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Forum Oakmont: 12/01/2010

Forum Oakmont – Golf courses under pressure

If you click on Google Earth and type in Oakmont, you will see, from a bird’s eye view, our village embedded in wood-clad hills and mountains, crisscrossed by emerald green ribbons that tie together our community of East and West.

H.N. Berger, the visionary entrepreneur from Southern California and founder of Oakmont, in 1963 called on architect Pat Robertson, who later rose to fame as a premier golf course designer, to turn 250 acres of Oakmont into two spectacular 18-hole courses for the enjoyment and benefit of the entire community.

The City of Santa Rosa, happy to gain a new and substantial tax base, had but one major condition for annexation. Oakmont needed to develop its own wastewater disposal plant. Walter Brelje’s local engineering firm came up with the winning solution. The treated effluents would irrigate the fairways and the greens, as it became one of the first private projects in California to apply this novel system.

Berger made the land available, built the facility, and the complex was incorporated into the City. Through a process that benefited both the developer and the municipality, millions of gallons of treated waste were thus disposed of annually. However, plants do age; they become more expensive to run, and eventually need extensive rehabilitation. Oakmont’s wastewater disposal facility, after almost half a century, has reached this stage.

The City spends $400,000 yearly to manage the works – vastly more than it costs to treat the water at the regional operation near Rohnert Park – and its upgrade would amount to $2 to $3 million over the next 10 years. Earlier this spring, the City decided to close down Oakmont’s plant at the end of the summer season of 2010, and here is where the difficulties begin.

According to the 1963 contract between the City and the developer, the wastewater disposal facility returns to the original donor, heirs or assigns, and the commitment by the municipality to furnish water ceases to exist. Part of the original contract reads: “Developer agrees to continue the availability of such golf course areas or other open areas needed to dispose of reclaimed water...until such time as other means are available for the disposal of said reclaimed waters.”

According to the City Attorney’s office, the contract does not obligate Santa Rosa to continue to provide the Golf Club with complimentary water upon the plant’s closure.

The Oakmont Golf Club disagrees. In a letter to the City Attorney Suzanne Rawlings, OGC counsel Malcolm Manwell writes, “There is no such sunset provision. The contract remains fully capable of performance. One party to an agreement cannot unilaterally stop performance, and then claim the contract ends.”

The Golf Club, although open to the public, is owned by its membership and does not constitute part of the assets of the Oakmont Village Association. Recognizing, however, the overriding importance of the continued viability of the courses to the entire village, the Board of Directors has taken on a supporting role to the Golf Club in its dispute with the City of Santa Rosa.

In an open letter to the community, President Bob Chapman writes: “…the OVA and all of Oakmont have good reason to be more than a concerned bystander. If the golf courses continue to thrive, our community and the City as a whole, reap the benefit of having our homes encompassed by a beautiful expanse of green and landscaped vistas. If the golf courses decline, the resulting downturn will be reflected in the decline of property values of our homes.”

To ensure that this will not come to pass, a high level negotiating team has been established between the OVA and the OGC to continue talking with the City. In a presentation to the Board of Directors of the Oakmont Village Association, Barbara Spangler, board secretary to the Golf Club, called on the City for an “equitable solution,” specifically, the assurance of a “secure and continuing water supply on a cost neutral basis.”

So far the City has offered to pick up the approximately $70,000 annual bill for potable water for one or two years, after which the expense would have to be borne by the Golf Club.

The combined OGC/OVA team is hopeful that it can persuade the City of Santa Rosa of its interpretation of the contract; namely, that the continuing obligation to provide free water for the golf courses is substantiated, all the while reminding their negotiation partner of its interest in Oakmont as a beautiful, voting and tax paying community, and last but not least, the significant cost savings realized by the municipality through the closure of the wastewater treatment plant.

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