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  • What should we do to limit our risk of fire?
    Our ongoing fuels management program must continue in order to keep us safer from fire. Removing ladder fuels to keep fire out of the canopy to the extent possible, which we have done for years, should continue. I would like to see our fire roads maintained to ensure that fire vehicles have access in an emergency. Safety must be our first priority but it is not mutually exclusive with preserving our forests. Our fuels management plan specifically calls for preserving older trees and Redwoods.
  • Should TSRA increase DCEM fees to increase revenues?
    We should, if we want to put the onus of maintaining our design standards on lot owners who hope to build homes and homeowners who want to renovate their homes. I don’t think we want to do that, nor do we want to discourage the membership from doing maintenance and necessary upgrades. We all benefit from our design standards. They make The Sea Ranch unique and lend a character to TSR that we all find valuable. Moreover, it has contributed to property values that far exceed those that surround us. Our home values have many contributing factors of course, but the strength of our community design is clearly one of them.
  • What is your position on tiered dues/fee for service?
    I’m not in favor of charging for our amenities. Sea Ranch has always been a place where we share our amenities equally and we are equally responsible for their upkeep and maintenance, regardless of what we choose to use or not use. Our amenities benefit all of us by increasing our property values as well as the opportunities they provide for enjoyment. By far, the best example is our Commons, which we all share and give The Sea Ranch its character. The philosophy of shared Commons is endemic to who we are as a community. There are also practical reasons why tiered dues are not a good idea: Cumbersome to administer – Coded swipe cards for amenities Maintaining amenities requires broad based support Our amenities support our real estate values, regardless of individual usage More importantly, you may not use something today, but you might tomorrow. But we come to Sea Ranch to experience life differently. You may learn something new or pursue a new passion. You don’t want to play pickleball with me yet, but if I keep practicing, you might one day.
  • What has your role been in the budget process?
    I recognize that as a Director, I am entrusted with the membership’s money. I take that very seriously. I spent hours reviewing the budget and the 30 year plan, which we use to track the maintenance and replacement costs of our capital assets. We approve the 30 year plan every 3 years. If you watch the Zoom recordings of the Board’s budget workshop with the Finance Committee, you’ll see that I asked extensive and detailed questions. I attended every Finance Committee meeting related to the budget and queried staff where appropriate. I also spent time with our treasurer discussing the right approach to our budgeting process and the timing of our short and medium term projects. We are balancing today’s costs with tomorrow’s needs and trying to find the right mix to ensure that we plan for the future without overburdening the membership today. While it is never perfect, there isn’t a single aspect of our budget or 30 year plan that I haven’t looked at and thought about, and I think we have the best outcome for this year. As directors, we have different views on our budget priorities and approaches to handling our finances. That’s good. It enables us to have robust discussions and fully informs the judgment calls we must inevitably make.
  • What can I do if I’m struggling with increasing dues?
    I recognize that dues increases pose a hardship for some members which is unfortunate. We do not want to lose valued members of our community, but we must preserve our natural and built environments for all of the entire membership, now and in the future. For members who have equity in their homes, there are financing options available that could help address cash flow problems. Please reach out to me directly and I’m happy to answer questions and make a referral as this is a part of my professional work. I have been asked if this is a service TSRA should provide and as attractive as it would be to help our more vulnerable members, I think it’s important to recognize that residential lending is a complex business requiring sophisticated risk management tools. As such, it’s a far cry from running an HOA.
  • Should TSRA charge vendors for site access for rental properties as an alternative revenue source?
    I’m not sure how we would distinguish between vendors who are working for rental properties and vendors who are working for resident owners. Exactly where is the housekeeper going this morning? This afternoon? Also, the vendors would simply pass the fees onto the rental owners, who are Sea Ranch owners. I can imagine ways in which this might be administered but none of them are simple and all result in additional costs to Sea Ranchers. I can see that the notion of extracting fees from the rental market seems attractive but this isn’t feasible.
  • What caused the increase in TSRA dues this year? Did you support it?
    We’ve just gone through the budget process, culminating in a unanimous vote to approve the ’23/’24 budget and requisite dues increase on Feb. 25th. Nobody wants to pay more dues and I certainly don’t like voting for higher dues. I do recognize that increasing the dues is a hardship for some members. Unfortunately, the dues are the primary source of revenue for TSRA and therefore are essential to cover our expenses. If you saw the articles that Marge Entwisle wrote for the Bulletin on the carryover, you’ll know that our carryover is much less, $23 less, this year than it was last year. That’s the amount of money that we have at the end of year that we can use to lower the dues for the next year. We have to budget for a variety of circumstances and if we don’t use all the money, we carry it over to the next year. This has long been our practice and is not unusual for HOA’s. Because of COVID relief, we had very large carry overs the last couple of years that weren’t available to us this year. Inflation and in particular, increases in the cost of fuel and supplies, have had an impact. We have to pay our staff a living wage and can’t ignore the effect of inflation on salaries. We’ve also had to hire staff to fill vacancies and need to pay them properly to attract them. So holding payroll steady just wasn’t an option. We also have some additional costs related to storm clean up. We are and will see those costs defrayed by insurance and possibly some storm assistance but we need to take some proactive steps to avoid future damage from trees falling. We added ~$10 to the dues for various storm clean up and prevention measures that also aren’t optional and $9 to our vegetation management budget to remove trees that could fall in another storm. If you take out the storm impact and increased vegetation management, the increase would have been just under 8% - pretty close to inflation. I did vote for this year's budget and the resulting increase in the dues. Our expenses related to storm clean up and safety, ensuring that we can keep our staff (which saves us money over time), and maintaining our natural and built environments require it.
  • Should TSRA consider other sources of non-dues revenue?
    I would like to see TSRA find alternative revenue sources. But I am a business person and I understand that running for profit businesses is not trivial and we have to be sure we can do it without incurring substantial risk and with a sufficient and timely return to make the effort worthwhile. Our duty to safeguard the members’ money makes the investment thesis particularly challenging. We may be able to do a Sea Ranch gear store and possibly a short term rental office and effectively outsource them both - essentially leveraging our logo and brand. I would evaluate any alternative revenue source by asking: Is it consistent with TSR values? Is it feasible? Is it worth it? Can it be outsourced? Does the risk/return merit the investment? What are the opportunity costs associated with pursuing it?
  • Will dues keep going up? Do they ever go down?
    Sadly, probably, though yes, occasionally, they do go down. We don’t control inflation and we are making up for some lean years when we kept dues down during the last recession. But we are almost fully staffed now and are moving towards market pay scales which accounted for recent increases. I spent hours on the budget this year examining every line item, trying to balance what we must spend today without sacrificing tomorrow with what can wait. I will work equally hard during the budget and project planning process each year that I serve.
  • Are there any factors that can reduce the TSRA dues?
    Yes. Once we pay off the debt for Sea Ranch Connect, the revenue we earn from it will be available for investment or to defer operating costs. Also, in years when short term rentals earn more, the 3.5% contribution that nearly all short term rental owners make to TSRA to offset the increased use of amenities offsets our contributions to our reserve account and therefore lowers our dues.
  • Should TSRA limit short-term rentals?
    Short term rentals (STR’s) are how most of us discover and fall in love with The Sea Ranch. Rental income enables Sea Ranchers to keep and maintain their properties and enables them to be used when owners can’t be here for extended periods of time. The ability to rent broadens our buyer pool, both in terms of accessing TSR and in income level, and that has a positive effect on all of our property values - one of the things the Board is tasked with protecting. Also, owners of short term rentals make voluntary contributions to our reserve funds which lowers dues for all of us. Rules for renters, and owners, such as Rule 6.6, and renter education exist to ensure that rental properties do not become a nuisance to neighbors and neighborhoods. Sonoma County will take up the STR regulations for the interior communities in April. I, along with the Hosting Coalition, are paying close attention to the County meeting schedule and will monitor the policy recommendations and their impact on The Sea Ranch.
  • What is your position on TSR airstrip usage?
    Please read my second candidate statement for my thoughts on airstrip usage.
  • How should the TSRA Board pick and prioritize new capital projects?
    Our staff and Finance Committee do a great job with our annual budget and with our reserve fund, which pays for our capital assets maintenance and replacement (thank you). We have taken on big projects like Tank 8 and Sea Ranch Connect and gotten them financed and successfully completed. But we need to do better with mid range projects, such as EV charging, heat pumps for the pools, and yes, the Solar Array. A planning process that is designed to evaluate projects according to standard criteria and plan for financing and execution beyond a 1 year horizon will help us decide what we want to do, when to do it, and how best to pay for it.
  • Should TSRA consider developing an “aging in place” facility?
    I realize that an assisted living option at TSR is attractive to some members. Practically, I’m not sure how that happens. I don’t know where we would put it and I don’t know that we are zoned for that kind of development, if we had a place to put it. I also don’t think that TSRA should be in the business of building or running an assisted living facility. I think it would make more sense to support our existing local institutions like RCMS and Coastal Seniors. If there is interest in building an assisted living facility, working with an existing provider to demonstrate the need in the surrounding area is probably the most cost effective and likely solution. But if there were a way for a private entity, identified, created, or supported by Sea Ranchers, to work through the zoning, permitting, the Coastal Commission issues (if relevant), financing, land acquisition, design, design review, construction, licensing, staffing, marketing, and management at TSR, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it and if practical, support it.
  • What’s the best way to recognize volunteers?
    Volunteers are the lifeblood of The Sea Ranch. I can’t imagine our budget, or our quality of life, without them. Or rather, us, as your directors are volunteers too. We need to make volunteering easy by keeping the website up to date with volunteer opportunities. We should also celebrate volunteers with the community events and celebrations that the Communications Committee, also volunteers (thank you), puts on to encourage and celebrate our volunteers. We can also trust our volunteers' intentions unless we have a real reason to do otherwise. We can sometimes be quick to judge and that is discouraging. In the course of this campaign and in volunteering at TSR, I talk to people with whom I don’t agree. With very rare exceptions, I have yet to talk to anyone with craven motivations. I want to celebrate our volunteers and respect their efforts while recognizing that none of us are perfect.
  • How can the TSRA Board make accurate, good information available to the membership?
    We can’t hold each other accountable for being informed if the information that the Directors use to make decisions isn’t easily available and accessible. Fortunately, communication is a priority for the Community Manager and her team, as you can see from the tone and content of the info alerts. I successfully argued for staff capability to manage and make the documents that we rely on more readily accessible. Our institutional knowledge is a critical asset for all of us. I want to ensure that the information that I use to make decisions is equally available to you, to the extent that confidentiality requirements permit.
  • What can the TSRA Board do to build trust in our community?
    A part of our community’s resilience are the bonds among us. The Sea Ranch values of environmental stewardship and shared Commons attracted each of us to our coastal home and has fostered our vibrant and active lives. Yet we struggle with controversial topics and conflict, and like elsewhere in the country, struggle with disinformation. We can do better. Frameworks exist to help us structure our discussions around controversial topics that encourage community engagement, build trust, engage experts, and develop approaches and solutions that work and are better than the lowest common denominator. Like everything else, there are Sea Ranchers who understand controversy and are willing to work on adapting these frameworks for our use. I’d like to make these frameworks available to the membership as an optional resource for fostering better communication and to improve the outcomes of our decision making processes.
The thing I value about Elisabeth is that she is an active and eager listener. She can put her opinions and perspectives aside and extend deep empathy to you.

She has the patience and perseverance to hear all sides of an issue.

She asks probing questions and challenges your perspectives to understand your motivations, emotions, and goals. While she may approach a conversation with a goal in mind, she does not have an axe to grind and holds no grudges. She also knows well to benefit from the expertise of our committees, sub-committees, legal experts, and members. Her broad-ranging experience in for-profit and civic/nonprofit work has afforded her a background that seems to allow her to see multiple sides to issues as well as possible resolutions.

I am confident that as a Board Member,
Elisabeth will represent the interests of ALL within our community. She will work with us to find common ground, strengthen relationships, and pop open some cider after a heated debate so that we may cherish what unites us.
Nirmal Merchant,
Former TSRA Volunteer Coordinator
Elisabeth Watson taking notes at TSRA meeting

Taking notes at a meeting with TSR members.

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