Guy Gertsch stands tall, ready to keep working
Guy Gertsch seeks a second term on the El Dorado Hills Community Services District Board of Directors to retain the fiscal sanity his board brought to a district that lacked financial leadership and was “spending frivolously on processes and procedures,” he said.
There were “too many consultants, too much travel, too many colors,” he said, a reference to $100,000 spent to develop a management scorecard that included identifying each manager’s personal color.
“As a taxpayer that set me off,” he said. “A board’s decision making has to be grounded in fiscal responsibility. We have to listen to the public, learn about the projects, make the decisions then lead.”
Gertsch points to the fiscal accomplishments of the last four years as evidence that even in bad times, a good board can steer the CSD to sound fiscal footing.
While other park and recreation agencies battle budget deficits with layoffs, park closures and service reductions, his board continued to improve facilities across the board, and also built new parks, practicing prudence to keep upfront building costs and ongoing maintenance demands low.
Gertsch served as board president during a tumultuous 2011 that left him more convinced than ever that strong leadership from both the board and the general manager is essential for the district to thrive.
“Growing up, my mother taught me about principles and convictions, to stand tall for what I believe in and I guess I grew into that,” said the congenial, broad-shouldered 6-and-a-third-foot tall Scout Master who looks more like a linebacker than a church-going family man and community leader. “That’s what drove me to this board, and drives me to want a second term.”
With a tight grouping of five kids ranging from 13 to 19 years old and a career in transition last year, the 43-year-old husband and father admits that making time for board service wasn’t always easy.
He did it because “I want to make a difference in this community.”
Gertsch traces his affection for El Dorado Hills to a teenage penchant for long bike rides. He grew up in Sacramento. El Dorado Hills and Davis were favorite day-trip destinations.
He recalls grinding up Wilson Way and taking in the view from the ridge dreaming of one day living in such a place.
That day arrived eight years ago. The Gertsch clan moved from Antelope to the west-of-the-ridge Promontory neighborhood near the CSD’s planned Promontory Park, just the second community park in the district’s 50-year existence.
He quickly got sucked into controversy over park plans, volunteering for the Master Plan Advisory Council to better understand the complex regulatory framework behind park planning and funding. Gertsch saw his neighbors battle the CSD over the lights, a fight they ultimately lost, then joined them in a rematch over amenities, advocating a follow-up project that added the popular sprayground, plus playground, picnic and turf areas in the south end of the park (Promontory II).
He recently sat down with Village Life in the parks picnic area on a bright fall afternoon and explained the park’s contentious history.After a legal battle over park lighting in 2005, and unexpected rock formations that required extensive blasting and asbestos mitigation, the park opened in 2007 with sports fields, tennis and bocce ball courts, a shaded play area, bathrooms and parking.The park was budgeted for $5.3 million and cost $8.2 million, but failed to deliver many of the amenities that neighbors had asked.“They cut out the family elements,” said Gertsch. “There was no picnic area, no grass and only a small playground.”He got involved to advocate for those amenities, the project which became “Promontory II,” completed in 2007.
Gertsch hoped to heal the emotional wounds left by the lawsuit and a series of ugly confrontations he witnessed between the CSD board and his neighbors in three years of formative board meetings leading up to his first candidacy.
He wonders how anyone who hasn’t witnessed the sausage-making can suddenly show up and think they know the business of the district well enough to run for the board.
“So now I’ve attended six-and-a-half years of board meetings,” he said. “How many others in this race can say that?”
While sitting in a Promontory picnic area Gertsch pointed to a weedy hill above Promontory Park and said the master plan calls for a community center on that spot, “and a basketball court over there,” he said, pointing to a flatter spot.
“But we have to live within our means,” he said. “We have to ask if we need those things.”
Gertsch argues that he’s uniquely qualified to make those tough decisions because he knows the facilities and the plans.
In addition to Promontory II, Gertsch’s boards completed Jeff Mitchell Field, “an inspirational project that brought everybody together;” Lake Forest Park, “a crown jewel;” the Steven Harris Park renovation and the New York Creek East field renovation, important because it introduces water saving Bermuda grass, which might also work in the Community Park, he said.
The venerable CSD Community Pool got a million-plus dollar facelift, including electronics, decks and locker rooms.
Gertsch takes particular pride in Lake Forest Park, approved a year after voters rejected a combined assessment that included an amenity-stuffed Windsor Point Park.
“We never gave up on Lake Forest,” he said. “We found a way to make it work.”
In doing so the CSD fulfilled a promise made to residents 20 years ago.
The above accomplishments were achieved with the economy in a tailspin, taking 15 percent, conservatively, of the district’s property tax revenue down with it.
In the last four years the current board has also turned a meager $50,000 capital deficiency reserve into $4.4 million, plus another $1.2 million in other reserves.
The reserve is critical because Gov. Jerry Brown is depending on Proposition 30 to balance the budget. “If it fails, the state’s going to cry foul and take the gloves off again,” said Gertsch.
Local agencies may be called on to make up the deficit. The first targets will be undesignated funds, so reserves must be tied to a specific future project whenever possible.
Building the reserve required a couple of staff reorganizations and downsizing through attrition, leaving management positions vacant and asking key managers Sandi Kukkola, Mike Cottrell and Sherry Shannon to step up.
Gertsch sees volunteerism as a “core focus of the future,” an essential cost-saving strategy that also brings the community together.
Current and past board candidates have also talked about strengthening volunteer efforts. Gertsch wants voters to know that his board had done more than talk, with major volunteer projects in each of the last three years.
Hundreds of local Mormons and other volunteers turned out to lend a “helping hand” at Murray Homestead Park three years ago. They’ve since built a rail fence at Promontory Park, built trails and “barked” playground areas in the Community Park.
And it’s not just Mormons. “The church group organized it but lots of non-Mormons were involved,” said Gertsch.
Identifying volunteer opportunities is critical, “but that’s actually the easy part,” he said. “You need a policy, and we’ve got one just about done.”
Volunteer programs don’t just happen, he added. “It takes leadership that understands volunteerism and buys into it.”
General Manager Brent Dennis is one such leader. “That’s one reason we picked him,” said Gertsch, who also promised that volunteerism will be built into the planning and goal-setting process.
For residents or local companies that want to help their CSD out without risking blisters, the board is creating a 501(c)3 non-profit that will allow tax deductible cash contributions.
The CSD’s Parks Department takes great pride in its high turf standards, and also in its joint-use agreements with local schools. But field maintenance is not a priority for the perennially cash-strapped schools, and the resulting field conditions at schools puts inordinate pressure on the superior CSD fields, and also on the lower extremities of the soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball players who compete on the school fields.
“The fields at Rolling Hills (Middle school) fields were horrible … very dangerous,” said Gertsch. “We ripped them up and replaced them.”
The CSD is trying to upgrade the remaining joint use fields as well, he added.
But it’s not just schools and parks. “The CSD needs to work for the entire community,” said Gertsch. “We need to offer programs, activities and facilities for kids, seniors and everyone between.”
Sitting in the late afternoon glow at Promontory Park, Gertsch reflected on the board that built it. “They had the money, and they spent it here. How tough was that really?
“No other board has ever had to deal with an economic climate like this,” he added. “Look at all we’ve accomplished.”