January 9, 2023 at 6:58 PM #17175
The Crestline Soaring Society is considering an important change regarding the lawn by switching to an alternate coverage at the Andy Jackson Airpark and discontinuing its relationship with the 15 acre Cross Country Ranch. Decisions have consequences and I feel I am in a unique position to provide the history of the lawn at the LZ and of our relationship with the Ranch.
In the 1990s we had received the LZ following a hard won battle that had lasted from 1989 until 1993. The LZ was an unimproved dirt plateau of current shape. We had no water and the idea of a lawn was not realistic. The pilots had a far greater sense of ownership of this scrub covered 4 acre LZ than what we see today. The joy the pilots felt reflected not what the LZ looked like but rather having the recent memory of the challenge and victory to actually get an official LZ they could call their own.
I was an officer of the CSS for most of its history from 1979 until my eventual retirement from direct CSS officer duties in 2008. The 1990s saw us build a shade structure, stairs from the parking area to the LZ and a series of small carpeted areas that continually blew around each fall/winter which we gladly repositioned following each wind event.
By the late 90s a local homeless pilot named “Timmy” had taken up residence at the LZ. Timmy was a hard worker and did far more than his share of improvements and general maintenance at the site. He carved out a pathway to the 750 called the “750X” (750 express). One day in Oct 1999 he mentioned to me that he found a small running water
source just off the 750X. I flew over it the next day and after landing I hiked up to evaluate it. Within weeks we had a series of collection buckets installed that fed into several 550 gallon plastic tanks that we rolled up to the 150′ above LZ height to create
some 65 psi pressure and we began digging in a sprinkler system at the LZ.
The initial sprinkler system was controlled by a single 9 volt battery and we had roughly 4 gallons per minute in winter being collected and 2 gallons a minute in summer. An apron of grass around the shade structure took shape in spring of 2000. Being limited to 2 gpm
meant that we were limited to about 20,000 square feet of lawn which was in the shape of a 100′ wide by 200′ long rectangle running along the west side of the LZ.
By summer 2001 it was obvious that the lawn was a huge hit with the pilots, and the idea to expand it became a possibility as we considered tapping into a far more reliable source near the old nudist camp roughly 1 mile east of the LZ. We bought 4000′ of 1.5″ flex hose and soon had our tanks collecting at a rate of over 10 gallons a minute. We extended the length and width of the rectangular lawn until we had 80% of the LZ covered. The system employed over 100 residential type sprinkler heads in 8 runs.
Disaster struck in late October 2003 when the “Old Fire” burned the entire water collection system along with several gliders in and around containers at the LZ. We retreated back to our original water collection and turned off some of the expanded sprinkler areas.
In 2005 we had a new challenge. Developers of the property to our east were seeking a reissuance of a plan to build 160 acres of condos adjacent to the LZ on the east side and were eyeballing the 15 acre property to the north of the LZ. We began a political fight to limit the proximity of these condos on our east side approach airspace, and to help keep our airspace clear a couple of pilots got together to bid on purchasing the 15 acre property on our north side. We did lose the fight to limit condos on the east side but the two local pilots Len Szafaryn and Owen Morse did manage to get the north side acreage.
As I recall they had to provide $55K each and arrange an additional $420K bank loan to finalize the purchase. Their intention was and always has been to provide a temporary protection of losing this property to developers with the hopes that additional members or perhaps the entire CSS or maybe the USHPA would step in the become the permanent owners.
It was obvious that being able to remove the fencing and trees that obstructed the north side approach would mean a far larger effective LZ. The removal of the fence surrounding the Ranch property meant the opportunity for clearing and opening the HG 80’ training hill. And there was the potential for Ranch camping spots. And the new water supply would be sufficient to cover perhaps the entire LZ. This new addition to our landing facility was incorporated as the Cross County Ranch (aka the Ranch).
I was convinced that the best future would be for the CSS to purchase the Ranch so that the pilots had full control of all of it so we would never see an “US vs THEM” situation. Throughout 2007 as CSS President I lobbied to get pledges of donations and proudly presented to the CSS the fact that we had $180K in donations pledged if the CSS would enter into a purchase agreement for the Ranch. I knew that if the CSS was willing to raise dues to something like $150 a year and save $20K or more a year that initial $180K would grow to approach the full purchase price within 10 years which Len and Owen were willing to sell at their cost. Would 2017 be the year we the
CSS fully controlled the entire 29 acre LZ and Ranch combination?
Imagine the CSS owning its own water source for the grass at the LZ, and a rental income on the property of nearing $20K a year, meaning that pretty much all expenses at the LZ would be covered and dues could be perhaps zero cost to the pilots. Or perhaps continue to collect $100 a year and have $30K or more a year to help save other socal flying sites. But I was to be disappointed that the CSS voted to NOT enter a purchase agreement with the Ranch.
They did however agree to test their ability to run the facility by taking on developing the camping at the Ranch and collect camping fees keeping 50% of the fees. It also agreed to pay the Ranch $500 a month for access to resources (including water) to maintain the lawn at the LZ. I really hoped that after a couple of years the CSS would see they could handle the responsibility and then go for the full purchase.
In 2009 we had enough time to see what was happening regarding profit loss at the Ranch. Since early 2006 it turned out, the Ranch had been bleeding at a rate of a bit over $1200 a month with no change in sight. Since the intent of the Ranch owners was to neither profit nor lose, the CSS chose to increase the monthly payment from the CSS from $500 to $1800 and to keep an eye on the Ranch fiscal health. It seemed quite reasonable considering that the amount of water if purchased from the city would likely be well over $2000 a month.
Then in late spring of 2011 a situation arose regarding one of the pilots camping at the Ranch. What started as a generator noise issue elevated to include personal threats with other campers and CSS officers. Since I had been involved with the CSS for many years prior, I too received a call from this disgruntled camper whereby he declared intent to shoot me and my wife Dianne. I gave him directions to our cabin in Big Bear and invited him to go ahead with his threat, that we are unarmed, so he would have little trouble making good on his threat. Understandably, other CSS officers were not as tolerant of the threats.
I received a call one afternoon on a May day in 2011 from the CSS president. She informed me that the decision at the CSS had been made to sever all ties with the Ranch and the running of the camping facility. It would continue monthly payments but not get involved with camping on the property. I knew that all hope for the CSS to actually OWN the Ranch and run a zero cost LZ was now lost. I realized that in time it could grow to become an “US vs THEM” situation. What a shame, the best intentions of Len and Owen to step up to prevent the developers from getting the Ranch might ultimately mean they would be seen as the bad guys. No good deed goes unpunished is the saying. In my entire life I will never know a more classic example of this axiom of misdirected misfortune.
The years 2012 to present show a gradual increase in the beauty of the Ranch. It was mostly hard work led by Owen and assisted with a dedicated parade of pilots we saw the creation of the pond and the double-decker lounging area as well as the pondside beach. The hope was to continue making the LZ a more beautiful flying site.
The summers of 2020 to 2022 were challenging in keeping the LZ lawn lush. A blowout of a pipe leading to the need to refill the pond caused water shortages which were
impossible to compensate for with hard work. Speaking of hard work, I must also mention that a huge asset of the last decade in keeping the lawn green is Tim Ward. Few examples can match his efforts at the CSS. But one man does not a lawn save during
periods of drought.
So here we are, a couple of tough summers behind us, a lawn looking a bit frazzled, payments to keep the Ranch solvent are sitting at roughly $80 a year per pilot based on
membership numbers. As a pilot and user of the LZ ask yourself, Is it worth $80 a year for a lawn and approach airspace and a HG training hill?
I was informed that the current CSS Officers had recently planned on making a final severance of the Ranch decision without consulting the members as a whole. Given that
it is a guarantee that such a choice means the current owners of the Ranch will sell to the highest bidder which is likely someone not associated with flying, it means a property fence will surely be erected along with a high likelihood of trees on the south lawn of the Ranch. And it is a one way decision with no chance to reverse the decision. It would likely mean that the current 80′ HG training hill will be far less useful because only the lowest 20′ height will be able to not include a high risk of the student flying into the new Ranch fencline. So HG students will start perhaps up to the 20′ height at the bottom of the current 80′ hill then progress to the front SW corner of the LZ for the 55′ height it provides. Gracie the tractor will have to be parked at the LZ parking lot as would the SandyVans all with the risk of vandalism.
The history of the CSS is that it is a club that is run by the members for the members. A decision back in the early 80s was that general functioning decisions were handed to a group of officers elected to do so each year to save the majority of members from being bothered by decisions like what color the T shirts should be that year. But major decisions were always the realm of the entire membership. Our negotiations for the new LZ back in 1989 through 1993 is a classic example of ongoing full membership involvement. CSS By-Laws state that financial decisions involving > 20% of CSS funds must be made with input from members. The CSS has spent >50% of its income each year on the relationship with the Ranch, deciding to permanently terminate this relationship easily meets the threshold and intent to include all members in the decision. Plus, educating members on the pros and cons of this choice should also be the goal of our current officers.
Therefore I propose that a membership referendum be scheduled with pros and cons explained by those folks who know the details.January 10, 2023 at 8:09 AM #17176Alan CrouseGeneral Member
Thank you for some of the historical context. I remember and appreciate your efforts to keep the old water source on the hillside running pre-Ranch. You spent countless hours cleaning the weirs and repairing broken pipes, often in dense poison oak, so that the pilots could enjoy the initial grassed area.
Also, as I recall, there were three bidders on the property that is now the Ranch, Len and Owen (thank goodness), the developers (who had already threatened to put up a horse corral where the old training hill was, immediately below the turn for final on hang gliders), and a lady who wanted to use the large flat area north of the LZ to plant an orchard.
If there is a discussion to be had it should be how to thank and buy-out Len and Owen so that the LZ is preserved for the future. They saved the club back in 2005 and have worked with CSS to preserve the approach and build up the Ranch ever since.
AlanJanuary 10, 2023 at 8:51 AM #17177Bille FloydGeneral Member
Not a good response.January 10, 2023 at 8:54 AM #17178Bille FloydGeneral Member
I have bin flying these hills since 1978 ; I want what is best for
the club, and all its members.
The training hill was used
to test-fly my Atos , by Rebar Dan
BilleJanuary 10, 2023 at 12:16 PM #17179Tim WardGeneral Member
As near as I can tell, the alternate plan to continuing the agreement with the Ranch is to use money saved to cover the LZ in artificial turf. There doesn’t seem to be a transition. We drop the agreement first, then as we accumulate cash, put in a potable water tank, solar and batteries, and turf.
I put out feelers for turf quotes on the internet. Oasis Turf and Hardscaping called me back, and I eventually wound up talking to the owner, Nate.
I got him to look at the satellite view on Google maps to get a ballpark estimate on the cost to do the entire LZ. His answer was 1.2 to 1.4 million dollars. I was up front with him that I was looking for feasibility rather than a job that was going to be issued in a couple of weeks. He was pretty upfront that his business model was to do things right rather than necessarily have the lowest bid. So that quote may be more like an upper bound on costs.
I have other feelers out, and I may get other responses. Even at half that quote, that’s a big project.
My view is that for that amount of money, I would far prefer to investigate the club buying the Ranch.
I don’t like the idea of letting all the grass die on the off-chance we could buy used artificial turf and do some kind of half-assed install ourselves for a fraction of the price.
There may be some more optimum use of the club’s money than the status quo. But I’d really like to follow the wingwalker’s rule: “Don’t turn loose of what you have until you have a firm grip on something better.”
Whether it’s optimum or not, the status quo has been do-able for a number of years, and I don’t see why it’s imperative that it be immediately changed.January 10, 2023 at 2:05 PM #17180
Severing the tie with the ranch is a terrible idea. The Ranch would most certainly be sold and the new owners may not be pilot friendly. Any future development on that property could severely limit approaches to the LZ. My opinion is the club should be looking at options to purchase the ranch. The massive expenditure on the shade structure would of made a nice start. If the club can spend that much on a temporary structure It should be able to put a plan together to continue the relationship with the ranch. Len and Owen can not be expected to keep putting funds into losing investment. If dues have to go up so be it.January 10, 2023 at 3:42 PM #17181
Related: Facebook comments.
I’m not on the CSS board, nor aware of their internal discussions, so the following is from an independent perspective…
Members should vote on any significant decision to be made. At the same time, no harm for board members to investigate options before formally presenting them.
Len and Owen are awesome, and should not suffer a financial loss for having acquired the ranch. When the ranch is sold (it will at some point in the future):
- Hopefully the landing approach patterns will be a pre-existing condition/risk that new owners cannot complain about.
- Losing access to the training hill to the NE of the LZ, could be compensated by improving the shape of the SW corner of the LZ, to provide a smoother transition at the top.
- The pond is a fun/party feature, but unrelated to flying.
- Tractor can be stored in a locked shed after sunset to minimize risk of vandalism. Vans (more mobile than the tractor) can be parked at a secure off-site location when not in use.
- For the club to purchase the ranch property, seems like an extreme solution to address moderate problems. The club would also have to pay yearly tax and insurance on the acquired property, in addition to house/building maintenance (likely covered if rented).
Tim got a quote for covering the whole LZ, but we only need to cover the most used portions: Cost-Effective Surfacing of the LZ. Plus it would not last forever (expect 20 years), so best to minimize the area needed. Also, no need to duplicate the appearance/feel of grass and strands (which act like riffles to trap dust/dirt) and instead use smoother outdoor carpeting (needs proper anchoring to the ground, inverted U “staples” will not snag lines) that is easier to clean (with a leaf blower for example).
Happy exploring of options, and hopefully a good plan for the future will be established, which is considerate of past efforts.January 10, 2023 at 4:19 PM #17182
Thought I would chime in as I’m from Santa Barbara I don’t get to fly AJ often but do love coming down and staying and using the pond.
If you look at Matt Tabor and lookout flight park in George, you see that the land and water is very valuable over time. Don’t miss the opportunity to buy the ranch. You pay to camp and party at Lookout flight park, it creates community.
Your kids will hate you for it., if you don’t buy.
Here in SB, we fight like crazy to keep our LZ as construction is always closing in.
It costs $1000 a year to join the club in Montreal Canada
You guys have it easy
Whiskey is for drinking and waters for fightingJanuary 10, 2023 at 5:02 PM #17183
Interestingly, it looks like the two parcels East of AJX sold in Sept 2021 for $4.2m. Maybe the condo plans continuing, or resurrected? Seems unlikely someone sunk $4m without plans to recoup it? Securing the property (and airspace!) to our North might be nice.
North 61 Acres: https://www.redfin.com/CA/Unknown/Unknown-Unknown/home/160981771
South 89 Acres: https://www.redfin.com/CA/Unknown/Unknown-Unknown/home/160981777January 11, 2023 at 8:16 AM #17185
If it’s true that the owners of the ranch did this to help the club and in no way expected to make profits then the club should be able to purchase the ranch cheap at this point. Considering the rental income and the water income the ranch has received over the last 10 years I would guess they have recouped a large portion of their investment. So if their intentions were to save the LZ they should sell the ranch to the club at a price that would make them break even not market value.January 11, 2023 at 11:04 AM #17186Dan DeWeeseGeneral MemberCSS Instructor
CSS / Ranch agreement is going to be renegotiated over the coming weeks with an emphasis on a path to club ownership and subsequently shielding the property from sale for as long as the flying site exists.January 11, 2023 at 3:19 PM #17189Tim WardGeneral Member
Lance: The old development plan for the area east of us expired. I’m sure there’s another plan for developing the property east of the LZ in process. I was told that this development would be less dense than the previous one. That remains to be seen.
In theory, we should be accommodated by any development plans they make. In practice, even if we’re accommodated in the plan, historically sport aviation gets driven out when houses come in.
With access to Ranch airspace, we could probably adapt.January 12, 2023 at 3:18 PM #17191
Maybe the CSS board has always been in favor of having the ranch owned by the CSS.
If you make people fear loosing access to the ranch, then more will be willing to fund its purchase.
Smart.January 12, 2023 at 7:57 PM #17193Jai Pal KhalsaGeneral Member
To Rob, and all the Members of CSS, after reading your post, Rob, and being a member of the CSS Board, I have to ask who is pushing this narrative that CSS is considering “discontinuing its relationship” and “making a final severance of the Ranch decision without consulting the members as a whole”.
That is patently not true. The fact is that the CSS agreement for water and access to XCRanch expired on 12-31-22 and we have been exploring renewal, renegotiation or alternate solutions to benefit the Membership and the club, as fiduciaries of CSS. Member input has been welcomed and is of record. We have fielded multiple complaints about not having grass at the LZ or dead grass, gravel, hard pack and dirt to land on and pack up on. With the recent donation of 2 rolls of artificial grass pilots now have a great place to pack up their gear. Pilots, members and the public really like it.
In times of drought and lack of sufficient water to maintain a natural grass lawn at the LZ, alternatives are being considered that are both environmentally responsible and economically appropriate.
As fiduciaries, the CSS Board always strives to act in the best interests of the Membership. Board Members researched the history, looked at agreements, took to heart your valuable input and perspective about the original intent for CSS to own XCRanch, listened to Members numerous posts and comments calling for CSS to “own the land”. We have come to the same conclusion and support that direction and path to ownership.
We never planned or intended to “sever ties”, “end the relationship”, “lose the flying site”, “block the landing approach” or instigate any other horror being portrayed and promulgated by some. The sky is not falling, rather we are gracefully and joyously descending on our ultralight crafts, and making plans to ever improve our site, facilities, vision and mission long into the future. Times and trends may change but the vision to own XCRanch into perpetuity and preserve our flying site remains. I agree CSS should own and manage AJX and XCRanch in perpetuity, always acting in a positive and fiscally responsible manner.
So, lets continue the vision and reality of free flight and work together to achieve our goals going forward.
Fly high, go far, in peace and happiness.
Humbly and respectfully, Jai Pal S Khalsa, VeepJanuary 13, 2023 at 2:13 PM #17200
Thank you for posting the above detailed message Jai Pal.
I encourage the board to continue sharing their planning and options considered (about any topic) on this forum, and resume posting minutes of all meetings (board and general). Otherwise a portion of the membership will attend meetings but afterwards: Every time info is repeated it gets further from the original, amplifies concerns, feeds rumors. By sharing planning, members will appreciate more the work going on “behind the scenes” and identify areas where they can help. Win-Win on both sides (CSS board and members).
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