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As drought continues, expect more changes to golf courses

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


(Tuesday, Nov. 1) Changes have come to Rossmoor’s two golf courses for the past eight years, and Rossmoor residents can expect more of the same into 2023 and beyond – primarily less green grass and more mulch.

The effects of the ongoing drought demand it, Mark Heptig told the GRF Board last week.

“Water is the No. 1 issue for the courses,” said Heptig, pointing out that water costs for the two courses have gone from $113,000 in 2010 to a budgeted $360,000 for 2023. Water costs, he said, have steadily risen 10 to 15% every year during this stretch, and until the end of the ongoing drought, figure to keep rising.

Heptig gave a presentation to the Board on Oct. 27 about what golf staff has already done to cut down on water use, and what is planned for the future. The biggest single action was to take out 12 acres of green grass – much of it in areas where it didn’t grow very well anyway – and replace it with either bark mulch or with drought-resistant plants. There will be more of the same in the near future – another 12 to 14 acres of turf could also be replaced, including along the east edge of the Creekside course adjacent to Rossmoor Parkway that currently isn’t watered; tee boxes could be made slightly smaller, and less thirsty types of grass could be planted.

The changes, Heptig said, will continue to not affect golf play and should have minimal aesthetic impact.

“We’re slicing edges, that’s what we’re doing,” said Heptig, who credited Blake Swint, Rossmoor’s golf course superintendent, with superlative water management skills that have benefited the course at a crucial time.

GRF Board Vice President Leanne Hamaji said, “As a walker of the golf course, it’s wonderful to see the changes and know we’re saving water.”

Heptig said it’s all part of three decades of steady improvements to the golf course, even in the face of adversity, including dire predictions of water shortages.

At their Oct. 27 meeting, the GRF Board also approved a schedule of 12 Monday golf tournaments to take place on the Rossmoor courses in 2023, as well as use of the course by the Acalanes High School golf teams (the boys’ team in the spring, the girls in the fall). The tournaments are a moneymaker for Rossmoor’s golf program, and the high school teams have had an arrangement to use the Rossmoor courses for 35 years.

Smoking ordinance

The Board approved a rule that bans smoking in Rossmoor’s parks, open spaces, trails and outdoor recreational facilities.

Places where people will be allowed to smoke are the “irrigated portions of the play area on the golf courses,” in personal vehicles on GRF streets or parking lots and at designated resident and employee smoking area. For residents that is the Lavender Garden at Gateway. The designated employee smoking areas were designated by the GRF Human Resources Department.

The rule covers cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah pipes, electronic cigarettes (vaping) and any other similar or related personal smoking devices or materials (tobacco, marijuana or other products) of any kind. It doesn’t cover Mutuals, Rossmoor CEO Tim O’Keefe said,

There was some discussion at the Oct. 27 meeting about users of the Lavender Garden going there to smell the lavender and not “an ashtray.” It was also noted that few people go to the Lavender Garden, and that no formal complaints have been made about people who already smoke there.

Gateway Studios

Heeding a recommendation by the GRF Planning Committee, the Board approved Oakland-based Oak Park Construction to be the main contractor for phase two of the Gateway Studios renovation project, instead of going through a competitive bid process to find a contractor.

The Board approved paying Oak Park $798,354 for that work, and to approve a construction budget for phase two of $950,000, which includes contingency and permits.

Planning Committee members had said Oak Park did a good job as main contractor on phase one of the studio renovations, and Jeff Matheson, GRF’s director of resident service, noted to the GRF Board that that the company was familiar with what the phase two project will require. The company also submitted few “change orders” to established project plans, Matheson said, avoiding cost increases.

Both Matheson and Hamaji acknowledged this “sole source” contract award, instead of seeking competitive bids, is unusual, but warranted in this situation. Oak Park even helped GRF identify $50,000 in project cost savings, Matheson said.

In other actions

  • The Board approved a contract amendment with Berkeley-based ELS Architecture and Urban Design for design services related to the outside walls of the planned pickleball courts near the Event Center. GRF has already enlisted a landscape architect, JETT Landscape, for the pickleball project, but that firm is not licensed to design structural walls above 6 feet tall. The planned walls are 18 feet on the south-facing side and 10 feet on a part of the north-facing side.
  • The Board discussed the skyrocketing costs of property insurance in Rossmoor, which for some Mutuals will go up 20% in 2023. Rossmoor CFO Joel Lesser said the total cost of that insurance is expected to be $10 million for 2022 and could be $15 million in 2023. In contrast, that figure was $1.5 million in 2021. Adrian Byram, chair of the GRF Finance Committee, said it might be time to schedule a joint GRF Board/Finance Committee meeting to discuss the fast-rising costs of earthquake insurance.
  • Hamaji shared heartfelt words about Dale Harrington, a second-term GRF Board member who died Oct. 9 after a brief illness, and Arlyss Rothman, who died Oct. 19 after years of failing health. Hamaji said Harrington was constantly looking out for interests of seniors, both within and outside of Rossmoor, and gave that effort his all. “It makes me a little tired, just thinking about his energy,” said Hamaji, who also noted Rothman’s leadership both with Third Mutual and with the Rossmoor Emergency Preparedness Organization.