Frequently Asked Questions
- STRs: What is your position on STR’s?
I’m not pro-STR, or anti-STR. We’re all equal here. Let me repeat, all owners are equal. Owners have the right to do whatever they want with their property right up to the point where their actions, or those of their guests, interfere with the quiet enjoyment of other homeowners. What I do stand for is a suite of common-sense rules that apply fairly, responsibly, and equally to all members and their guests. In most respects, I think our current “quiet enjoyment” rules do that. Could we improve them to reduce inconsistent enforcement and confusing penalties? Probably, and I’d be interested in looking into that.
Our TDA governing documents, and Davis-Stirling, the state law that governs HOAs, make it very clear that an HOA Board’s first duty is to its members. I unreservedly endorse that view. However, our guests should be made to feel welcome here, too, so long as they abide by our rules.
- Amenity Access: What is your position on amenity access limitations to address overcrowding?
The overcrowding issue arises most often at our private amenities, the Beach Club Marina and Trout Creek, during peak summer and winter weekends and on selected holidays. As a result, a one size fits all solution that applies uniformly across all of our amenities all the time doesn’t make sense. I support thoughtful, flexible solutions that incorporate reasonable fee differentiation for members and guests. I also support establishing members-only hours during peak times. Amenity access rules and fees should be reviewed regularly and revised if necessary.
At a minimum, we can ask our talented staff, with their decades of operating experience, to come up with ways to increase effective capacity by being clever and innovative. All of this should be part of a comprehensive review of our overall amenity access and pricing rules that is led by management and the subject of broad member input.
For obvious reasons, we’ll need to have special arrangements for handling overcrowding this summer. Right now, our staff, to the best of their ability, is trying to develop an appropriate way to handle the unique circumstances of this pandemic-affected summer. They have extraordinarily difficult choices to weigh between safety, capacity limitations, member enjoyment, and cost to serve. The staff’s recommendation to the board on how to handle our summer operations will be an agenda item at the June 5 Board Meeting. I would prefer not to see guests, unaccompanied or not, excluded outright during this time. I would prefer to see “member priority” hours considered, too.
- Inflation Index: Will you commit to limit the maximum rate of increase in the annual assessment to some agreed-upon inflation index?
As tempting as it would be to say, “Yes”, the more responsible, realistic response is to say, “No, and here’s why.” Happily, the compound annual growth rate in the Operating Fund portion of the Annual Assessment over the past 12 years has been 2.7%. This compares quite favorably to the rate of inflation. This is a testament to the skill and creativity of our management team.
Tahoe Donner employees a huge number of temporary, seasonal workers (400-500 in a typical year) to deliver the superb member experience we have all come to enjoy and expect. These part-time workers usually are paid the minimum wage which in California is increasing by $1 per year to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2022. The change this year represents an 8.3% increase. That’s a hefty multiple of whatever CPI metric you want to use and illustrates the problem with using indices.
Further, more than half (55%) of our annual assessment is represented by the contribution to our capital funds accounts that help repair, maintain and improve our physical assets. Some prior Boards kept the annual assessment artificially low by under-funding the capital funds component. Now we are playing “catch-up” in order to keep our amenities in a well-maintained state.
Based upon my experience on the Finance Committee, it is reasonable for homeowners to expect an annual increase in the assessment in the 2% – 4% range assuming a “business as usual” environment and that we have addressed minimum wage cost pressures and chronic underfunding of our capital reserves.
- Investing in Amenities: What is your philosophy with respect to investing in our amenities and facilities?
Recent boards have been driven by the annual budget cycle, consumed with its impact on the annual assessment, brushing aside our nearly 50-year old Association’s intermediate and long-term needs. I want the next Board to adopt a long-term, realistic, and fiscally prudent investment plan to take excellent care of our amenities and the land we jointly own, with predictable, affordable increases in the annual assessments in the 2% -4% range. With solid planning and a long-term perspective, we should be able to take care of what we own without special assessments. The key to doing this well is to begin thoughtfully planning now.
The Board has a fiduciary responsibility (by law) to do what is best for the association, both now and for the future. Current owners have the responsibility to pay for the depreciation of association assets, not to defer the burden to future owners. Properly maintaining our assets protects owners’ property values.
- Downhill Ski Lodge: Where do you stand on the proposed project to replace the Downhill Ski Lodge, one that could cost the Association up to $15MM?
This project will be the largest single investment undertaken in our association’s history. The nearly 50-year old ski lodge is obsolete, not fit for purpose, and unsafe. I was pleased to see the current board endorse the recommendation to replace it, not renovate it.
I serve on the task force that is evaluating the project, as do two of my fellow candidates. With the help of Tahoe Donner staff and industry experts, we are following a carefully designed, multi-stage program to determine what we need in terms of physical space and functional capabilities in order to deliver a great member and guest experience. Later in the process, we’ll consider what we can afford to invest without creating a burden on the members’ ability to pay for it. Finally, we’ll bridge the gap, if any, between what we want and what we can afford. I have no doubt that “value engineering” will take place to lower the total investment.
This will be a highly transparent process with multiple check points along the way before the Board makes a decision. Gathering member input and feedback will be a key part of the process before the Board makes any decision. My own view is that we should not build it too small or too large, but just right in order to balance the size of the investment with our expectations for member and guest enjoyment. Until our work is completed, I am keeping an open mind about the project. I have not committed to any particular lodge size other than the one we can afford.
- Public Access: How do you feel about the public, i.e. non TDA members, having access to our amenities?
One of our governing documents, the Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, specifies that the Board shall be authorized to permit members of the public to use our recreational facilities if the board reasonably determines that such usage will make it more cost-effective and can be accommodated without overburdening the facility.
Our amenities are for the enjoyment of members, families, and guests. Private amenities should remain private. “Public amenities” should be open to the public ONLY to the extent there is excess capacity AND public fees offset costs to members. If there is a need to ration access, members should have clear priority over guests.
In some instances, the public makes a significant contribution to the financial performance of some of our public amenities. For example, during the winter of 2018/2019, public patronage of the downhill ski area effectively reduced our annual assessment by approximately $300 per homeowner. With Tahoe Donner nearly fully built out and recognizing that some of our facilities were sized for a much smaller population, we need to regularly review how public participation affects members’ experience and our financial position.
- Defensible Space: What is your view on the level of TDA’s spending on forestry defensible space activities to prevent catastrophic wildfires here?
Over the past two years, Tahoe Donner, under leadership of our nationally recognized forester, Bill Houdyschell, has spent approximately $3.0 million to make sure that our homes are safe from wildfire risks. This strong commitment has enabled Tahoe Donner to be designated a Firewise Community. This designation should help owners who are having difficulty renewing casualty insurance.
Currently, Tahoe Donner performs home inspections once every 6 years. I’d like to see an analysis of the cost to reduce that cycle to once every five years. Of course, the Forestry Department also has to look after our 5048 acres of common space, too. Bill and his team regularly produce excellent information about our Forestry Department’s activities. View Bill’s most recent comprehensive presentation here.
- Amenity Opening: Why can’t we open our amenities faster now that COVID-19 concerns seem to be abating and Nevada County has been approved to enter Stage II of the state’s pandemic recovery program?
I also would like our amenities to open as soon as they can, safely and smartly. However, we do need to abide by Town of Truckee and Nevada County rules. The staff, working under enormously difficult conditions, have successfully opened the Tennis Center, the Marina for boat/SUP/kayak launching, and BikeWorks. Most of our other amenities will be able to open when we enter Stage III of the recovery process mandated by the state. I do support our management team’s efforts to carefully stage the opening of our amenities consistent with safe practices.
- Speeding: Traffic speeds on Northwoods Boulevard are getting worse. What are you going to do about it?
First, we need to continue to support Chief Leftwich and the Truckee Police Department as they enforce our speed limits. As the son of a Boston Police Officer, I absolutely defer to the Truckee Police Department’s professional judgment in this area. Secondly, we all need to take personal responsibility to address this issue. In my own case, I generally set my cruise control at 35 mph when traveling on Northwoods Boulevard just to make sure that I’m not moving too fast.
- Annual Assessment: Why did you support a 4 year, $300/owner temporary increase in the annual assessment during last year’s budget cycle?
Last year, an overwhelming majority of Finance Committee members transparently recommended a temporary, supplemental increase in the Assessment in an effort to (1) thoughtfully fund our future capital needs, and (2) protect future Boards from being forced to implement a large, difficult-to-plan for special assessment. The complete Finance Committee Information paper on the subject can be found here.
After reviewing the preliminary 2020 budget and four-year capital funds forecast, the Finance Committee identified a significant problem: The December 2023 balance in the Development Fund would fall to approximately $1.2 million after construction of a new Downhill Ski Lodge of 21,000 square feet, the size preferred by a majority of the 2020 General Plan Committee Downhill Ski Subcommittee after their multi-year study of the amenity’s future needs.
The Finance Committee considered this to be woefully short of an appropriate balance, considering that Tahoe Donner has 14 assets with an adjusted replacement value of $55.8 million for which we have saved $0 toward their eventual replacement, or major renovation. These assets include the Northwoods Clubhouse, the Tennis Center, and Maintenance Building. The supplemental increase would have generated approximately $7.7 million as a down payment on our future needs.
Special assessments are a sign of a weak board that has failed in its responsibility to plan for the future. The supplemental assessment – at a modest cost of $.82 per homeowner per day – would have materially improved Tahoe Donner’s readiness for the new Lodge and other worthy projects over the next five years.
- General Manager: Were you in favor of terminating the prior GM?
From my vantage point, I thought Rob was a talented fellow and doing a good job. Clearly, only the current Board was privy to all of the discussions that took place behind closed doors. As a director, what I can assure you is that I will work to build trust and empower the new General Manager to do his job free of micromanagement from the Board. I will work collaboratively with my fellow directors to provide him with clear direction. The General Manager is then responsible for executing on the Board’s direction. I will fairly evaluate the General Manager’s performance in that context.
I look forward to David Mickaelian joining Tahoe Donner as our new General Manager.