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Year in Review: Mother Nature stole the show in 2023

By News staff


(Wednesday, December 27, 10 a.m.): Mother Nature – with an apparent assist from climate change – stole the show in Rossmoor in 2023.

After three years in which impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic dominated the flow of events inside the gate, it was the seemingly endless flow of atmospheric river storms that disrupted life in the valley and the surrounding hillsides. And Mother Nature wasted no time getting started even before the clock had struck midnight on the new year.

The impacts of the weather events weren’t limited to a specific storm or type of damage. In addition to overwhelmed storm drains, manor leaks and golf course mudslides, falling trees emerged as the biggest weather-induced safety concern. And the growing toll from climate change-fueled weather disasters across the globe caused a crisis in the property insurance market, which also hit home inside the gate.

Of course, as in years past, there were other moments, spanning a cross-section of topics and issues, that defined and shaped Rossmoor in 2023. But it was the weather – and its myriad effects – that tops our list of the top 10 stories from the year that was.



The impact of extreme weather conditions on the health and stamina of large trees was tragically evident in Rossmoor this year.

The storms that pounded Rossmoor early in the year caused 16 trees in various parts of the community to topple and fall, including one that killed a resident.

Tom Huster, 79, died March 21 when a large eucalyptus tree fell onto the moving car on Stanley Dollar Drive in which he was a passenger during a heavy storm. His wife, who was driving the car, was not seriously injured.

Four months after the last of the storms, on July 24, a woman barely escaped serious injury when a large eucalyptus branch crashed through her windshield as she drove down Stanley Dollar Drive on a 100-degree day, not far from where Huster was killed – likely the result of a phenomenon in which the rapid onset of extreme heat causes large tree limbs to snap.

As a precaution, GRF took out that and four other eucalyptus trees in the same location near the Event Center.


New Year’s weekend ushered in the first in a series of atmospheric rivers that caused severe flooding and landslides throughout Rossmoor.

That first weekend alone brought 200 storm-related calls as staff responded to flooded entries, golf course mudslides and manor leaks.

Rossmoor’s drainage systems were overwhelmed as staff worked feverishly to clear them and shore up hills above homes to prevent landslides.

When the next big atmospheric river hit a few days later, about half of Rossmoor lost power. But residents rallied to prevent more severe flooding, at one point filling more than 1,000 sandbags over a 24-hour period in a corner of the Fitness Center parking lot.

There was no relief for the golf courses, however, as each successive storm drenched the greens and fairways, flooded bunkers, and left Dollar Ranch and Creekside unplayable for weeks. Landslides on holes 5 and 3 of Dollar Ranch Golf Course caused significant damage, and hole 3 had to be shortened for several months before it could be restored.


In August, a panel of insurance experts explained to residents the scope of the insurance challenges facing Rossmoor during a standing-room-only town tall at the Event Center.

The basic problem is that, throughout the world, insurance companies have been stretched to the breaking point by payouts on myriad fires, floods, earthquakes and other disasters. That is driving up insurance costs dramatically or making coverage unavailable altogether.

GRF’s master property insurance policy premiums have increased anywhere from 30% to 50% each year for the past few years and could jump by another 40% to 70% in 2024. At this point, GRF can only get $1.2 billion worth of property insurance, when the full cost to rebuild Rossmoor from the ground up after a 1-in-10,000-year disaster is estimated to be more than $2 billion.

In response, GRF and Mutual leaders are working to make Rossmoor more “insurable.” Mutual Operations Director Jeroen Wright and a team of residents are creating a Firewise USA group in Rossmoor dedicated to wildfire preparedness, and a grant-funded program to create a vegetation fire break around Rossmoor is expected to start soon.


There were leadership changes at the highest levels of GRF management, plus a retooling of job titles and duties and a new layer of mid-level management. This was the first full year for Jeff Matheson as GRF’s general manager, after CEO Tim O’Keefe retired. Matheson, previously director of resident services, brought expertise and familiarity that made the transition smooth.

In April, Ann Mottola became GFR’s director of community services, a title she held in Fairfield and San Bruno. Promoted to new roles/titles were Recreation Manager Kelly Berto as senior manager of resident services and Trust Maintenance Manager Martijn Lemmens as manager of trust assets.

Also in April, Tom Hand became GRF’s chief financial officer, bringing 32 years of experience in finance and accounting. He replaced Joel Lesser, who resigned.

Director of Golf Mark Heptig, while continuing in that role, stepped aside in May as head golf pro and promoted Jacque Vigil, who had been first assistant pro for 3½ years.

In June, Jeroen Wright became director of Mutual Operations when Paul Donner retired after 31 years. Wright previously was vice president and senior branch manager with BrightView Landscape Services.


Rossmoor has been squarely in the middle of the national explosion of the popularity of pickleball, reflected most boldly by the GRF Board’s approval in late June for spending $2.8 million (since bumped up to $2.9 million) to build a new pickleball structure near Dollar Clubhouse that will host six courts and some spectator seating.


The building, with its plans coming after extensive noise testing, will feature flow-through ventilation to allow the movement of air – though not enough movement to affect play. The new building’s wood and stucco accents are designed to blend in visually with the adjacent Event Center building. The structure will also have solar panels overhead.


As of the first week of December, GRF staff were still working with the Walnut Creek Planning Department on project review. Also, construction documents are expected to be submitted to the city before the end of the month. The hope is for construction to begin in late March or early April, with completion in late summer or early fall.


New access-control protocols at the front gate under the DwellingLive system started with a testing phase in February and became permanent in August. This meant guests, contractors, caterers, caregivers and others needed to provide a driver’s license upon initial entry to get a pass printed to be placed on the vehicle dashboard for up to 30 days. This added a level of security for entry to Rossmoor.

The initial rollout saw some glitches, including long lines in lanes 1 and 2. Grumpy drivers and some residents vented frustration at Securitas gate officers over the new process, prompting Public Safety leadership to ask for patience and understanding.

New light-signal posts went up in January at each of the four lanes to make clearer to drivers when they should proceed. But issues with timing led to some gate arms being damaged or destroyed, and resulted in some brief lane closures.

Coming soon will be the ability for representatives of clubs and organizations to manage their guest lists and text a QR code for guests who want access – or bar others to whom they wish to deny access.


The battle for the U.S. Senate seat long occupied by the late Dianne Feinstein got off to an early start, and Rossmoor was a must stop on the campaign trail.

The three leading candidates for the open seat – U.S. Representatives Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and the East Bay’s own Barbara Lee – all gave speeches and answered questions from politically engaged residents who turned out in large numbers. It was a testament to the influence of the Democrats of Rossmoor, who bill themselves as the nation’s largest Democratic Party club, that the three political heavyweights all jumped at the chance to pitch their campaigns inside the gate.

When asked whether he had to be convinced to make a campaign stop in Rossmoor, Schiff, one of the biggest Democratic names in Washington, said, “No, no, I was dying to come here, and I’m having a great time.”

So, apparently, did the 500 or so residents who packed the Event Center to hear him talk that night.


The Rossmoor News political columns went on hiatus in February because editing and fact-checking them diverted staff time needed for higher priorities. The future of the columns went before the GRF Policy Committee, which heard from nearly two dozen residents, many of whom wanted to retain them.

After much debate, the committee recommended rotating the four established columns – Republican Perspective, Progressive View, Earth Matters and Alternative Voices – with one column published each week and requiring that fact-checking sources be provided with each. The Policy Committee also wanted to institute a “one-strike policy,” in which a column would be rejected for containing inaccuracies or lacking fact-checking sources.

After a four-month trial, the GRF Board made the one-column-per-week with fact-checking a permanent policy change. The one-strike policy was adjusted to apply only to plagiarism and inappropriate use of quotes.

In the fall, GRF President Dwight Walker initiated a moratorium on columns and letters regarding the Israel-Hamas War because of the volatile situation and fears and anxiety felt by residents on both sides of the issue.


Food-related topics within and near Rossmoor heated up like a hot skillet. In December, Synergy Restaurant Consultants was approved by the GRF Board to proceed with a study examining whether other food possibilities might be considered along with Creekside Grill.

A Friday frozen meals option for resident pick-up that began in July 2020 ended in June when funding for the Contra Costa County program ran out. Meals on Wheels stepped in later that summer to help fill the breach.

Outside the gate, October saw the closing of Rossmoor Diner after 35 years at Rossmoor Shopping Center. The center’s management served notice to vacate to diner ownership, which operated on a month-to-month basis for the past seven years. The departure prompted an outcry from loyal resident patrons. The site will soon feature The Hangout, which operates a breakfast, brunch and Asian fusion restaurant in Pleasant Hill. Creekside Grill also started serving breakfast a few days a week, from 8:30 to 11:30 Friday through Sunday.

In November, Napa Deli opened at the shopping center, completing a new food court sector that was part of the center’s extensive redevelopment.

In December, Green Fish Seafood Market opened on Olympic Boulevard near Tice Valley Boulevard, adding a nearby option for residents to buy their own fresh fish and produce.


The issue of pedestrian safety once again took center stage in Rossmoor when a 79-year-old woman was struck and injured Feb. 22 in the same area around Tice Creek and Stanley Dollar drives where a series of accidents had previously occurred involving vehicles and pedestrians. On Dec. 5, another resident avoided serious injury after being hit by a vehicle while walking in a crosswalk on Golden Rain Road near Oakmont Way.

The growing safety concerns led to the implementation of the Tice Creek Pedestrian Safety Plan, funded by roughly $100,000 in GRF capital improvement funds. The project included six permanent speed-reading devices; 18 high-visibility crosswalk signs with arrows at nine crosswalks; “shark teeth” yield line markers in front of each crosswalk; and converting the crosswalks on Tice Creek at Singingwood Court and Canyonwood Court to high-visibility “ladder” crosswalks.

Meanwhile, the court case stemming from the 2022 DUI-related death of resident Curtis Gunn, who was walking home with his wife along Tice Creek Drive at the time, finally concluded with Stephen Miller Kiesle, a Rossmoor resident and defrocked Catholic priest, sentenced to six years and eight months in state prison.

News editors and writers Craig Lazzeretti, Ann Peterson, Mike Wood and Sam Richards contributed to this article.