Sides squabble at Lake Lindero HOA

Protest erupts, board and management company at impasse


NOT HERE—Residents want the management company to step down. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

NOT HERE—Residents want the management company to step down. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers

The Lake Lindero Homeowners Association board of directors and Golf Projects Lindero, the HOA management company for almost 25 years, stood at loggerheads this week over a wide range of issues dating back to 2017 when a 50-year-old sluice gate inside the lake’s dam had to be repaired at homeowner expense.

On July 28, several dozen homeowners picketed the community golf course and swimming pool at Lake Lindero Drive in Agoura Hills demanding that David Smith, the GPL owner who leases and runs the property, step down as the HOA manager.

The approximate $300,000 gate repair and lake dredging project came on the heels of a 2016 complaint filed by several homeowners who alerted state water officials that GPL might be depleting Lake Lindero water levels by diverting supplies from the reservoir to irrigate an adjacent nine-hole golf course.

While the California Department of Water Resources determined that the complaint was unfounded—and that the golf course possessed riparian rights to the water—officials did say that the lake was not complying with its 1965 operating license that requires all inflows to the reservoir be released downstream during the dry summer months of June through September.

DEEP TROUBLE—A diver and his assistant, standing atop Lake Lindero dam in 2017, prepare for work. A dispute over repairs to the dam led homeowners to demand that the HOA manager, Golf Projects Lindero, be terminated. GPL says it has a valid contract allowing it to stay. Acornfile photo

DEEP TROUBLE—A diver and his assistant, standing atop Lake Lindero dam in 2017, prepare for work. A dispute over repairs to the dam led homeowners to demand that the HOA manager, Golf Projects Lindero, be terminated. GPL says it has a valid contract allowing it to stay.  Acorn file photo

 

 

A mechanical sluice gate that allows the lake water to be released on demand was later installed inside the dam at Lake Lindero Drive and Canwood Street, but to pay for the repair completed earlier this year, each of the association’s 459 homeowners was hit with a $675 emergency assessment—the first of its kind in the HOA’s long history. Homeowners were miffed.

The state Water Resources Control Board, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Los Angeles County Public Works Department were among the half-dozen government agencies involved with making sure the lake and dam came into compliance.

Who pays?

Earlier HOA boards had saved more than $800,000 for a previous lake dredging project in 2012, but when faced with repairing the broken dam in 2017, the association realized its savings were depleted and that the emergency assessment would be required.

Chris Barone, president of a new HOA board of directors that took over in April, said the gate repair was Smith’s responsibility, not the homeowners’.

“It was his job under the contract,” Barone said.

Charging that Smith breached his contract, the board has subsequently withheld a reported $120,000 in payments owed to GPL. The Barone board was sued last month for nonpayment, records show, and a possible court battle looms.

“(Smith) was relieved of his duties two weeks ago and he insists on staying,” Barone said at last Saturday’s protest in which residents brandished signs asking Smith to pack up and leave.

GPL leases and manages the Lindero Country Club golf course, lake, tennis courts, swimming pool and other common areas from the HOA under terms that began in 1994 and extend until 2050. For now, the company remains under contract and Smith is adamant about staying.

“There are no grounds to terminate the agreement. The board has no right to relieve GPL of its duties,” Smith said in a statement to The Acorn. “GPL has complied with all its obligations under the 1994 Lease and Management Agreement. In fact, the club has become an asset to the 459 homeowners, as property values continue to increase.”

But Barone said GPL has violated its contract by wrongly charging homeowners for the gate repair and not properly maintaining the lake and other common areas.

Harriet Cohen, a 20-year Lake Lindero homeowner, said at the protest that HOA boards have legal authority to change management companies if they are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

Barone added that the HOA board that preceded the current board is complicit because it failed to complete a reserve study that would have alerted the need for the repair at the dam.

The repair should not have been classified as an emergency, Barone and his supporters say, and the $675 assessment this year should be rendered illegal and returned to the homeowners.

Former HOA president Terry Miller worries that the current board is causing further chaos by jettisoning a management company that is known for taking a troubled Lake Lindero association in the early 1990s and turning it around.

“In 1992, the association had less than $1,000 in its operating account and was on the brink of bankruptcy,” Miller said. “The country club and common areas had fallen into a state of disrepair. GPL has invested more than $9 million in both capital improvements and structural renovations to the association’s common areas.”

Miller said the new HOA leadership has not offered a workable, alternative plan, and is likely to lead the association into further financial difficulty.

“To date, the (new) board is leading the association into litigation, which will negatively impact home values, make selling homes more difficult and likely result in increased homeowners assessments,” Miller said.

One Realtor who asked to remain confidential told The Acorn he had a Lindero home fall out of escrow recently due to the buyer’s concern about HOA litigation.

“If the dispute with GPL is not resolved, this will be the first time in 24 years the members will be responsible to pay for all the expenses required to operate the association, country club operations and future capital maintenance expenditures. Where are these funds going to come from to pay for these costs?”

Other supporters of GPL say that one $675 emergency assessment is a small price to pay for a quarter-century of club amenities and community benefits.

All homeowners, meanwhile, nervously await the outcome.

“It’s been really difficult, really stressful,” said Yvette St. Onge, a longtime Lindero resident.

Homeowner Robert Williams said he has faith the HOA board can negotiate the difficult times ahead. “People need to be patient and let the new board do their job,” he wrote on the Nextdoor social media blog. “This is not a 100-yard dash, this is a marathon for the board,” Williams said.

“GPL’s sincere hope is that this dispute will be resolved amicably as litigation will impact the 459 homeowners, their home values, 40-plus employees and the entire community who recreate at the club,” Smith said.