YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Report Attacks Oxnard's Golf Course Deal

Ventura County Grand Jury criticizes the city's lack of oversight at River Ridge. Municipal manager downplays the panel's 'opinions.'

June 13, 2003|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

In a scathing report, the Ventura County Grand Jury has concluded that the city of Oxnard operates the River Ridge Golf Course under a flawed and loosely controlled deal and recommends that an 18-hole expansion of the facility be delayed until the contract is rewritten and public oversight expanded.

"Responsible officials with the city have not properly carried out their fiduciary duties with respect to their financial management and the accountability of the River Ridge Golf Course," said the report, released Thursday. "The agreement to manage River Ridge is severely contractually deficient in many respects."

While Oxnard City Manager Ed Sotelo declined to comment on many of the details of the report, he said he feels confident the city has had the oversight necessary to review the operations of the golf course.

And in a statement released in response to the grand jury report, the city calls the arrangement between the city and the operators of the golf course--High Tide & Green Grass Inc.--an "excellent example of a unique and successful public-private partnership."

Still, Sotelo said a team of Oxnard officials would spend the next 90 days reviewing the report and responding to its 91 findings, 27 conclusions and 16 recommendations. "We owe it to the public to consider the opinions of the grand jury ... but it is too early for speculation on changes that could be made," Sotelo said.

River Ridge General Manager Otto Kanny could not be reached for comment.

According to the report, the grand jury began investigating River Ridge and High Tide in response to several citizen complaints. The complaints questioned the city's financial oversight of River Ridge operations and alleged that the contract was a "sweetheart deal" for High Tide, the report said.

Some key conclusions in the 11-page report are:

* Annual independent audits of River Ridge were incomplete according to generally accepted accounting principles, and the golf course lacks rules that would create proper financial records.

* The city has never audited High Tide's records to ensure that it is receiving all revenues to which it is entitled, despite provisions for such audits in the contract. The grand jury's partial examination of those records revealed practices that "can be characterized as inaccurate and undisciplined bookkeeping."

* A joint account between the city and High Tide that is used to run the golf course "appears to be improper" under state law and "avoids reasonable and mandated controls over city money."

* The city still owes the same amount it borrowed 17 years ago to build the golf course -- about $11.9 million -- but gets revenue checks from High Tide every year in highly publicized ceremonies. This, as well as the questionable way in which profits are accounted for, misleads the public as to the true cost of the golf course.

Included in the list of recommendations is the suggestion that the city immediately hire a lawyer who is an expert in government contracting and overhaul its current agreement with High Tide to ensure that it meets California law and good business practice.

The report also recommends that the city only proceed with plans to build a second 18 holes at the golf course after opening the venture up to competition from companies other than High Tide.

Sotelo said the expansion -- which would cost at least $8 million, about half of which is to be paid in developer fees from new home construction -- is still being reviewed by the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

He said it is possible that the project would be opened up to competitive bidding.

Calling River Ridge Golf Course "a jewel of the city," Sotelo played down the significance of much of the grand jury report.

"The grand jury has a right to its opinions," he said. "And that's what we feel they are -- opinions."

Los Angeles Times Articles