Saturday, December 18, 2004

The New York Times > National > A.C.L.U.'s Search for Data on Donors Stirs Privacy Fears
You don't find too many examples of irony this thick:
The American Civil Liberties Union is using sophisticated technology to collect a wide variety of information about its members and donors in a fund-raising effort that has ignited a bitter debate over its leaders' commitment to privacy rights. Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.

It's not easy being green for homeowner
This sort of thing is why people move into HOAs. The city doesn't have an ordinance on house colors. If municipalities want to meet the challenge of CIDs, they need to go back into the traditional business of looking out for the quality of life. They need to do a better job of responding to low-level complaints about minor irritations--stray dogs, spiteful house-painting, obnoxious unsupervised kids, cars parked illegally on lawns and sidewalks, wandering strangers--things that just detract from residents' sense that their neighborhood is a nice place to live. And they need to resolve these things informally if possible. What I see, typically, is municipalities falling back on various legalistic justifications for action or inaction: the truck is illegal, the house color isn't. The dog was/was not on its own property when it was barking and snarling at your child. The wandering stranger was just staring at you from the sidewalk and eyeing the contents of your garage--call us when he steals your barbecue.

Traditionally municipalities weren't afraid to use informal power--now they call their city attorney and ask for a legal opinion before putting up a Christmas display.

(By the way--note that this fellow doesn't even own the house--he rents it from his dad.)

Juan Mata's maroon Kenworth semi-truck means a lot to him. The Lockport man keeps a picture of it tucked inside his wallet. He used to proudly park the truck in the driveway outside his home. So, when his neighbors called police last summer, complaining that the truck was noisy and an eyesore and the police made him move it, Mata, who says none of that's true, got mad. Then, he got even: He has painted his house a brilliant shade of fluorescent green...The police made Mata move the truck because of an ordinance that bans trucks from being parked in residential areas. But there's no ordinance that restricts what color people can paint their houses, city administrator Larry McCasland says. "It's crazy, isn't it?" McCasland says, laughing. Mata's home, which he rents from his father, has become sort of an attraction, drawing people who don't even live in the neighborhood.

WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio: Ashes Set Condo On Fire
What's the lesson here? Don't put fireplace ashes in a flammable container and put the container on your wood deck:

Firefighters were called to a townhouse on Crofton Circle just before midnight on Wednesday. When they arrived, they found smoke pouring out of the home...Officials say the fire started by ashes that has been thrown out. The couple placed them in a plastic can [the video says it was a plastic bucket] and set them on their wood deck.

The next door neighbors got to enjoy the pleasures of attached townhome living as well, when their unit was damaged by the fire, too. The lesson for them is...what? Buy a single family detached home next time, or pick your neighbors more carefully?
sphere: Town-Sponsored Deer Hunt in Greenwich
Tom Anderson, at Sphere, has been posting about a municipal deer hunt that will be done in Greenwich, and he mentions one argument against it that I didn't see here in connection with the North Barrington, IL, gated community:

The town's Representative Town Meeting voted last night to hire sharpshooters to kill deer in three town parks in February. The proposal apparently needs only a permit from the state DEP to proceed. Greenwich would then be the first town in Connnecticut to undertake a deer hunt.
Will it work? The argument against any individual town tackling the deer problem on its own is that killing 20 or 40 or even 100 deer in an area will create a vacuum into which deer from other areas will move and thrive.


Friday, December 17, 2004 | 12/17/2004 | Region scores low in housing report

An influential group of Bay Area business leaders warns of dire consequences if the region fails to build enough homes to keep pace with demand. Together, the nine counties and 101 cities that surround the Bay fail each year to meet the region's housing needs by more than 36,000 units, according to a report made public today by the Bay Area Council. At that pace, by 2030 the Bay Area will fall short of demand by 300,000 units. Also, the region earned an "F" for its tepid effort to build affordable housing. From 1999 to 2003, the Bay Area issued just 29 percent of the permits needed to fill demand, according to the Bay Area Housing Profile.

If you scoll down far enough, you'll see that these folks don't see much of a future in single-family homes. The recommendation is for high density, which means condos, townhomes, and apartments:
The report has suggestions for local governments. It calls for higher density zoning, which would allow developers to build homes closer together and build more multi-family homes and apartments in urban and suburban centers rather than in open space.

Revolving Condominiums?
From a reader, to whom I extend my thanks for this fascinating link:

Suite Vollard: the only revolving building in the world

From the interior of the Suite Vollard building, no landscape is fixed. With the mere pressing of a button, residents of each of the 11 apartments can have 360º panoramic view of the city. Moro, a Curitiba-based construction company, built Suite Vollard. It is a concept-building, and the only revolving building in the world. Architects Bruno de Franco, also technical director with Moro, and Sérgio Silka designed the project, which required the know-how of a large number of professionals in multiple fields of expertise. The complex planning and test phase lasted more than one year. After achieving a perfect balance between mechanical systems that rotate the apartments and the architectonic design, the team chose vinyl window frames as the best technical solution for the facade.
[more, with pictures]
As suburbs expand, residents get unwanted taste of hunting
Maria Shapiro was startled last year when she spotted a stranger carrying a bow and arrow in her suburban neighborhood.

No, he wasn't on his way to the HOA meeting. He was hunting. This has happened near us. Some mothers were chatting at the bus stop while their kids waited for the bus. A dead goose fell at their feet. The hunter was outside the municipality and fired legally, but the goose didn't know about the city code and fell dead inside the city limits. The city tried to pass an ordinance making it illegal to do that--for the hunter, not the goose (who is past caring by this time). Probably not a valid law because of the effort to criminalize conduct (firing) outside the jurisdiction just because Mr. Goose and gravity and wind led to a hard landing inside the muni.
Social Security 'Crisis Is Now,' Bush Says in Pitch for Overhaul
They say President Bush tells his staff he doesn't like to play "small ball." I guess. This is the 800 pound gorilla of American politics, and would be a privatization effort on a par with what happened in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.
The New York Times > National > Private Guard at Home Site Charged With Arson
Notice the Times had to stick that word "private" in the headline?

A 21-year-old security guard who worked at a new subdivision in southern Maryland was arrested Thursday and charged with setting fires to houses there in the worst case of residential arson in the state's history, federal authorities said.

The facts aren't out in the press yet, and I'm withholding judgment for a while. Remember the Atlanta Olympics, an exploding backpack, and a security guard named Richard Jewell who was arrested and turned out to be innocent? With explosions and fires, a lot of the evidence is gone. The Chicago Tribune ran a story last week about a man who was executed for arson that killed his family, and who
may very well have been innocent.
Joy and Raptor On Fifth Avenue: Manhattan Co-op Reverses Decision to Evict Hawks
That rich folks co-op in Manhattan has decided to allow the hawk named Pale Male to stay. I guess Mary Tyler Moore was on the hawk's side and Paula Zahn's husband was president of the co-op board that evicted birdy. So if you are in the vicinity of 927 Fifth Ave., be careful not to get smacked on the head by a half-eaten pigeon carcass.
AHRC's holiday e-card
What a hoot. Fred Pilot just alerted me to the American Homeowners Resource Center's new e-card. You can view it by clicking the link below. Their main page at has a link for sending them to all your friends and family--if they are all anti-HOA activists.
View card:

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Prairie Crossing -- a conservation community
Here is the link to Prairie Crossing's web site. This is the development I mentioned below, posting a link to a story on their 36-condo "New Urbanist" phase that is going to "remedy" sprawl. You can check out Prairie Crossing for yourself--virtually.
Survey: A new J.D. Power study shows home-buyer satisfaction going up; Pulte takes platinum.

NEW-HOME BUYERS ARE MORE SATISFIED than ever with their builders, even as the number of units built and the average price of a house increases, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2004 New-Home Builder Customer Satisfaction Study. This year, the national average industry score for customer satisfaction increased from 109 to 112, with 100 being the starting value for the index...Builders receive weighted scores based on nine factors that customers say contribute to their satisfaction: customer service (23 percent), home readiness (18 percent), builder's sales staff (16 percent), quality of workmanship and materials (14 percent), price/value (10 percent), physical design elements (7 percent), design center (5 percent), recreational facilities (4 percent), and location (3 percent). This year's study results included a first-ever Platinum Award for Excellence in Customer Service, presented to Pulte Homes. Its three brands, Pulte, Del Webb, and DiVosta, ranked highest in 14 of 25 markets and were in the top three in 23 of the 24 survey markets in which Pulte builds

Interesting. Nearly all these homes have HOAs, of course. I wonder what would happen if the survey asked them about something besides the home itself--such as the sense of community, the quality of neighborhood governance, or some other measure that would let us see how buyers evaluate the rest of the package.
How to comment on proposed rule requiring escrowing of HOA and condo assessments for FHA-insured mortgages

Let's see if this works. First, here's the info on the regulation:

Agency :
Title :
Revisions to the Single Family Mortgage Insurance Program
Subject Category :
Mortgage and loan insurance programs: Single Family Mortgage Insurance Program-- Mortgages in default; revisions
Docket ID :
CFR Citation :
24 CFR 203
Published :
November 10, 2004
Comments Due :
January 10, 2005
Phase :
How To Comment :
Interested persons are invited to submit comments regarding this rule to the Regulations Division, Office of General Counsel, Room 10276, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20410-0500. Interested persons may also submit comments electronically through either: The Federal eRulemaking Portal at:; or The HUD electronic Web site at: Follow the link entitled View Open HUD Dockets. Commenters should follow the instructions provided on that site to submit comments electronically. Facsimile (fax) comments are not acceptable. In all cases, communications must refer to the docket number and title. All comments and communications submitted will be available, without revision, for public inspection and copying between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at the above address. Copies are also available for inspection and downloading at

Now, here is the direct link for viewing the public comments that have already been submitted. You can also submit your own comments on this regulation from this page:

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Take 36 condos and call me in 2006: New urbanism remedies sprawl in Lake County, Illinois

At Prairie Crossing, to be exact. That would be the environmentally-sensitive and horrifically expensive 359-unit CID in Grayslake, in southern Lake County (we live about 10 miles north of it). Here's the latest phase in Prairie Crossing. This one is modestly heralded as the "remedy" for the demon named Sprawl, to wit: "36 condos, starting at $350,000 in three buildings." I read elsewhere that the top end is over $500,000.

The event was the next big step in an uncertain idea launched 11 years ago - to build an environmentally friendly, commuter-oriented community from scratch. Met with skepticism at the time, the Grayslake neighborhood, located near routes 137 and 45, has thrived as the anti-development development. Located near the rare intersection of crossing Metra commuter rail lines, all but two of 359 single-family homes have been sold. This new chapter, The Condominiums at Prairie Crossing, was presented with assured confidence. "The resistance people are starting to feel toward sprawl is very strong. This is the remedy. As more developments like Prairie Crossing happen, people may begin to think of development as a good thing," said John Norquist, president and CEO of The Congress for New Urbanism.

So, you see, three dozen megabucks condominiums are the solution people have been seeking all along. They just didn't know it. Seriously, though, overdevelopment is a major problem in Lake County, and Prairie Crossing is a beautiful subdivision where they have preserved a large section of prairie and wetland, and in a location where you can choose from two different train lines to go to work . All that is good. But 359 plus 36 equals 395 units, all of which are priced for the wealthy. This pales in comparison to the thousands of conventional new homes (with HOAs) already permitted and breaking ground in Antioch, Lake Villa, Vernon Hills, and elsewhere. Old Mill Creek is about to authorize a 1000 unit subdivision. I don't see any stampede to build more Prairie Crossings. Moreover, Prairie Crossing is still a common interest development with an HOA, so I don't quite see how they will avoid the issues that go along wtih that territory. Maybe we will find out, as it is a place the press loves to cover.
From Australia: Herald Sun: Plants sow seeds of hate [10dec04]
A FLORAL foul-up has left a city street lined with swastika shapes in a week of major Jewish celebrations.Gardeners hired by Melbourne City Council intended to arrange the purple and white pot plants into neat geometric shapes. But they left six 3m garden beds along Swanston St displaying large Nazi symbols. Jewish community representatives were appalled last night by the timing of the blunder. City venues including Federation Square are hosting hundreds of Jews this week to celebrate the eight-day Hanukkah festival.

Take a look at the photo and see if you can imagine it being done "inadvertently"--at least, by anybody with an IQ higher than a rhododendron.
Time for a constitutional amendment?

A reader (in the comments to my post about being "open for comments"--scroll down to the third comment) has come up with a specific proposal: " Amendment to the Constitution, that states, "No Entity, May usurp, or negate any rights that are contained within the Bill of Rights; No Citizen, may give up these rights by contract or any other means."

I wonder what others think of this idea. Any reactions? - News - Couple Threatened With Fine Over Christmas Decoration
Fred Pilot sent this over. The spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge lives on. Reindeer, Santa, lights...I guess that constitutes blight to this HOA?

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Todd and Theresa Patrick may have to pay for showing their Christmas cheer.The Patricks have a reindeer on the roof, a talking Santa Claus at the front door and Christmas lights all over their New Hanover County townhome. But the homeowners association at Marymount Townhomes says if the decorations don't come down, they'll be fined $25 a day.
[more--comments from an attorney who, Borg-like, predicts that "you will be assimilated." Well, not exactly.]
Hostility runs deep in Lake Charleston vote:The community's homeowners association also faced an unsuccessful coup this year, leading to court proceedings
Sounds like a fun time all around.
Privatopia Papers now open for comments go ahead and post them.
How long will HOA issues stay hot in the media?
Fred Pilot and I have been e-mailing back and forth on this issue. Some issues seem to have their day in the sun and then vanish. Remember the tsunami of coverage of the amazing secret invention code-named "Ginger" that turned out to be a two-wheeled thing with a handle that you stand on and ride around at 5 mph? President Bush fell off one, as I recall. Haven't seen many stories about that world-shaking invention recently--and haven't seen any of the thingies themselves, which are called "Segways." On the other hand, other issues are perennials, like crime, war, and anything else that involves conflict. As the saying goes, if it bleeds it leads. So--will the HOA issue be a Segway or a bleeding lead? I'd be interested in what people think on this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Eat at Izzy's
The entrepreneurial spirit is strong here at home. Our seven year old twins (the ones who have been picketing me occasionally) opened a restaurant called "Izzy's" in the family room. They have a menu, two tables, a list of specials, a cash register, and a staff of two--Izzy, the waitress and general boss of the eponymous restaurant, and Conor, the cashier. Hunter (age 13) and I just had imaginary dinner there. Then I asked Izzy to feed our dog, Rocko, and she said, "I can't. I'm on break."

Patriotic sign under fire
Fred Pilot found this example of a California association banning patriotic speech because of a CC&R ban on permanent signs. The owner says, it isn't a sign, it's a philosophy:

APPLE VALLEY — For more than three years, Calvin Ford has displayed a handcrafted plaque above his garage proclaiming a simple, heartfelt message: God Bless America. But now the Wyndham Rose Homeowners' Association, an association of 168 homes in Jess Ranch, is ordering Ford to take down his patriotic placard. The sign, officials say, violates the homeowners' association's rules. Ford acknowledged that the association's CC&Rs — covenants, conditions and restrictions — forbid any permanent signs in the neighborhood. "I don't consider that expression a sign," Ford said. "It's a philosophy we should all be embracing."

Monday, December 13, 2004

CBS 2 Chicago WBBM-TV: Man Evicted From Hut On Chicago Drawbridge
Hey, he was just doing his part to combat the demon named "Sprawl."

CHICAGO (AP) Anyone who thinks it is impossible to find an affordable place on one of the city's priciest streets -- Lake Shore Drive -- should talk to Richard Dorsay. For three or four years that's where the homeless man lived. Actually, he lived under Lake Shore Drive, in a wooden shack built into the beams and girders of the drawbridge that crosses the Chicago River. On Sunday, Dorsay was evicted from his home after another man arrested in suburban Streamwood told police about him.

Can you believe some guy out in the suburbs ratted him out? Sorry. Poor choice of words.
Light infantryman:
Lodi family honors troops in Iraq with annual holiday display

Nothing says happy holidays like, well, a 48-foot American soldier fashioned from rebar and 4,000 feet of twinkling lights. At least in Larry Hamilton's mind...Hamilton and his family live in a remote cluster of manufactured homes five miles west of Interstate 5 on Highway 12. On Sunday, his neighbors and friends gathered in his cul-de-sac, some toasting the soldier with Bud Lights. Many are veterans of hours of light-stringing on the soldier's frame. They love it.

So--top that, you pikers.
Councilman tells baker to pull Bush photos
People ask me, "Why is an HOA any different than a city council when it comes to tyranny?" My answer is always, "The power of a city council is limited by the Constitution--the power of an HOA board isn't. And you can't trust people with governmental power, whether private or public, unless there are constitutional limits on that power." I don't think government officials are superior to HOA directors. In fact, sometimes they are worse.
Submitted for your consideration:
LANCASTER, Pa. — A Democratic city councilman is demanding that a baker remove photos of President Bush from his stand in Lancaster's farmers market, saying the city needs a "healing period" after the bitterly contested election.
City Councilman Nelson Polite asked baker David Stoltzfus last month to remove the pictures. When Mr. Stoltzfus refused, Mr. Polite threatened to push a city ordinance that would ban all political material from public places.

Thank you Councilman Nelson Polite, for proving my point. If there is an award for Most Outrageous Abuse of Municipal Authority, you get my vote. And are you president of your HOA, too, by any chance? -- Politics -- California zeroing in on sprawl
Here is an urban planner's dream. Talk about power--maybe one board controlling all of the real estate development in the state of California? All to slay the demon named "Sprawl." (Condemning sprawl is all the rage in academia--watch for my colleague Bob Bruegmann's forthcoming book that, if I know Bob, will take that cliche apart.) And of course, California's are supposed to live the high-density, attached housing, forced-into-HOAs-against-your-will lifestyle that everybody loves so much. Actually, Senator Peralta, surveys show that Americans have an overwhelming preference for detached single family home ownership, which is why they are moving so far away to find it. The answer is not for state government to usurp local government power in order to make it impossible for people to act on those preferences...unless you think that you have a better idea of how they should live than they do.

On the opening day of the legislative session a week ago, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata talked often about the phenomenon of California homeownership. Parents are chasing that dream to cheaper, faraway towns, then wasting time in cars commuting to work, which hurts families, burdens roads and adds pollution to the air, he said. Perata, D-Alameda, put sprawl at the top of his agenda. He and Schwarzenegger administration officials are looking at a bold, "anti-dumb growth" plan aimed in part at slowing the number of Bay Area residents spilling over the mountains into San Joaquin Valley farmland in search of cheaper homes."We might have to look at something as revolutionary as having the state itself decide on land-use zones and land uses," Perata said. The general idea is to squeeze cheaper homes, apartments and condominiums closer to the urban core and nearby suburbs.There are no specifics yet. But an ambitious series of bills and constitutional amendments expected to be introduced next year will propose usurping the decision-making power of local planning boards, curbing state environmental regulations to lower housing costs, encouraging more housing on old industrial sites and offering extra state money for parks or roads to communities that participate more willingly.
Condo point man embroiled in own legal feud
It looks like some people are a little concerned about Virgil Rizzo's ability to be a fair-handed condo ombudsman. Starting with his neighbors.

When new state condo czar Virgil Rizzo walks into his first meetings with officials in Tallahassee today, a thick envelope full of legal documents will be landing on Gov. Jeb Bush's desk. "The residents of River Reach are requesting that you re-evaluate your selection of Virgil Rizzo for the position of condominium ombudsman," says the letter, which is unsigned, but claims to represent residents of the River Reach condominium in Fort Lauderdale, where Rizzo lives.Rizzo was named state condo ombudsman last week by Bush to prevent condo disputes from escalating into lawsuits. He will work with a $4 million budget fueled by a $4 per-unit fee paid by condo owners. The state legislature created the position this year. His fans, including state legislators and advocates for condo dwellers, say he is the right man to reform a state condo complaint system that has been ineffective for years and is under state investigation. His detractors, including the board of his own condo association, say he is a litigious troublemaker filing baseless claims to harass them. In response, Rizzo says officers of his condo board filed countersuits only to punish him for his charges of financial mismanagement.The legal brouhaha has continued for two years, with suits, countersuits, charges, countercharges and no end in sight.

[more] - Buildings to go up like never before
By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY
Residential and commercial development in the next quarter-century will eclipse anything seen in previous generations as the nation moves to accommodate rapid population growth, according to a Brookings Institution report Monday. About half the homes, office buildings, stores and factories that will be needed by 2030 don't exist today, says Arthur C. Nelson, author of the report for the think tank in Washington, D.

Couple this with the fact that as much as 80% of the new housing is in CIDs and you can see how important is for the nation to come to grips with the problems CIDs present.
Florida press finally discovers that Nevada got there first, but still gets the facts wrong
The reporters in Florida who are trying to figure out what an ombudsman is have finally discovered that Nevada, not Florida, originated the idea. They have now discovered Eldon Hardy, who has been doing this in Nevada since 2001. But the reporter who did this article still doesn't know that Mary Lynn Ashworth was first. She became the nation's first CIC ombudsman in 1998, and held the position until Hardy took it over (see below). So Florida is on the cutting edge of being in second place by six years.

If these folks would just read The Privatopia Papers they could avoid some of these mistakes. :-)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The New York Times > National > Neighbors of Burned Homes Pained by Suburban Sprawl
Followup to the gigantic arson in Maryland, about which there have been reports (including this one) that mention environmental terrorists as the perpetrators. As yet, no suspects named. But here we have the NYT focusing on the long-standing opposition by neighbors to having this development built. Whatever the motive, the fires have highlighted a long and contentious battle over whether this instant dose of suburban density belonged here. The flames seem unlikely to alter the outcome: the developer of Hunters Brooke said this week that the houses would be rebuilt. The demon named Sprawl, bane of academic urban planners everywhere, rears its ugly head. It's so...unplanned.

...For years, local citizens fought their way from the Charles County Planning Commission to the federal courts to preserve the bog. It was not just the wetland, one of the few remaining magnolia bogs in the mid-Atlantic region, that they sought to preserve. They cherish their isolation from Washington's inexorably spreading suburbs. They do not want to lose their chance to see the full panoply of stars in the deeper dark of a rural night.

For Patricia Stamper, a 66-year-old government statistician who has lived up a dirt road in the Mason Springs area with her horses for 30 years, it is impossible to untangle her concern for the environment from her anger that "a high density housing complex is being dumped on us all at once."

BBC NEWS | Americas | US woman 'strangles Rottweiler'
At the risk of turning into Matt Drudge, I had to post this one.

A Florida woman is under investigation for allegedly strangling a neighbour's Rottweiler after it attacked her Yorkshire terrier.
Flashback to 2003: Nevada HOA ombudsman was also "flooded" with complaints
I mentioned below that Mary Lynn Ashworth and Eldon Hardy were ombudspersons for the State of Nevada long before Florida ever thought of creating such an office. Note the similarity in press coverage when Hardy took over from Mary Lynn:

Home sour home
State ombudsman flooded with homeowner association woes

By Larry Wills

On Eldon Hardy's office wall is a list of rules for kindergarten kids on how to behave: Be nice to each other. Don't hit people. Put things back where they belong. Hold hands when you go outside. Hardy, as the state's ombudsman for homeowners' associations, wishes more people would follow those rules. If so, his job would be much easier. But they obviously don't. Hardy's office has grown from three people in 2001 to an authorized 11 staffers this year, with a caseload that's approaching 300. It seems to be the fastest-growing office in state government. He points to a six-inch stack of phone logs, documenting an average of 80 complaints a day from homeowners about their associations. In a three-week period, he personally answered 1,280 calls. "We hear from about 10 percent of the homeowners' associations," says Hardy, a nationally certified arbitrator. "Some associations have as many as seven homeowners filing complaints."