News

Dessert shop is ground zero in neighborhood feud

Infighting over SnoZen, zealous enforcement of rules dividing the Crossings' residents

A corner cafe specializing in frozen desserts would seem like the perfect setting to relax and cool off, but the proprietors of Mountain View's SnoZen have found themselves in the center of a heated political battle between residents in the Crossings neighborhood.

SnoZen, which opened in late 2013, serves Taiwanese shaved snow, a unique dessert that has attracted a following in the Bay Area. But along with its success, the business has also drawn some complaints from neighbors that they're being too noisy.

SnoZen owners Teague and Jennypher Ho, as well as other residents in the Crossings neighborhood, say the complaints come solely from the one household living directly above the shop. Over the 18 months since SnoZen opened, residents Konstantin Okunev and his wife Yelena Okuneva have made an estimated seven complaints about the noise to Mountain View police and code-enforcement officials. When authorities found no substantial issues, the Okunev family hired an attorney, who began sending written warnings to SnoZen to be quiet.

The Ho family say the noise complaints make little sense. Other than the chatter of customers, the only other sound coming from the shop is a radio with only one speaker working that they couldn't blast if they wanted to, they say. They point out these complaints are particularly odd due to the building's location -- right next to the Caltrain tracks -- where roaring trains drown out all sounds as they pass by.

"It's totally subjective what 'quiet' is to each person," Jennypher Ho said. "We've tried every way to appease them and meet their demands, but we just feel like we were pushed into a corner and there was no way to make them happy anymore."

Meanwhile, the Okunev family describes the throbbing stereo beats coming from SnoZen as being like something straight out of Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart." The noise has been an ongoing nuisance that has impacted their right to relax at home, said Konstantin Okunev, pointing out their daughter had to change bedrooms just to sleep.

"The building is constructed in such a way that if you turn on music, the whole building vibrates," he said. "Let's say you come home around 7 p.m., and you can't relax because you just keep hearing this beat, and it's been like that for months."

For more than a year, this situation seemed like just another stalemate between neighbors who could never get along. But things changed in recent months when Yelena Okuneva joined the board of the Crossings Homeowners' Association, and the organization suddenly began taking a strong interest in the issue. The homeowners' group represents about 230 residences in the mixed-use neighborhood just north of the San Antonio shopping center, and it governs the insular rules for the private community for things like landscaping, street parking and renting out the pool.

Under a set of newly amended rules the homeowners' group approved in February, all businesses in Crossings would be forced to abide by "quiet hours" after 6 p.m. each day. In effect, that rule only affects SnoZen since the only other nearby shop, a salon, closes each day before the rules take effect.

For their part, SnoZen owners Teague and Jennypher Ho say they rules if implemented would effectively force them to close up early each day. What's more, if they lost their peak business hours in the evenings, they see little alternative but to close down the shop for good.

But the shaved-snow shop is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the infighting in the Crossings neighborhood. A group dubbing itself the "Crossings Resistance," has rallied behind SnoZen, turning the shop into a larger symbol for other alleged injustices spearheaded by the homeowners association. The group recently mounted a banner above the SnoZen entrance, urging people to visit a website laying out their grievances against the association.

One vocal critic has been Charles Bransi, a software engineer living at the Crossings who previously took the homeowners group to small-claims court over how it nominated new members to the board. He blames the association for crossing the line by making unnecessary revisions to the governing rules, and then enforcing those rules in a hard-line fashion. As example, Bransi pointed out that people began getting their cars towed or fined for parking alongside red curbs -- before they would first get a warning from private security patrols. Similarly, he pointed to an incident last month when the board confiscated a family's security deposit and banned them for a year from using the community facilities after they rented out a clubhouse for their daughter's birthday party and some children started swimming in the adjacent pool.

"People aren't happy with the management if they keep doing these things like this," Bransi said. "There's a way to do things through negotiation … but through this approach, they keep making enemies every day."

For their part, association board members say they're only enforcing the rules, most of which have been around for decades. Just as many people are urging the Crossings association to penalize those who violate the rules as there are people complaining about it, said board president Paul Simons de Carvalho. He acknowledged that about 50 cars were towed in the neighborhood over a period of about six months, but he said that by enforcing those rules the red curbs were totally clear when a fire occurred in March.

"When people buy homes here they sign an agreement with rules, and then some don't abide with it," he said. "This whole thing is you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. You can't please everyone. Some people want the rules enforced, some don't."

But the disputes at Crossings are also fast becoming a matter for the courts. In March, the association board launched a civil lawsuit against its former property management company as well as five Crossings residents who formerly served as board members. The suit sought $450,000 from the defendants for allegedly mismanaging the HOA's finances and failing to follow the organization's governing documents for board meetings. Attorneys working for the board indicated that seeing the lawsuit to fruition would cost about $150,000 in legal fees.

Seeking a second opinion, a group of homeowners hired a competing law firm to analyze the merits of the case. Among the attorney's findings, it cast doubt on the suit, suggesting the board itself had violated protocol by initiating litigation without properly notifying members. For that matter, the case had a uncertain shot at winning and would likely cost well in excess of $150,000 before it came to a trial, he warned.

In fact, the political battle will even soon have its own neighborhood election. Bransi and other residents gathered enough signatures on a petition to potentially veto the amended rules passed by the association board in February. In early June, the votes of 230-plus households will be counted to determine whether those rules should be overturned. In recent days, SnoZen hosted a meeting of about 40 people seeking to rally support for the veto.

Carvalho acknowledged there were an active corps of opponents trying to undermine the board, but he said that group was really only a handful of people. A better way to change the neighborhood's policy, he said, would be for people to write letters and participate without resorting to "nastiness."

In fact, one of the few things the two feuding sides in the dispute seem to agree on is that most people at Crossings neighborhood seem blissfully ignorant of the strife.

"The neighborhood actually isn't that divided," Bransi said. "The majority of people here don't even know what's going on."

Comments

13 people like this
Posted by There's no place like home!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 29, 2015 at 12:14 pm

What a terrible neighborhood! Can't they all just get along!


81 people like this
Posted by Nick Anonymous
a resident of The Crossings
on May 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Those board members are so nasty. In addition to all the things accused above, I accuse them of witchcraft and vampiry. Yes, it's true! They turn into vampires at night and fly atop our crossings houses, and drink blood! I saw it with my own eyes!!! They want to get rid of Snowzen so that they can make it a vampire crypt, I'm sure. This must stop.


29 people like this
Posted by Sad State of Affairs
a resident of The Crossings
on May 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

The whole SnoZen issue is a huge conflict of interest on behalf of the Board Director who lives next to the place. They even appointed a sham Director to sit in for her during a violation hearing against SnoZen. Read about it here:

[Portion removed due to promoting a website]


32 people like this
Posted by Louis Cypher
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on May 29, 2015 at 1:26 pm

HOA's are the devil.


18 people like this
Posted by Radio Music
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2015 at 1:29 pm

They should try moving the location of that music player in SnoZen. It might be passing vibrations through the wall like the crazy lady says. It would still work just as well if not sitting on something fastened to the wall, but then it wouldn't vibrate upstairs.

Someone ought to sue those current HOA board members for misfeasance. They're clearly doing the illegal things.


11 people like this
Posted by NW Residents
a resident of North Whisman
on May 29, 2015 at 1:41 pm

The ghosts of the Old Mill have come back to haunt the Crossings.

I hope the residents there can work out their differences and live in peace.


18 people like this
Posted by Litsa
a resident of North Bayshore
on May 29, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Seems like the wife joining Crossings Homeowners' Association, is a conflict of interest.

Looks like it's going to be an ugly battle, and the family won't be happy until they run Snozen out of the Crossings.

Let's get ready to rumble...!


18 people like this
Posted by @ sno zen
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 29, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Please come to our neighborhood instead. We won't fight - unless you run out of snow!


48 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 29, 2015 at 2:58 pm

This will reflect poorly on The Crossings if it's not resolved fairly.

It seems questionable if the neighbor with the noise complaint is actually now on the board and voted to add new rules to force the business to close and probably this issue should be resolved by arbitration not litigation. Noise issues are subjective so what seems loud or disruptive to one person may not bother anyone else. There are lots of examples of this.

You might live there and not care about SnoZen, but if this fight grows it will have an affect on resale values when less people are interested in buying if the home owners association is seen an unfair, heavy handed or unprofessional.


13 people like this
Posted by Block the Fakes
a resident of North Whisman
on May 29, 2015 at 3:01 pm

Why did the fake post by "Nick Anonymous" not get removed? Fake content and fake likes.


16 people like this
Posted by E. Seaman
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 29, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Members of The Crossings neighborhood and SnoZen could consider using the free mediation services of the Mountain View Mediation Program. Mediation is a user-friendly, non-adversarial means for those with differing views to come together to understand each other better and try to resolve their differences. Try it, you may like it!


18 people like this
Posted by Sno Zen
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2015 at 3:06 pm

They close up shop at 8pm already. Surely this must be in their lease, that they can operate until 8pm.


47 people like this
Posted by psr
a resident of The Crossings
on May 29, 2015 at 3:30 pm

With the trend toward mixed-use developments, this will happen more and more often. People will buy above a business, then expect them not to make any noise, which is ridiculous. The rules should be reasonable and having "quiet hours" starting at 6:00 in such a development is unreasonable. The "quiet" restrictions should not begin until 8:00 at the earliest.

If the residents can't work it out, the city should put in a clause that HOAs can't put restrictions on businesses regarding noise prior to a more reasonable hour.


12 people like this
Posted by Board member of Another HOA
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on May 29, 2015 at 3:33 pm

We had a similar situation. One neighbor's laundry machines were disrupting another neighbor's right to peaceful enjoyment. It turned out the way the machine was mounted caused sound to travel into the other owner's space. I recommend to SnoZen to move the speaker(s) to another area where it isn't mounted on studs or on structurally supportive beams. Sounds in the base range travel through construction. Good luck Crossings HOA and SnoZen! It's no fun to be in this type of conflict. It affects everyone's daily attitudes.


49 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 29, 2015 at 3:47 pm

As a former HOA president, like many others, I'm concerned by Yelena Okuneva apparently becoming a board member so she could grind her axe with impunity. Her move is an example of the broader thrust of board members acting in ways contrary to the interests of the homeowners, as appears to be happening here.

An HOA board has a great deal of power. That's fine if the board exercises that power humbly. But what often happens is boards feel the homeowners couldn't care less about the challenges to the community, so the board feels they are on their own in fighting battles for the HOA. And when that happens, they often feel entitled to use some of their power to their own advantage (like hammering SnoZen). And if it's true that homeowners don't actively care what the board does with its power, you can't seriously fault the board for cutting themselves a little slack to feather their own nests just a bit.

Sorry to say, the only serious answer is for most homeowners to take an active interest in what the board does and who is on it. If the majority of homeowners don't hold board members accountable -- and vote them out when they need replacing -- then HOAs are going to be vulnerable to these problems.

It's just inescapable human nature -- if someone (the board, in this case) is doing a job for you (the HOA, in this case), and you don't show (on an ongoing basis) that you care about their performance, they will lose sight of the fact that they are there to do a job for you.

It's like leaving cookies on the counter in the lunch room -- if people think no one else is interested in them, they'll eventually take the cookies for themselves.


18 people like this
Posted by kathy hall
a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 29, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Oh the joys of communal living...why don't they just turn off the radio? Is that a necessary component to selling Taiwanese shaved snow? I have no connection to any of this but I would not be happy to have to listen to the incessant 'chatter of customers' but on the other hand why did they buy a place over a commercial property? Two sides to every story I guess.

BTW... what is with all of these stupid pen names...if people posted with their REAL NAMES everyone would be much more civilized and far less snarky.


10 people like this
Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 29, 2015 at 4:39 pm

Doug Pearson is a registered user.

Hmmm. When I first heard the concept of mixed use development, both housing and business, it sounded like a great idea. Obviously, it doesn't work for everyone.


23 people like this
Posted by Respect Property Rights
a resident of The Crossings
on May 29, 2015 at 5:10 pm

People should respect property rights!
Buy next to a business, what did you expect?
It's not our business to tell others what to do with their property...period. Stop the snarking!


38 people like this
Posted by Old soul
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 29, 2015 at 5:35 pm

The Crossings homeowners should organize and recall the board members.


40 people like this
Posted by Save SnoZen
a resident of The Crossings
on May 29, 2015 at 6:29 pm

SnoZen is a wonderful addition to The Crossings. Just look at their Yelp reviews and you will see it is a quality place we need to save.

Web Link


23 people like this
Posted by Another Former Different HOA Board Member
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2015 at 6:44 pm

This community needs to attend the meetings of the Board of Directors of this Master HOA. It's obviously a board that is out of control.

Their should be a Director's and Officers Insurance that would cover the former board members. The association will be paying its insurance company to cover the alleged costs caused by the alleged actions of the former board. What idiots. The odds of collecting on that are infinitesimal. It's a recipe for wasting money on legal fees, big time.

Yeah, these officers need to be replaced. Unfortunately, it's hard to find residents to serve on these things. Very troubling that the current board is violating the CC&R's.


15 people like this
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Bailey Park
on May 29, 2015 at 11:11 pm

Suspect the main problem is architecture. I remember having a look at those places when they were being built. If they weren't made with such flimsy, cheap materials many of these problems wouldn't be cropping up now. Of course at this point the contractor is probably long gone...


11 people like this
Posted by Jes' Sayin'
a resident of Bailey Park
on May 29, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Correction:

The article writer has it "But things changed in recent months when Yelena Okuneva joined the Crossings Homeowners' Association"

That should be "But things changed in recent months when Yelena Okuneva joined the Crossings Homeowners' Association board"

Everyone who owns there is automatically a member of the HOA.


24 people like this
Posted by Srihari Yamanoor
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2015 at 11:58 pm

HOAs - the plague on the American dream.


24 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of The Crossings
on May 30, 2015 at 12:02 am

Carvalho has a lot of nerve referring to nastiness when he is the root cause of The Crossings' problems. Some initially fell for his BS but most now realize he's just a conniving bully. He is wrong if he thinks only a few oppose him and his hand picked cronies.[Portion removed; please tone down the personal attacks.]


17 people like this
Posted by Maria
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 30, 2015 at 9:06 am

I wonder if those people living about the business get a "discount" for picking that particular apartment? I also wonder with all the mixed business/housing building going up in Mtn. View if this is going to become a major problem in our city?

People who don't understand the complexities of buying near or around business really don't have any business buying there. It's like the people who buy near the downtown area or near the train station then have the audacity to complain about the noise level...really???


12 people like this
Posted by Ted Cho
a resident of The Crossings
on May 30, 2015 at 10:14 am

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


5 people like this
Posted by skim1@yahoo.com
a resident of Castro City
on May 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

skim1@yahoo.com is a registered user.

Wow, you removed my post!

I just sayin, my name is Olaf and I will visit SnoZen to cool down. I don't think it is fair to remove my post especially when I stated, that I agree with jes sayin, that the complex was poorly built with ultra thin walls. I don't agree with Yelena as stated previously, and for her to be on the board is a conflict of interest. I don't agree that people get on boards to shut places down for their own interest. There are a lot of people in the Bay Area like Yelena who serve on boards simply out of self-interest. And I stated that I read Jane Jacobs and there's a person that Jane Jacobs also wrote about, just like Yelena. I'm NOT going to keep quiet because it's my community also. It's a community I grew up in.


19 people like this
Posted by Caroline L
a resident of The Crossings
on May 30, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Caroline L is a registered user.

As a Crossings homeowner, I noticed that a lot of important information was left out of the article:
1. He failed to mention that Charles Brandi lost his case in court against the association; the judgement was rendered in March, but yet the author of the article chose to leave that out.
2. All prior businesses that operated where SnoZen is located were closing at 6pm.
3. SnoZen doesn't play music during the day, but plays it in the evening when it is most annoying for the people living upstairs.
4. The attorney who wrote the 2nd opinion about the lawsuit starts his text with a huge caveat: his opinion is based solely on the document that was filed at the court and which is likely to be amended. The attorney wrote an opinion without seeing any of the evidence. It is obviously a very uninformed opinion.
5. The legal fees will be recovered in addition to the damages sought, should the HOA prevail.
6. Among all the cars towed, almost half did not belong to Crossings residents; many people park on Crossings private streets and go take CalTrain.


18 people like this
Posted by Caroline L
a resident of The Crossings
on May 30, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Caroline L is a registered user.

One more thing (addition to my previous post), the attorney who wrote the second opinion did not even read the HOA's governing documents, if he had, he would not have accused the board to have broken the rules by initiating the lawsuit without prior notification to the homeowners. The HOA attorney addressed this concern in a Q&A sent to homeowners which points to the HOA CC&R article that pertains to an exception reading avoiding that statute of limitations. But that somehow did not make it to the article.
This article is honestly very biased and poor journalism.


14 people like this
Posted by DavidR
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2015 at 3:48 pm

DavidR is a registered user.

Wow, so I hope all this P.R. boosts business for the shaved ice concession. There's a lot of mess to this HOA but why should a tenant that has a lease be subjected to this squabbling? They're entitled to damages due to violations of their lease agreement by the landlord, if the terms were changed after the fact.

I see that the issue with Small Claims Court was unclear, but Small Claims Court can only handle monetary damages. They don't have jurisdiction to enforce violations of the law by HOA's. That would be in Superior Court. So I'm betting the article dodged describing all that by just saying accurately that the situation drove the one resident to take them to Small Claims Court (even if pointless).


20 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of The Crossings
on May 31, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Anon is a registered user.

It is interesting that:
1. There is a "Caroline L" who was a member of board when the "zealous enforcement" of rules started.
2. There is a "Caroline L" who is a very good friend and next door neighbor of HOA Board President Paul Simone De Carvello.
3. There is a "Caroline L" who was on the board who helped get a board member with a clear conflict of interest,Yelena, on to the board.
Could it be the same one? Could the divide in the Crossings be making its way to The Mountain View Voice?


3 people like this
Posted by Geek
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Jun 1, 2015 at 9:53 am

Geek is a registered user.

@Anon
"who helped get a board member with a clear conflict of interest,Yelena, on to the board."
================
I think being on the board of HOA and owning a condo above some business is not a "clear conflict of interest". Voting on an amendment of the rules affecting that business would be the conflict of interest. The protocol of the board meeting with the votes should be available for HOA members and if Yelena did not vote, there was no problem there.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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