth sports teams for field access. (Click for larger image)
The Rancho Murieta Association board voted unanimously Tuesday night to end bar-code access for Village residents on Jan. 1 after a breakdown in negotiations over a proposed access fee. The board also delayed action on a request by the Murieta Bulldogs youth baseball team to be allowed to use community sports fields for their practices. The discussion, nearly an hour long, became heated at times.
The possibility of charging Village residents for gate access is now several years old. The RMA approved a $62-monthly fee last spring, prompting unhappy reactions from the Village.
“They’re not interested in any further negotiations on the access through the RMA gates,” General Manager Greg Vorster reported Tuesday on his negotiations with the Village board, “and so my recommendation would be that the board adopt a motion to shut off all bar codes effective Jan. 1, 2019.” President Alex Bauer offered the only board comment before the vote: “We are, as an RMA board and as an institution, open to negotiations. If the Village wants to talk, we’re open to talking. They sent us a notice that they’re not interested in doing that. So that’s where we stand on that.”
In an interview Wednesday, Vorster said he met with a contingent of Village representatives six weeks ago and thought they’d reached agreement – Village residents who wanted a bar code would pay $300 a year for access. He sent them a memo of understanding, Vorster said, and this week the Village told RMA it wasn’t interested.
Kathy Becker, president of the Murieta Village Association, read a statement from her association in a phone interview Wednesday: “We received an access agreement and MOU (memo of understanding) from RMA. We feel at this time it is not in the best interests of the community to pursue any further negotiations with RMA.”
She said the agreement is complicated, involving issues they don’t understand, and the Village association is in no financial position to hire a lawyer.
“I wish they would make it $300 without a MOU,” she said, “but we’re done.”
The RMA argues that people who use the association’s parks and amenities should pay a share of the cost of maintaining them. The Village was the first residential development in the community, opening 45 years ago, and residents have always enjoyed unfettered access through the gates. The RMA’s argument is also prompted by the reality that development will be happening outside the gates, and the RMA needs a coherent approach to gate access.
Village residents can still enter the community by having someone call them in at the gate.
Action tabled on Bulldogs request to use fields
Prompting a lengthy discussion that got heated at times, General Manager Greg Vorster proposed designating the Murieta Bulldogs, a competitive youth baseball team that travels to tournaments, as a “private sports club.” He differentiated the Bulldogs from “community groups” like Cosumnes River Little League, Elk Grove Soccer and Pleasant Grove Lacrosse, which allow all Murieta kids to play.
The Bulldogs came to last month’s RMA meeting, asking to use the community’s sports fields for practice. The group showed up Tuesday night with nearly 50 supporters, many of them young players.
Vorster said in order to qualify as a “private sports club,” a group would have to be made up of at least 90 percent Murieta players and be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Among other requirements: submitting contact information for players and officers, carrying insurance and offering information on background checks of group leaders. He said use of the fields, under current Stonehouse Park policy, costs $25 per hour per field.
Visibly angry, Scott Abraham, one of the team’s founders, responded, “I have one question. Are all the other organizations that you listed off that are not a private sports organization – i.e., lacrosse, Little League and soccer – are they all falling under these same exact rules as we are?”
When Vorster said the Bulldogs are different and are being categorized differently, Abraham responded that 97 percent of the Bulldogs are from RMA households, which is a higher percentage than the other organizations. He addressed each of the other sports organizations and how they fall short of the requirements – claiming lacrosse has “nowhere near” 90 percent Murieta participation, that soccer players come in from all over and enjoy “free rein” of the community, and that some Little League coaches have sketchy backgrounds.
“This board and this GM should be embarrassed about this decision,” he said. He added, “I’m upset for many reasons, but more than anything is the fact that you’re telling this group of 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-year-old boys that they can’t play on these fields.”
Director Rob Brown, who drew up the agreement and also serves as president of the Pleasant Grove Lacrosse Club, which uses Murieta fields, said the terms were written to allow the Bulldogs to participate, not to shut them out.
“Would you agree to this, if this was you?” Abraham asked him.
“We do all of this stuff,” Brown replied, referring to his lacrosse team.
Later, as Brown spoke of the sports fields, several audience members interrupted: “Our fields. Ours. We all pay dues.”
“By calling you a private sports club, we’re not being derogatory,” Brown said. “We’re recognizing that you don’t have to take every (player) that comes to you. ... We recognize the difference. ... You’re not a community group where (playing is) open to everybody.”
After the conversation calmed down, Abraham asked that the $25-an-hour fee be waived until 2020, saying the organization hasn’t budgeted for that.
Challenged about whether the other sports groups pay, Vorster said they do. Little League isn’t paying at present, he said, because it has been credited for past work contributed at Stonehouse Park – dugouts, batting cages, scoreboard and maybe more.
(Speaking Wednesday, Vorster said his recollection is that the Little League work at Stonehouse Park was valued at $100,000 many years ago. The Little League fees have been waived for more than a dozen years.)
Marya Abraham, Scott Abraham’s wife, told the board she wants to review how much other sports groups are paying. Director Jim Crowder said he’d like to review the fees too to be sure they’re equitable and to check if it’s time for Little League to begin paying again. He was applauded when he called for every organization to pay an equitable fee.
The board voted 5-2 on Director Stephanie Bianchi’s motion to table the Bulldogs’ agreement for further review and discussion. Voting no were President Alex Bauer and Director Joanne Brandt.
Angry about speeding citation? ‘Drive 25’
Alex Bauer, board president, asked Director Jim Crowder, who chairs the Compliance Committee, what to tell people who complain to him about getting a speeding citation. “Tell them to drive 25,” Crowder answered.
When Bauer said maybe this shouldn’t be a high priority, Director Cheryl McElhany joined Crowder in reminding the board about the dozens of people who came to the July meeting to complain about unsafe drivers.
Crowder seemed reluctant to acknowledge looking the other way on drivers doing more than 25 mph on Murieta Parkway, but he addressed it without saying so, answering his own questions: “Are you seeing any violations with someone going 29? No. 28? No.”
At a suggestion that the speed limit on main drives be increased from 25 mph, General Manager Greg Vorster said the community’s status as a golf cart community requires a top limit of 25 mph.
In other business...
- Directors Cheryl McElhany and Jim Crowder will head up a citizens advisory group to draft an emergency preparedness plan for consideration by the board.
- General Manager Greg Vorster said the new restrooms at Lake Clementia may be open in daylight hours as soon as the weekend, pending completion of railings. There are multiple security cameras watching the structure, he said.
- The board voted unanimously to spend $17,000 for 12 Dell work stations and to have Capitol Network Solutions set up the computers; also, the board voted unanimously to spend $8,719 with General Telcom to replace the system hardware (but not the telephone handsets). Funding will come from reserves.
- Director Jim Crowder mentioned a complaint about a cart driver who nearly hit a pedestrian using the cart/bicycle lane. Pedestrians have the right of way, he said. “Give the walkers and the joggers and the kids in that pathway – give them the right of way,” he said.
- Maintenance Manager Rod Hart said Quincy Engineering’s structural evaluation of the wooden bridge shows it’s “very sound and in great shape.”
- Ticket prices for the RMA’s Feb. 23 Casino Night increase on Dec. 16, Director Stephanie Bianchi reminded the community. Until then they’re $65 a person and $110 a pair; after then they’re $70 a person and $120 a pair. At the door they’ll be $75 a person and $130 a pair.