Lake Lindero leadership fight comes to a headFree Access

UNEASY PEACE–The 14-acre Lake Lindero is the centerpiece of the 459-member HOA. Homeowner fighting has gone on for three straight years.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Acorn file photo

HOA meetings by and large are mundane affairs. Some homeowners attend, perhaps to discuss a barking dog or the unsightly new paint on a neighbor’s home. The business of the community is discussed, and all usually ends well.

Then there’s Lake Lindero.

A meeting for the 459-member homeowner’s association in Agoura Hills is scheduled for this Wednesday, and the gathering at HOA offices on Lake Lindero Drive promises to be a fractious affair involving lawyers, homeowners and competing board members. Lost Hills sheriff’s deputies have been called in to keep the peace.

The Jan. 15 meeting begins a fourth straight year of turmoil in the association, replete with no fewer than a half-a-dozen active lawsuits involving residents, club managers and vendors. Among the latest allegations: election tampering and misappropriation of homeowner funds.

At the center of the controversy lies a firebrand general manager who’s cracked the whip and tried to bring the association back to its once proud role as a gem of the community. He could very well succeed, if he can keep his job.

Chris Barone—a 45-year-old former HOA president who last year became chief executive at the Lake Lindero golf course, lake and swimming pool—was let go of his job by a new board majority that came into power following a Dec. 23 recall election.

“We restructured and eliminated the position to save money for the HOA,” said Harriet Cohen, the association’s new vice president.

Barone contends he’s still the manager, and he and his previous board haven’t gone quietly.

“Three former board of directors members who were recalled and a former employee ignored the results of our election and refused to step aside for the new board,” said board president Michael Allan in a Jan. 5 appeal to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

“Enforcement is urgently needed,” the letter said.

The struggle could come to a head at Wednesday’s meeting.

Financial fight

Barone is accused by Allan of cashing out the HOA’s $230,000 reserve and operational accounts at Union Bank at the end of last year, without legal authority, and transferring the funds to a new account at Chase Bank in a move to keep control of the HOA purse.

Allan, who charges that Barone wasn’t a signatory on the homeowner account and had been relieved of his job as CEO, brought sheriff’s deputies to the property on Dec. 31 to protect HOA door locks and property.

Chase and Union reportedly have put a hold on the Lake Lindero funds while the imbroglio gets sorted out. Bank officials could not be reached for comment. Allan said he wants the Los Angeles County district attorney to investigate the dispute.

“People are frightened, they’re terrified—the club members, vendors and employees,” said Allan, a professional financial adviser who claims he can bring stability back to the troubled HOA.

ON THE PROPERTY—Worried homeowners are concerned about the appearance of Lake Lindero. Some vendors have abandon the club out of exasperation with the HOA leadership.

Checkered past

David Smith, a mega-millionaire golf course developer with business interests worldwide, was ousted in a 2018 board turnover following 25 years as the Lake Lindero manager. Smith and his former company, Golf Projects Lindero, are suing Barone and the HOA alleging breach of contract and theft of GPL’s private email information. Barone says he has evidence Smith cheated the homeowners out of hundreds of thousands of dollars during the course of his management, but The Acorn was given no proof of the alleged fraud during a Jan. 10 meeting with Barone. A settlement in the case is expected this year.

Other current court cases involve disgruntled club vendors who claim their contracts were broken by Barone and that payment is owed.

The legal fees needed to fight the cases have put a strain on HOA finances. Lake Lindero’s own insurance company, Atain, reportedly is suing the association charging that the board of directors under Barone wasn’t forthcoming about its legal entanglements.

Chris Barone

Tough leader

Barone—a tough, 45-year-old former Marine and Lake Lindero father of three who saw duty at the U.S. embassy in Quito, Ecuador and on two presidential details under Bill Clinton—doesn’t pull punches.

In January, 2019 a fight broke out in the club’s parking lot between Barone and a patron at Lake Lindero’s former Orto restaurant. Marco Gonzalez, owner of Tavern 101 in Agoura Hills and a supporter of the defunct Orto restaurant, told The Acorn he suffered severe injuries to his face when he visited the restaurant and Barone assaulted him during an altercation. Barone said Gonzalez had been unruly and combative when he was asked to leave the property. No arrests were made.

Looking ahead to Wednesday’s meeting, “We have to make sure we have some kind of security there,” said Cohen, a Lake Lindero resident and professional business consultant.

Barone contends the recall election that gave rise to Cohen and Allan isn’t valid because a majority of residents didn’t vote to oust his previous board—and that the personal attacks against him are unfounded.

“The recall didn’t work, it failed,” Barone said. “While we recognize the process . . . they didn’t meet the minimum requirement.” Regarding the current homeowner group trying to remove him from power, he said, “They’re desperate, they’re in trouble.”

Harriet Cohen

Barone promises the board’s new lawyer, Tom Ware, of Kulik Gottesman Siegel & Ware of Sherman Oaks, “will be destroyed” if he tries to uphold the recall election in which Barone and his board majority were removed.

But in a Jan. 2 letter to the Lake Lindero homeowners, Ware said, “Contrary to the assertions of Chris Barone . . . the recall of the prior board was valid and enforceable. . . . A neutral third party, the League of Women Voters, conducted the election. The certification of the recall and the election of the new board of directors is attached.”

Barone said he fired Lordon, the club’s Thousand Oaks-based property manager, for mishandling HOA funds and that he’s attempting to set up his own management company to the run the association.

Attorney Pamela Moore said Lordon and the HOA only recognize the new board, the one without Barone. Lordon remains in control of the member dues.

A better place

A proud family man and tested leader of the embattled HOA, Barone touts the many improvements that have taken place at Lake Lindero under his leadership during the transition from the David Smith/GPL era.

“The golf course has the proper equipment and it looks great,” he said.

In addition, the club has been able to capitalize on several new revenue streams such as film shoots, special event room rentals, and a profitable relationship with Agoura Hills-based swimming pool vendor, Malibu Canyon Aquatics. Unlike under previous management, the swimming pool remains open to residents year-round, Barone said. Also, new aerators were installed in the 14-acre lake to keep its water fresh. An inspection Tuesday, however, found the pool has been shuttered with a sign in front that says “closed until further notice.”

Opponents point to club offices that were gutted in a failed remodeling attempt two years ago, and remain empty due to lack of funds. A replacement for Orto restaurant has not been found, and that room stands empty, too.

Still, the membership is relieved to be free of the quarter-century management reign under Smith’s GPL company, Barone said.

If allowed to continue in his leadership role, Barone says, “We will stay true to the compass of integrity that points north.”

Conflict-weary Lake Lindero residents are hoping so.

Editor’s note: Author John Loesing was a member of the Lake Lindero HOA board of directors for five years until 2017.