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Shades of beige

Annoyed with his homeowner’s association, man paints house in stripes

Posted: January 17, 2010 10:04 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Old Orchard homeowner Ron Gibson repaints his house a homeowner's association board-approved brown after being informed the warm yellowish color he had previously chosen was not an approved color.

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Old Orchard is the oldest planned development in Valencia - a beige maze of houses with freshly mowed lawns, per homeowner's association rules.

But one home sticks out like a yellow beacon.

On the side of the house facing Avenida Ronada are 25 yellow and brown vertical stripes - Ron Gibson's "gentle" protest against the five volunteer members of his homeowner's association who are forcing him to paint his house a board-approved dark brown.

"It was just sort of a little bit of me saying, ‘You know what? I'm not going to bend over and smile for you guys,'" the 59-year-old said.

The battle between homeowners and their sometimes nitpicky neighborhood micro-governments has become a classic suburban storyline since the associations began springing up in the 1970s.

Experts say clashes between the nation's 300,000 HOAs and the more than 30 million people who belong to them have become increasingly common, as the groups attempt to govern some of the most intimate aspects of residents' lives.

Old Orchard's association is one of about 64 in Santa Clarita.

Some of Gibson's neighbors say they find the mini-demonstration humorous. Others declined to be interviewed because they said they didn't want to get involved.

"I'm quite certain Mr. Gibson is working with the architectural committee to paint his home according to our governing documents," said HOA President Frank Schranz.

He said he did not want to discuss the situation further.

Gibson, who has lived in his house for about 20 years, said he has paid about $350 in fines for failing to re-paint his home in a timely fashion. He said he likes living among Old Orchard's beige-and-white homes, and all the board members have been cordial.

He just wants some variety.

"You get these five people who are the arbiters of taste," Gibson said. "Loosen up a little bit. Give us some choices."

Gibson, who was first targeted by the board early in 2009 for taking too long to replace his roof, decided to paint his home with a non-approved color months ago.

"It was similar to the colors on the approved list, just a little bit more yellow," Gibson said. "It wasn't like painting it pink or purple. We thought it was pretty safe."

He was wrong.

Gibson, 59, received letters. He went before the board soon after. They told him he had to repaint, he said.

"Part of our paint guidelines restrict people from painting their house purple and keep home values up," said Pat Kelley, one of Old Orchard's board of directors. I don't think we're unique in that way."

Kelley said he hasn't seen Gibson's striped house yet.

The board sent 39 letters in 2009 for various rule infractions including unapproved paint and leaving holiday lights up too long, according to an Old Orchard newsletter.

Board members have given Gibson until February to finish re-painting his house. While there are strict guidelines on what color to paint a house in Old Orchard, there is nothing that states how he needs to paint it, Gibson said.

Elaine Unger, who lives down the street from Gibson, said the board is "rigid" on painting issues. She said Old Orchard looks like it's in a 1960s time-warp.

"We don't like the stripes but it doesn't bother us," said Don Urquhart, Gibson's neighbor. "They just appeared magically."

Homeowner's associations have sprung up rapidly since 1970, said Evan McKenzie, an associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In 1960, there were fewer than 500 HOAs. Today, there are about 300,000, McKenzie said.

McKenzie said he could spend days talking about problems with HOAs, but one of the biggest is how residential governments have changed the cultural landscape by invading residents' personal space.

"Nobody wants to live under a nitpicky level of government," McKenzie said. "HOAs manage an aspect of peoples lives that have always been private."

Gibson said the stripes are not about a grand political statement. It's about expressing himself, if only for weeks.

"It's not a protest," Gibson said. "It's kind of a gentle elbow in their ribs."


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