Camp Swig future hinges on public forums, task force

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Making good on its promise to open the debate on Camp Swig to the community, the UAHC has formed an advisory task force and scheduled two public forums on the future of the run-down site.

A San Francisco forum will be held Thursday evening, Feb. 18 at Congregation Sherith Israel.

The 18-member task force — comprised of past campers, rabbis, and local and regional officials from the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations — will cull public responses and suggest a possible outcome for the Saratoga camp.

"We are meeting together to make a recommendation to the board of UAHC on whether or not to sell or to keep Camp Swig," said Rabbi Steven Chester, task force co-chair and spiritual leader of Oakland's Temple Sinai.

The future of Swig has been in limbo since word leaked of negotiations to sell the 190-acre site last fall, leaving Santa Rosa's Camp Newman as the only UAHC camp in California. But negotiations shut down when the private developer who made the unsolicited bid revoked it in November for unknown reasons .

The only publicly known attempt to purchase the site is now being led by the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. Although the federation "still has a long way to go" in raising funds, a bid for the site could be made as early as February, said Jon Friedenberg, the federation's executive director.

The ailing Swig facility was appraised four years ago at about $1.95 million, but it desperately needs an estimated $2 million for structural repairs and seismic retrofitting. If the San Jose federation purchases the site, it has pledged to run a year-round camp and retreat center for use by all three local federations and other Jewish groups.

At both public forums — the other takes place Feb. 28 in Los Angeles — the task force will hear "concerns and feelings of the future of the camp," said Chester. "I am neutral. I want to look at all the facts and use a fair process."

While the San Jose federation has no representation on the task force, Friedenberg approved of its mission. "I think that setting up a community advisory committee is an appropriate way to proceed," he said. "I look forward to hearing what they have to say."

Friedenberg's optimism has been riding on a wave of community support for the San Jose federation to purchase the site.

"We have a strong sense of urgency to follow through with the momentum we've created," he said. "It's still possible we will be unsuccessful, but I am still hopeful we will be able to make a reasonable offer and have enough funds to refurbish the camp."