For the first time in several years, a County Service Area 36 Advisory Committee met to review tax-funded community recreation programs currently held at Idyllwild’s Town Hall. The meeting took place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7. It was facilitated by Michael Franklin, Riverside County Economic Development Agency CSA project manager.
Four of the five committee members were present — Ginger Dagnall, Dave Hunt, Kathy Wilson and Wendy Read. Absent was John Metroka Jr.
Metroka’s absence prevented the election of officers by the full committee. Attended by 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington and his Legislative Assistant Opal Hellweg, the meeting began with Washington swearing in the new committee members. He then presented a tutorial on the Ralph M. Brown (open government) Act. The 1953 California legislation guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
The CSA 36 Advisory Committee is subject to the Brown Act. Meetings must be open to the public and properly noticed, with agendas published in advance. Publishing meeting agendas in advance ensures the rights of those interested in specific agenda items to have adequate notice and attend, Washington explained.
After Washington’s comments, Franklin guided the committee in how to conduct meetings in compliance with the Brown Act and established county procedures. No budgets were available for the committee to review since management of the recreation program is still in transition from current managers Riverside County Regional Park and Open Space District to EDA.
According to Verne Lauritzen, Washington’s chief of staff, the transition to EDA was originally scheduled to have been completed by July 1, but Lauritzen said more time was required to effectively complete the transition. He said he hoped it could be completed within several months, returning management and control of CSA 36 recreation and street lights to EDA.
In the meantime, Idyllwild CSA 36 recreation management is caught between two masters — not quite here and not quite there. It was unclear at the meeting if Franklin would continue to facilitate at monthly meetings the committee voted to schedule at 5:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month. The committee voted to hold monthly meetings through October, at which time it would assess if it was in the community’s interests to move them to a quarterly schedule or keep them monthly.
In subsequent phone conversations with Scott Bangle, Parks and Open Space District, Bangle said since EDA still administers the CSA fund, it would be Franklin’s meeting to lead and that Bangle’s agency would provide support during the transition.
Hanging over the meeting, and clouding plans for recreation development and programs at Town Hall, was the fact that until Monday, July 11, Town Hall was on the market, listed with Hughes Properties. Lauritzen noted that as long as Town Hall was listed for sale, the county could not invest public money in improvements.
In phone conversations on July 11, Town Hall owner Jay Johnson stated he had canceled the listing, effective on July 11, and that, at least at this time, “there [continues to be] an active rental agreement with the county.” Bangle noted the agreement requires the county to pay the Johnsons one dollar a month to lease the facility for recreation programs and activities.
Johnson said he couldn’t guarantee Town Hall might not be listed for sale in the future. He remarked that further talks with county officials would impact his family’s decision to continue the existing month-to-month lease or re-list the building for sale. He stressed the future of the building is not solely his to decide — that other Johnson family members have legal interests in the property and must agree to the building’s future.
If Town Hall were to be sold before the Idyllwild Community Center’s second phase (1.1) is completed, some two years down the line, the county would have to find alternate locations to stage CSA 36 recreation, according to Lauritzen.
He also noted that re-listing the building for sale would likely stop any further county investment in permanent improvements, including the creation of pickleball courts behind Town Hall, a subject of interest at the July 7 meeting.
Pickleball advocate Barry Wallace made a presentation to the committee, recalling that courts in use on the ICC site are filled on weekends and that there is a list of 70 to 80 players, young and old, who use the courts. “It’s the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. and can be played by everyone,” said Wallace. “We’re trying to create a multi-use surface and facility that can be used by people of all ages.”
He explained that with the ICC first-phase groundbreaking scheduled for September this year, existing Idyllwild pickleball courts would disappear. Wallace presented a budget of $16,000 to complete hard surface courts at Town Hall that could also be used for other purposes. But unless the county and the Johnson family can agree on leasing Town Hall for the next two years, pickleball’s future in Idyllwild, as part of CSA 36 recreation, is cloudy.
Bob Lewis, Town Hall recreation coordinator, presented a report to the committee and audience of current recreation programs and activities. He endorsed the pickleball proposal noting that it would have no negative impact on existing programs, and would likely bring more people to the Town Hall facility and increase participation in CSA 36 recreation.
Chris Singer, longtime public recreation advocate, said pickelball would appeal to anyone over age 12 and that she would work to help finance court installation. In response to questions from the committee about current CSA 36 finances, Franklin recommended placing a revenue and expense report on the next meeting agenda, as well as a discussion of repairing and/or replacing the outdoor stage at Town Hall. He also said minutes of the July 7 meeting would be placed on Washington’s website.
The next CSA Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11.