It took a lot of interrogation by Banning City Councilman David Happe to be convinced that the Banning Sportsman’s Club is an accessible enough organization to the public — for now.
Over three council meetings where the not-for-profit social club situated on city-owned land in Mias Canyon was scrutinized and criticized by the majority of council members, before and after the November election that ushered two new faces onto the council, as to whether or not the city should approve a new 15-year lease at a token $1 per year, with an option for a 15-year renewal, and discarding with a current one that was to run out in 2023.
The only council member who actually explored the club’s facilities is Kyle Pingree, who has visited the site on a few occasions and seems impressed with what he’s seen, and feels as though the club’s members treat visitors well.
Mayor Colleen Wallace claimed to have seen the club, but sounded intimidated and unwelcomed to invite herself onto the campus of what sounds like could be an exclusive club: “membership” is limited by the club to 100 people, not including nearly 50 lifetime members who are not required to pay dues.
Happe was adamant that he believed an entity on city-owned property should be more accessible to the public, and was not buying the club’s stance that membership was restricted by insurance or fire codes.
Happen insisted that, while the clubhouse may have limitations as to the number of people who can meet inside, a larger membership could opt to meet somewhere else with bigger space.
Sportsman’s Club President Malcom Smith told him that, as a 501 (c)7, for safety reasons their membership had to be limited, explaining that if there was an event where five people at a time could be allowed on a trap shooting range, having a crowd of more than 30 or 40 others milling around awaiting turns while guns were being handled could be a safety concern, even though they would all be outdoors for the activity.
City Manager Doug Schulze and others continued to drive home the fact that the city was saving upwards of $25,000 a year in costs to the Police Department, which has exclusive use of the club every Wednesday for training and gun certifications.
Other law enforcement agencies are charged for the use of the facility as a fundraiser for the club.
Without a venue such as the club, officers would have to take time to travel to another city and rent ranges, costs of which average roughly $500 a trip or more, the city argues — and takes away those officers from being able to respond to events efficiently in the city.
Alberto Sanchez, one of the newer councilmembers, did not understand why a lease that technically still had a couple of years remaining as part of its contract, needed to be rushed, despite the fact that the lease had been “punted” from one council meeting to another for a few months, as the club’s members mull whether to invest $30,000 in new light poles this year, and install an archery range.
If the club were to lose its exclusive lease in a couple of years, the club would be short-lived on its hard-earned investment, proponents argued.
A few community members and club members explained that their club has events regularly that are open to the public, and their members are active in providing volunteers and funding for other community programs including Inland Bassmaster’s youth tournaments and fundraisers for the Banning Stagecoach Days Committee, to hosting free camps for the JROTC Sea Cadets.
Club member Carl Douglas argued that the club provided direct benefits to the city, particularly by providing the free venue for the Police Department on a weekly basis, that saved (in his estimate) upwards of $50,000 in taxpayer spending.
The club pays property taxes, pays for its own insurance, and conducts all of its business, remodeling efforts, and community programs via volunteers.
Schulze explained that the patch of dirt, which rests in a flood plain, is not suitable for anything other than a shooting range, as it cannot be used for residential development, or safely house commercial or industrial venues.
Councilwoman Mary Hamlin felt that the club contributes a consistent benefit to the community, and saw no need to continue delaying a decision about the club’s lease.
“Let’s quit dragging this out and authorize Doug (Schulze) to negotiate, and let’s get on with it,” she remarked.
Alberto Sanchez and Wallace were in favor of tabling the item yet again, dismissing any urgency.
Kyle Pingree motioned to move the 15-year lease for approval; Happe seconded the motion with the caveat that the lease include a nondiscrimination clause, and admonished the club to find ways to expand its membership and “get new blood, energy and money.”
“Considering that we have made the club wait for six months on this question, we should move forward with it,” Happe said. “I’ve heard enough testimony that there’s plenty of access, and I would encourage more public outreach. This is a symbiotic relationship,” and acknowledged that the club is bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the property’s upkeep.
The motion passed 3-2 with Wallace and Sanchez opposing.
Club president Smith was relieved after the meeting, saying in a statement “It was a nail-biter. The people who voted for it finally got it: what we do there, and how it’s actually run. As a private club, we’re open to the public. We don’t close our events to anybody. Getting the 15 years is what we wanted. Now we feel more comfortable putting money into the place. I’m pleased they didn’t change the length of the lease.”
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , and messages may be left at (951) 849-4586 x114.