Today I received a letter from Allison Hanson, a member of the San Ramon Aqua Bears Board of Directors. It details the experiences that she had dealing with the new owners of the San Ramon Golf Club, leading up to the closing of the pool less than 48 hours before the Aqua Bears’ season was to begin. I am posting it here at her request.
Clarification: Allison was Not writing on behalf of the Aqua Bears, but as a parent and as a board member with some experience in dealing with the current owner of the property. My apologies for initially giving the wrong information.
Since the last Stay the Course meeting on Sept. 23, I have given a lot of thought in regard to electing a board of San Ramon residents that plans to directly speak/ “negotiate” with the new San Ramon Golf Club owners and discuss options for potential redevelopment of the property. I have come to the conclusion that WE MUST NOT DIRECTLY SPEAK OR NEGOTIATE WITH THEM! I feel strongly about this based on my personal experience with the new owners as a member of the board of the San Ramon Aqua Bears swim team. I would like to share with you how the new owners of the San Ramon Golf Club “negotiate” and “work with the community”.
For those who may not know, the San Ramon Golf Club pool had been home to the Aqua Bears for well over 30 years. This team is a family-centered recreational swim team for approximately 200 children between the ages of 4 through 18, most of whom live in San Ramon.
The San Ramon Golf Course was purchased in December 2015 by Tree City, LLC. According to an article in the East Bay Times dated 6/28/16, Tree City’s principals are listed as developer Michael Schlesinger and Beverly Hills attorney Ron Richards and the purchase price of the golf course was $8 million.
Shortly after the golf course was purchased, there were multiple communications between our Aqua Bears board and Dan Griffin, Director of Golf of SRGC. Mr. Griffin is the employee of Western Golf Properties, the company which has managed other golf courses purchased by Mr. Richards and his frequent business partner Michael Schlesinger…some of which were quickly shuttered after purchase with the intention of developing. It was communicated by Mr. Griffin to the swim team as early as January 2016 that the SRGC pool would still be open in summer 2016 and would continue to be the home of the Aqua Bears.
On Friday, April 29 at 4:30 pm (less than 48 hours before the swim season was to commence), Dan Griffin sent the following email on behalf of the SRGC owners to a majority of our Aqua Bear families who had already paid their $485 pool membership to the golf club (in fact, payments were collected up until a day or two prior to the following email):
Dear San Ramon Golf Club Pool Member,
Unfortunately, the swimming pool at San Ramon Golf Club will not be opening for the 2016 Season. The swimming pool has become not financially viable, resulting in the closure. We apologize for the late notice and will be processing refunds to all pool members shortly. We appreciate your understanding in this matter.
Dan Griffin, PGA Director of Golf
San Ramon Golf Club
To say the least, the team was blindsided and devastated. You can watch this Channel 7 news clip in its entirety to get a sense of the distress that the abrupt closure of the pool brought to many of the children (or copy/paste the following link into your browser): http://abc7news.com/sports/east-bay-pools-closes-door-to-kids-swim-club/1317735/#videoplayer
As our team’s co-presidents were scrambling to deal with the aftermath of the pool closure announcement and ensuring that all swim team families were quickly reimbursed by the golf club, Dan Griffin sent a follow up email on May 3 to team members on behalf of the SRGC owners:
Dear San Ramon Golf Club Pool Member,
While closing the pool was an agonizing decision for ownership, you should be aware that ownership and its representatives had numerous communications with the City and members of the City Council PRIOR to this decision being finalized. Some background on how we got here will help explain our decision.
When ownership bought the golf course, they did so knowing they would have to make a substantial investment in the infrastructure, as no material capital expenses had been allocated to the surrounding area for decades. As part of this vision, they had proposed a very reasonable plan to allow for some housing on a small portion of the golf course. Execution of this plan would provide the resources needed to make the required capital improvements to keep the golf course and the pool financially viable. Unfortunately, after a number of conversations with City Representatives, including some as recently as a few weeks ago, it was clear they did not see any avenues to allow their investment in adding some homes which would have allowed us to make substantial improvements to the golf course, the Clubhouse as well as significant improvements to the entire swim facility. The City rebuffed their proposal plans even though the Bay Area is facing one of the most significant housing crisis in its history, with recent reports indicating that the Bay Area grew by 3.3 million over the past decade but has built housing for only 1 million.
With no prospect to be able to add additional homes that would allow substantial investment in the golf course and the pool, they recognized that they could not continue to keep the pool, and most likely the golf course, open in their current financial condition. On behalf of ownership, we apologize for the significant inconvenience this has caused to the community.
If circumstances change, and ownership sees a path forward towards allowing some homes on the site, we will let you know. Only then will they be able to secure funds that would allow us to re-open the pool, prevent the golf course from closing and make substantial investment into the property.
**Note-as of the last Stay the Course meeting on Sept. 23, the San Ramon City Attorney confirmed to the public that there have been no formal plans submitted to the City of San Ramon by Tree City, LLC to develop a portion of the golf course. It is also worth asking why someone would pay double the initial $4 million asking price for a property which “needed substantial investment in the infrastructure”. **
Thankfully, the co-presidents of our swim team worked tirelessly with San Ramon city officials to find space at a different San Ramon pool which could accommodate our team. Our team was extremely grateful to our city officials who helped prevent the demise of the Aqua Bears and worked with us to find a new home pool.
You should know that on June 22 (7 weeks into our 12-week competitive swim season), Robert Heath, CEO of Western Golf Properties, contacted one of the Aqua Bears’ co-presidents by phone. In that conversation, Mr. Heath notified the Aqua Bears that the SRGC pool would be reopened and he invited the Aqua Bears back to the pool for the 2016 summer season. Mr. Heath also asked if SRGC could post a sign at the pool stating it was still home to the Aqua Bears swim team. During that phone conversation, the Aqua Bears co-president stated that Mr. Heath’s offer would be conveyed to the Aqua Bears Board of Directors, but that it was highly unlikely that the Aqua Bears would return to the SRGC pool since pool rental agreements had already been made with the City of San Ramon. In addition, Mr. Heath was advised in that conversation that it would be inappropriate for San Ramon Golf Club to put a “Home of the Aqua Bears” sign up at the pool, as it was no longer the team’s home.
On the morning of June 23 (unbeknownst to the Aqua Bears board), Western Golf Properties sent out the following inaccurate press release to several local area media outlets:
Date: Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 10:06 AM
Subject: Aqua Bears Returning to San Ramon Golf Club
“San Ramon, CA (6/23/16) – The Aqua Bears will be returning to the San Ramon Golf Club for the remainder of the swim season due primarily to the efforts of local resident and former Police Chief, Scott Holder. Holder was able to convince representatives of the City of San Ramon to meet with the San Ramon Golf Club owners to discuss the potential redevelopment of the Golf Club.
A series of meetings will take place over the next several weeks that will include all stakeholders to discuss the potential redevelopment which would consist of substantial improvements to the existing course, the clubhouse, pool and ensure the long term preservation of the course and many acres of open space.
The operating losses of the pool caused by the shortfall between pool fees and costs, will be absorbed for the remainder of the swim season by the ownership.
Director of Club Marketing
Western Golf Properties
PRIOR to be being contacted by one of the media outlets about the erroneous press release, the Aqua Bears replied to Mr. Heath around noon on June 23 in part with the following email:
Hi Mr. Heath,
Thank you for letting me know that the San Ramon Golf Club pool will be reopened, and for inviting our team back to the pool. I conveyed this information to our Board of Directors and consulted with them regarding our current rental commitments. As I mentioned on the phone, we have already committed to rent City facilities for our remaining 2016 practices and swim meets, and therefore we will not return to the Golf Club pool for our practices and meets this year.
I will let everyone draw their own conclusions regarding the way in which the new San Ramon Golf Club owners have treated and dealt with community members of San Ramon thus far. For me, it is quite disturbing to think that the most vulnerable residents in San Ramon (children as young as 4-5 years of age) may have simply been considered collateral damage in a real estate transaction. Individuals who may view our San Ramon youth as mere pawns in everyday business dealings should not be trusted to sit down in good faith to have an open and honest discussion with ANY residents of our city.
The community of San Ramon needs to stand UNITED against the new owners of the golf course! It is my feeling that our functioning golf course was doomed from the date it was purchased. Proposing that a group of citizens (who may be well-intentioned, but have no legal power to make any decisions on behalf of San Ramon) should negotiate with Tree City, LLC would be a huge mistake. It would be extremely unwise for any individual to meet Mr. Richards and Mr. Schlesinger without legal representation present AND it provides them an opportunity for a public relations narrative that they are in earnest “working with the community.”
A significant contingent of San Ramon and neighboring city residents have indicated that although they would mourn the loss of the green golf course, the potential impact on our schools, traffic, environment and wildlife living on the golf course – and overall quality of life in San Ramon and in the Tri-Valley area – take priority over sanctioning any housing development on the golf course property.
With this in mind, Tree City, LLC needs to hear a resounding NO DIRECT DISCUSSION OR NEGOTIATION with individual residents and be directed to our city officials for submission of their formal plans for the property. We need to stay vigilant that our elected city leaders continue to be supportive of the city’s general plan, which includes keeping the current zoning of the golf course as golf course/agriculture. As difficult as this may be, concerned San Ramon citizens need to wait until the owners make their next move (most likely shuttering the course in January and sitting on their investment for quite a while). Although it is tempting to take ill-advised action on our own, we need to remember Maya Angelou’s sage words:
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
THE NEW OWNERS OF THE SAN RAMON GOLF COURSE HAVE CLEARLY SHOWN US WHO THEY ARE AND THERE IS NO NEED TO BE SHOWN A SECOND TIME!