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Rules of Enragement From Homeowner Associations

Don’t you love it when outsiders describe Californians as laid-back? They’d have everyone believe that “Do Your Own Thing” is our unofficial state motto.

Maybe it used to be like that. But this place has become about as laid-back as Stalag 17.

Maybe it’s just Orange County. Lord knows, we all live here to escape anarchy and to vote Republican, so why complain about the latest chapter of the Control Freak Chronicles? Why even be surprised?

Here we go again with a homeowner association huffing up its chest and blowing a house down. This time it’s the Highland Light Village Assn. in Santa Ana, where a young couple has allegedly violated a number of regulations set forth in the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions--yes, the feared CC&Rs--known; to homeowners in these parts as the most fearsome set of codes since those in Cotton Mather’s Bible.

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Among the violations charged to Valerie and Drew Keys:

* Left toys on the front lawn.

* Allowed their children to play in the street.

* Left oil stains on the driveway.

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* Let Venetian blinds in the front window get off-kilter.

Altogether, the Keyses have received 16 notices of violations since December of 1991. The association has filed suit against them, asking the court to make them obey the rules and pay unspecified damages.

Once upon a time in America, the classic bad neighbor was easily identifiable: They blasted their stereo at midnight or gunned their Chevy at 6 in the morning right outside your bedroom window.

So, to maintain some semblance of order within neighborhoods or behind the gated walls of Paradise, residents got together and drew up rules to live by. They elected homeowner association board members. When CC&Rs; work best, they keep crummy neighbors from wreaking havoc.

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All too often, CC&Rs; turn Joe Homeowner into Manuel Noriega.

I reviewed our files for past incidents. Strung together, it’s like viewing a comic newsreel.

There was the Laguna Niguel association that protested a young family’s swing set for their toddlers.

There was the Corona del Mar group that had a 35-pound weight limit for dogs.

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There was the Santa Ana association that cited a woman for kissing her boyfriend outside her townhouse.

I could go on. I left out things like basketball hoops on garages or what color your house has to be.

Yeah, yeah, I know . . . property values. They’ll go down if kids shoot hoops or play in the street. Life becomes pretty simple when it’s reduced to property values.

I thought it would be fun to track down someone involved in a past squabble, just to see whether the passage of time changed their perspective. I found Jacquelynn Beiter, a school teacher and mother of six, whose family lived in the Crest De Ville community in Laguna Niguel. She and her husband were quoted in October of 1991 as being upset with the swing-set regulations that limited their height and what color they could be.

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The Beiters still live in Laguna Niguel but moved out of Crest De Ville about 18 months ago. They didn’t leave because of the regulations, Jacquelynn Beiter said, but the intervening three years since she was quoted in The Times hasn’t softened her feelings about the regulations.

“Our situation was financial (regarding moving out), but it also just wasn’t the place we chose to raise our family,” she said. “All the bickering. It just wouldn’t be a place I’d choose to move back into.”

I told her it’s ironic that she now says she wouldn’t want to raise a family there, because another family also chastised for their swing set had described the community before the dispute as a “wonderful place to raise our family.”

“Those of us who had children, that’s what we thought,” Beiter said. “It got to where I wouldn’t let my kids play handball against the garage because, my God, they might put a mark on it and one of the neighbors might complain. I stood up at numerous meetings and said, ‘I teach kindergarten all day long’ and that ‘5-year-olds can resolve problems much better than the very educated people in this community. It’s ridiculous.’ ”

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I asked Beiter to explain the association mentality.

“I’ve analyzed it as much as I can and think what happened down here is that for whatever purpose, you ended up with all these homeowner associations who started with the intention of doing good things and unfortunately what happened is that all that came out of it was that it created wonderful litigation for attorneys. And we are the headquarters for attorneys in the country, so somebody’s working.”

The Beiters like their new house, but a few months ago a letter arrived.

It was from the homeowner association, informing the Beiters that, among other things, they had left the garage door open and that their dog had been barking too much.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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