Thursday, November 21, 2019

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Oakmont News, Opinion & More

A Fair and Democratic Election?

It has now been over a week since the vote count in one of the most contentious elections in Oakmont history. The result was an overwhelming victory for the OVA Board and for the YES campaign, both of whom campaigned effectively and relentlessly for the 31% dues increase. It was also a shocking disappointment to those of us who feel that the consequences of the vote in 5 or 10 years will be an Oakmont that is far more up-scale, expensive and exclusive than the Oakmont we bought into. We feel that such a future is a bad thing, not a good one. Current owners who can’t afford the changes will be “weeded out”, many future middle-class prospects will not be able to purchase a home in Oakmont, and the lower-end properties will become rental ghettos, because prospective resident-owners won’t be able to afford to buy them.

The question I would like to address here is whether or not that election was fair, democratic and respectful of the right of Oakmont owners to determine Oakmont’s future.

But I don’t want to rehash all the arguments made in the 6 weeks between the announcement on June 25 that there would be a dues-increase vote and the vote count on August 8. The question I would like to address here is whether or not that election was fair, democratic and respectful of the right of Oakmont owners to determine Oakmont’s future. The simple answer to that question is a resounding “NO” on all counts. The result was a triumph of one-sided political PR, not a triumph of the democratic process.

Do you care, Oakmont? Certainly many care about the result, but I think it is crucial that, moving forward, we press for an improved decision making process when major choices about our shared future must be made.

What would the ballot have looked like and how would the campaign leading up to the vote have been handled, in order for it to have been fair and democratic

It might have gone something like this:

  • First, the OVA Board decision process which took place between when OGC was offered for sale and June 25 would have been more open, with OVA members being more aware of the options that were being considered. For example, the fact that the AGP company was being considered as a lessee would have been known at least a month earlier.
  • The letter of intent, for OVA to purchase OGC, would include a contingency for approval by the OVA membership of the purchase, not just of a dues increase.
  • The ballot would have presented viable, responsible alternatives and allowed OVA members to choose among them, perhaps like the following:
  1. The Oakmont Village Association (OVA) should attempt to purchase the Oakmont Golf Association (OGC). [YES/NO]
  2. If OVA is successful in purchasing OGC, it should:
    1. Convert most or all of the property to non-golf uses, including a mix of Oakmont recreational purposes and the possible sale or lease of portions of it in order to fund the conversion and operation of the property.
    2. Enter into a 30-year lease with a company who will attempt to continue and improve the golfing operation on the OGC property. This will require an on-going subsidy from OVA of over a half million dollars per year, unless and until the golfing operation becomes profitable.
      [A/B]
  3. OVA dues may be raised by up to $23/member/month in 2021 in order to support either alternative listed in 2. [YES/NO]
  • A month would have been allowed between the announcement of the vote and the delivery of the ballot to OVA members. During that time, equal space for pro and con arguments would have been provided in the Oakmont News and in public meetings, in order to fairly educate OVA members on the benefits, costs and consequences of each decision to be made.
  • Included with the ballot mailing, or mailed separately to all OVA members prior to the ballot mailing, would be a ballot pamphlet including a page of pro and con arguments for each of the three decisions on the ballot. Those arguments would include proponents’ and opponents’ estimates of the benefits, costs and consequences of each decision to be made.

Not one of these elements of a fair election actually occurred. Serious violations of Civil Code §5105. Election Rules occurred, in particular of paragraphs (1) and (2) of that section, and I don’t see how anyone observing the election could claim otherwise.

In addition to the obvious imbalance in coverage of the OGC issue in the Oakmont News and the OVA-sponsored town halls, the Special Meeting demanded by membership petition was delayed as long as possible under our Bylaws, thereby reducing any impact that free, non-orchestrated discussion might have had on the process. When members showed up, they were told to go home and the staff was instructed to turn off the microphones to prevent any meaningful discussion. Expecting this to be the case, the Oakmont Alliance requested meeting space on a different day to discuss reasons for opposing the dues increase; this meeting took place (on July 31), but only after payment of a $150 fee, in direct violation of Civil Code §5105. Election Rules paragraph (2), which states that HOA election rules must “Ensure access to the common area meeting space, if any exists, during a campaign, at no cost, to all members advocating a point of view, including those not endorsed by the board, for purposes reasonably related to the election.”

Perhaps you don’t care about the niceties of the process, as long as you like the result. But surely we can all agree that the process should at least abide by California law. It seems to me that the blatant violations of law make the entire election subject to legal challenge, should anyone have the resources and motivation to do so.

So where do we go from here?

Given the overwhelming result of the vote, the lack of support in our Bylaws for requiring membership votes on important decisions and the fact that the Board can command the resources of OVA to oppose any challenge, I will not be a party to any lawsuit designed solely to overturn the vote. I probably won’t have much more to say about the vote, other than to urge that anyone who finds the election process to have been as outrageous as I do should hold our directors accountable for their actions come election time.

I will continue to argue for Bylaws amendments that give the OVA membership the authority to make the most important OVA decisions, including those involving major capital improvements, purchase of property and obligating OVA to long-term leases. I will also oppose the re-election of board members responsible for the election abuses referred to above, and I will support election of any candidates who promise desirable Bylaws amendments and more democratic processes for future decision making.

Caveat: In writing this article, I am speaking only for myself, not for the Oakmont Alliance nor any other organization or group.

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2 Comments

  1. Jose Valencia on August 20, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    I personally felt that the process went pretty well, all things considered. I also felt that the board members did a good job of allowing input and being open with the process. I get, that some members were dissatisfied with the process (and the outcome). I believe that the decision made is in the best interests for the vast majority of Oakmont residents. I am optimistic that Oakmonts future will be well served.

  2. James on August 21, 2019 at 12:12 pm

    Bruce,

    I commend you on your writing and ability to keep moving forward and supporting the Democratic process. I am perplexed by the process in Oakmont and why the Board felt that they needed to divisively push for one outcome by controlling the process and shutting down opposing views.

    I believe this is another case study in how our society has entered into this dark time culturally and politically. The concept that the process was needed as a “means to an end” for OVA to purchase the property and golf courses is a commentary on today’s Oakmont. I look forward to observing the next steps in Oakmont, and if the process changes in any way as things get more complex and deeper into the actual details.

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