Monday, October 06, 2008

The special "Law and Order" issue of my housing co-op's newsletter

(Photos are of my home that I love and the green space around our co-op that would make for some fabulous vegetable gardens. We could have our own farmers' market!)

Everyone (but me) watches "Law & Order" on TV. I shoulda been watching it too -- so I could learn how to build a good case for myself regarding how to make things better here at my housing co-op instead of just making things worse.

What would Sam Waterston do if he took on our "Case of the Deteriorating Housing Project"? How would he win? I imagine Sam would say something like this: "Jane, you have been going about this all wrong. Those newsletters that you put out are humorous and original, but they are not effective at all. And the evidence that I am presenting to back up my statement is that you didn't get re-elected to the board of directors at the last annual meeting. I rest my case."

"But, Sam, that wasn't my fault!" I would reply. "Some friend of the current board-member alliance told everyone at the annual meeting that I was spreading vicious lies in my newsletter -- and I wasn't even there to defend myself. That was so totally unfair! All these years I've tried to keep Savo Island from being run into the ground and this is the thanks I get? Screw it. If these people want to live in a slum and risk having their homes demolished because they're too scared or too lazy to fight back...."

"Just stop it right there, Jane," replied Sam. "You can't just keep on throwing out innuendos and opinions and hearsay. You have to PROVE your case. You gotta present evidence. You gotta have facts."

"But...but...but...." said me. "Mayor Tom Bates has been trying to demolish Iceland and the auto dealerships and the Ashby Flea Market and put up condos in our neighborhood for years now. What makes you think that he doesn't have an eye on our Savo Island property as well? And several of our current board members are buddies with Bates and served on the organization that tried to demolish the Flea Market in favor of high-rises and these board members have also been responsible for the horrific run-down condition that Savo is now in and what if HUD backs out of our Section 8 agreement and sells Savo to the same developers who have worked with Bates all these years and that's the end of my home!!!!"

"But, Jane," Sam would reply, "It's easy to SAY all that -- but can you prove any of it?" Can I? Probably not.

"Then forget it. Stick with what you CAN prove. And also you need to develop a theory of the case -- and to figure out who your jurors are."


"All this time you have appeared to think that the people who would judge your case were the residents of Savo Island. They didn't rule in your favor, did they? You didn't even get re-elected. So go out and find some new jurors. Make an appeal. Go to HUD. Go to the Berkeley Daily Planet. Go to the voters. Go to Congress." Oh.

"And also, what is the theory of your case?"

That's an easy one. I can do that. "The theory of my case is that Savo Island is my home and the place where my children grew up; that it's now in hecka run-down condition and that I want to preserve it from being torn down." Plus if we have another Great Depression because of the failures on Wall Street right now, we can use the common land here to plant vegetable gardens in so that we can survive....

"And what evidence do you have that Savo is being run into the ground by its board of directors? Tell me that."

Sure. Here's some hard facts. "First, the place is currently a run-down mess." I can prove that. Just look at the place. "It's failed several REAC inspections -- including the last one conducted by HUD's Washington DC office -- and any walking tour of Savo Island will show you that the shingles are falling off the walls, the roof shingles are barely hanging on, dry rot festers in the outside closet areas and the stairwells are shored up by 4x4s." Sam frowned a bit at my terminology but did let it slide.

"Second, most members of the current board have been on our board for the last fifteen years and they are the only continuous thread between when the co-op was prospering and now. You can't blame it on our management companies because we've gone through approximately 12 different management companies so far and none of them have been around long enough to make that many mistakes. So the run-down condition of Savo must be the fault of the board. They've been in control all that time."

"Third, there was a recent ruling by HUD that chose my version of what is going on around here over the version offered up by the board with regard to fair housing issues. That's a fact."

"Fourth, there's always the board meeting minutes for the last 15 years, showing how at meeting after meeting the board chose to not raise rents that might have paid for repairs, put off elections for as many as three years at a time, blocked our re-hab time and time again and lied about issues at meetings."

"That would be good evidence." Yeah it would. If the minutes for the last 15 years hadn't suddenly mysteriously disappeared. But I DO have three boxes of documents and 30 pages of notes on instances where the board acted on their own self-interests instead of in favor of the interests of Savo Island."

"So. So far, so good. But if this was a court of law and you had actually won your case, what kind of verdict would you want the jury to bring in?"

"Guilty!" I crowed. "And for damages, I would like to see our bank's finance officers, our HUD property specialists and our contractors work together to get the re-hab pushed through; have Savo Island remain just as it is, not be torn down for high-rises and have my home preserved. Oh, and I would also like to have most members the current board impeached, have term limits set on how long each board member can serve and be re-elected to the board at the next annual meeting which is supposed to be scheduled for January."

And then, in a perfect world, the jury would rule in my favor, Sam would approve the way that I presented my evidence logically, Savo would get its re-hab, the current board would be dissolved and our homes would be saved!

And who knows? Maybe it IS time we all started living in a perfect world.