Opinion

Thanks to Rick Feibusch for this vision of a Taj Mahal Berger

All of us have a vision of what we expect and want Oakmont to be. For many of us, our vision of our community is similar to what Oakmont currently is, perhaps with a fresh coat of paint here, new carpet there, and improvements for safety and handicap accessibility. This is what we bought into when we bought a home in Oakmont, and it is certainly the minimum that we should expect. (Golf is a much trickier subject, since the golf courses have never belonged to OVA but they are undeniably part of the image of Oakmont.)

Others have much grander visions, thinking that, in order for Oakmont to be the “premier active adult retirement community” that is a stated goal in the OVA Board Mission Statement, we must spend substantial money for larger, modernized, trendier facilities.

In the first group, their vision of Oakmont probably looks something like this:

  • Oakmont is fully built out, and the existing facilities meet the needs and desires of the vast majority of residents. Few owners bought into Oakmont with the expectation to reap huge rewards from re-selling at a much higher price; we bought here for the location, the amenities and the value, and we wish to remain here for as long as our health allows. Rising costs that come with big dreams of premium new facilities threaten that future.

  • Dues will rise, but will not rise any more than inflation. Borrowing and hefty dues increases will only happen in extreme emergencies.

  • Facilities will be maintained – paint, new carpet, necessary safety and accessibility improvements, etc – but no additions to functionality will be undertaken without a vote of the membership.

  • New capital improvement projects, e.g. a replacement Berger, a new ball court facility, will require a vote of the membership.

  • The OGC has been a fairly successful, independent and separate entity from OVA. Any contributions to OGC will require a vote of the membership to start or to increase, and should be limited to no more than some percentage of OVA dues [maybe 10%, maybe zero].

Those with a grand vision imagine something like this:

  • The OVA Board Mission Statement, as adopted in 2010, includes “to have Oakmont perceived as a premier active adult retirement community in comparison with other similar retirement locations, thereby contributing to the well-being of the residents and to the preservation of property values”. Oakmont dues are a fraction of what residents of many other “similar retirement locations” pay. Our facilities have mostly been maintained but hardly improved in the past three decades, and are far short of fancy. Our facilities need a serious visual face lift and we must add new amenities that are more appealing to new waves of seniors to remain premier and competitive, and we are willing to substantially increase dues to do so. If we don’t, younger retirees will seek out more up-to-date communities and Oakmont property values will stagnate or decline.

  • Dues must be allowed to rise to pay for newer and/or more updated and attractive facilities, perhaps as much as 50% to 100% above current levels over five years, in addition to inflation, and borrowing funds for these purposes is acceptable.

  • We want things such as a new and expanded kitchen in Berger, larger stage, expanded footprint and/or to replace Berger with a new building, an expanded CAC, and an indoor swimming pool, and we are willing to increase dues and to purchase property in order to provide for these things.

  • The Board of Directors has the authority and responsibility for deciding how to improve OVA facilities; no membership vote is required or desirable, unless assessment limits established in the OVA By-Laws or California law are exceeded.

  • Oakmont Golf Club’s signature 36 holes of golf are essential to the image of Oakmont and to Oakmont home values. Contributions to the OGC should be made to ensure that golf continues to thrive in Oakmont, and to protect Oakmont home values that might suffer if OGC fails. The Board of Directors has the authority and responsibility for deciding how much support to provide to OGC, unless assessment limits established in the OVA By-Laws and California law are exceeded. If such contributions ultimately amount to 1/3 to 1/2 of OVA dues, that is OK because of the importance of the golf courses to the community.

The Problems

I believe that virtually everyone who serves Oakmont as a director or committee member does so with the hope of furthering the best interests of Oakmont. I have yet to meet an Oakmont sociopath, and even though there might be some hint of narcissism in some, it is nothing compared to what we see on the national political scene. The problem is not one of motivation or personal greed or anything else nefarious; the problem is that we don’t all share the same vision of Oakmont and, consequently, we don’t agree on what needs to be done to achieve the best interests of Oakmont. This is exacerbated by the fact that Oakmont can no longer expect to receive “free” money from developer fees.

OVA Boards change every year, and with the change comes a change in the Board’s consensus vision of Oakmont. Directors often come into office with specific goals in mind, perhaps to fulfill campaign promises that helped to get them elected, perhaps with goals that may be more covert, hoping to use the office to achieve their personal vision of what is best for Oakmont.

With director terms a short two years, any director wishing to create a positive legacy, i.e. progress toward his vision of Oakmont, must work quickly and may be motivated to rush the process. Campaign promises of transparency and member involvement may go by the wayside, and ends-justifies-the-means thinking takes over. This has been particularly true with respect to the OGC issue, where the stakes are high – the potential for millions of dollars of OVA dues committed to OGC, on the one hand, and the potential for “blight” should OGC fail, on the other. In other cases, Boards have approved minor parts of their Oakmont vision, resulting in patchwork improvements that do not serve Oakmont well.

All of this has taken place, in part, because Oakmont does not have a longer-term vision which everyone accepts. In the worst cases I can remember (I have only been here 5 years), there was an expensive plan to build an office building somewhere near the CAC, and there was another expensive plan to build pickleball courts right next to the central pool. In both cases, the OVA Board tried to ignore the opposition to these plans, until either they had to give up the plan or, in the case of pickleball, a new Board was elected that immediately shut down the process. In both cases, the issue was very divisive in our community, feelings were hurt, persons were villified on both sides of the issue, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were wasted. Much ill will from those contentious political battles remains to this day.

What is Needed

I believe that the most critical Oakmont need is to come up with a vision that best represents the consensus of OVA members, and then to incorporate that vision into OVA governance documents. The goal is to develop a consensus vision, supported by valid survey results representing the spectrum of demographic groups in Oakmont, that will guide the spending decisions of current and future Boards of Directors.

The first step must be to reach every significant demographic in Oakmont to find out what their visions of Oakmont are, somewhere on the spectrum between the conservative extreme and the grander vision described above. To do this will require another survey, but perhaps a much shorter and simpler one than the Visions of Oakmont, and a concerted effort to reach Oakmonters with the full range of incomes and political involvement. If I were writing the survey, in addition to demographic questions, there might be a single Vision of Oakmont question, with a description of the two extreme visions outlined above and asking the respondent to select a number from 0, for the fiscally conservative extreme, to 10 for the grand-vision extreme. The most important result of the survey would be a number from 0 to 10, representing the median answer to this question. The results of the survey must be made public, of course.

The second step is to establish a stable Oakmont Vision, Mission Statement and Guiding Principles document, similar to that of the Creekside Village HOA but following closely the will of OVA members, as expressed in the survey identified in the preceding paragraph. In order for this document to be stable over time, and not just a political expression of the currently seated Board of Directors, the Bylaws must be amended to (1) identify the document and specify its purpose, (2) require its development within a year by the Board, with the help of the Long Range Planning Committee, and (3) require approval by a vote of the membership, for either initial establishment or amendment of the document. This document must be carefully written to express the median vision derived from the survey. The Oakmont Vision section must be specific enough to provide significant guidance to directors, rather than motherhood-and-apple-pie statements that can be readily interpreted to support whatever vision a director may have. The OVA Board Mission Statement must be compatible with the Oakmont Vision and must require the Board to act in support of that vision. The Guiding Principles for the OVA Board should define the principles which OVA members expect directors to follow, in executing their fiduciary duty to the Association. Requiring that the document be approved by the membership will provide a stability that cannot be achieved if it can be changed easily by the Board of Directors.  More importantly, approval by a membership vote will assure that it adheres to the community’s wishes.

Board Goals, currently part of the 2010 OVA Board Mission Statement & Goals document, should become a separate policy document. The goals should be examined and revised, as needed, to fully support the Oakmont Vision, Mission Statement and Guiding Principles. If, for example, the Oakmont Vision does not support addition of new facilities except as approved by a membership vote, then the current “new facilities” goal would need to be modified to reflect that.

Finally, revisit the Oakmont Vision, Mission Statement and Guiding Principles no more than once every five years. Admittedly the consensus vision of Oakmont may change over time, as the population changes, but this document should be a stabilizing factor, not something to be changed with every board election. This approach will minimize contention, wasted time and money, and guide Oakmont Board decisions in a more credible and effective way.

Spread the word(s):

9 comments

  1. Robert Hixson

    Thank you Bruce, for your measured logic, and mature overview. Of course, this is the correct plan forward for Oakmont. It must be realized if Oakmont
    is to continue to meet the needs of the grand majority of residents. Please run for the next round of Directors… Regards, Robert.

  2. Two thumbs up Bruce. A master plan for fixing what is wrong (and I mean what is really wrong) with Oakmont.

  3. Leslie Wolseth

    Thank you again for your excellent letter on the future of Oakmont, I agree. Oakmont is not a exclusive high dues country club for the elite, it is a retirement community.
    I just moved here after living in my happy home for 40 years. I didn’t move here for the golf course, I moved here for the beauty, solitude, and the dues just the way they are. I am planning this as my last move. Journey’s end, so to speak.

    I agree with Robert. PLEASE RUN FOR THE NEXT ROUND OF DIRECTORS

    Leslie Wolseth

  4. Robert W Starkey

    Before I moved to Oakmont, I lived where I worked, as resident manager in the former British Consul General’s residence turned private museum. My neighbors included multi-millionaires and billionaires. I watched 8 million dollar homes, bought, renovated, then sold a few years later for 10 or 12 million dollars. Only to be gutted, rebuilt and sold again for even more money.

    When I moved into my 1974 Oakmont rental house, I celebrated the charm of the original kitchen cupboards and sliding glass doors leading to the patio. I love the formica countertops.

    For the first 12 years of my life we lived in my grandmother’s house. My father worked sometimes seven days a week at General Motors, to support 7 kids while still saving money for his first home. The important word here is home! From the time my father bought his first home, until the day he died, he never once wondered how much his house was worth.

    I am my father’s son!

  5. Great Perspective Bruce.

    I especially like the “Guiding Principles” aspect of what you say. I think some of the current Board would agree to this, but they may think that they already are providing Guiding Principles in the way things are now.

    I would add that there are many existing Communities, Schools and Centers of various types, throughout the U.S. and Europe, that have discovered how important a Vision, Mission and Guiding Principles are to keeping things functioning, and people working together, year after year, issue after issue.

    The most successful ones honor the differences between people and have a populace that is mostly committed to fulfilling the principles through their words and actions. More importantly they all have one thing in common… the willingness to fully acknowledge mistakes that have been made, and heal or learn from them. Does Oakmont have this ability or quality?

    1. Thanks for your comments. My goal is to improve OVA governance, so that it better serves a consensus vision of what Oakmont is and might become. And my hope is that this will help people to work together with less division and acrimony.

  6. Jonathan M Rutledge

    These are well thought out and reasonable ideas.

    Everyone always talks about Oakmont keeping up with the competition of similar type developments but when I ask for similar type developments with whom we might be competing no one has an answer. Does anyone?

    As far as the golf dues are concerned my understanding is that the golf course membership has decreased by 50% in the past few years. Hardly a convincing argument that its closure would decrease our property values. How about a Stow Lake-like park replacing the golf course with a first class restaurant instead of a golf course we are not allowed to walk on and a restaurant that is so bad it closes at 7pm?

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