By Chuck Sonntag
Regards the title of this short note, may it not be a “Paine” for you to read. Instead, may it put into words some of my thoughts and conclusions regarding our wonderful community and its current issues for your consideration. Please do not be offended by what is catalogued here; we all have opinions and thoughts, and many will differ from my take on the core of “Common Cents.”
My thoughts are summarized below, not in perhaps, the best organized treatise; but I think the points are clear. As most of you know, there has been much talk regarding our community focused on the sticking point of “what to do with the golf course, if anything.” Over the past year some conversations and writings on the subject have come with rancor and suspicion; some with calm and prudent thought; some with intelligent and excellent insight; and some with a lack substance composed mostly of emotion. Let me talk a path in words (with options) that I think supports a rational tract that might work for our community.
I attended most of the meetings, the open discussions, and I read and digested as best possible all the volleys of e-mails and blogs regarding our ArrowCreek community in terms of the golf situation over the last year or so. I have finally formed at least a qualitative opinion of what might be prudent path(s) for our community to follow. I summarize that and the suggested options as best I can below. Again, this is mostly qualitative. Quantitative numbers in round terms are included, but they are just estimates for talking points based on information provided to date as I remember it, and a rough basis for thought and future direction and action. This is a “strawman” for initial discussion and it welcomes constructive criticism, correction, and alternate ideas. Please shoot arrows but be sure of your targets and your aim.
FIRST POINT: I believe it is axiomatic that “The green lands upon which the current ArrowCreek golf courses lie must stay green.” A corollary to this is: “The green lands must not be allowed to go brown back to an uncontrolled native state.” Why should this be “ground truth” (no pun intended) for us? Studies at our meetings have shown there is a high cost to install and/or maintain a controlled “brown” situation on the current green spaces; minimum cost to do it right would be anywhere from $500K to $3M dollars to restructure the green areas to natural plantings without noxious weeds and such. And guess what, if the green goes brown per this cost, it will then have to be maintained by someone for fire standards, and that cost money, lots of it. Keeping it green costs lots of money too, but safety and protection come with this cost. Not to mention the contiguous beauty of homes integrated with flowing green belts that are a hallmark of our community.
What will have been done to us if we go brown? We have removed the best fire protection we have today, our green space and the watering systems that could and would help prevent mass destruction of ArrowCreek by a raging wind-blown fire. In my opinion it’s not if a big wind-blown fire will hit us, it’s only when it will happen. Next time you have a chance take a look at the very large map that was posted on the wall at the last two meetings. Almost all the homes are protected by grass in some context, except for the periphery or perimeter of our community. Granted, much of the golf course acreage is native vegetation, but the dispersed green elements (130 to 160 acres, approx.) would be vital to fire protection by sectioning the community internally. One lady who lived at Caughlin Ranch declared at one of our meetings that the only thing that stopped their bad fire a few years ago was the property grass lines (and the brave firefighting folks of course). Retaining the green and the watering ability would then allow the firefighters to employ “concentration of force” to stop the fire at the community boundaries, with only lesser support required at internal “hot spots” of native vegetation. In most cases those “hot spots” would burn themselves out because of isolation provided by the grass boundaries of the golf course lands (and private lawns) and our homes should be spared. Our stone roofs would stave off home ignition by wind blown sparks from the “hot spots.”
A “do nothing” back to nature brown reversion of the golf course to desert environment would also require even more extensive fire protection dollars, and would be even riskier form a safety standpoint. This would invite a greater probability of destruction since the green lands that would then go to brown interlace our entire community and as such they would provide quicker “feed paths” for flames and such.
SECOND POINT: I believe that it is axiomatic that “If the green goes brown it will economically degrade home values.” Some will disagree, but to me the group of realtors made this clear, both during and after the last meeting on home values. It’s just “common sense” that our “common cents” would be affected. Other developments that have gone by the wayside have shown this trend as well, we have seen reports. The realtors said and implied many things; they also said “they would deal with whatever happens to the golf course.” But even without their input (by the way, they were more open about their feelings in side discussions regarding “keeping the green” after the meeting), a competent person knows that if the green goes to brown the “community look” will be degraded and home values will suffer. I would guess at least 10-20% in value. The “time to sale” of all homes, not just the ones on the golf course(s), will for sure increase. Note from the “big map” (again, posted on the wall at our informational meetings) that most homes are either on the golf course(s) or have a view of the golf course(s) in some capacity from the home; or during the process of “coming and going” to their residences, owners see the green. Would you rather see manicured healthy green spaces linking the homes, or would you prefer to view additional volatile desert sagebrush potentially going wild among our homes, and of course with the additional reptiles and other animals that inhabit said desert environs. I believe we have a nice balance today and for several reasons that should be maintained.
THIRD POINT: I believe it is axiomatic that “The best and most economical way for the land to stay green is for the Friends of ArrowCreek (FOA) to be successful with the golf course by building memberships and having financial success.” They then continue to be an integral and good focus point and asset and valued entity of our community providing services that have been more substantially subscribed to as of late, but as such they would continue to be separate from the HOA. Thus the HOA and its members would have little financial obligation to the Club and the FOA (or other perhaps future owner(s)). The FOA are then responsible for the fire mitigation to protect us. Golf can continue for those interested, including members outside of the community, who would help pay the bucks to keep us green. The golfers and club members would then more directly pay for what they use for the benefits garnered. I so strongly believe that this is a viable path that I signed up for a golf membership to support this path even though I only play one round a year with my brothers. I am basically helping in a small way to fund their continuance for what I feel is the direct good of the community.
FOURTH POINT: “The ‘second best’ and less economical way (from a resident standpoint) for the land to stay green is for the people of ArrowCreek to acquire the golf course and club for the community.” This path would not really be a bad thing, despite vocal elements of rancor I have witnessed by a small group of homeowners. Yes, it would cost each of us additional fees; but we would own the golf lands and the clubhouse (important and very useful as a potential community focus), and we would better control the internal destiny and manageability of our community. It is here by adapting “common sense” to proceed in this vein we would each need to contribute the “common cents” to keep our community green–and also more united with a “physical club focus” available to all for melding our resident attributes. In this scenario, every homeowner would be a social member of the club and share in all its facilities except for actual golf on the links, for which additional fees would be charged for each use. The restaurant, the bar, the availability of meeting rooms, the center for gathering and all events-each homeowner would be part of the club family. So if we do this, how much would this cost each of us?
This is hypothetical, but a targeted guess. Again, don’t hold me to the quantitative details. The HOA would purchase the golf course and club from the FOA for $3M (including back bills). The $3M is a targeted guess, it may be more or it may be less. The HOA would obtain an 80% 20 year mortgage at 6%. The down payment would come from our HOA reserve fund, which could then be replenished over time by a very slight fee increase ($5/month over 10 years), or by a “one time” special assessment of $600 from each household. The resulting mortgage payment would be $17,194 per month, that divided by 1024 homes (or lots) would mean a monthly fee increase added to the $218 that most of us now pay, of just $17 per month. So for a small down payment outlay in some form ($600) and less than the cost of a loaded medium pizza from Round Table per month ($17), our community can acquire the 500 plus acres of the golf course and the clubhouse and all that comes with it. Now once we have it, we must maintain it. Various sources indicate that before the current surge in paid golf membership (from 180 members to 500 or so members) the golf course was losing just under $1M a year. The increase in golf paid memberships, of several varieties, should mitigate this loss of $1M to some degree. But let’s assume an annual loss of $1M including the golf club & course operations and maintenance of all the club lands, including fire mitigation. So the residents of the community would then need to assume this loss over the course of each year. This would add approximately $81 per month to our current $218 per month assessment. Thus, buying and maintaining the golf course and keeping ArrowCreek green would cost every homeowner about $98 more a month. The current cost of a social membership is $95 a month. So for essentially the same price as a current social membership every member of ArrowCreek would have a social membership and access to the club and its resources, with the option to play golf for additional fees if desired. Non-resident golf members would have access only to the club and the golf courses and not the HOA resident centers or other HOA entities. They would have to “check in” at the gate every time they entered ArrowCreek and would be on a special list to expedite entrance.
FIFTH POINT: “At this time it appears the best economical use for keeping ArrowCreek green is to retain its use as a golf facility and also make the club structural facilities the social center of the community.” Why do I make this statement? Other avenues were explored in our meetings. There was talk of making the green into parkland. It was shown that this is not a practical solution. The park would be most likely be almost equally expensive to maintain as the current golf course; expensive new infrastructure would need to be added; and we would be required to open up our community and provide access to all non-residents if we desired outside funding support, which would probably be necessary. The lady who is in charge of local Washoe parks described to us at one of our meetings how their conversion of another golf course to parkland was ongoing and how it was progressing; that it was expensive and complex; that it had a long timeline to completion; and that one of the requirements associated with that conversion was a stipulation that the converted golf course must have some money-making activities to support its existence. If we were to acquire the Club facilities and 500 plus acres and retain it as a golf course concurrent with a community social center, then there is already an income stream available to us, one much better than the archery range mentioned for the other park. This would mitigate the overall loss at first, and we could then build upon our acquisition for additional non-profit income venues centered on our acquisition (more weddings, perhaps an outdoor concert venue like Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga, CA., cross country ski runs in winter along the links, etc.).
We really do not have a resident “social center” in ArrowCreek. I think events over the past year show that we need one. The HOA Recreation Center is used by individuals and families, but it is not normally used as a “come together” focus point except for small personal groups, and its facilities are limited. The acquisition of the Club would provide such a community focus for socializing, distinct from the golf aspect. Some people think of the current club as only a “haven for the older folks” who only play a golf round then hang out after the golf round to have a liquid round. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a young generation (20’s, 30’s) that is making the club their home under the new ownership. I met a young lady, I’ll call her “J”, who was “bubbling over” about the club and its current amenities. She has two young children and she currently takes advantage of the “licensed” childcare service at least two days a week ($12 first child, $8 second child total, meals included) to allow her time to socialize at the club facility with her friends. One of them is a young Tesla manager at some level. Did you know that this childcare service is available? That there is a young generation interested in our club and not “put off” by the costs of current membership that they actually see as a bargain?
It should be added here as a footnote that we have discussed at our meetings the potential of re-zoning the 500 plus golf property acres for housing or some other purpose. It was evident at our HOA meetings that this path could not be legally followed under current and strict zoning provisions. It’s just not going to happen in our lifetimes unless someone buys all the homes on ArrowCreek and the golf courses, and has the connections, the legal OK, and a zillion dollars to do a desired conversion.
SIXTH POINT: “Let the Board of Directors and the committee entities do their job as they see fit-we elected them to represent us.” More specifically, let them work the golf course issue with a free hand and transparently report their findings. They were elected to watch over our community and its support functions/assets with the best interest of all the homeowners being their driving force (no pun intended). They are not paid for their time. Constructive comment and criticism and questioning from the homeowners at meetings is solidly valid; but disrespect and rancor is not. Remember that issues like the golf course (acquisition or not) can only be eventually decided by a vote of all the homeowners (property owners).
The golf course issue is an internal matter and we should keep it internal. There is no need for demonstrations at the front gate (as mentioned by some), the generation of “cartoons” mocking our elected board, or extensive publicity beyond ArrowCreek. This will dust our community with negativism and an unneeded blend of uncertainty. Acts such as this might make the front page of the Reno Gazette-this in turn would attach a long-lasting stigma to our community and a loss in property valuation for sure. The correct path is for the board, its committees, and the homeowners to support valid multi-directional communication of valid facts and recommendations to all residents as said facts and recommendations are determined. Non-disclosure Board or Board member meetings, separate discussions, and back room politics are a part of life in all mechanisms of our society. As long as the facts of all potential paths and recommendations regarding the golf issue are eventually presented clearly and honestly to all homeowners, then should there be a path(s) to take that makes sense, remember that only we the homeowners can approve or disapprove board recommendations of this type and magnitude. We the residents should check all facts for accuracy; question any conclusions by the HOA board; and quit roasting them as they try to do their job. I personally think they are trying to do a good job and appear to be taking a reasonable path on our behalf.
SEVENTH POINT: “Alternate Compromise Solution” One other path to consider to avoid going “brown” is for the HOA to provide water subsidy dollars, along with some grounds maintenance support from existing staff, to the owners of the golf course in exchange for club access for dining and meetings, etc., for all HOA members. This would preserve a continued legal separation of the HOA and the FOA (or other owners). This would keep the “green” and avoid the “brown” and all the issues including the “less fire protection position” that “going brown” brings. If you want to golf you would still have to pay for that privilege, but perhaps that cost could be reduced a bit for residents. More exploration of this option would be needed.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS: “Green Is Keen, Brown’s A Frown” By some method or path or utilization/marshalling of resources, it is imperative to keep the current golf course lands green and not let them go brown. There are reasons of safety, beauty, and property value. This may be possible by doing nothing. Let’s hope the golf club gets enough new members to break even and survive independently. If that cannot be the case over time, evaluate the possibility of subsidizing the green spaces with funded water and maintenance support. If all else fails, acquire the golf course lands, utilize the club as a community focus by including every homeowner as a social member, build up the paying golf segment as best possible to include outside users, and then subsidize the purchase via “common cents” as necessary on a non-profit basis.