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GRF to tap surplus to cover possible Comcast rate hike

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


The GRF Board on Sept. 30 unanimously approved raising its portion of the 2022 monthly coupon to $308.57 per manor, a 5.99% increase over the 2021 amount $291.13.

The Board had to dip deeper into its surplus to hold the coupon increase to under 6%, as it had said it intended to do, after a last-minute curveball by Comcast.

At last month’s budget meeting, the Board and Finance Committee agreed to raise the coupon no more than 6%, using surplus money to cover some of the proposed operating budget. The recommendation anticipated no increase in the $57.25 that residents pay for Comcast as part of their monthly coupon.

In the two weeks since, GRF received notification from Comcast that it intended to raise its 2022 rates by 4%, which is allowed in the contract with GRF. CEO Tim O’Keefe told the Board that the company’s official notice for that raise came three weeks after the mandated Sept. 1 deadline for such notification. O’Keefe said attorneys for GRF and Comcast are still discussing whether Comcast will be allowed to charge the higher rate.

As a result, the Board had to build an extra $2.29 into the budget to cover the possible Comcast increase, but residents won’t see any of that in the coupon they pay next year. That’s because the Board voted to hold down coupon costs using surplus generated from expense savings, higher than expected revenue and funds realized from the forgiveness of the Payroll Protection Program loan.

The Board will allocate $538,463 of surplus funds to cover a Trust Maintenance reserve ($315,000), the Comcast increase ($183,463) and operating expenses ($40,000).

Voting on pickleball matters

In response to questions of whether GRF Board members could cast impartial votes on pickleball issues if they are members of the Pickleball Club, all nine board members declared they either don’t have a conflict, or that they can, and will, vote on pickleball-related matters in a fair and objective way.

Three Board members – Dwight Walker, Leanne Hamaji and Ted Bentley – acknowledged they are members of the Pickleball Club. Two others, Paul Moderacki and Dale Harrington, said they belong to Sustainable Rossmoor, which has weighed in against using the quiet picnic area just east of the Dollar Clubhouse for hosting new pickleball courts.

Those five, along with the other four directors, said during the Sept. 30 meeting that they don’t anticipate recusing themselves from any pickleball-related vote that comes before the GRF Board.

The Board held this discussion on the matter largely in response to what O’Keefe said were “several dozen” Rossmoor residents calling for airing out the issue publicly ahead of several pickleball-related decisions coming up in the coming weeks and months that promise to be controversial.

Board members, led by Bentley and Walker, said they resented the notion they couldn’t be objective with their decisions.

“It’s offensive to me that we’re even going through this,” Bentley said. If Board members were asked to recuse themselves on pickleball issues, he said, “we’ll have to do it for every vote going forward.” Bentley said he golfs in Rossmoor three times a week; would that preclude him from voting on a water reclamation project that would mainly affect the golf course, he asked? “This is not a good place to go down,” he said.

O’Keefe said he’s never been aware of more than one Board member at a time having the same questions about conflict of interest coming up. “No GRF policy applies to this particular scenario,” he said.

Recent precedent, a Board staff report says, has been for members of Rossmoor clubs also serving on the GRF Board to go ahead and vote on important issues. Board members who were also Tennis Club members did not recuse themselves from voting to build the tennis facility, and Golf Club members participated in votes to upgrade the golf operations at Creekside, to cite two examples.

Earlier in the marathon meeting, during the Residents Forum, a handful of speakers addressed the recusal issue specifically. While some said Board members with any ties to the Pickleball Club should recuse themselves from voting, others took the opposite approach. One speaker, Shelley Zell said that if Board members had to recuse themselves for such votes, they couldn’t be members of any club, in theory.

One decision awaiting Board members will be whether to approve building pickleball courts at the Dollar Picnic Grounds. Almost two dozen speakers on Sept. 30 implored the Board not to allow that.

Annette Fairbanks, a six-year Rossmoor resident, said pickleball is important, but that the Dollar parcel isn’t the proper place for it. The Dollar grounds, she said, “are a refuge of peace and quiet,” and that other areas should instead be considered, even if they’re more expensive to build on.

Added resident Liz Ingersoll, “I’m very much for trees and tranquility, and I very much fear both will be lost if we use the Dollar site” for pickleball.

Members of the Pickleball Club who spoke said they are interested in securing a new facility and are not locked into any particular location.

Rossmoor News policy

The Board gave an initial positive review of adjustments to the GRF policy governing what gets into the Rossmoor News each week, which would add a new political column to the paper but limit what an existing column, As You Write It, can include.

Under the revisions, News columns other than those offered by the Democrat and Republican clubs, or by Sustainable Rossmoor through its Earth Matters column, will be limited to topics about Rossmoor-specific life and interests, senior living and personal stories. The exception will be the new column, Alternative Voices, in which any Rossmoor resident can write about any political subject matter. The policy changes will be voted on at the Board’s October meeting.

Initially, Directors Moderacki and Carl Brown were concerned that changes to the Rossmoor News editorial policy would be too limiting for what residents can write, but after discussion, they realized that while adjustments will limit what the existing As You Write It column can include, residents will have more voice through the new political column.

Drought-tolerant median

The Board voted unanimously to spend $41,230 for the conversion of Rossmoor Parkway’s median between Saklan Indian Drive and Terra California Drive (the northernmost intersection) from grass to drought-tolerant landscaping, including Kurapia ground cover plants, plus a 20% contingency.

Rossmoor Landscape Manager Rebecca Pollon told the Board that this conversion will save about 122,500 gallons of irrigation water per year from that used for standard grass and should warrant a rebate from East Bay MUD of between $11,250 and $15,000. The turf replacement should also save about 750 pounds of chemical fertilizer and herbicide annually, Pollon said.

This work is part of a years-long campaign to replace standard grass turf in appropriate areas with more drought-tolerant planting.

This project was originally to have included the stretch of median south from Saklan Indian to Stanley Dollar Drive. But Pollon said this project got smaller, as potential future pickleball plans could affect the median’s fate there. This smaller version of the project, Pollon said, is approximately $16,200 cheaper than the ve