Archive for December, 2012

Democracy at Home: Civil Liberties in Co-ops, Condos, and Cohousing

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Two experienced Bay Area activists promoting democratically governed housing communities will meet in Berkeley on Thursday, 10 January, for a discussion titled “Democracy at Home: Civil Liberties in Co-ops, Condos, and Cohousing”.

The meeting will take place at 2550 Dana Street (“Berkeley Town House”) at 7 p.m. All BTH members and residents are welcome. If you are from elsewhere you are welcome to attend, but please comment below or via my message form, so I can arrange for you to be admitted into the (secure) building.

Please note that I’m the host of this meeting; it isn’t being sponsored by Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation. (One of the benefits enjoyed by us who live at BTH is free shared access to a vast common meeting area and common kitchen, covering about half of the first floor.)

Here are links to some relevant information, if you’d like to do any background reading:

Co-op expands contractor claims after insurer nixes settlement in suit

Monday, December 24th, 2012

A Berkeley senior housing cooperative has announced it is expanding its claims against a construction contractor in a lawsuit filed in March by a co-op shareholder.

On Friday William E. Joost, Jr., representing Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation and 7 of its officials, filed a notice in Alameda County Superior Court that it will ask permission to amend the cooperative’s cross-complaint against Danville contractor Garry Secrest and American Pacific Coatings, Inc. The amended cross-complaint adds Esteban Cardiel, Pacific CFC, and Esteban Floor Covering to the list of named cross-defendants. In it the co-op, for the first time, also alleges that the contractors have been negligent and are causing the co-op continuing monetary damages.

Among the reasons cited by the notice for the proposed amendment is “the withdrawal of funds previously offered to resolve this case by Town House’s insurance carrier”. In a memorandum filed with the proposed amendment, Joost says this is “precluding a settlement of the matter to date”.

The lawsuit, filed by Jonathan Pool, alleges that co-op officials paid Secrest $224,000 for a bungled waterproofing and exterior construction job performed with no license, no insurance, no building permit, and no signed contract. Pool’s complaint also alleges neglect of seismic risks in the 60-unit 9-story building and financial irregularities and procedural violations by the corporation’s directors. A case-management conference and hearing on the motion are scheduled for 31 January in Oakland. The complaint and other papers filed in the case have been collected in a blog posting by Pool.

Bay Area Property Services declares war on free speech

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Bay Area Property Services, in Walnut Creek, California, manages common interest developments (CIDs), including condominium associations and housing cooperatives. It appoints one member of its staff as the manager. He interacts with the CID board of directors, any staff, and the rank-and-file membership. He attends board meetings and advises the board on proper procedures. At least in theory.

Our cooperative (Berkeley Town House) hired BAPS in October this year, and it began work in November.

The initial impression made by BAPS and by the manager that it appointed for us, Christopher Stanley, was generally good. Stanley seemed to understand the complexity of managing a diverse urban residential community. He initially reached out and offered to provide records to me on request; when I asked for one document, he sent it to me promptly.

But things went sour later. First, Christopher Stanley failed for a month to respond to complaints by at least 3 residents about a defective ventilation system and did nothing (as far as we could tell) to get it repaired. Second, he also failed to provide access to a contract for a couple of shareholders who had requested it, violating the law on open records.

Third, he disregarded the CID’s rules about use of the common areas and fabricated rules of his own fantasy, demanding compliance. Where the actual rules said that we all have free and shared use of the common areas, and we have limited privileges to reserve them for our private use, Stanley alleged, with no basis in fact, that the rules require us to request permission to use the common areas for “a meeting of any kind”. Thus, if, for example, three of us want to meet in one corner of the lounge to discuss current events, Stanley alleges that one of us must submit an application form at least 2 weeks in advance and pay a $25 deposit, then wait to find out whether the corporation will approve our request. If we’re lucky and it does, then, after our meeting ends, we must summon a member of the board of directors to inspect the spot where we met, perhaps to verify that we didn’t drool on the floor. Only then does the applicant get the deposit back. No residential community in its right mind would adopt such draconian restrictions on the ordinary social interactions of its members, but Christopher Stanley considers such a virtual lock-down perfectly normal. He told me, “the Board has obligation to know what is happening in the common areas”. In other words, Big Board is Watching You. I expect him to recommend the purchase of interior spy drones any month now.

Fourth, Stanley announced that he had singlehandedly repealed the corporation’s policy of distributing the draft minutes of each board meeting to the shareholders in time for their comments before the board’s vote to accept the minutes. From now on, he said, draft minutes will not be available to shareholders at all, and final minutes will be available only on request, and only after they have become final by means of a board vote. Some directors expressed doubt about the wisdom of this action, but no director questioned its legality. In fact, Stanley has no power to repeal any corporate policy. Moreover, his decree violates section 1363.05(d) of the California Civil Code, which requires that minutes be made available to CID members within 30 days after each meeting. Since the board meets once a month, the next meeting is often more than 30 days after the previous one, and therefore compliance requires making draft minutes available.

As a last straw, convincing me that I owe it to prospective BAPS customers to warn them about this firm, Stanley at today’s meeting of the board of directors actually shouted down two of the shareholders as they were just beginning to address the board. The moment he thought he understood what they wanted to talk about, he used his microphone to drown each of them out, repeatedly saying he would not allow them to speak. This is despite the CID Open Meeting Act, which guarantees every member and resident of a CID the right to address the board at each meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the president, with Stanley’s approval, announced that the board would go into executive session immediately. This, too, was probably illegal, though the Civil Code on that is a bit confusing. As I read it, this is legal only if the meeting’s agenda includes the executive session and its topic. But today’s agenda didn’t mention an executive session at all.

Whether BAPS has any competent and civil managers I don’t know. But, if it does, Christopher Stanley isn’t one of them, and any CID that he manages, including Berkeley Town House, will suffer from his tyrannical style.