By Barbara Toy
As I write this, Christmas is approaching with its usual breakneck speed – and by the time you see this in the Sirius Astronomer, we’ll be in a new year. I hope a lot of you were able to celebrate New Years Eve at the Anza star party – what better way to ring in the New Year than a fine night of astronomy with good friends?
Board Election for 2006 –
As you may have noticed from the last issue, we’re also celebrating the New Year in our usual way by electing a new Board for the club. The ballot has been posted on the website and a copy should be enclosed with your January issue of the Sirius Astronomer. The instructions on how to vote are on the ballot itself – besides clearly marking the candidates of your choice (no hanging chads on these ballots!), please be sure to print your name clearly on the outside of the envelope so Bob Evans can validate your ballot and so it can be counted.
All members who are 18 or older can vote, so if you have more than one eligible member in your household, each one should send in a ballot in a separate envelope, or turn it in at the January general meeting. You can copy the ballot that comes with the newsletter for any additional voters, or download enough copies for all of them. There will be ballots available at the January meeting as well, so you can get one there if you haven’t been able to get one by other means. If you have any questions or concerns about the process, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 714/606-1825, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.
Almost all of the candidates have submitted Candidate Statements, which are posted on the website and should be appearing elsewhere in the January issue of the Sirius Astronomer – please do read them to get a better idea of the candidates’ interests and backgrounds if you haven’t yet done so. In my last column, I gave a brief introduction of the first two new candidates for the Board. I didn’t include the current Board members, partly because I’ve talked about all of them in the past, and partly because they are more familiar to the general membership than the new candidates because of their current Board positions. Since then, Steve Condrey has also decided to run for a trustee position, so we are in the enviable position of having three more candidates for trustee than we have positions to fill. If Steve’s name is familiar, it’s probably because he’s the current editor of the Sirius Astronomer, and he also often helps out with the club’s library during the general meetings – so he’s a great addition to our group of contenders for the trustee positions.
The candidates have done their part by agreeing to run and agreeing to serve if elected – it’s now up to all of you to do your part and vote!
Anza Site – Issues on Developing the Northwest Territory
First, a Bit of History…
The Anza Site Planning Committee is currently working out the details of implementing the general plan for our Anza site that Riverside County recently approved. This plan includes areas for further member pads and observatories as well as space for other club facilities. A couple of issues that have recently created a lot of discussion on the committee is how we should approach development of new observatories and the degree to which the general membership should cover the costs of developing new areas at the Anza site and how much of those costs should be borne by the pad and observatory licensees in that new area.
One of the reasons the club bought the Anza site years ago was to be able to provide a safe and dark observing area for members that they probably couldn’t afford if they had to provide it on their own. This was seen as an important service of the club to its members, and it was generally felt that even the members who didn’t go out to Anza got indirect benefits that justified continuing to fund the development of the site from the club’s general funds. There are a lot of members who joined the club specifically because we had the Anza site, and this increase in the size of the club has definitely encouraged the wide variety of activities sponsored by the club, which benefits all members. What members do at Anza also regularly enriches the club’s activities in Orange County – the ever-expanding image gallery on our website and slide shows of recent images at the general meetings are very visible signs of this effect. Based on this philosophy, in the past the club itself has paid for grading the new areas and other such development costs.
The understanding of club and of the original pad and observatory holders in the early days at Anza was that, when the rights to a pad or observatory were transferred to a new holder, the original licensee was entitled to recover his/her costs to construct the pad or observatory from the new holder, but the transfer price was not to be used as an opportunity to make a profit – in other words, the opportunity to have use of one of these sites was a member benefit, not an investment opportunity. Up to this point, the club itself has not been involved in negotiating the terms of license transfers other than to provide names of people who have expressed interest in obtaining such an interest on request. Anecdotally, at least, the club leadership has become aware that more recent transfers of license interests, particularly for pads, have been at prices high enough that at least some of the transferors have obtained a significant profit from the transaction, even though what has been transferred is merely a license to use a particular pad or observatory and there is no obligation on the part of the club to compensate any of the pad or observatory holders for the loss of their pads or observatories if we had catastrophic damage to the site or if the club ever decided to sell the site.
In the past, the club has generally encouraged innovation, particularly in the design and building of observatories; as a result, we have quite a varied collection of member observatories on our site. The club has also provided people with chances to try types of work that they don’t generally do in other parts of their lives. A lot of people get pleasure from building things themselves, and a lot of our facilities at Anza are the direct result of the physical efforts of club volunteers – the club observatory itself is a prime example, and those who were involved in that work still get pleasure from reminiscing about it. Some of the newer observatories and pad areas have been built with the help of club members who also are construction professionals – mainly Gary Schones – but the licensees still seem to enjoy getting involved in the process and doing a lot of the work themselves.
The reason for going into this history is that we are now at something of a crossroads on Anza development issues. One area of serious concern is how the grading and other infrastructure (such as new electrical service) will be financed, given the major projects the club is already committed to and its ongoing operating expenses. Replacing the observatory roof and finishing the perimeter fence at our Anza site are both significant upcoming expenses, and the upgrading of the on-site broadband network so we will again have Internet access throughout the Anza site has been a recent significant expense. The road approaching the Anza site also needs a lot of work, as do several of the roads on site and the entrance area to the Football Field – because they are all dirt, maintaining the roads is an ongoing necessity so our members and guests can use the site in safety. These items are all priorities, and the club doesn’t have unlimited resources. On the other hand, there has been a lot of pressure for the club to get started on the new development from members who are interested in getting a pad or observatory, especially as it has taken so long to get the overall site plan approved. So, one issue the committee has to consider is how the financial burden of the new development should be handled, and whether we should change our past approach to one that will shift all or a significant percentage of the burden to those who will be benefiting most directly from the new development, i.e. the new pad and observatory holders.
Concerns have also been expressed about building standards for any new observatories that are approved. One suggestion that has been made is that the club require that the actual construction of any new observatory would have to be by a licensed contractor, not by the licensee and other volunteers, as has often been done in the past. At the least, any new construction will have to pass county inspections, and the club may feel the need to specify some standards beyond that.
At least three different proposals have been made for standardizing the building of any new observatories. One is that the club would provide a standardized plan or set of plan options, and any new observatory would have to be built according to that plan or one of the approved plans. Another is that, in addition to the approved plans, the club would actually provide a kit or make arrangements so a new observatory licensee could obtain a kit from an approved vendor for an approved observatory structure, most probably for a steel observatory with a roll-off roof.
The most involved proposal is that the club would itself build a set of approved steel-structured observatories with roll-off roofs (these would consist of the underlying slabs or foundations, the outer walls and the roof, and the licensee would then finish off the interior to meet his or her needs). The new licensees would then pay the club an appropriate amount instead of undertaking the construction themselves. The club itself would have to oversee the construction, though it would either have to get a qualified member to act as general contractor for the work or hire a general contractor. According to the initial proposal, the club would also have to carry the costs of the construction up front, though the members who ultimately obtained the license rights would be paying an amount that would cover those costs, and potentially such costs as the grading and new power service. Variations on the theme include having the ultimate licensee for these observatories pay the club up front to cover the costs of construction; this would probably require that the funds be held in escrow and that the costs of construction be paid out of the escrow account, which would be an additional burden to Charlie Oostdyk or whoever else the club designates. One attractive feature of having a group of observatories built this way, however, is that we may be able to bring the cost of the individual observatories down by ordering the parts and doing the construction of the group together – but that would only work if the observatories are identical.
At this point, individual members of the committee have their own opinions about what would be in the best interests of the club in these areas, and some have claimed an insight into what other members of the club feel in these areas based on whoever they happen to have talked to, but we don’t have any real information about what the bulk of the members in the club think about these issues. Since the decisions made by the planning committee will undoubtedly influence the Board in its ultimate decisions in these areas, and since whatever the Board adopts regarding this new development will have a major effect on the club for years to come, I think it’s really important that all of you let us know your thoughts on these issues. I am not speaking for the committee in any way in bringing these matters to your attention or in asking you for information, but I would like your feedback on the following questions, and expect to share it with the other members of the Anza Site Planning Committee:
1. Are you interested in obtaining a pad or observatory license in the area we are planning to develop, that is, generally the northwest portion of the Anza site? (If so, and if you aren’t yet on the “interest list” for whichever you are interested in, please email me to be put on the appropriate list.)
2. Do you feel that the club should continue to bear the cost of grading and other general infrastructure needed for the development of the new area, as it has in the past?
3. Do you feel that the licensees for pads or observatories in the new area should bear all or some of the cost of grading and other infrastructure in the new area on some appropriate pro rata basis? If you feel that they should bear just a part of the cost, how much?
4. Please give us whatever suggestions you might have for what the club could do to ensure that appropriate building standards are met in any new construction on the Anza site.
5. Do you believe that the design of any observatories that are built in the new area should be handled along the same lines as in the past, which is that individual members seeking a license bring their own proposed designs to the Board and seek approval based on those designs?
6. Do you believe that the club should mandate one or a few specific designs for observatories in the new area?
7. Do you believe that the club should mandate the use of approved kits for the building of observatories in the new area that would be from one or a few specific manufacturers?
8. Do you believe that the club should be involved in building a group of observatories that would later be turned over to licensees in return for an appropriate payment?
9. Would you be interested in obtaining the license for a steel observatory built by the club, consisting of foundations/slab, outer walls and a roll-off roof, as one of a group of identical observatories? If so, would you be interested if the price was around $15,000? If it was around $25,000? [Please note: at this point we don’t know what the price would reasonably be, but it appears that the range is probably $15,000 to $25,000.] If you are interested in obtaining such a license and want to be put on an interest list for such an observatory if the Board ultimately decides to do this, please email me at to be put on the list.
I am very interested in any comments you might have in these areas. It would be easiest for me if you could email them to me at email@example.com; if you want to mail them, please send them to me at the club’s address, P.O. Box 1762, Costa Mesa, CA 92628. Of course, if you want to discuss these things with me in person, I would be very pleased to talk to you about them, but it will be harder for me to give an accurate report of your opinions to the committee or, if appropriate, the Board.
© Barbara Toy, December, 2005