Seven years ago I moved into the off grid house I designed in the subdivision of 135 ten-acre lots called Rancho Navarro. Every morning I listen to songbirds while strolling among the redwoods. On April 12, I sent a letter to the Association membership:
When my mother was a teenager working as a secretary to help support her parents, the government expelled her family from their farm because they were “little yellow people who would overrun California and displace the Caucasians.” When some Ranch residents began harassing families growing cannabis with permits because they were “greedy agribusinesses who would overrun the Ranch and deplete our wells,” I spoke out in favor of tolerance in email messages and at meetings. After the Board spent $16,065 for lawyers' advice on Home Business Rules to get rid of the growers, I ran won a seat on the 2019 Rancho Navarro Association Board of Directors.
The incumbent recruited me to become Land Use Committee Chairman. A grower requested approval for placing four storage sheds--used part time for cannabis drying--in the copse between his home and the road. I warned him he'd never win approval, and after a contentious argument prevailed on him to place them in the open, where their ugliness was more evident but no trees need be sacrificed. My committee voted 4 to 1 to deny permission, the others claiming the sheds constituted expansion of a commercial business prohibited by our CC&Rs. (They aren’t, and the Ranch has several business including a cattle ranch and a commercial kitchen.) I brought the issue to the Board. Before over twenty spectators I argued for approval, praising the man for sacrificing his aesthetics to please the neighbors. The President called for postponement, forcing the grower to stay until the 4:30 PM vote, unanimous for approval. The Board, six of whose members were hostile to the growers, then removed me as chairman for not getting along with the other committee members.
I was impressed with a Community Concerns Committee that addressed grievances and dispelled rumors--mostly against growers--the previous year. After considerable groveling, I prevailed on the Board to resurrect it with me as chairman. Despite notices to the membership, three versions of which were rejected by the RNA President for being pro-cannabis, no one showed up at meetings. But I mediated five disputes relayed to me through emails. Vicious rumors were dispelled, and I received three thank-you's from those involved.
In January 2020, I sent letters to the RNA membership, calling for tolerance of permitted cannabis farmers and criticizing the punitive Home Business Rules under consideration by the Board. The success of my Concerns Committee mediations encouraged me to forward emails not labeled as confidential to the interested parties, in hope of a quick resolution to the dispute. In one of them, a Board member claimed he knew that an RNA member operated an AirBNB. When the owner received the forwarded message, she provided assurances that “it's only us on the property” and thanked me for letting her know. The Board then voted to censure me for releasing “confidential information,” and the President sent a letter to the membership accusing me of “Ethics Violations.” Traditionally the Board is reluctant to throw a Director under the bus, even after serious misconduct like misappropriation of funds, so the accusation was clearly political. After the censure passed, the President said, “I trust you won't be sending any more letters to the membership.”
In February the Board passed Home Business Rules prohibiting street parking, night lights, and trucking in water. I shepherded a veto petition through and wrote arguments for it. In August the membership voted 48 to 28 to rescind the Rules. In retaliation the anti-cannabis people called Code Enforcement on 13 Ranch residents. I'm not a grower, so they couldn't touch me. Bolstered by changing attitudes on the Ranch, I successfully blocked a move to reduce the threshold for amending our CC&Rs--a preliminary to restoring the commercial business prohibition removed in 2010. But old habits die hard. When an RNA member complained that her stepson was parked on the road easement next to her property, I forwarded the complaint to her two nearest neighbors and asked their opinion on the best course of action. In retaliation, the RNA President removed my address from the RNA Board email list for releasing “confidential information,” effectively cutting me off from RNA political dialogue. At the Executive Session to review the action, one of the moderate Directors was absent. A tie would not rescind the removal, and with two anti-cannabis directors backing the President and me unable to vote, her action stood.
At a March 27, 2021 Special Meeting, the Board approved an office manager for 20 hours a month @ $15 an hour and $5,000 for a brushing contractor. I was never notified about the meeting (as required by law) because my address was no longer on the Board email list. On April 4, as one of the authorized signatories, I had signed the check for the contractor and contacted a Board member for the second signature, when a mysterious RNA Gadfly sent me an email criticizing Board spending and complaining that the membership was never notified about the Special Board meeting (as required by law.) The Road Committee Chairman had announced the need for a large special assessment, so I knew the membership would be sensitive about appropriations. I contacted the contractor and asked him not to come in until we could make sure everything was kosher. At the April 10 Board meeting, both appropriations passed. None of the Gadfly's supporters called in to voice objections. The anti-cannabis RNA Secretary vowed to publicize my “rogue behavior” to the RNA membership.
My term expires in July. Last fall I begged the growers and their supporters to run for vacancies on the Board, so the anti-grower members couldn't target me. A number of them are renters, not deeded owners. The others, vulnerable to harassment from calls to Code Enforcement, for the most part kept their heads down. I have stories to write (one is expected this summer in the literary magazine Pleiades) and will not again serve on the Board. I urge you to run. The deadline is May 11, and you must be the deeded owner. You can copy me, since I do not receive Board emails. It was a wild ride--as I suppose much of my life has been--and my primary goal, to end the term with one new friend, I think was successful. The Ranch needs a substantial assessment to pay for the one million dollars of repairs the Road Committee believes are necessary. One of your tasks on next year's Board will be to lay the groundwork for approval from a skeptical membership. Good luck.
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How it Started (From an email to a new Rancho Navarro resident:)
The 135-lot subdivision of Rancho Navarro was created in 1969, and early residents moved into a park-like setting with dirt roads and minimal services. Few lots were occupied, so a sense of proprietorship developed. Many of the improvements you see were built with the aid of donated labor and materials or those provided at a discount by residents. Because the Ranch is far from sources of employment, a number old timers cultivated cannabis in clandestine plots to make ends meet. Cannabis was illegal in those days, so an adversarial relationship developed with the sheriff’s office, which fostered an “us against them” sense of community. When medical cannabis became legal in 1996, cultivation mushroomed, and several large grows based on greenhouses were created. There was some neighborhood resentment over truck traffic and generator noise, but widespread cultivation at the Ranch fostered reluctance to bring in the sheriff.
When recreational cannabis became legal in 2016, over a dozen newcomers purchased lots and applied for permits to grow marijuana. They were mostly middle class families, some with young children. Because they were operating legally, their plots were not hidden as pervious grows had been. Community antagonism coalesced against these “outsiders from the city” who were seen as ruining our roads and depleting our wells. A campaign of harassment began through calls to County Code Enforcement and actions by the RNA Board of Directors, which in 2018 became dominated by persons opposed to the new growers. Declining cannabis prices and community hostility caused most of these new owners to put their properties up for sale.
I was elected to the Board after it appropriated $16,065 to pay for attorneys’ advice on revising our Rules to exclude the new growers. My attempts to bring peace to the Ranch and mitigate the siege mentality poisoning the “help your neighbor” friendliness that once characterized our neighborhood culminated in my being prevented from receiving Board emails by Directors hostile to cannabis.
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On Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 5:42 PM N.E. wrote:
Dear Rancho Navarro,
Today My 88 year Mother Alice R. [address on Appian Way] was approached by Peggy Jones, a person living with Steve, at her house wanting employment. She simply said if you let go all of your workers I can move in with you and take care of all of your needs. This worries me, luckily my mother has the sense to send someone like this away. She was very upset with this person saying that to her. It says elder abuse all over. I Love Rancho Navarro and consider it a very safe place and know many people up there. Please address this and feel free to call me at [phone number] or Alice R. at [local number]
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On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, 5:01 PM, L.N. wrote:
Dear Ms. E.
Beyond the help of a neighbor to neighbor, the incident you describe is well beyond the scope of authority of the Rancho Navarro Association. I strongly urge you and your mother to contact the Mendocino Sheriffs Office.
I will say that Ms. Jones is not a guest but a long time property owner and resident here and I believe you will find that she is known to the Sheriffs Office. They will know best how to guide you.
I am very sorry that there is not much I can do or offer beyond my sympathy for this disturbing situation.
President, Rancho Navarro Association
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On Thursday, December 19, 2019, 9:19 AM, Ron Morita wrote:
I'm Ron Morita, Board member and Chairman of the Neighborhood Concerns Committee.
I just called Steve Smith. He told me that he spoke with Alice about this encounter a couple of days ago in Fort Bragg and assured her that he had nothing to do with Peggy's visit. Peggy used to own a landscaping business, and Alice is known to need landscaping services. Subsequently Steve told Peggy not to approach your mother. A few weeks ago he arranged for his assistant Jerry to assist in taking care of Alice. He mentioned possibly bringing your mother flowers for Christmas. Steve is scheduled to drive Peggy to the clinic today. He assured me that he will repeat his message that Peggy is not to approach Alice again.
Peggy Jones has accosted me on several occasions and told strange, implausible stories. If I let her, she would go on for hours. She lives alone and appears to be lonely and desirous of companionship.
Please keep us informed of any further incidents.
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To: Ron Morita
Sent: Thursday, December 19, 2019, 03:15 PM
Subject: Re: Concerns About My 88 year Mother being approched
Thank You Ron,
Jerry is a good friend and my go to guy for Alice when I am concerned. I am happy Steve did not send her. I just realized that I met Peggy 2 years ago when my Mom first got home from her fall. Peggy was looking for employment then but Alice and I thought that it was not a good fit so nothing happened. Thank you so much for letting me know the up and up. If anything else happens I will let you know
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From: Ron Morita
To: Jane Doe
Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 10:28 AM
Subject: Fw: AirBnB
Is this you?
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To: RNA President; RNA Board
Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 10:11:35 AM
Another thought occurred to me while considering all the social distancing and measures we're taking to keep ourselves and our members safe.
I know that one of our members (across from Karen) operates an AirBnB (which isn't ideal and shouldn't continue during normal times, but that's for a later date). I think that it's important to make sure that they're not continuing their normal course of business since it could be absolutely disastrous for us if one of their short-term “tenants” brought Covid-19 to us from the SF bay area (or anywhere else).
The SF bay area has been hard hit (especially Santa Clara County).
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From: Jane Doe
To: Ron Morita
Sent: Thursday, April 16, 2020, 10:02 AM
Subject: Re: Fw: AirBnB
Thanks for letting us know, Ron.
These are trying times and I understand everyone is very stressed about the virus.
However we (the owners) are the only residents of the property. We have multiple cars and one of them is new, so understandable if people haven't recognized it.
We are well aware of the county's orders and are (and have been) abiding by them. We have small children and elderly parents in our family and have no intention of exposing ourselves to the virus. As a family, we take covid very seriously and we certainly don't want to risk getting it!
If the Board wants to send us a letter it can, but (in my respectful opinion) it would be a waste of money on legal fees, given the fact it's only us on the property.
Karen and Steve (who are, respectively, our closest neighbors) are well aware it's only us on the property since we say hello to them (from six feet away) every time we see them. We are also friendly with a few other people on the Ranch, but we certainly don't know or socialize with everyone, so not everyone will recognize us. I'm not sure I've ever met you, for instance, or Jerry or Sue, although I do know my husband has worked with Hank in the past.
I hope this puts everyone's mind at ease. Let me know if there's anything more I should do.