Seniors pull up stakes to defend patio gardens

Some residents of Vista Aliso, an ocean-view senior housing complex in South Laguna, fear they are about to lose their little Shangri-La — and the ability to spend long hours in their gardens.

House rules limiting the number of potted plants and outdoor furnishings will be enforced Oct. 1, according to Manager Nicole Bacon. The 70-unit complex next to Lang Park is reserved for low-income seniors ages 62 and older.

The rules call for two chairs, a small table and two potted plants.

Some residents have significantly more than that and will have to tear down wrought-iron fences, take out arbors, remove vegetable plantings and roses. Outdoor couches and large tables will have to go, too. Satellite dishes are also on the chopping block, and no plants may be placed near doorways or stairways.

The rules are not new, according to Bacon, who joined the organization in January.

"The rules were not enforced by a previous manager, and now people are upset and some are rebelling," she said. She issued a memo to the tenants Aug. 31, outlining the new policy and stating that it will be "strictly enforced."

"It's a safety issue, and some of the gardening and patios are out of control," Bacon said. "There is supposed to be nothing on the patios, but we didn't want to do that, so we are allowing two potted plants, two chairs and a small table."

Those who refuse to comply could face eviction, said Patrick Higgins, vice president of communications for National Church Residences, an Ohio-based nonprofit that owns the complex and some 300 others nationwide.

"No one is being threatened with eviction, but a handful [of residents] are refusing to comply and it [eviction] is a possible consequence," Higgins said. "The requirement is very reasonable. It's our general policy to keep the properties from being out of uniform and to keep them with as much curb appeal as possible. Our goal is to provide quality affordable housing."

Berta San Miguel lives in a second-story unit with a number of steps, including a landing. She has placed plants on every step leading to her unit, as well as a chair on the lower landing. Under the rules, all of that will have to go.

"I will stick to my guns," San Miguel said. "I will not comply. Most people are not doing it [complying]. How can they throw you out over plants?"

Three-year resident Muriel Matlock was also upset.

"I don't want to lose my irises," Matlock said. "You need a garden to lift your spirits. It will feel like a prison here."

Bacon points out that while some of the patios are attractive, others are neglected.

"This is a senior population, and some have extravagant gardens that they can't take care of. Because of HUD [Housing and Urban Development rules], we have to be fair to everyone."

May Asaly's mother lives in an ocean-view unit with fig trees full of fruit and a large grape vine on an arbor, as well as numerous vegetables. Deer come down from the hillsides and eat the plants, and wrought-iron fencing was put in to protect the garden.

"This is a great place for seniors, but when they reach a certain age, their only interest in life is to take care of their yards," Asaly said. "To take this away is very sad."

Next door, Margot Butt has collected a large number of items that she plans to give away. Her patio table is filled with an assortment of plants, planters and decorative items.

"My beef is that some have made beautiful yards and spent a lot of money," she said. "This is something for people to do. But I will follow orders to please management."

Neighbors David Ali and David Daizaji will have to lose their satellite dish as well as a lengthy row of roses they have tended for many years. The longtime neighbors are defiant.

"The new manager can't change the ex-manager's policy," Ali said. "I've been here 15 years and put in my own concrete paving and garden, with permission."

"If they want to take it, they will have to pay for it," said Daizaji, an 11-year resident.

Twitter: @CindyFrazier1

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