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Equestrian Center has Potential, But Lacks Details

I say kudos to the equestrian supporters for putting together a good presentation for taking an idea and turning it into a presentation for what life in Oakley could be like with an equestrian center and how they would like to see placed within the City limits  of Oakley. In reviewing the presentation, it’s a solid first start and could be a solid community addition and benefit if done correctly and without city involvement or funding.

Aside from the Randy Pope potential Brown Act Violation (see below), the feedback I’ve received was that the meeting was very positive and productive as a very first step. Still, there is a lot of work to be done and it’s years away from becoming a reality.

As great as the idea sounds and, there are some major holes in the presentation that need to be addressed before unwavering support should be given as this moves forward–which I don’t know how Randy Pope could give it an automatic “yes vote” as he stated during the meeting. That is incredibility stupid and reckless because “a plan” doesn’t make something a good plan–instead, it’s the details and proposal that should decide a “yes” or “no” vote.

For example, there was no cost estimate presented on building the facility or annual upkeep of a facility—that should have been included in the presentation. There was no timeline of implementation of when they would like to build it. What type of liability will the facility have?  Who would run the facility?

The truth is, this facility or future upkeep should not be funded by the City of Oakley nor should staff spend time on it other than a guide. This needs to be a community driven project in the form of a non-profit. The funds should come elsewhere from fundraising and investors—any attempt of a parcel tax or bond, forget about it.

Still, those lack of details have me a bit skeptical.

For instance, in the Contra Costa Times article, Bethe Mounice mentioned the Brazos County facility in Texas and how great it was after persuading residents to pass a bond $18.5 million bond in 2000. Looking into that with a quick Google search, I see that facility costs roughly $15.6 million (in Texas might I remind you) and was five-years in the making. It opened in November 2007.

In the Green Eagle Newspaper (Byran-College Station Texas), they reported in March of 2012, the facility was losing money to the tone of $1.8 million. The caveat here was the facility was never intended to make money itself—rather, they wanted to offset any lost revenue by raising revenue for the rest of the area.

Basically, this facility in Oakley could be a similar issue where it’s a leap of faith hoping loses of the facility are offset with tax dollars being spent at restaurants, hotels, and gas stations–there is no guarantee these visitors stay in Oakley, but they could choose Brentwood or Antioch to dine and shop.

The next question, why was no timeline presented? Typically these types of presentation have action item list and a tentative timeline for action—this was missed.  By putting it out there, it could have jump started the process by people seeing the plan and wanting to get involved.

Location was not included, where do they want to put the facility? What property would be on their “wish list” and how will the land be acquired? A location is not even being presented or ideas suggested at this time—personally, I say approach Ironhouse Sanitary District with all their excessive land which could provide a win-win for Ironhouse ratepayers and equestrian folks. It may offer a higher return than this so called solar investment they keep touting.

Does it have to be Oakley? Why not another City such as Knightsen or Byron? It may be cheaper,  or save a few bucks and headaches and improve a facility already built to build up some of the organizations credibility? All options should be weighted.

These questions are not meant to degrade PACE because they are on the right track, but these questions will be popping up in the future while the debate should be honest–I actually want them to have solid answers because this is a good idea. This is a huge undertaking and will be a lot of work to raise funds.

With a family who have been farmers in Oakley/Knightsen for 30+ years, I get what these folks are wanting to accomplish and I say go for it—but again, as a non-profit. I would hope they are supported and this could be an honest effort by all parties.

Here are some additional thoughts to consider as this goes forward.

  • Who is PACE (Promoting Agricultural Community & Equestrian)? I see Nancy D’Cruz is involved. But who else is working towards this goal?  If this is going to come forward any further, those folks should be identified in the name of transparency.
  • The Group touts the National FFA Organization and 4-H, but are these groups willing to partner and give letters of support and willingness to participate? Is there a potential list from families willing to commit/petition for a reservation for a spot to place animals? What is the 4-H participation level in Oakley?
  • The group wants to cite a study that highlights a 2011 analysis of the economic impact that a proposed equestrian park would have on Sonoma County, which estimated that the complex could generate anywhere from $65 million to $300 in revenue. My first though is great, why do they need the city and why wouldn’t someone want to privately fund this facility for that revenue themselves?  If the numbers are that amazing, why hasn’t this been created in East County before and turned a profit in the past? Why are there so few centers in the country?  The reality is, we are not Sonoma, what is a legitimate figure for East County? Until the rhetoric is turned from a National example, it needs to be focused on Oakley and/or East County.
  • When I asked City Manager Bryan Montgomery how many horses were actually in Oakley, he stated there were far less than before. He estimated less than 50.  Taking that number, you can assume a home likely has 2-horses or more so you can safely estimate 25-homes or less within City limits have a horse.  That highlights Oakley may not have a pressing need.  I’d encourage PACE to look into horse permits of all cities in East County and pull those figures into a chart/graph.
  • When I asked City Manager Bryan Montgomery for an estimate of how many attended the presentation were from Oakley, he estimated by glancing at the sign-in sheet, around 60% (rough estimate).  The question then becomes is this Oakley resident’s pushing this facility or is it equestrian lovers from the area?
  • Why not use the PACE to improve the facility at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds in Antioch?  Or re-invent the Knightsen center that went under? This could be used as a stepping stone to build credibility when seeking donors and partners. Invest in existing facilities and make those better to show the potential—or maybe those are the best solution and it hasn’t been explored yet.
  • The City basically gave HALO a free building for a year because it was a great cause. That organization then decided to screw up a good thing and now they are out of the building. Take the HALO situation and now multiply the dollar signs  by a much larger investment and that’s a leap of faith with an unproven group for what should be a multi-million dollar project.
  • I’ll use the phrase potential which is polite at this point, but it appears a potential Brown Act Violation occurred on Tuesday when Randy Pope basically got up and told the group you could count on his vote while Mayor Kevin Romick and Councilwoman Diane Burgis were also in attendance—basically telling everyone how he would vote. The guy who would most want to help actually hurt the group and would now have to recuse himself from this item going forward. If reported, the FPPC would likely fine Councilman Pope.

Personalities set aside, this should be further explored to see if it’s feasible and self-sustaining. It’s a great idea in theory and it makes sense in the talking stages, but the devil is always in the details and that is when reality hits on whether to scale down or move onto something else.

The idea has been presented and now it’s time to do the hard work to push it forward or this idea will die because no one will do the heavy lifting for PACE unless its PACE themselves doing it.  For the sake of Oakley, lets hope this works out because I would support it should the numbers work out in the community’s favor.

It could be a win for all.

The following is a copy of their presentation (minus the intro page). Simply click to enlarge the slide.

equestrian1

This is a cherry picked paragraph out of a chapter that talks about a lot of things. To read and review the General Plan, click here.

equestrian2

equestrian3

equestrian9

equestrian5

I must say, this is a very solid slide and excites me.  This is how you sell it to the community for non-horse people.  If PACE can somehow tie estimated revenue  from these types of events listed, I think it makes a solid argument all by itself. It would be hard to say no.

equestrian6

equestrian10

equestrian11

Some facts and figures from other local events in Sacramento, Fresno would be nice as a reference point. Attendance of events and revenue for the last five years would be even better to further back up the claims made in the above statements.

equestrian12

equestrian13

Why North Carolina, which is on the other side of the country, is being included is odd. How this could be applied to Oakley/East County could make for an interesting discussion as the potential of this facility is further discussed in the future.

equestrian15

equestrian16

I disagree with the final slide, the City of Oakley should only be informed of progress by the group as it moves forward. There should not be a partnership and an action committee should be the non-profit board and/or volunteers.   This should have all been laid out in this presentation to be perfectly honest.

Going forward, I wish PACE luck in this drive to getting a facility going.  I hope they are successful as everyone could benefit from this type of facility if the details work out to the best interest of the community.

The hype and excitement has now been built up, let’s hope there is no giant letdown.

On a side note:

I had asked if the meeting would be recorded. City Manager Bryan Montgomery informed me they would record it. Upon request of the meeting recording, I was informed they taped some of it, but due to bad audio and not being able to pick up the audience, they stopped record.

I then asked to see what they did record. Montgomery then informed me that “It’s not worth the Staff time to download it and it wouldn’t shown you much anyway.”

Nice response huh?

Source:
Contra Costa Times

PACEOAKLEY FACEBOOK

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8 Responses »

  1. Given the cast of characters behind the scenes on this equestrian plan, I am surprised you are being so welcoming to it and offering constructive criticism to the project as opposed to tearing it down completely. Personally, I think it’s a waste of time and money. The facility mentioned by the Times is losing money which says all you need to know about these centers. If they want to do it, find investors or fundraise and leave the city and our tax dollars out of it.

    As for Montgomerys response, what a jerk! Nothing is a waste of time when a resident asks for it.

  2. And Randy Pope has another strike against him. He should have known better before speaking and talking about his future votes. I am tempted to turn him in myself to the FPPC.

  3. If I was Oakley, I wouldn’t support this. Antioch is having a hard time at the fairgrounds and many facilities have closed over the years. It’s nice as a hobby, but the economic figures are a stretch. What a complete waste of the City of Oakley’s time. I agree with Burkholder, who the heck are the players behind this bringing this idea to the public without a solid proposal?

    • I need to point out that the Fairgrounds is State property, not City of Antioch. When law enforcement is needed, CoCo Sheriff responds NOT Antioch PD. Funds for the fairgrounds comes from horse racing, fair and rentals.

  4. Nice Article Mike! It is nice to see a positive idea being floated out there, but in my opinion this is a private business adventure and tax payer dollars or land should not be involved.

  5. Having been involved in horse shows, rodeo, FFA, 4H and fairs the majority of my life, I do know how much money is involved. And its a ton of money. I would also bet that there are a lot more horses than 50 in this town (I know it was off the top of his head). I easily came up with 11 horses, 2 mules and 4 donkeys within 1/2 mile of my home. But lets also look at the surrounding areas. Hell, one of the top Angus breeders in the nation lives in Brentwood and has his cattle pastured within the Oakley City limits!!!! And I do know that he shows his cattle!

    Oakley is in desperate need of building a sales tax base. Antioch and Brentwood have done an outstanding job in luring retail to their city. There isn’t anything left for Oakley, except maybe a Walmart. But if you bring up a Walmart people go sideways. So Oakley has to go a different direction to bring businesses to the City, thinking outside the box! Could something like this be the answer? Don’t know but it does deserve a serious study. There are lots of questions that need to be researched and answered. But if it came to a vote to spend millions on a library or millions on an event venue, I would go with the one that would bring sales tax revenue and possibly other businesses to town. Hopefully a Tractor Supply!

    • I think you raise a nice point, instead of focusing on horses, the group could include all types of animals and gather a count to make more of an impact for their next presentation. It would also be interesting to see what this facility could bring in from Brentwood or surrounding areas because that is “their money” coming to Oakley.

      Maybe instead of this wine and delta fix everyone is on, we can simply go back to a farming community and sell it as one. I am all for the discussion and finding answers to my questions and questions of many others. The idea shouldn’t die simply because of personality conflicts.

  6. Hey I just read the side note about Mr. Montgomery. sorry but since the city staff works for US and a member of the public asked for the recording, it should be made available. No questions asked. Just another example of why we need to get rid of him.

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