Bear Ranch proposals get key review by county

SAN MARTIN
– The decision over what project should dominate the most
developable portion of the county’s new parkland at Bear Ranch – a
golf course, events center and campground or a combination approach
– will get a review before a key county supervisors’ committee this
week that could potentially forge
what direction the county will take with its formal draft master
plan for the park.
SAN MARTIN – The decision over what project should dominate the most developable portion of the county’s new parkland at Bear Ranch – a golf course, events center and campground or a combination approach – will get a review before a key county supervisors’ committee this week that could potentially forge what direction the county will take with its formal draft master plan for the park.

District 1 County Supervisor Don Gage’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation committee delayed a decision on what should happen in the 300-acre “western flat” area near San Martin Avenue last summer after Gage asked for more comprehensive financial information on competing proposals for an 18-hole golf course and a 500-person events center and campground. He also suggested analysis of a combination appoach.

The county Parks Department since has returned with a new economic analysis of the proposals. And Gage said he should have enough data to make a recommendation when the committee takes up the matter again Thursday – although he’s still fairly tight-lipped on what direction he’s leaning.

“I’ve met with parks staff and asked them a few more questions, and they’re going to get me some more definitive answers,” Gage said Tuesday. “I’m waiting for Thursday because they’re going to come back with a little more specific information.”

Gage said he’d weigh several factors when making a recommendation on the western flat.

“The decision for me is do we provide a variety of activities there, can it actually support itself through fees and what will serve the greatest number of population,” he said.

But he noted revenues will be important in any decision, especially with a looming state budget defecit that will likely translate into more local-government budget woes – and cuts to county services.

The economic analysis by Oakland-based Strong Associates suggests that all three projects could create millions in net revenues for the county over time, according to a county staff report. Each scenario assumes that construction is financed with tax-exempt bonds for a term of 31 years, with the county bearing the cost of debt service.

An alternative featuring a 500-person events pavillion and a 50- to 100-site recreational vehicle campground on the western flat would generate an estimated $5 million in net revenue for the county over 31 years and constitute a nearly 33 percent return on an initial capital investment of $4.5 million. That proposal would take up 25 to 50 acres of the western flat.

A second option featuring an 18-hole golf course with a small clubhouse, grill and pro shop would generate $11 million in net revenue over the three decades and constitute a roughly 16 percent return on an initial capital investment of $14.75 million. That proposal would take between 110 and 150 acres of the western flat.

The new third option combining the golf course and a 200-person events pavillion is estimated to generate over $14 million in net revenue over the same time period, constituting a 17.2 percent return on an initial capital investment of $17.45 million.

All three proposals would also include an equestrian center, facilities for picknicking, fishing, off-leash dogs, historical interpretation, environmental education and habitat restoration, although the combination approach would have smaller group picknicking areas than the others.

“Based on preliminary market research, the study finds all three scenarios have the potential to provide a good to substantial return on investment and generate positive revenue for the county over the life of the project …” the staff report says. “Each alternative is potentially an attractive long-range scenario that would meet a recreational need in the county and assist in offsetting other recreational uses that do not generate positive revenue.”

But the staff report cautions that the numbers should be considered as preliminary cost estimates only, since no design concepts or engineering work have been done.

It also cautions that if the county chooses the tax-exempt bond model, federal tax laws would create limitations that would force the county to operate the facilities on management contracts instead of long-term leases. Management contracts are not as profitable as leases and place liability for operational losses on the county, the report says.

The committee also includes District 3 County Supervisor Pete McHugh. County parks staff said they will base a formal master plan, environmental and natural resources study based on its recommendation and those of a community task force and the county’s Parks Commission. The full Board of Supervisors would approve a final plan.

Thursday’s meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Issac Senter Auditorium at the County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St. in downtown San Jose.

Copies of the proposals, staff report and economic analysis are available at www.parkhere.org.

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