Rascal Rebel Rancheros

Most people want security in this world, not liberty.

~H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956

Saturday night ended my tenure on the local Home Owners Association (HOA) Board as I was vigorously voted out of office. Not only did I lose but the President (I was the VP of the Board) took a few moments before the meeting’s official commencement to indecorously launch a personal ad hominem attack against me for sowing so much discontent including the barbs and arrows of instigation, burrowing in the organization and egads, even quoting from my blog; in fact, quoting from the text of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals which I have permanently posted as a warning to others. I am now stigmatized as an “agitator.” My riposte to this completely unexpected broadside was that I would not engage in personal attacks or handbag fights. I also reminded the audience that my original platform on which I was elected was rather clear at the outset: private property rights and secession. I had a reputation as the sole “Nay” vote for many of the initiatives of the HOA, for which I was held in low regard.

What, you may ask, is my offense? I wished to secede from the HOA and questioned its very existence.

In yet another quixotic enterprise of the sort I am known for, I thought I would work within the system to make it better. Two years earlier I had stood for the vacancy with a simple two tier platform. I would approve any architectural review where the adjoining neighbors agreed because private property had primacy over the HOA and I would press for secession of the Rascal Rancheros as we had come to be called. We are a band of nine lots with our own road connected to the northwestern perimeter of the HOA. The entire HOA is comprised of nine-acre minimum parcels in the country. We Rancheros are unanimous in thinking that the dues paid year after year for essentially being ignored and seeing them used on the other side where a greater number of homeowners live was an inglorious arrangement. We even had to pay for our own cattle-guard to replace the rickety gate at the entrance to the road where it met the main arterial. We were rather alarmed for our safety because there were incidents where large groups of illegals from our Southern neighbor would gather for pickup which meant that to get to our homes, we had to exit the vehicle and open the gate and then close it behind us, a potentially hazardous undertaking. Arizona is an open range state and we could not leave the road unattended by a barrier, as we were responsible for ensuring our cattle did not use our road to go for a stroll on the highway where a collision would have a bad ending for all parties involved.

The cattle guard enterprise provided a great demonstration project to me where through no coercion or from a directive on high, free Arizonans got together and pooled expenses and labor to benefit a group sharing the road. Now, mind you, this was done for a bridge project on the other side where most of the HOA lives and many volunteer hours were used but the lion’s share of the cost was borne from the collective (there is that word) coffers of the HOA for that project. This was not the case on our side; all the monies and labor were from the Rascal Rancheros above and beyond the tribute paid already. It was decided at the beginning of my tenure that we would not accept offers of help and money from the Association in spite of the squeaky wheel (me) being on the board. The thinking was that if they had ignored us for five years, if we accepted a scintilla of Caesar’s coin, they would haughtily proclaim that we were benefiting from the HOA membership. We were on our own and used the board membership to press for our rights. (Ed. I have two cattle guards myself, and here in Texas the welded pipe alone runs $4500. Bill says he managed for $3000 plus their considerable labor digging a trench, installing the cattle guard, and rebuilding the fence.)

On the Board, I have always offered a gentlemanly comportment even when we disagreed and I refused to participate in personal attacks. In the months preceding the General Meeting in April, the whisper campaigns began and the usual suspects would fill hours of leisure time damning or speculating on the nefarious intention of myself and any other Rancheros who would dare to ask The Question:

We wish to secede as friends and neighbors with no acrimony and simply pursue a neighborhood arrangement where private property is respected and no taxes/dues are levied and no liens are threatened for non-compliance with a quasi-government regime known as an HOA. Can we go now?

A hushed voice would mutter: “Why, that would be anarchy?” To which I would respond with a delighted “Yes, Indeed!”

The malice and ill temper we experienced was amazing to those unacquainted with these disagreements. There is nothing personal in this request and it is a question that has confronted mankind since time immemorial. It is the authorship of tribes and nation-states at the macro-level and the germination of divorces in Western culture. It is the genesis of self-determination and the individualistic notion of being left the hell alone. There was even one impassioned question at the annual meeting Saturday asking who would maintain the roads if the HOA were not there. As if, in the absence of a stick or fetter, everyone would simply helplessly watch their roads fall into disrepair as they gorged themselves on cheap carbohydrates and regretfully took their eyes off the television screen momentarily to gaze wistfully at the pothole-ridden wreck in front of their homes. Walter Block addresses this with alacrity in his pioneering work on roads. Over 60% of all unimproved roads in Kansas, for instance, are in private hands and maintained by the owners. Before we emigrated to Arizona from Idaho we had a quarter miles driveway we maintained to our home in the country. And, gasp, we had a part of it we shared with a neighbor which we maintained voluntarily. (Our quarter mile white gravel road requires very little maintenance, and I could buy a great deal of gravel for the $5,000 the local fellow wants to pave it. I had him make me a 75′ long parking area instead. It cost half as much–ouch–but it is far more useful. This is a beautiful example of the difference between what governments and associations think the peasants should have and what we’re willing to pay for ourselves. Ed.)

Of course, all this speaks to a deeper philosophical issue within the problem: naked fear of freedom. No matter the government entity, whether the collectivist Forbin Project in DC or the local HOA, there is a real doubt that once the threats, liens and stukach pipeline to local authorities is somehow thwarted and people are free to dispose of and manipulate their private property as they wish, all hell will break loose and these former HOA enclaves will become festooned with lime green trailers, brothels, drug dens and huge endless junkyards (wait, are we talking about FEMA camps in New Orleans or government housing projects?) People left to their own devices without restrictions in place will do as they wish with their private property. The most laughable objection by the mandarins who insist the HOA is a positive force is the notion that if you signed on to join, why should you have recourse to leave? (Editor’s note: I have never seen a case where “membership” in an HOA was voluntary; “joining” is written in deed restrictions. A contract where only one party benefits is not valid.) With that logic there would be no divorce and we would still be a British colony. Sheer balderdash. Almost makes an HOA sound un-American but that brings me to my next point.

I submit that it is now viewed as un-American if you don’t submit to authority. The HOA debacle just brings the message home in a very personal way that those who cherish freedom and liberty are now the odd men out. You should have seen the look of sheer fright and terror on some of the faces in the audience when the possibility of secession or dissolution was entertained (albeit briefly).

The HOA president ironically hoisted her argument on the quote from Edmund Burke, which she had written on the whiteboard, to wit: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Laughter from the Editor. On our side at least briefly, albeit unkowningly, was she?!) Burke wrote this in Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, 1770. In The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, edited by Henry Froude, Oxford University Press, 1909, Volume 2, page 83, He was speaking to the evils visited upon the citizens by government. One can only approximate an HOA as a quasi-governmental entity if it has the power to foreclose and take your house for failing to pay tribute. A curious quote indeed but even Burke saw this when used by politicians as a cheap ploy and a substitute for critical thinking.

It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of not man, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement.

Again, the primary cause of all the bitterness and calumny in my local HOA was the thought of loosening the fetters and letting private property owners make their own decisions absent approval of their putative betters on the Board. Again, hubris prevailed at the meeting when one of the outliers in the audience mentioned this was not a ballot as indicated but a straw poll. The response was that the sentiments of the paying members would be taken into account but the Board would do as they wished per the CC&Rs.(Your Editor again: man, that’s true representative government.)It goes to show that even at the smallest level, the excesses of collectivism and government corruption are a clear and present danger to those who simply wish to live free. L. Neil Smith made the observation that if a man has to be convinced to be free, why would he deserve it? Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, if a man felt hemmed in or bothered by the ever encroaching government presence, he could head west but then we arrived at the Pacific Ocean and had nowhere to go, unless you set sail. (Ed.
Robert Heinlein: “When a civilization has grown to the point where ID is required, it is time to move on.”)

I think HOAs have become the monstrous and destructive entities they are because of the odious marriage with government which they embraced with a full measure of enthusiasm. Refuse to put the proper paperwork in for architectural approval despite the onerous compliance with the tax-eaters at the Building Department? We will put a lien on your house and render it useless as private property. Have you grown apart and wish to leave? Tough, we need your money and we can tell you what to do. (ROFLMCutePosterior off. I was threatened with a court order by the Redland Woods HOA in San Antonio unless I submitted a building plan for adding four windows to the third floor of my house. So I complied with the following: “1. Cut holes to accomodate finished window size [60 x 30) in the walls. 2. Frame said holes in with 2 X 4 timber as appropriate. 3. Install windows by nailing to the new studs. 4. Repair sheetrock and paint. 5. Restore outer walls to conform to the new windows.” That was the end of that. Without so much as a comment from the bad guys! Put in new windows without their permission? THERE goes the neighborhood.)

George Staropoli put it succinctly:

With this understanding that the HOA is a legal form of governance, our elected officials must accept the de facto reality that HOAs are indeed an un-American political government that control and regulate the people within planned community subdivisions. Our elected officials must refute the neo-American false arguments that HOAs are not governments, a self-serving argument to permit the special interest lobbyists to formulate, and to establish control over, the legal structure of this authoritarian government. The HOA, not being subject to the Constitution and the 14th Amendment, denies citizens their privileges and immunities otherwise protected from all public government denials. Our elected officials need to realize that the pro-HOA lobbyist position is an affront to and a rejection of our (theoretical) system of government.

Another question emerges: is the surrender of liberties and private property rights worth the alleged protection or increase in property values? Will this long term belief make Americans callous or even hostile to individual rights and prerogatives?

If you are thinking about buying in an HOA community – walk away.

Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. ~G.K. Chesterton

Bill Buppert
Whiskey & Gunpowder

April 15, 2010