OVA Board Candidates Discuss Berger Center’s Future, Golf Course Viability

Last Updated: 02-27-20

Al Haggerty

            Whether to remodel or replace Berger Center and the viability of Oakmont’s newly acquired golf courses drew the bulk of the attention at a Feb. 26 OVA Board Candidates Forum in Berger Center.

            In stark contrast to recent years when bitter controversies drew standing-room-only crowds, this year’s event drew a sparse crowd, leaving dozens of cookies uneaten during refreshment time at the close of proceedings.

            Answering written questions ranging from the future of the Central Activities Center to the viability of the golf courses in the face of diminishing interest in golf were the four candidates running for re-election: Board President Steve Spanier, Vice President Tom Kendrick and Directors Marianne Neufeld and Jess Marzak.

            The three who draw the most votes will serve two-year terms, with the fourth-place finisher serving the one year left in the two-year term of the late Al Medeiros. The election ends April 6.

            Reflecting on the challenges facing Oakmont over the past two years, Spanier said: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” “We’ve faced fires, power outages, policy disputes, a golf club sale and a homeless encampment. Out of these challenges, we’ve hardened our community against fire, forged new relationships with private companies and public officials, advanced strongly on solar and other resiliency projects, attacked a range of lingering issues and purchased golf club land we should have owned a long time ago. We hope to continue to solve Oakmont’s problems and, where necessary, make lemonade out of lemons.”

            Kendrick said the board’s most important accomplishments over the past two years “have been building trust and respect both within the board and throughout our community and establishing broad support for the board’s decisions. making decisions based on diverse inputs and striving for consensus has resulted in financially responsible outcomes that align with the best long-term interests of Oakmont.”

BERGER FUTURE

            Asked about the future of the Berger Center, Kendrick said “We need more data.” but added,“A case could be made for a new building.” He said that while the space in Berger is not used efficiently, noting the large storage rooms behind the stage, the building is in good shape with recently completed seismic work.

            Spanier said that while he is not predisposed to the need for a new building, the disruption to the community caused by remodeling Berger has to be figured in along with rapidly rising prices. Neufeld said she has “no set desire” for a new building, but noted that the cost of remodeling and a new building might be similar.

            Marzak noted that Berger was built when Oakmont had 1,000 residents, indicating that a new building may be needed. This, he said, leaves the question of what to do with Berger if there’s a new building. It’s “a big puzzle” that needs study, he concluded.

FUTURE OF GOLF

            Teeing up the discussion of the golf courses, Kendrick said, “There’s good news and bad news. The good news is we own two golf courses. The bad news is we own two golf courses.”

            Asked what effect the diminishing popularity of golf might have on the two golf courses, the candidates agreed that OVA control of the properties is the key. Spanier said 90 percent of the reason for the purchase was controlling the land. “If the golf courses aren’t viable, he said, “we go to the next thing that could work. We’ve thought about these things. If 36 holes don’t work, we can do other things.”

            “With opportunity comes risk,” Kendrick said. He said some other local golf courses might close, which could benefit the Oakmont courses. He added that the board did look at alternatives and other options “are pretty good. We’ll benefit wherever we wind up.”

            “We own the property,” Neufeld said. “We can do what we want.” Marzak said OVA has three to five years to figure it out. “We’re in the catbird seat,” he added.

            In his opening statement, Marzak said it’s important “to keep an eye on” the Los Guillicos homeless encampment across Highway 12 from Oakmont and the possibility of  “mission creep.” So far, he said, the residents of the camp appear to be compatible with Oakmont.

            Answering a question from the audience, the candidates speculated on whether some harsh comments on social media about board decisions was at least one reason for the lack of board candidates to challenge the four incumbents. Spanier said that while one can only speculate on the lack of new candidates, social media can have a negative impact. Neufeld and Kendrick agreed that social media has an impact. Some people making up a tiny minority, Kendrick added, like to be on the other side and throw bombs.

            The four agreed on the need for more board candidates and said that Oakmont committees can be a good feeder system. Marzak said he got involved through volunteering and witnessing the vitality of Oakmont residents. Spanier said the compatibility of the current board makes it feel safe to run for the board. Kendrick noted that a lot of former board members serve on committees and said they should be encouraged to run again for the board. He said that while board members are limited to two consecutive two-year terms, they can serve again after leaving the board.

            (To watch a video of the candidates night go to www.Oakmontvillage.com/videos)