Saturday, October 30, 2004

Tucson Weekly: Humble Home--Association-weary homeowners team up to fight back

OK, maybe they aren't raising holy hell. But milling about the Pima County Courthouse, a band of buttoned-down, middle-aged, disgruntled homeowners sure are unleashing a little heck.
Take Patrick Dougherty. Neat and tidy in a crisp blue blazer, he holds a carefully lettered sign that reads "DOES YOUR HOME BELONG TO YOU OR YOUR HOA?" The Las Vegas resident hasn't used his real estate license much lately, not since becoming a paralegal impelled to help elderly homeowners fight their homeowners associations, or HOAs. These cul-de-sac kingdoms need the boot, he says. "A high percentage of retired people are losing their homes" because they can't keep up with association fees. "And many times, association boards are just operating outside of the law."

Dougherty's strong feelings drove him all the way from Vegas, along with fellow real estate agent Nancy Barr, for this Oct. 18 rally. They're here to support Mika Sadai, a multi-homeowner who might get smacked with $400,000 in fines and lawyers fees. Sadai's six-year fight with her northwest Tucson HOA over a crooked board election--a battle costing $650,000 to wage--all comes down to her 2 p.m. court slot.
Along with promoting a comforting uniformity, they also control the minutiae of daily existence for affected residents, right down to where you plop your petunia patch. All too often, say critics, that power is abused by neighbors with scores to settle. Those mandates often include big fines for tiny infractions such as planting the wrong type of shrubs, leaving a garage door open or even erecting a flagpole. Failure to pay up can mean a lien against your home, or even foreclosure.

,strong>The result may be a national backlash, says Evan McKenzie, a University of Chicago researcher, and author of Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government. The book is highly critical of many association practices. Left unchecked, they "can really create little neighborhood Hitlers," McKenzie said in an earlier interview with the Tucson Weekly.

Still, he's guardedly optimistic that the HOA juggernaut sees a need for change. "I think they realize that it comes down to giving these communities a chance to become communities," he says.

Lawmakers are listening as well. Arizona legislators recently passed statutes preventing HOAs from seizing homes for unpaid fines, and requiring that they follow open meetings laws.

This is a good article, even if they did quote that McKenzie guy. Campaign sign draws fines

BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP - The well-manicured lawns in the age-restricted community where George Shafer lives hold a variety of signs, from plastic posters announcing home security systems and wooden NFL banners to hand-painted placards welcoming friends.

But the cardboard Bush-Cheney campaign sign Shafer has outside his home in Village Grande at Crosswicks Creek has drawn the ire of the local homeowners association and is earning him $50 a day in fines.

Shafer, a retired IBM salesman, refuses to take it down. Although the Village bylaws prohibit residents from displaying signs of any kind on their properties, the Korean War veteran says the rule is being unfairly applied to him and others with political signs.
[more] - Local/ Regional News: Tenant's success fighting crime prices her out of her home
An unfortunate reversal of the old "there goes the neighborhood" phenomenon--tenant activist makes the hood safe for gentrification:
For most of the 10 years she has lived in her three-bedroom apartment on Codman Park in Roxbury, Betty Smith has been fighting to keep the drug dealers off her street.

Lately she's been winning.

But her efforts to make her block safer have had the perverse effect of helping to price her out of her home.

A few months ago, her landlord told Smith he was raising the rent from $825 a month to $1,600 a month. Smith is now afraid she'll have to leave the neighborhood she worked to make safer for her two boys, 17 and 12 years old, as well as two foster kids placed with her by the state.
Boo! Homeowners are putting a scare into builders over errors, inadequate fees
AP's Jim Wasserman, for my money the best journalist in the nation on CID issues, strikes again, this time laying the smack down about construction defect litigation:

By Jim Wasserman, The Associated Press
ROSEVILLE, Calif. -- When Jim Viele moved to Sun City Roseville in 1997, he expected to be thinking more about golf than landscaping, drip irrigation systems and lawsuits.But as head of his homeowners association, Viele is mired in a lawsuit with Del Webb, the nation's premier builder of privately run adult communities. The association claims the developer saddled the 5,400 residents with defective water systems that caused trees and turf to die and the golf course to become soggy...Virginia lawyer David Mercer said cities that approve development projects and property management companies that run them should be more outspoken about the financial foundations developers leave for private communities, many thousands of homes. "They've created a little city in many respects," he said.
[read the whole thing]

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Globe and Mail: Ontario orders greenbelts...and HOAs

The 10 million people who are expected to live in the Greater Toronto Area in the next couple of decades will increasingly find it difficult to find an affordable house and will be concentrated more in condominiums and townhouses under a sweeping plan to protect another one million acres as a greenbelt around urban areas.

So now we have yet another incentive driving the CID revolution--cramming people into high-density living arrangements with private governments so that lots of land can be left undeveloped. Why? Because some planners think that's how we should live. This is, of course, many an urban planner's idea of utopia--they design, we obey. Portland is the main example of this sort of thing in the USA. Seems that Ontario is using the same model. Says Premier Dalton McGuinty, ”This means no new subdivision paving over our valuable farmland. It means no new shopping malls carved out of our forests.” The only problem with this approach is that those troublesome, individualistic home-buyers don't understand what is good for them, to wit: Mark Parsons, president of the Greater Toronto Home Builders Association, said developers will co-operate with the government but warned that the plan runs counter to the basic desires of homeowners. ”Sixty-five per cent of Toronto and suburban GATE residents polled [by the association] said they would like to move into a single-family home,” he said. Well, they'll just have to get used to living in condos, because the government, acting on the advice of planners, won't allow SFH construction to meet that demand. It's all for the greater good, don't you see?

Thanks to Fred Pilot for pointing me to this story.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Macomb Twp. flag flap may go to resolution center - 10/27/04

Go, O'Brien!

MACOMB TOWNSHIP - A compromise may be at hand in the dispute between a veteran who wants to fly his Marine Corps flag and the condominium association that's trying to stop him.

John O'Brien, a disabled Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran, has been battling Windmere Commons I Condo Association for the right to fly the American and Marine Corps flag in front of his house. Association rules allow only American flags.

After an exchange of letters and a $25 fine levied against O'Brien by the association, the two parties may meet in the Macomb County Resolution Center in Mount Clemens to resolve the dispute.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Telegraph | News | Don't tackle burglars, urge police
Here's something from Great Britain to contrast with the self-helpers from the UFC in the previous post:
Police chiefs have urged householders not to confront intruders, but to call 999 and lock themselves in safely until help arrives.Their advice was issued last night after a judge defended the actions of a retired man who shot an intruder who had returned for the third time to break into his isolated country home...Rae, 22, who was jailed for seven years for a string of burglaries and other crimes, was shot in the leg by Kenneth Faulkner, 73, at his home in Ockbrook, Derbyshire. Mr Faulkner was only told shortly before the trial that he would not be prosecuted over the shooting....The [police] advice comes at a time when public confidence in the police has been severely shaken by recent incidents in which officers failed to take immediate action when called out to deal with gunmen...

Hooray for Faulkner, hooray for the judge, and...well, what can you say about police who advise you to cower in fear in your own home while you wait for police who may not show up? Thanks for nothing, guys.

And what on earth is Rae doing running around burglarizing homes after a seven-year stint in prison? What is Great Britain coming to? First, I think we can safely conclude that disarming the police force is a bad idea. But beyond that, who wants to live in a place where people are reduced to an enforced total dependence on government, even to the point of facing prosecution for defending their lives and families against thugs who invade their homes? That is what the police, of all people, are advocating here. Good thing for Faulkner he defended himself--and good thing he had a shotgun. May things never come to such a pass in the USA.
The Daily News Online:Longview 'extreme fighter' nabs armed robber
Three cheers for self-help...and the Ultimate Fighting Championship:
Russell R. Rogers picked the wrong restaurant to rob Sunday afternoon, Vancouver police said. Professional "extreme fighter" Benji Radach of Longview and his training partner [UFC veteran Dennis Hallman] tackled Rogers, 64, after he tried to hold up Elmer's Restaurant with a gun, police officers and restaurant workers said...Radach, also known as "The Razor," felt he had a good chance of overpowering Rogers. The 25-year-old Longview resident is trained in Pankration, a combination of kickboxing, judo, wrestling and other martial arts --- in which the goal is to render the opponent helpless or senseless...As Rogers looked to his left and yelled that he had a gun, Radach moved behind him to his right. He grabbed Rogers with a wrist lock, relieving him of his pistol. Radach forced Roger's hands to his back and pushed him chest-first to the ground. Radach said he then knocked Rogers unconscious with a blow to the head. Radach said Hallman backed him up, making sure that Rogers had no other weapons as they manhandled him to the ground.

Way to go, guys! I especially like the part about "knocked Rogers unconscious with a blow to the head."
Yahoo! News - San Diego now 'Enron by the Sea'
City Hall's Web site proclaims it "the most efficiently run big city in California." Howard Jarvis, architect of Proposition 13, California's landmark 1978 ballot measure capping property taxes, once said that if all cities were as financially prudent as San Diego, there'd be no need for a tax revolt.That was then. This is now: a financial mess dragging the nation's seventh-largest city toward insolvency, federal investigators looking for evidence of corruption, a $1.7 billion gap in city workers' pension fund and retiree medical benefits brought on by years of mismanagement and alleged sweetheart deals. The city manager and city auditor quit in disgrace. Allegations of conflicts of interest dog pension-fund trustees. The City Council and Mayor Dick Murphy, who's up for re-election Nov. 2, are accused of short-changing the pension plan to stem red ink and keep pet programs afloat, then shying from tough steps needed to close the gap.

Thanks to Fred Pilot for sending this link. This is one of the main reasons cities privatize government services--they can't afford the cost of large staffs of government employees. Government employee unions negotiate contracts that cities and states can't afford in the long term. The problem in San Diego, according to this article, is municipal employee pensions, which are becoming an enormous problem for many cities and states. While city services deteriorate steadily, city employee pensions are quite lavish in San Diego, as the article notes:

Meanwhile, the average police officer, firefighter or clerk retiring after 30 years takes home a one-time $300,000 check from a much-criticized deferred retirement program established in 1997, plus a $50,000 annual pension for life, inflation adjusted. A few top officials have left with $1 million deferred-retirement checks and $144,000 a year for life. San Diego's benefits are "certainly on the high end of the spectrum," says April Boling, head of a pension-reform committee created by City Council.

A masterpiece of understatement, that last comment from Ms. Boling. Line employees are retiring at 55 with a massive cash payout, followed by maybe 30 years of a fat monthly stipend. Bigwigs get seven-figure lump sums and six-figures every year. Illinois has similar problems. So do other states and municipalities. Privatization, anyone?

Monday, October 25, 2004

It's OK, see...It's an HOA matter!
Woman accused of stealing Bush signs says it's not political
an ABC Action News report 10/25/04
CLEARWATER - A Clearwater woman is accused of stealing her neighbor's political signs.
Homeowner Michael Pinson set up a hidden camera to catch the culprit after several of his Bush and Cheney election signs disappeared from his yard. Sunday afternoon the camera caught his neighbor taking a sign and then tearing it up.
ABC Action News confronted the woman in the video who said that the snatched signs had nothing to do with politics.
"I am trying to help him alleviate a $50 a day fine which is what they charge you in this homeowners association," explained Nancy Rapp.
Pinson has filed a complaint with police claiming his neighbor is trying to stifle his freedom of speech

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Condo resident fined over U.S. Marines flag - 10/22/04
Do you think the folks on this condo board are proud of themselves, now that they have taken steps to remove the USMC flag from their development?

MACOMB TOWNSHIP - John O'Brien figures he's already sacrificed for his country. All he wants is a little respect in return.

The disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran is fighting his homeowners association for the right to fly the red Marine flag along with the American flag on the garage of his Macomb Township condominium.

The rules at Windmere Commons I condos allow only American flags, which O'Brien says violates his First Amendment rights.

O'Brien, 63, says he won't take down the flag he's been flying since July or pay the $25 fine levied by the homeowners association. He's taking his case to a state representative for help.