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In December 2011 the Locke Management Association (LMA), a 13-member board of directors, increased all Locke building owners’ monthly assessments by 20 percent, in order to cover their projected ongoing 2012 lawsuit costs against Martha Esch for her purchase of a Locke commercial-residential combination use property in March 2011.
Esch said, “The only reason we’ve seen yet for their lawsuit is the signed statement LMA made in a letter to the seller’s attorney that said they had to notify ‘400 Chinese ancestors of their priority to purchase the Locke property.’ And since I don’t fit LMA’s preferred national origin, I get to hire a lawyer and fight their ridiculous discriminatory lawsuit. Anti-discrimination is still discrimination, and it seems that LMA is doing to me the very same thing they talk about in their guided tours about the Chinese being denied the right to own properties in Locke. Now, they want to make restitution for the 1888 Chinese Exclusion Act on my shoulders and deny me the same right to property ownership in Locke. Seems kind of ironic, doesn’t it?”
As for the 20 percent assessment increases, the LMA board raised the monthly fees in ignorance of their own time, notification, special hearing and membership voting requirements and amount of increase restrictions, violating both their own conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs), and public agency rules known as the Ralph M. Brown Act. On February 14, 2012 the board rescinded the motion, then raised the assessments right back up again on March 13, 2012, once again without giving notice to the property owners and providing a special public hearing on the matter with required 45 day notice, and without the required 51 percent approval votes. Additionally, the LMA Board disallowed Esch from addressing the board on the assessment agenda item before they took the action to raise the assessments again.
“The board’s habit of disallowing the public audience members to speak their concerns on the agenda items has been routine practice since their formation in 2005,” says Esch. “Three years ago they were warned by Lisa Kirk about their numerous Brown Act violations and they were then warned by the DA after Kirk wrote the DA a letter. The board was careful for a few meetings back in late 2009, but then they’ve slipped right back into their former routine, telling us we can’t speak to many of the issues listed on their agendas, and then they go ahead and vote and when we object, they’ve told us we have to wait until the end of the meeting and we’ll get our chance to make a three-minute public comment. Well, then it’s too late as their actioned votes already happened.” Esch continues, “And the public is not provided the email communications, agenda materials and attachments in advance of the meetings that the board members have. They seldom post their agendas in the 72 hour advance requirement and they seldom give enough of a description to understand what the agenda items are about. Another thing they do is that they go off topic and talk about other matters not listed on the agenda during their meetings. Sometimes they slip important items in without listing them on the agendas by discussing them under the Manager’s Report, because they think they don’t have to take public comments for his report.”
One such example is the Key Street Church building in Locke. At LMA meetings in February 2012, and July 2012, discussions of the pending church property sale were slipped into the meeting under the Manager’s Report, circumventing required posted agenda notifications to the public. When questioned by Esch at two separate board meetings, the LMA Secretary could not answer when she had sent out the notifications to the Interested Parties List.
The important matter of LMA’s Right of First Refusal (ROFR) policy and procedures was omitted from agenda listings and avoided in any public meeting discussions on the recent church property sale. “Once again, the LMA board has handled yet another ROFR matter differently on that property sale than the way they are handling mine. I get a lawsuit. Everyone else buying property in Locke gets a free pass to GO,” says Esch.
“The problem is that the board members refuse to sit down and read anything, so they never learn,” says Kirk who has singlehandedly educated many of the concerned townspeople as to their rights to speak at public meetings and their right to the same information and documents the board members receive.
Esch adds, “The board members don’t know their own CC&R’s and bylaws, they don’t know the different zoning uses of Locke’s four streets, they don’t know the Special Planning Area plan for Locke and they don’t care about the Brown Act. Least of their cares are the 62 residents or us few merchants you can count on one hand.”
In addition to the illegal assessment increases, the Zone 5 commercial-residential owners are being charged inconsistent rates for no explained reason. Property owners of two vacant buildings in Zone 5 are being charged the full commercial assessment rate of $120 per month while more than half the occupied store buildings in Zone 5 are being assessed at the Zone 4 residential-only rate of $60 per month. Many of the buildings on Main Street and Levee Road Zone 5 commercial-residential properties are used as residences only, and make use of their commercial store sections for dead storage instead of open shops, against Section 8.2 of LMA’s CC&Rs and the Locke Special Planning Area ordinances. Four of the other 16 historic century-old properties in Zone 5 continue to be left vacant and abandoned, and are being allowed by LMA to further fall into disrepair and the impending threat of demolition. Some of these owners are charged the Zone 4 residential assessment rate of $60 per month, while others are charged the Zone 5 commercial assessment rate of $120 per month. There is no rhyme or reason for the billing inconsistencies, and LMA offers no valid explanations when asked about the varying assessment rates. The owners receive no realized value for the monthly taxation, and there is no incentive for property owners in Zone 5 to run businesses and contribute to the vitality of Locke.
Locke commercial property owner Tony Maldonado was never told by LMA that during 2011 he was overpaying his monthly assessments at the 2010 higher rates, and received no apology or refund from them. Maldonado adds, “It’s ridiculous. Here’s a perfect example. Rancho Murietta is a private gated community with security guards, a baseball field, swimming pools and a private golf course, and they have comparable monthly assessments. And what do we have for our assessments here in Locke? We have cracked sidewalks to trip on and a building that you have to be careful when you walk by because it might fall on you.”
Another Sacramento area homeowners’ association like Rancho Murietta, also offers its homeowners a cornucopia of services and recreation activities and facilities is Sun City, and its home owners’ assessments are just $287 annually. By comparison, Locke property owners are charged more than 200 to 400 percent that rate, and get literally no services for their money. “We get broken sidewalks, rotted-out wood walkways, empty buildings, animal feces and flies, and unmaintained parks. We have no community center, no basketball or tennis court, no swimming pool, no town picnics, no nothing for us, just a group directors who are not into sharing or being friendly to us renters,” says a long-time resident in Locke who wishes to remain anonymous.
“It appears the LMA and the county government would rather see the town simply fall into further disrepair, and for the few remaining businesses in Locke to just dry up and leave town," says Diane Thomas, owner of Locke Chinese Medicine.
“The main reason Locke struggles is because there is no merchant support from the LMA or encouragement to run a business here,” says Lisa Kirk, owner of Strange Cargo, a Main Street eclectic collectibles and books shop. She adds, “Business concerns such as broken sidewalks, handicap access, signs for the town and two rude residents who chase off tourists from Levee Road are not issues that the LMA will address, even though it’s been brought up before them continuously to promote a positive business environment. I can only assume that’s why I’ve seen eleven businesses come and go since I started doing business in Locke in 2005. For seven years, I’ve been asking the board for simple things like town signage, yet instead they came out with a historic walking tour brochure and selectively excluded our active businesses from it, saying that we were residences only and not historical. They could have instead chosen to help promote us and put in that our stores are actually licensed businesses.”
Editor's note of disclosure: Article author, Martha Esch purchased a Commercial/Residential property in historic Locke, California in March 2011 and the Locke Management Association has filed a lawsuit against her, disputing she has the right to own the property and run her business. The case is pending a jury trial in Superior Court in 2013.