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GRF tackles wildfire safety, conservation

By Mike Wood

Staff writer

 

By Mike Wood

Staff writer

(Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023) Rossmoor’s wildfire safety and conservation efforts were focal points at last Thursday’s GRF Board meeting at Peacock Hall.

Discussion focused on how encapsulating Rossmoor’s mitigation efforts and programs can reach beyond the critical objective of safety and help with fire insurance costs in a market growing more volatile statewide and nationally.

A launch by new Mutual Operations Director Jeroen Wright to form a Rossmoor-centric Firewise USA program already has momentum. In presenting an overview, Wright noted in seeking a set minimum of nine volunteers for a task force, 14 already have come forward after Wright made a presentation to Mutuals presidents and detailed the program in a July 26 Rossmoor News article.

Wright described formation, certification and educational processes of a program within Rossmoor. He said the work begins with a wildfire risk assessment from Contra Costa Fire Protection District, followed by creation of a three-year action plan. Many actions are already in place.

“Some of that will be limbing up trees, some of that will be continuing to do the fire breaks that we do around the communities, the weed abatement, as well as looking towards removing flammable landscape and replacing it with non-flammable landscape,” Wright said.

He also noted how Firewise programs make a difference. In 2018, a wildfire threatened Durango, Colorado. Thanks to a Firewise program in nearby Falls Creek creating substantial fire resiliency, the latter community was used for staging and proved vital in sparing Durango from devastation.

Board President Dwight Walker lauded Wright’s initiative.

“This program, to me, marries up so many efforts that are already existing,” Walker said. “This is a safety program, it’s fire resiliency and could benefit us with insurance. I applaud your efforts at pulling this together and encourage residents to really be mindful of this program and take advantage of what you’re offering.”

These programs can provide hedging against an insurance environment that has seen both Allstate and State Farm recently announce they were halting sales of property insurance to new customers in California. Wright conceded that the insurance climate “is very difficult” but this can provide some stability.

“It’s not a matter of will it reduce our fees or our costs, but it will improve our ability to stay insured,” he said.

Also as part of that effort, Public Safety Manager Tom Cashion presented drone video of a sweeping overview of Rossmoor’s terrain. The video zeroed in on specific areas with graphic notations, such as emphasizing that Rossmoor’s defensible space exceeds fire department standards. It provides a visual to insurance companies of work to make Rossmoor safer.

“This is an effort to educate insurance companies about what we do to prevent wildfire and what we do to prepare our residents,” Cashion said.

Cashion said he was updated by Fire Marshal Chris Bachman of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District that work on a fire break on hillsides surrounding Rossmoor should begin in early fall, and that biologists were on target to complete an environmental impact report for this area by the end of summer.

Median replacement

The Board voted 9-0 to contract with Terra Landscaping to replace median lawn along a stretch of Rossmoor Parkway between Golden Rain Road and Terra California Drive. At a cost of $34,370, approximately 9,650 square feet of lawn would be removed, saving an estimated 265,000 gallons of water per year.

This is the third phase of the project, and previously completed median transformation to more drought resistant, efficient landscape is showing considerable water conservation based on reports from East Bay Municipal Utility District, Landscape Manager John Tawaststjerna told the Board.

“It is a big difference already,” he said, noting that savings in water costs should recoup costs of the work sooner than he initially expected. “The more (work) we do, the faster it’s going to come back.”

The Board also unanimously ratified approval for an agreement with Kroll capped at $70,000 to conduct appraisals ahead of September’s renewal period for 2024 Master Property Insurance that covers GRF and 22 of Rossmoor’s 23 Mutuals.

Pavement, slurry seal work

The Board also unanimously gave the go-ahead for roadway slurry seal and pavement replacement work by Silicon Valley Paving.

A stretch of land along Golden Rain Road scheduled for slurry seal work incurred significant damage during the rains earlier this year, Community Service Director Ann Mottola said. That area now requires full in-depth pavement replacement, which will be requested in next year’s capital budget, Mottola said.

Slurry seal work now will shift to all of Cactus Court. Saklan Indian Drive between Rossmoor Parkway and Entry 13. Terra California Drive between Rossmoor Parkway and Rockview Drive. The cost is $155,000 from the operating budget.

“Slurry seal is really this great barrier of defense, and if we keep up on this, it provides more costly deferred maintenance,” Mottola said.

Full-depth asphalt pavement replacement of Skycrest Drive and Upper Golden Rain Road between Skycrest Drive and entry 15 was set at no more than $655,000, to cover contingency.

MyRossmoor.com task force

The Board by consensus agreed with Communications Director Ann Peterson’s pitch for a five-resident task force of MyRossmoor.com users for input on the long-term plan for the platform, which has blossomed in usage since its launch more than two years ago.

With MyRossmoor.com handling everything from ticket sales, class signups, golf tee-time registration, emailed bulletins, room reservation requests and soon adding Fitness Center class signups, that’s upped the ante for server, security and maintenance needs beyond the initial vision for the site.

“As we’ve added all of these pieces, it’s also gotten very expensive, Peterson said, noting that each new application added to the custom-designed web portal costs $14,000 and annual maintenance is now $16,000. In discussions with General Manager Jeff Matheson, they agreed it’s time to consider a reboot of MyRossmoor.com

“What we want to do is look at some software platforms that essentially do almost the same thing, but in a pre-designed platform,” said Peterson, who noted timing would work well with the planned replacement of Jenark.

“We have this ideal opportunity to sync up the two projects so that they actually communicate,” she added. “Which means that if you’re using the new software to do a work order, we also now have a platform that will easily integrate with that.”

Peterson said she would reach out to the most frequent users of MyRossmoor.com to find five volunteers. They would discuss what they envision for the platform and report to the Planning Committee.

Newspaper political columns

The Board heard the first reading for a proposed policy change that is based on a trial period in which the Rossmoor News political columns rotated with one per week and required fact checking. The revised policy will be voted on at the Aug. 31 Board meeting.

Proposed changes would require fact-checking by political columnists and codify conditions in which columns can be rejected by the designated senior manager. During the trial period, a one-strike policy was narrowed to three specific reasons for outright rejection of a column: plagiarism, misuse of quotes and refusal by the columnist to do the required fact-checking. A fact-checking guide Peterson provided during the trial has helped improve the situation, she said.

Board Vice President Leanna Hamaji commended Peterson for her efforts in a situation that caused rancor when the columns were put on hiatus.

“There is a palpable calmness from the trial period,” Hamaji said. “People have spoken to me about how they’re just so happy the way it’s working. I just want to thank you for putting an amazing amount of effort into a solution that seems to work.”

Compensation costs

With medical coverage costs rising, the Board approved an increase of $122,000 to the 2024 benefits program budget for GRF non-union employees.

Kaiser Permanente, medical service provider for GRF non-union employees who work at least 20 hours a week, has raised its cap for potential employer costs to 25%, after several years of having that at 15%. That’s just a maximum, and Eric Wong, GRF senior manager of Human Resources, said the actual increase for GRF should be 12.71%. While a considerable increase, it’s lower than the 15% that had been budgeted for the past decade.

The Board ratified an increase of $111,000 from the prior year’s budget toward the GRF’s contribution for its health, welfare and pension expenses for its union employees, and a 4.2% increase to base wages for its approximately 85 union employees, aligned with the current collective bargaining agreement.

In other news, the Board unanimously approved changes to the charter of the Aquatics and Fitness Advisory Committee, to allow two more members, with a capacity to have up to nine vote members. Walker also appointed Harriet Crosby to serve as chair of the committee, which was merged earlier this year from two existing advisory committees. Mary Lou Thompson will join the new committee to continue her work with running the Fitness Center’s Wall of Fame.

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