Safety versus privacy: the Sand Canyon HOA weighs the choices


About 900 Sand Canyon residents, many whose homes were threatened by last year’s deadly and devastating Sand Fire, are on a list of emails compiled by their homeowners association to be notified in the event of a similar disaster.

But on Wednesday night, members of the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association were expected to vote on what has become a controversial issue for some – the sharing of the HOA email list with the local radio station KHTS.

The vote marks the second time the SCHOA will have weighed in on the issue after some association members objected to having their privacy compromised.

Ruthann Levison is the SCHOA’s communication director who spearheaded the efforts to put their emails on a list to be used for alerts issued about emergencies such as brush fires.

Last month, the SCHOA board agreed with her and decided to share its 900-member HOA email list with KHTS radio station, giving its members an opportunity to “opt out” if they wanted but not give them an opportunity to “opt in.”.

“The board felt this was going to be an enhancement to the community,” Levison said. “The reason was made to turn over all the email addresses is that it will get the majority of the community on board.”

The alternative – inviting members to “opt in” for inclusion on such an email blast list – would not be comprehensive, she said, noting she would expect about 20 percent of the membership to sign up if it was left up to them.

“We’re doing what we see is the best thing we can do for this community,” Levison said.

Since then, however, some HOA members have argued that the list used for news alerts – commonly called an email blast – should be something members could “opt in” if they wanted.

By assuming they wanted their privacy forfeited in the name of safety is not the way to go, they said.

Four of the 900 SCHOA members “opted out” of having their emails included on such a list two weeks ago, Levison said, when the association board first approved the list sharing.

After news of the list sharing became public, the number of HOA members “opting out” mushroomed.

“After the first letter (of notification) we had four who opted out,” Levison said. “But, after it was printed in the paper we had two dozen, maybe three dozen, opt out.”

“I still think it’s a good idea,” she said. “My intentions are pure.”

Corporations code

Brad Watson, owner and founder of Property Management Professionals which represents several homeowner associations in the Santa Clarita Valley, said despite good intentions, sharing an email list with a third party – in this case a radio station – could be a violation of Section 8338(a) of California’s Corporations Code.

“A membership list is considered a corporate asset. The HOA board needs to very careful with its corporate asset even if it’s done in good faith,” Watson said speaking hypothetically and not about the SCHOA.

“It is commonplace at HOAs, for those who do not want to be included on an emergency list or on an email blast to have the option of opting out,” he said, noting HOA members have already “opted in” when they gave the HOA signed permission to contact them by email.

Giving the same list to a third party, however, is an entirely different thing. Watson said: “You no longer have control of that information.”

KHTS co-owner Carl Goldman said he has no intention of using the email list for any other reason than to send news alerts to the email addresses.

“We’ve made assurances that we’re not using the list for commercial purposes,” he told The Signal Wednesday.

“To be up-front, however, the news briefs when they pop up may contain ads and stories,” he added.

Emergency warnings

Goldman said radio has a unique niche in helping the community with immediate and vital information shared during an emergency, and having a complete list of people to notify about emergencies such as the Sand Fire would be helpful.

“There were so many people that didn’t get on Ruthann’s email list who still really wanted that (urgent) information,” he said, referring to Sand Canyon homeowners affected by last year’s Sand Fire.

A year ago, the Sand Fire claimed one man’s life, burned 19 homes to the ground, evacuated half a dozen neighborhoods and destroyed more than 41,000 acres.

“We have not asked any other HOA to turn over emails,” Goldman said.

On the issue of following California’s Corporations Code, he said he and the SCHOA have consulted with two lawyers on the legality of sharing the email list.

Both the radio station and the SCHOA are expected to email HOA list members opportunities “in bold type” to “opt out” of the email blast list exchange, he said.

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