The Coastal Post - August 1999

Lagunitas School Flat Broke;
Conflicts And Uncertainties With French Ranch

By Jim Scanlon

A friend asked me indignantly, why the French Ranch was building houses in the middle of the [San Geronimo] Golf Course. What she was referring to is a trench for a water pipeline across the golf course fairway to provide water for luxury homes under construction.

Not surprisingly, the Golf Course raised concerns about the cost of restoring the MMWD water trench across it's fairway. In order to minimize damage to the golf course while constructing two additional trenches across the fairways-one for water for French Ranch Houses, the other for the joint French Ranch/Lagunitas School sewage system-the developer, the contractor and the golf course management agreed to change the route of the pipelines to run outside the approved easement so that they zig-zags in and out.

There was no representative of the School District present and it was not made clear if the changes would cost more and who would pay for the changes. Complicating the matter was that Marin Municipal Water District, refused to alter the course of its pipeline to run outside the approved, recorded easement so that now the sewage lines will criss-cross the domestic water pipeline. There must be special precautions taken whenever a sewage line is near to, or crosses a domestic water line, so this is sure to raise the cost of the project.

The School District is flat broke (one might even use the term bankrupt, as it had to borrow from its deferred maintenance fund to meet its June 30 1999 payroll).

Superintendent Larry Enos wrote to Developer Bruce Burman on July 8 expressing concern about the changes made without the knowledge and participation of the District, asking if there would be any change in the cost of the project and if the developer assumed liability for damages to the golf course. Enos wrote that, "Our current financial situation as a public agency is tenuous at best."

In a letter dated July 9, 1999, Burman acknowledged that no one from the School District was present at the meeting (which presumably took place on July 1, 1999) and that the District's Consultant Jim Walton was out of town. He said he faxed Trustee Reed Stockton who said he did not have authority [to approve]. Subsequently, according to Burman, Walton agreed with the revised waste water trench re]location.

Walton, whose contract with the District has been extended twice, wrote to Enos July 7 that he recommended the change as, "...It will reduce the potential for additional costs associated with damage to golf course turf and irrigation lines, which must be determined in the field." Walton recommended the District approve the changes (already made) and that "once they are completed, the easement will be adjusted and filed with the County Recorder."

Burman, in his letter stated "...French Ranch is not assuming any liability regarding realigning the location of the water pipes" and "it is my understanding that the school budgets contain a contingency fund to repair the Golf Course after the installation of the sewer pipes." This sounds ominous for an indigent school.

If this all seems unbusinesslike, improvised, confusing and arbitrary, it is because it is---and is typical of this entire project, which was supposed to save the school money.

It seems totally beyond reason that a project involving hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds can be operated in such a slipshod, casual manner. It should also be noted that the County of Marin is allowing the school to use a water treatment system that has not been completed and inspected, in direct violation of its own codes, even after having issued a cease and desist order to the school.

The only plausible reason for this lack of oversight by the county is that Supervisor Steve Kinsey has been deeply involved in initiating the partnership with the French Ranch as paid consultant to the school, and later has used his influence as a County Supervisor to protect and facilitate it as the "legal entity" supposedly supervising the project.

Richard Sloan, the sole Trustee who has opposed the joint sewage project with the French Ranch for the past three years because, said originally to the Coastal Post, "I don't know where it will be located, what it will look like, who will run it or how much it will cost. We were repeatedly assured that the total costs of this project were included in the original contract. In any case of further efforts to expend public funds I will do all I can to initiate legal action on behalf of the taxpayers."

Yet to be determined are the costs for monitoring the waste water required by the State, estimated to be $50,000 per year, and the fine for the sewage spill last December.

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