20 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 22-28, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com Trust, took over in late 2022, things quickly got dicey for the couple. They say they were slapped with fines from the townhome HOA over a table and two chairs on their porch, even though they’d previously gotten approval for the furniture through the HOA’s Architectural Review Committee. They say that paperwork was reportedly lost in the shuffle between the two management companies. Those fines stacked atop of the balance they still owed the HOA that they were on a payment plan to pay off. Gustavo says that while trying to get the fines overturned and explain they were on a previously agreed-to payment plan, their original outstanding balance of about $900 quickly ballooned into the thousands with late fees and interest, which Gustavo estimates were in the range of $3,000- $4,000. Within months, he says, their outstanding balance was sent to a collection agency and a lien was put on their townhome—if they couldn’t pay it off, they could be foreclosed on and lose their home. Feeling like they had no other option, they took to social media and launched a GoFundMe page, and East Garrison neighbors quickly came through with thousands of dollars and staved off a foreclosure. A mong the GoFundMe donors was Thomas Johnson, a recently retired professor of Taliban studies at the Naval Postgraduate School. Johnson knows some of the residents of the townhomes, in part because they house a cluster of immigrants from Afghanistan. Johnson says there was a “tremendous sense of community” when he moved to East Garrison in 2016, but that “this community is not close to what it was when I moved in.” He adds there’s a sense there are cars that drive the community’s streets not to patrol them, but to try and catch potential violations of the HOA’s rules and regulations and subsequently levy fines. “I don’t enjoy living here anymore. You feel like you’re being spied upon.” One thing Johnson stresses repeatedly is that the HOA, and its property management company and legal counsel, work for the residents, not the other way around. Stephanie feels the same way, and says, “There have been many times when, if we could move, we would have.” Former townhome owner David Garcia, who grew up in Salinas, is one resident who did decide to move, even though when he bought his home in 2018, he thought it would be his forever home, a place he could raise his family. But feeling like the deed-restricted lower-income townhome owners like him, many of whom are minorities, were being targeted by the townhome HOA leadership, he sold his home and moved his family to Tulare, where he continues to work remotely as a software developer for a nonprofit. He misses living in Monterey County—it’s closer to the ocean and he has family here—but he says he felt he had to move “for my mental health,” adding that “I have kids now, and I need to be a good person.” While he doesn’t enjoy living in Tulare as much as the Salinas area, he says, “At least I don’t have to deal with the HOA.” Among other people who’ve sold their East Garrison homes recently at least in part because of the HOA are Cindy May, who worked at CHOMP, and like Garcia thought the community could be her forever home. On top of all the taxes and escalating HOA dues, however, the drama became too much for her. She also asked questions about the HOA’s budgetary expenses, but never got answers. In January, she moved into the in-law unit at her daughter and son-in-law’s house in Chico. Her daughter, Rachel, and Rachel’s husband, also owned a single-family home in East Garrison for three years which they sold in 2023. Rachel says that almost immediately after buying the home, she had remorse. “It’s probably the worst community to live in in America,” says Rachel, who serves in the military, which is partly how she came to live in the area. She, her brother and her mom lived in an HOA community when she was growing up north of San Diego, but East Garrison, Rachel says, is different. That feeling started in the first week after she bought her home when she was still in the process of moving in—she got a warning letter that the waste bins she had in her back patio were visible to a neighbor. “It is a beautiful community, but it has the worst HOA in America, and the way they’re running it is nothing short of illegal,” Rachel observes. By contrast, Cindy and Rachel say that when they arrived back to their Chico home recently, there was a note from their new HOA thanking them for putting up holiday lights—and it had a candy cane attached to it. “It was so refreshing,” Cindy says. “There can be very nice, basic HOAs. It’s kind of heartbreaking though, because I loved my house, I love my friends, but it all got to be too much.” G regory Yancey, a private investigator and retired correctional officer who lives in a townhome, was elected to the master HOA board in 2022, while also serving on the townhome HOA board. Also serving on the townhome board is J.D. Esteban, a mail carrier who’s now also president of the master HOA. The two serve alongside Clegg, Kelly and Dennis Hudspeth of Century Communities, who holds the developer’s seat. The master HOA board, when Yancey was president last July, appointed Esteban to a vacant seat on the master board despite pleas from residents to hold the seat open until board elections in September 2023. At the September master HOA meeting, the same day votes were counted for the election for two open seats, the board made appointments: Esteban was to be president, and Yancey would be treasurer. The fact that two townhome owners are holding powerful positions on the master HOA board—despite the fact that the single family homes far outnumber the townhomes in East Garrison—is a matter of consternation for some single-family home owners. Over the course of the past year, residents have launched six petitions— four online, two on paper—asking for a special meeting to discuss key community issues; asking that Yancey resign from the master HOA board; hold the vacant board seat open so that it could be filled by a candidate in the September 2023 election; do a financial audit of the HOA and make some basic rule changes, like how much time is allowed for bringing in waste bins and “I want to ensure the rules we’re enforcing are reasonable, not capricious.” The neighborhoods in East Garrison are immaculate, but mask concerns that have some residents questioning if they should sell and move elsewhere. East Garrison’s Art Park, a lovely rectangular strip of manicured land with pedestals for sculptures—except there are no sculptures on them.