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Changes in works for Rossmoor News, golf courses

Newspaper to start transition to online focus; golf courses to step up water-conservation efforts

By Sam Richards

Staff writer

(Friday, Aug. 12): Though Rossmoor News delivery problems that plagued the paper in spring and summer have eased recently, GRF’s Planning Committee last week gave Ann Peterson, the managing editor, a roughly defined goal to move that publication to a mostly online presence in the next few years.

At that same Thursday meeting, the Planning Committee heard about continuing efforts to reduce water use at Rossmoor’s two golf courses, and that more drought-tolerant plants and less green grass figure to be the wave of the future.

The committee didn’t pass a formal motion on either prospective newspaper changes or alterations of the golf courses but essentially called for maintaining their current courses with an eye to bigger changes ahead.

Rossmoor News delivery

The Rossmoor News discussion came from delivery problems since the start of 2022, as Peterson recounted the paper’s difficulty in finding carriers to deliver the weekly News. Reasons included COVID and that delivery is a once-a-week job that has paid barely above minimum wage and requires significant lifting and walking. The situation hit a low point in June, Peterson told the committee, when the paper had six vacant carrier positions and no new applicants.

Peterson told the committee that “short-term solutions” for the news carrier situation, including raising pay to $19 an hour, have attracted some new carrier applicants but has not eliminated turnover and other staffing difficulties. Another stopgap measure, splitting deliveries over the traditional Wednesday and Thursday, was not well received by many residents of the Pine Knoll neighborhood, where it was tried one week in July because of an emergency carrier shortage, Peterson said.

Peterson presented three options to address the delivery problem on a long-term basis. Two involved placing newspaper boxes, similar to those once common outside grocery stores and restaurants, at various spots around Rossmoor, from which residents would take papers each Wednesday. A third option was for the News to go digital/online only – with no printed paper – in the relatively near future.

The cost for the boxes, between $230 and $275 each, and the expected loss of advertising by businesses that appreciate the delivery to the door, Peterson said, would more than cancel out what would be saved by hiring fewer delivery workers.

For the digital option, neither most Rossmoor residents nor News staff are ready for eliminating the print paper entirely, Peterson said. In addition to accelerating staff retraining, many Rossmoor readers would have to be convinced to make reading the paper online a habit. Also, she predicts that roughly half of the News’ advertisers would leave the paper if it went online only, and that such a move would likely mean a loss of more than $33,000 annually.

Only an estimated 700 to 900 Rossmoor residents now use the e-edition (www.rossmoornews.com) each week, Peterson added.

Committee chairwoman Leanne Hamaji said she didn’t support distributing the paper using boxes because of the cost, but rather an eventual migration of the News to online only. Committee member Carol Meehan largely agreed, encouraging a slow move of the News to an e-edition and to “stop printing eventually.”

The committee told Peterson to continue on the current path for the time being, given more recent success in attracting delivery workers. But they, and Peterson, acknowledged residents must start to be prepared for inevitable change.

“With news delivery challenges and printing costs going up, we are headed toward a day when the paper will be online only,” Peterson said after the Aug. 11 meeting. But that day won’t be tomorrow.

“During the next few years, we will need to find the time to build up our digital product,” including an emailed newsletter with that week’s headlines, she said, while scaling back some print staples, such as the puzzle pages.

“Our job now is to find a balance between our print present and our digital future,” Peterson added.

Drought Master Plan for the golf courses

Similarly, the committee gave informal approval to ongoing efforts by GRF to replace excess turf (thirsty grass) on and adjacent to the golf courses with much less thirsty drought-tolerant plants and other ground cover, especially for sections on and adjacent to the courses that aren’t directly in areas of play.

But Jeff Matheson, GRF’s director of resident services, said dry conditions that are already bad could well get much worse if the drought persists.

Rossmoor uses water from Tice Creek, which could, at some point, run dry or nearly dry. GRF buys water from East Bay Municipal Utility District, which has had steady annual rate increases averaging 7% on top of drought surcharges; and the runoff water captured from water-cooled Mutual air conditioners figures to disappear as old units are replaced by new ones that don’t produce condensate.

Among the main points of a draft Drought Master Plan for the golf courses are identifying and funding “immediate” projects to be completed over the next one to three years; identifying projects that could be accomplished should mandatory water cutbacks exceed 25%, or 50%, of current use levels; and maintenance and management practices that would continue to promote the play of golf and maintain the courses in drought conditions and plans to restore the courses once conditions or additional water resources are identified.

Matheson said measures could include strategically removing grass – even from the tee boxes themselves – from many areas adjacent to the courses without directly affecting in-play areas.

Mark Heptig, Rossmoor’s director of golf, said efforts to replace grass with drought-tolerant plants are already well underway, and that they’ll continue. Even artificial grass could be in the mix in certain situations, depending on how bad the drought gets, he added.

Committee member Ted Bentley asked whether, because Rossmoor is so advanced in water conservation, GRF could get any discounts from EBMUD as a reward for being a good water steward.

He also said he visited a golf course recently with enough green grass to suggest there isn’t a drought going on, and asked Heptig how Rossmoor compares on the conservation front.

“I think we’re cutting edge, very ahead of the curve,” Heptig said. “Some places may have a lot of water. Some places may have a massive budget. We have neither of those.”

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