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Political tides turn in Emerald Hills

By rgordon
Thursday, March 29th, 2007 at 7:03 pm in Uncategorized.

For some residents of Emerald Hills and Oak Knoll Manor in unincorporated Redwood City, Tuesday night’s homeowners’ association elections evoked a tone reminiscent of November’s Democratic takeover of Congress.

But it was a war in their neighborhood – not the one in Iraq – which voters were disenchanted with.

Ostensibly fed up with leaders in the Emerald Hills Homeowners Association who had proposed changes to zoning policies that many felt were too restrictive, residents of an opposing grass roots coalition took two seats in board elections by a nearly two to one margin.

“Those issues came to the forefront last night, very clearly,” said newly-elected board member Michael Mangini. “I completely understand why these rules came about. But the effect has not been positive – it’s hurt people.”

Though the Insider was not present for the changing of the guard at the Redwood City Elks Lodge on Wilmington Way, multiple sources tell us there were about 300 residents present. In the past, annual association meetings have never drawn more than 50 to 75 people.

Incumbent Sallie Martin, who was last year’s association board president, was ousted. Helen Phillips, who had been a board member and president in the early 1970s and touted herself as a devotee to the preservation of Emerald Hills, didn’t make the cut either. The new board members elected to two-year terms were Adriana Botto and Mangini, both of whom are members of the Emerald Hills Community Coalition (Mangini is also its spokesman).

In 2004, the association proposed zoning updates to address issues such as house size, subdivisions, retaining walls and tree preservation. Six hundred people showed up at a county meeting to discuss the proposal, many of them angered that the changes were too stringent. The opposing coalition was formed, and more than 1,000 neighbors signed a petition that the association did not represent their views.

Emerald HillsTensions mounted last summer when residents’ yard signs to “Stop the Style Police” (shown here with resident Nicholas Karvelis) were met with unsigned threatening letters and vandalism. In September, the homeowners’ association rescinded its proposed changes in recognition of the need to “promote the health, safety and welfare of all residents” and acknowledged that more discussion was needed.

In December, citing insurmountable dysfunction, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to disband the county-appointed Design Review Committee that enforces the area’s zoning rules. Supervisor Rich Gordon, who represents Emerald Hills, has not yet decided where to go from here, according to an aide, but has held meetings with representatives of both sides.

Mangini said that he was ready to take a hard look at the current zoning policies, what’s proposed and try to understand what people want.

“It’s going to take a lot of work to come up with this, but the community is engaged now,” Mangini said. “I just don’t want to see it go one way, piling restriction on top of restriction.”

Milo Medin, an association board member, recognized that the majority had spoken but was wary that board members wanting to examine, and perhaps repeal, zoning rules would give the community license to subdivide lots and develop ad nauseam.

“If the community really wants these restrictions removed, so you can have this spin-up of large, large houses, I’m sure the county would love to do that,” Medin said in reference to the potential property tax revenue. “I think it’s not the Hills that a lot of us liked when we bought here.”

Also at the meeting, Emerald Hills resident Cynthia Ford submitted a petition to the board for an overhaul of the association’s mission and bylaws, including a name change to the Emerald Hills Neighborhood Organization, reflecting that membership could include residents who are not deed-holders. Mangini said the petition for the overhaul was a reaction to the way the board had conducted itself.

Medin saw it as an attempt to keep the association away from providing input on zoning regulations entirely. The final decision on any regulation changes rests with the Board of Supervisors.

“Part of this is to go after changing the rules, and basically remove the standing of the homeowners’ association,” Medin said. “Generally, people want to join an organization to help it do its job, as opposed to not do its job. So it’ll be an interesting dynamic.”

The board’s next meeting, during which they will elect their president for the year, will be sometime in early April. Stay tuned for the fireworks.

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