The recent March Stevenson Ranch homeowners association meeting was very predictable. The HOA board president started the session on the defensive with an attempt to refute my assertions that the community’s landscaping is in a death spiral. As a lawyer by profession, he is trained to argue either side of an issue and massage the facts to support his view.
The homeowners on the HOA Zoom call were muted while listening to a series of excuses presented for each point that I wrote about in my previous Signal op/ed. Since the board’s concerted effort to quell homeowner participation and stifle discourse continues, I can only respond publicly and via social channels.
The board president wrapped up his comments, and then there was much mutual praise and back-slapping between the HOA board, Department of Public Works and Los Angeles County representatives.
Therein lies the problem. The HOA, DPW and the county are so cozy and entrenched that there is no culpability for what has gone wrong with the community’s landscaping over the last decade.
DPW freely admits to many failures, including installing wrong plants, and the HOA board accepts that as ordinary business. One DPW representative at the meeting let the homeowners know just how “lucky” we were with the current contract — further stating that costs will rise substantially in September 2022 when the contract is up for renewal.
Wow. The DPW rep actually told us that the deteriorating landscaping would cost the community even more at a future date.
At the monthly HOA meetings, the board and the DPW representatives espouse one excuse after another — rules, regulations, drought, mistakes made, working on a plan, too big, too complex, stability of slopes, and on and on and on. It’s exhausting listening to all the excuses.
It is an absolute marvel to watch them, all in lockstep, coming up with a litany of reasons why they can’t do anything other than offer excuses and back each other up — all to the detriment of the community. There are so many excuses you can smell the acrid rotting corpse of bureaucratic malaise.
Right now, the community’s glass is half empty with excuses. I would like to see it half-full with real possibilities and solutions.
Not one has presented a vision of how the landscape issues could be remediated. There is no plan that shows the homeowners precisely what will be done to rehabilitate the landscaping or a timeline for that work to be completed. When asked for specific dates, the answers are vague and noncommittal.
That is not a plan.
Any suggestions from homeowners are dismissed, likely because it’s not the board’s ideas, or it is waved off with a fuzzy, “we’re looking at everything.” Nor have they asked for constructive input from the community.
To fix the landscape problem in Stevenson Ranch requires imagination, creativity and, yes, an actual written PLAN. It needs to be a clever, inventive plan that will address the issues while working within the county and landscape maintenance district ecosystem. All of this has to transcend the egos and hubris on display by the HOA board when homeowners ask pointed questions.
As a community, we had done this before — we are capable of working out creative and viable solutions with the county’s support. Yet, 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s senior field deputy for SCV is nowhere to be seen and does not attend the HOA meetings. It is left to a junior staffer. Sorry, but this requires senior-level staff help to navigate the bureaucracy efficiently and quickly.
Yes, I know that may be an oxymoron when dealing with the county government, but we should set lofty goals and reach them.
In the meantime, the curb appeal of our community continues to erode. I cited, in my previous op/ed, the homeowner whose refinance appraisal came in $20,000 below where it should have due to the overgrown landscaping blocking her view. Although real estate prices may be at all-time highs, one has to wonder if the prices could be even higher if the HOA improved the landscaping aesthetics.
Stevenson Ranch homeowners need to start attending the monthly HOA meetings, which occur on the third Tuesday of the month via video conferencing. Contact the Stevenson Ranch community management company, FirstService Residential, on how to participate. The next meeting is on April 20.
Dave Bossert is a long-time community volunteer who serves on several boards. His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organizations he is affiliated with or those of The Signal.