Driving range reprieved; OUSD board okays license agreement
By Tina Richards
The Orange Unified School board voted 7-0 to approve an interim license agreement with Drotter, LLC to operate the driving range on the Peralta school property and maintain the common areas (parking lots, landscaping, irrigation systems) on the 19.5-acre property.
The unanimous vote, April 14, may signal the beginning of the end of the board’s contentiousness regarding the fate of the surplus property. All seem to agree that the $80,000 Jason Drotter is willing to pay in annual rent and maintenance costs is a good balance between community benefits and the district’s need for income.
Drotter’s lease payment comes on top of the interim $309,360 the district will receive annually from the property’s other tenants -- Olive Crest Academy, Tennis Specialists and Arena Soccer Club -- until OUSD can negotiate more permanent agreements with them. The board approved the tentative leases as a last-minute measure to allow the businesses on the Peralta site to keep operating beyond March 31, when their original contracts expired.
A shotgun stop
At the same time the board approved the temporary agreements with Olive Crest, Tennis Specialists and Arena Soccer, the fate of the popular driving range was undetermined. The board had opted not to renew the lease with Peralta Golf Partners (PGP), who had operated the driving range and maintained the entire property for nearly 20 years. The district had no backup plan for the golf facility, and had little idea what it would cost to keep the property maintained.
Enter Jason Drotter. A head coach at Cal State, Fullerton and a 17-year PGP employee, he did not want to see the driving range closed, and submitted an 11th-hour proposal to the district. His offer got the attention of Assistant Superintendent Joe Sorrera and Trustee Tim Surridge, who met with him to learn more about what he calls “his vision” for the site. Few other board members, however, were aware of those discussions, and his appearance at the March 12 board meeting to answer questions took several trustees by surprise.
Drotter’s proposal appeared to come out of nowhere, because it did. “I worked for PGP for 17 years,” he says. “And Kent Hawkins (PGP) and I are good friends. There’s no way I was going to submit a proposal as long as he held the lease. That seemed highly unethical.” Once the lease expired, however, Drotter was free to proceed, which he did with Hawkins’ blessing.
Hiding in plain sight
He had six days to prepare and submit his plans to meet the deadline before the next board meeting. But he had a leg up. “I’ve been managing this property for a long time,” he says. “I know the other tenants, I know how to run the driving range, I know what needs to be maintained and how to get things fixed quickly. I have a good idea of how much things cost.”
Drotter submitted two proposals. In one, he would pay the district $30K in annual rent and agree to spend $50K to maintain common areas on the entire property. In the other, he would pay $60K as a leasee only; the district would be responsible for maintenance. The board accepted the first option. But the $30K/$50K balance might change.
“I was willing to pay the district $80K a year,” Jason Drotter says. “$30K to lease the property and $50K in maintenance. But I’ve since learned that $50K is too high; it’ll be lower. But I’ll pay the district the difference in rent. So it’ll still be getting $80K.”
“It’s not about the money,” he explains. “It’s a labor of love. It’s about keeping this resource available to the community. Kids from all the high school golf teams practice here. I’ve taught kids how to play golf here, and now they’re teaching other kids. I feel honored that the school board shares my vision, and is allowing me to keep it going.”
The board apparently does share his vision. Following his surprise appearance in March, Drotter has spoken to each board member individually and gained their support. “They’ve all been great to me,” he says. “Every one of them. We have a good, open relationship and I plan to keep it that way.”
Indeed, Drotter plans to be totally transparent, opening his books, providing bank statements, receipts, expenses, assets and debts without being asked. “I want every board member to see what I’m doing. I’m going to keep earning their trust; I want each one of them to be happy with their decision.”
So far they are, as illustrated by the 7-0 vote approving Drotter’s lease.