In service to civil and respectful discourse, there are two issues related to Measure F, the Rent Stabilization (RSO) for Vineyard Valley (VV), that seem to be sources of confusion for voters here in the Park as well as voters within the city of St. Helena.

The first is the issue of Vacancy Control, which is perhaps the most misunderstood provision in the RSO. It has serious financial implications for Vineyard Valley, could jeopardize the way the Park is economically managed, and impact the amenities that we in the Park enjoy. VV has always respected longtime residents and honored their existing rent roles and leases. Those longtime residents moved in 15 to 20 or more years ago when rents were much lower than they are today. When these folks move out, the ownership team makes an effort to move those rents to current market value. The RSO would effectively remove the ability to do so. New buyers would move in at the same rent rate as the sellers under RSO.

Currently there are 90 homes out of 216 whose base rents are below $800 a month, considered well below current market value, based on comparable parks, amenities, and location by the owners.

Let’s use a hypothetical example: a couple buys a home in the Park 18 years ago at a base rent of $400. Currently their rent is $700, $150 below the market rate established by the owners of $850. Under the current business model, on sale of the home, the base rent would move towards market value, allowing owners to better keep up with current and future expenses. Under RSO the base rent would stay at $700 on sale and always stay behind the market rate value. In addition to reducing income substantially for the owners over time, it is unfair and even described by some as discriminatory to recent new residents who have accepted a base rent of $850. (Note these figures are affordable, but not for the low income.)

Question: Why would Park residents want new buyers to not pay their fair share of Park expenses if the RSO’s Vacancy Control is imposed?

The second issue is the perception that those opposing the Ordinance forced taxpayers to pay $30,000 for a special election! Let’s do a little history review:

The completed Draft Ordinance was presented to Mr. Reynolds for the first time July 10, 2018 with plans for the council to adopt it in their next meeting. As there was no coverage in the Star or City Council, no outreach to VV owners and residents, or public meetings during this process (with the exception of the small group of residents working quietly with Council members), Mr. Reynolds was blindsided, as was our well-educated community. Despite the 149 signatures collected in a short period of time opposing the Ordinance (with many not signing even though they opposed as they did not want to add to the division already occurring in the Park), Council member Mary Koberstein responded that we (citizens) did not get to vote! “This is not a referendum,” she stated.

That forced us to take it to a referendum to place on the ballot with 10 percent of registered voters in St. Helena, including the Park, quickly gathered and validated. This means that all of St. Helena will now vote on an issue that only affects VV! Apologies for causing any discomfort but it was what we had to do to get a vote here in the Park.

When it came time to decide on when to put the referendum on the ballot, the Council chose to do a special election at a taxpayer cost of $30,000, ignoring citizen suggestions to wait until the primary election next March at an estimated cost of $12,000, or the General Election in 2020 at an estimated cost of $7,000.

Can you imagine how different this entire project would have proceeded if that small group of residents and council members had come initially to our VV community and said, “We have an idea that we think is a good one, not only for the Park but the city as well, and would like to present it to you and get your input.”

We could have planned an open meeting for the owners and for residents interested in attending for a presentation followed by robust discussions and dialogue over time. And then a vote to decide whether to move forward on the idea or not.

Most unfortunately, the opposite has occurred due to the deeply flawed process since the beginning, leading to predictable and grievous negative outcomes of mistrust, anger, fear and frustration on both sides. My fervent hope is once the election is completed, one way or the other, this beloved community can find its way to a renewed spirit of cooperation and collaboration, which current research posits as the key to survival, concluding that cooperative communities survive much longer than those that are competitive and/or authoritarian. May we learn from our experiences!

Suzanne James

Vineyard Valley

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