President’s Column, June 2018

I believe we should sell the Freestone property and the Board has made a motion to be considered by all church members at the Congregational Meeting on October 21. It’s not an easy decision. We all know the people involved in Freestone are among the longest and most respected members of our community. It’s not easy to say no to them. We appreciate what they have done for the last forty years; we appreciate what Freestone has meant to them and the congregation in the past; but it may not be part of our future.

In the past it was wonderful, a retreat, where members could get away from it all and share nature and fellowship, not a formal retreat center but a place to get away. Freestone was never a money maker but was a benefit of belonging to the church. The property was bought with money from the Freestone Committee and the church. It’s never been self-supporting through rental fees. The building itself was built and maintained with money from the sale of one of the four parcels and volunteer labor from the Freestone Committee.

And now, after forty years, the Freestone building is in need of repair. We can argue endlessly what repairs are needed and how much they should cost, but the money isn’t there. This year in the congregation we have had to face our financial situation harder than we ever have before.

The Congregation voted to use funds from the Board Designated Endowment earnings to make needed repairs to the Kensington church property. In the last congregational meeting the members approved a budget that made substantial and painful cuts to staff. The operating budget is balanced but there is no surplus. We still haven’t solved the problem of how we raise the $250,000 annual budget required to maintain the property.

For a long time Freestone served its function but in the last few years the need for repair and maintenance has become critical. The forty-year-old geodesic dome has not aged well. At a minimum the repairs will cost $50,000 and probably much more. That’s $50,000 we don’t have. In another 10, 20, 30 years another substantial investment will be needed. Freestone has never made money and there’s no reason to think it will in the future. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible with enough effort and money. But is it likely? No.

In the coming discussion we will look at selling parcels to raise money for repairs. The two parcels in question do not seem to be suitable for development. The only bid was by our neighbor and they withdrew that offer. We are now in a water dispute with that neighbor over their violation of our easement and that has gone on for over a year with legal costs to defend the integrity of our property.

The mission and the ends we worked on as a congregation did not make a retreat center or Freestone a priority. As hard as it is to face it, Freestone is no longer an integral part of the UUCB community and its mission. At one time it was an important community builder, an activity that brought people together. However the interest in a getaway in Sonoma County has waned, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of the Freestone Committee to promote it.

We have five months before the vote. Let’s explore the possibilities and the reality. But let’s be realistic about our resources and how we use them. Since I’ve been a member of the Board we have considered and discussed Freestone at great length. The conclusion of the Board at our May meeting was to call the vote. We need to decide whether to put the money into Freestone to make it usable or to sell it and move on. The Board of Trustees recommends to the Congregation that we sell Freestone.