Archive for January, 2013

Berkeley co-op litigants agree on mediation

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants in a lawsuit involving a Berkeley senior housing cooperative agreed last week that further mediation in the case might resolve all the issues.

According to filings in the case by David H. Schwartz, attorney for co-op member Jonathan Pool, and Fred M. Feller, attorney for Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation and seven of its officials, San Francisco mediator and retired judge Richard Hodge brokered a tentative settlement in June, but it fell apart when the parties failed to work out all the remaining details and the co-op’s insurance company revoked an agreement to pay for corrections of defective waterproofing and construction at the co-op’s property. In a joint statement filed on Friday, Schwartz and Feller expressed optimism about further mediation by Hodge. They noted that the parties had continued negotiating and Danville construction contractor Garry Secrest, whom the co-op had brought into the lawsuit, had offered to participate in mediation.

Today Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick issued a tentative ruling approving the co-op’s motion to add another contractor and two more companies to those being sued in the co-op’s cross-complaint.

The lawsuit, filed in March 2012 by Pool, alleges that co-op officials paid Secrest $224,000 for bungled work performed with no license, no insurance, no building permit, and no signed contract, with almost all of the money paid without a required vote of the board of directors. Pool’s complaint also alleges neglect of seismic risks in the 60-unit 9-story building and numerous procedural violations by the corporation’s directors.

A case management conference in the suit is scheduled for Thursday.

Contractor seeks jury trial in Berkeley co-op suit

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

A Danville contractor involved in a lawsuit against officials of a Berkeley senior housing cooperative filed papers on Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court asking for a jury trial.

Charles Koss, attorney for Garry Secrest and American Pacific Coatings, Inc., filed a case management statement in preparation for a court conference on 31 January. In the statement, Koss requested a jury trial and also said he would be asking the court to sever his clients’ case from the lawsuit of which it is a part, Pool vs. Berkeley Town House Cooperative Corporation et al. Plaintiff Jonathan Pool, a co-op member residing at Berkeley Town House, initiated the suit in March, claiming that the co-op’s officials had misspent co-op funds on failed work done by Secrest with no license, no insurance, no building permit, and no signed contract. The co-op later filed a cross-complaint against Secrest and American Pacific Coatings. The Secrest statement characterized Secrest not as a contractor but as “an independent sales consultant” for Cardiel Floor Covering, which it said was in fact the contractor that did the work.

The Secrest statement also expressed a willingness to participate in mediation.

In a companion filing, Secrest informed the court that he would not object to the co-op’s motion to amend its cross-complaint to add three more defendants, Esteban Cardiel, Pacific CFC, and Esteban Floor Covering.

Co-op attorney’s threat letter gets reply

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Two days ago I received a letter from my Berkeley senior housing co-op’s attorney, apparently threatening to have my guests arrested for “trespass”, if I dared to let them into our building to attend a panel discussion, scheduled for tomorrow, on civil liberties in housing co-ops and other such communities. Ironic, of course, as I discussed on Monday. Yesterday she got an answer from my attorney. It speaks for itself.

As mentioned in my previous entry, this is not the first time that Berkeley Town House has censored peaceful discussions by its members and residents. Two years ago it did the same. In September 2010 it denied requests for reservations of space for two meetings that would have been open to all members and residents. I blogged about this at the time. To enrich the record, I am now posting the original summary denial, saying only that BTH wasn’t “an appropriate venue”, and then the notice by the BTH board of directors, explaining its denial in some detail. As you can see, the board didn’t hesitate to admit that it was banning these meetings on the basis of who the participants would have been, what they would have said, and what motives they would have had for participating. It says something profound about these directors that they not only engage in censorship but boast of doing so.

Berkeley co-op threatens to call police to stop civil liberties forum

Monday, January 7th, 2013

A forum on civil liberties in housing co-ops, condos, and cohousing that I organized and publicized for this Thursday (10 January 2013) was declared “canceled” today by the manager of the senior housing co-op where it was to take place.

Later today, the co-op’s attorney warned in a letter that any guests who might “trespass or attempt to enter the building” for the forum would be dealt with by “law enforcement authorities”. [Update 8 January 2013: There is an answer to this letter.]

These actions were the latest in a two-year-old dispute over the rights of members at Berkeley Town House, a 60-unit building at Dana and Parker Streets in Berkeley. A March 2012 complaint filed by me against 8 co-op officials in Alameda County Superior Court asserts that co-op officials have been denying rights, promised to all members when they bought in, to assemble and speak freely in the building’s common areas, and have been banning meetings when they dislike the opinions that they expect the speakers to express.

A new co-op manager took over in November 2012 and began demanding strict enforcement of his own interpretation of a house rule on the use of common areas. Under his interpretation, not even 2 persons may meet in the common areas at any time for any purpose, unless they have requested permission from the co-op at least 2 weeks in advance, paid a $25 deposit, and waited to get permission, which the co-op could grant or deny as it sees fit. The deposit wouldn’t be returned unless the space where they had met passed a post-meeting inspection. Want to play a game of Trivial Pursuit? Want to talk politics with a friend? Too bad, you’d better plan that meeting well ahead of time and get out your checkbook, or else do it in the privacy of your own apartment.

Is that what the rule really says? Not at all. It is actually written to (in its own words) “enable the membership at large to freely enjoy the Meeting Space without interference.” What the rule requires permission for is “private” events that a member wants to organize “on a reservation basis”. Do I want to hold a private party in a common room only for my invited guests and keep other members out? Then I must ask permission, and the rule says there will be limits on the duration and frequency of such private reserved events. Makes sense.

What a shame. Berkeley Town House has about 2700 square feet of common space on its ground floor, with a huge kitchen, chairs, sofas, dining tables, an antique record collection and phonograph, a piano, and a 45-inch video display system. Under the management’s draconian enforcement of a rule that exists only in its fantasy, all this space is usually empty of all human beings. After all, who even knows 2 weeks in advance how he or she is going to want to spend a spare evening hour?

The significant issue is not what the rule means. It is why people governing a senior housing co-op in Berkeley, of all places, would actually want to monitor and censor their members’ conversations in the common lounge. But they do, and their insistence on doing so has persisted through all attempts at reasoned discussion. As a recent unbeloved U.S. president would have hypothesized, “they hate our freedom”. And this may explain the peculiar ferocity of the management’s efforts to muzzle this civil-liberties forum. If the forum were allowed, co-op members might actually learn about the rights they have and how to defend those rights.

Real estate brokers sometimes call Berkeley Town House “Berkeley’s best-kept secret”. Perhaps an even-better-kept secret is the current management’s obsession with control. Let BTH be a lesson to all who might want to move into a housing community: Decide what kind of governance over your community’s social life you want, and snoop enough to learn what the political culture really is inside those walls, before you commit your cash to a share of the community. The truth may require some digging, but it’s probably worth the effort.