San Lorenzo Express News


Director of San Lorenzo Homes Association Recalled: End of an Era


APRIL 9, 2011

A director of the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association has been removed by a vote of the membership, ending an era of relative tranquility in one of the nation's largest homeowner associations.

Brenda Carr, who became a director in 2010, was removed by a vote of 1,866 to 815 in balloting that ended March 17. Under the rules of the association, each property in the association is entitled to two votes.

Carr will be replaced by Wulf Bieschke, who received 2,036 votes. He was the only person to file the necessary papers to become a candidate to replace Carr if the recall was successful. Bieschke served on the board from 2007 until early 2009, when he suddenly resigned. In his 2010 candidate's statement he wrote: "Over the last year, our Association Board has been in disarray. I want to help our board get back to addressing the real issues within our Association: protecting property values, practicing good governance, and assuring that County government supports our land use policies."

The final recall vote was actually a second round of voting after the board of directors decided to restart the election because of possible charges of irregularity in the first balloting.

The recall election got underway in early December when mail ballots were sent to the association's almost 6,000 members. The voting period was to have closed at the end of January. In addition to the recall of Carr, the annual election included filling the vacancy created by the conclusion of director Mel Medeiros's term. However, only one person, Diane Wydler, filed as a candidate, and thus she was deemed elected without the need for members to vote.

At the board's regular January 20 meeting president Kathy Martins proposed starting the election over because some 300 ballots appeared to have been lost when ballots were mailed in December. In addition, as of Jan. 20 about a third of the returned ballots were unsigned, and thus could not be counted as valid. Martins, in an emotional statement, said that since the election began she had come to realize that the election had "deeply divided the community." In light of that, she proposed restarting the election to avoid further deepening the division and risking a lawsuit over the conduct of the election.

The board voted to have a private company, Unilect, conduct the election from start to finish, so that association staff or members would not handle ballots at any time. (Unilect, based in Danville, conducts elections for private organizations.) The reported cost of the second election was $25,000. In contrast, when the association conducts an election the cost has been about $1,000, according to previous years' budgets. Martins alleged in published comments on the association's new annual budget that the higher costs of the second round of voting were due to Carr's request for reverification of the recall petition and "other legal questions" raised by Carr.

The petition supporting the demand for a recall election did not give a reason why Carr should be removed, and state law does not require that a reason be given. The petition also did not identify the initiators, although Keith Barros later made known that he was behind the recall petition. However, a flyer that was circulated by petitioners stated that Carr "did not reveal that a homeowner delinquency case being heard by the board was for a family member."

How did they learn this information from a closed board meeting? Lou Orselli, in an opinion piece published March 14 at Patch.com, states that he and two others were "inadvertent witnesses" to statements made while the homes association board met in closed session. The closed session occurred during a "work session" of the board. Orselli and others in attendance at the work session had been asked to leave while the board deliberated privately in closed session. After listening for some time from outside the room, Orselli reported that he "stepped as far away as I could without exiting the building as I knew I had just witnessed a serious ethical violation."

Barros, in a statement published in the association's December newsletter, reiterated the charge that Carr had failed to disclose her relationship to an association member in a "delinquency case". He also stated that Carr had voted against adoption of an Ethical Code of Conduct for directors at the May 2010 board meeting. Finally, he alleged that Carr "repeatedly attacks her fellow directors and the administrator."

In the same December newsletter Carr issued her own statement defending herself. "My objective has been and continues to be, to provide Transparency, Accountability, and Accessibility" in the association's affairs, she wrote. She countered that those behind the recall bully members "through threats, intimidation and slander against those who choose to get involved, bring new ideas, or ask for clarification."

In contrast to the apparent tranquility of association meetings since its founding in the 1940s, in the past decade meetings have often been acrimonious. Certainly the failure of progress in revitalizing San Lorenzo Village's commercial core on Hesperian Boulevard has been a frequent irritant at meetings. But a variety of issues, not directly affecting the village, have provoked angry outbursts at association meetings.

In fact, Brenda Carr's support of marijuana dispensaries may have been the real reason she was targeted for removal. Some supporters of the recall have snidely but privately referred to Carr as the "Marijuana Queen". (In a rare open expression of the issue, "Lea Almond" commented in response to Orselli's opinion piece at Patch.com: "I'm sorry that in this toned version it does not allow you to reference Carr and her support of medical marijuana.")

The recall prompted a months-long barrage of negative comments about Carr both at association board meetings and on Patch.com. The recall — the first in the 65-year history of the association — may have represented the boiling over of a long-simmering feud over control of the homes association, as well as decades-old disaffection with the association, in which membership is required of almost all property owners in San Lorenzo Village.

In 1999 a tearful Dave Sherman resigned abruptly at a board meeting, citing stress from frequent criticism of the board at meetings. In 2009 Richard Ogg likewise resigned abruptly, before completing his first year in office. In his resignation letter Ogg cited "childish and unprofessional behavior that takes place between the members of the board" (see "San Lorenzo Homes Association Board in Turmoil").

At the February association board meeting, outgoing director Mel Medeiros said he believed Ogg had resigned "because he got tired of all the hard work." Then, addressing association employee Kathleen Harrigan who was takings minutes of the meeting, he said "shame on you," in apparent reference to Harrigan's publicly expressed view as a member of the association that the recall of Carr was unwarranted.

The association's administrator, Nancy van Huffel, has also been the target of public and private criticism by association members as she often expresses her own views on issues at public meetings and has ongoing contact with a variety of government agencies and elected officials.

Neither Barros nor Carr responded to invitations to comment for this article.

See the following related documents:

"Questions and Answers Regarding the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association Recall Election" -- This unsigned and undated document was distributed at an association board meeting. Although unsigned, it was presumably prepared by the association's administrator, Nancy van Huffel. (Link is to PDF file at association's website.)