Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Land Trust Relationship To POA

We are starting to get a number of questions about the Land Trust and how it relates to the California Pines Property Owners' Association (POA).  First, let me say that we are a completely separate organization, with a separate Board of Directors.  However, what we have in common is a love for California Pines and a desire to ensure it is a beautiful and healthy place to live, work and play.

Now, what does that mean for each of these organizations?  We hope to engage the POA very soon on this very question, but here is our perspective...


1.      I have been asked if the Land Trust wants to take money from the POA.
My answer is an emphatic NO! 
DISCUSSION. The Land Trust is not interested in trying to coerce,  steal or block money from reaching the POA.
WHY?  Contrary to the opinion of many property owners:
·         We believe the work of the POA, which is the enforcement of the CC&Rs and the maintenance of community property,  is essential to the wellbeing of the community, and   

·         We do not believe the POA can do the job currently required by the CC&Rs on the funds it currently receives.    


2.      Will the Land Trust deprive the POA of its rightful dues? 

No.  Even though the Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it is just another property owner in the eyes of the CC&Rs.  Therefore, the Land Trust will need to pay POA dues just like any other property owner in the development. We are hoping to negotiate some "in-kind" service to cover this debt, but acceptance of any agreement of this nature will be entirely up to the POA. 

3.      Will Land Trust activities reduce the membership dues coming into the POA? 

Potentially.  However, it is more likely that the judicious actions of the POA, the County and the Land Trust (working in concert with each other) can both stabilize the revenues of the POA and reduce the amount of work the POA is required to do so that it can operate smoothly within the revenue it receives. 

DISCUSSION:  The payment of POA dues are on a downward slide right now, as are property tax revenues to the County.  As long as properties in California Pines are not valued, this is likely to continue.  This will result in the County continuing to undervalue the California Pines community and restrict support in the form of enforcement and road maintenance assistance, which will put a greater burden on the POA.  To meet this burden and to make up for lost revenues, the POA will need to  increase its annual dues (as it is required to by the Davis Stirling Act).  The more they do that, the more property owners are going to be tempted to renege on both POA fees and property taxes, hurting both the PAO and the County, continuing the vicious cycle until the POA is forced to fold. 

How can the Land Trust Help?  The Land Trust is dedicated to reducing the development density in both the Hill and Lake Districts to levels that are environmentally sustainable, thus protecting private investment in Cal Pines and potentially increasing the value of privately owned land.   

In doing this, it is true that fewer lots will be available in the development, so fewer property owners will be available to pay dues.  However, as a result of the mergers, properties should be more valuable, and the development more desirable, so members might be more willing to pay their dues and may also be open to accepting dues increases, if needed.  
In any case, as part of our charter to help the Cal Pines development, meet Land Trust dues obligations to the POA, and help minimize the need for the POA to raise dues, the Land Trust will work with the POA to identify ways we can help offset revenue losses by reducing POA maintenance obligations.

4.      How is the Land Trust going to pay its POA dues? 

Excellent question!  We don’t know, and because we don’t know, we are not yet accepting any property donations.   

DISCUSSION:  Not only will  the Land Trust be required to pay POA dues for each legal lot it acquires, it will also be required to pay property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs on that property.  These are big bills.  POA dues alone can stop any efforts of the Land Trust to help California Pines. 
For instance, let’s say the Land Trust starts accepting properties from donors, and soon receives 100 property donations.   If all of the properties have at least one shared property line, then the Land Trust might choose to merge them.  This would mean that the Land Trust would only owe the POA $80/year for that property.  Not bad.  However, if none of them share a property line (which is the most likely scenario), then the Land Trust would owe the POA $8,000 per year!  To make that worse, a similar amount would be due to the County.  Since the Land Trust does not even have the funds to pay for staff at this point, clearly it cannot afford to pay for dues and taxes of this magnitude. 
So, in order for the Land Trust to assist with improving California Pines on a large scale, both the POA and the County are going to have to work with the Land Trust to reduce these costs.  However, we do not believe either organization will, or should, waive the financial obligations of the Land Trust and receive nothing in return.   

What does the Land Trust bring to the table?  As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Land Trust offers property owners the chance to get out from under the obligations of property ownership in Cal Pines and receive a tax deductible donation in return.  We also have the ability to fund-raise and potentially bring in funding from outside sources.  The Land Trust also brings land planning and contract negotiation expertise to the table through its Managing Director (the author, Jennifer Andersen), who has 30 years of experience in land planning and redevelopment.  This is important because the County will soon be required to conduct a Tax Sale involving nearly 3,000 California Pines properties.  Most Cal Pines properties offered in this manner have remained unsold in years past, causing a further drain on both POA and County coffers. Those that have sold, largely went to one or two business interests with the intention of reselling the individual properties as is.  Unfortunately, this activity does nothing to reduce development densities, nor has it helped stabilize land values.  With the Managing Director’s help, the Land Trust is in a position to change this unhelpful cycle by accepting ownership of the properties offered for sale, and either retaining them for the benefit of the public, or reselling them under conditions that will help both Cal Pines and the County stabilize its revenue stream and create a healthier and more vibrate community. The actual terms for land acquisition, retention and resale would be negotiated by all concerned (including the Land Trust, the POA, and the County).  

Can’t the POA do all the things the Land Trust can do?  Very nearly.  As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the POA can accept property donations, re-sell property, and can adopt all the policies the Land Trust has adopted regarding the acquisition and sale of those properties to reduce development densities in Cal Pines to levels that can be environmentally supported (thereby protecting property values in the area).   In addition, the POA can hire the expertise it needs to develop sound land use policies and negotiate with the County for control of tax sale properties.  However, the POA cannot offer an income tax deduction to property owners who donate their property, and their ability to fundraise may be limited.  


5.      Is the Land Trust trying to shut down the POA?
NO!  Like all other property owners in Cal Pines, the Land Trust only has jurisdiction over its own lands.  It cannot enforce the CC&Rs on properties it does not own.  As noted above, the Land Trust believes the ability of the POA to enforce the CC&Rs is important to the wellbeing of the community.
DISCUSSION:  The POA is the only entity, other than the County, who can enforce regulations in California Pines on properties it does not own.  Furthermore,  we cannot look to the County to solve our enforcement problems, because the County:
·         Will only enforce its own regulations (not our CC&Rs),

·         Will only employ enforcement staff when it has the funds to do so (and it is far from having these funds), and

·         Cannot give California Pines special attention.  When the County has funds for enforcement, it must focus its efforts on areas of greatest need (which is unlikely to be Cal Pines).

While the CC&Rs for California Pines would benefit from some judicious amendments, they contain some very good regulations that need to be enforced to preserve property values and a good quality of life for Cal Pines property owners and residents.  Without the POA, this work cannot be done. 

6.      If the POA folds, can the Land Trust take over for the POA? 

Not really.   While we might be able to help manage some key properties, without the ability to require dues payments and enforce the CC&Rs, the Land Trust cannot replace the POA.

DISCUSSION.  Before the POA can dissolve, its Board is required by non-profit law to transfer POA assets to another non-profit organization (this process is overseen by the State Attorney General’s Office).   Since the Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and is allowed (by its Articles of Incorporation) to accept donations of any kind, it can accept all the properties held in common by the POA and any of its remaining assets.  However, whether or not it would do so would depend on its ability to afford to maintain these assets.    

Unlike the POA, the Land Trust does not have any ability to charge dues, and even raw land is expensive to maintain as you need to pay for insurance, taxes, debris removal, and clean-up.   While the Land Trust might be able to find reliable funding for some of these expenses,  the bulk of POA property lies in the extensive private road system that crisscrosses the development.  Even with member dues, the POA is finding it impossible to maintain all of the roads.  Without dues, the Land Trust could never accept ownership of the roads, and road maintenance would become the responsibility of the individual property owners that use the road. 

Finally, as has already been discussed, one of the most important powers of the POA is the ability to enforce the CC&Rs. This role cannot be assumed by the Land Trust at all.   The CC&Rs would dissolve along with the POA, and the only regulations on private property would be those established and enforced by the County.

I hope the above information has made it clear that every organization with an interest in California Pines needs to work together to meet their organizational responsibilities and make a difference to the property owners and residents in Cal Pines.  This is not a competition between organizations, it is more of a relay race in which we are all on the same team and we are only competing against the clock.  Will we run out of time before we run out of options?  We will see.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Young Stellar Jay Saved from Fishing Wire

One of the problems we are facing in California Pines is the accumulation of trash that is being left behind by "visitors".  This is particularly evident in the Hill Units, where squatters tired of mountain life leave behind camping gear, half burned plastic bottles and metal cans, old tents, clothes, and a wide variety of other detritus, much of which is not only unsightly but also hazardous to our wildlife.

Even day users leave an indelible mark on the landscape, with potentially disastrous effects on the inhabitants.  This juvenile Stellar Jay was recently found entangled in the bundle of fishing line shown in the second photo.  Fortunately for him, one of our residents pulled him out of the tree, where he was floundering helplessly, and cut the line from around his neck and wings.  He flew off unscathed this time. 

We can really use your help to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. The Trust is looking for volunteers that will help us clean-up properties in California Pines, and we hope to receive credit for this work from the POA in exchange for any membership dues the Trust might owe on the properties it acquires.  We plan to make these "work parties" just that! A combination of both work and fun, everyone benefiting.   Please say you will join the team by entering your name in the Contact Form provided on this page! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's Official! We are a 501(c)(3)!

On September 12, 2016, the IRS approved 501(c)(3) status for the California Pines Community Land Trust!  Donations to the Trust are now tax deductible under Internal Revenue Code Section 170.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Federal Tax Exempt Status Requested

The Managing Director has submitted IRS Form 1023 requesting 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the Trust.  We hope to receive confirmation of this status within a few months.

First Official Board Meeting Held

I am pleased to announce the Trust held its first official Board meeting and installed its founding  Board members.  The Board then adopted the Trust's Bylaws, approved the officers of the Corporation, and then adopted a Conflict of Interest Policy as well as other key directives needed to empower its officers to open bank accounts, enter into contracts, and file for tax exempt status.