Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Homeowner's Association Meeting

Though my wife and I only rent a unit in a condo building, I decided to go to an HOA board meeting last night. The purpose of my attendance was to inquire about composting food waste (coffee grounds, paper towels, vegetable scraps, etc). I had been told by a member of the board that several residents were interested and that I should attend to talk about the issue, so I did. I was also interested in seeing how many residents attended and witnessing the dynamic of the group.

Attendance was paltry. The board was there in full force (five members), as were the property manager and the onsite caretaker, plus three homeowners and myself, for a grand total of eleven (I believe there are seventy three units in the building). The agenda wasn’t too long but the composting discussion was the last item of new business, and therefore occupied the final position of the night.

A detailed account of the discussion that lasted two and a half hours before we got to composting would scare off any reader so I’ll just hit the highlights:

1) A two-sided form, prepared by an impassioned resident and former board member, which was to be distributed to all residents soliciting interest in low-flow toilets and building wi-fi, was presented. Much discussion ensued about the wi-fi portion and the costs associated with the installation ($27,000). Maybe twenty minutes later reason triumphed, and the form, with any mention of money removed, was approved. Oh, and the low-flow toilet proposition was to be “spun” to seem “hip, green, and sustainable,” since “that’s cool these days,” while the board’s true concern was over the water bill.

2) A revision to the 2008 budget was proposed by the treasurer. Evidently, a certain amount of money was allocated for miscellaneous expenditures and the treasurer wanted to insert it as line items where it had actually been spent, therefore reducing the negative variance. For example, there is one unit the association owns that had not been leased until May, though the budget counted on income beginning at an earlier date. Consequently, this line item appeared over budget when in fact some of the money allocated as miscellaneous could have been used to cover the cost. Another half-hour discussion ensued about the politics of presenting the budget to the homeowners and the appropriateness of modifying it midyear (evidently budgets are set annually and are not to be changed, even if the money is just shifted within, during the year; they are only to be reflected upon when the new budget is being determined. Interesting.) It was decided to approve the revisions, but not before one of the board members had left and the aforementioned impassioned resident (who opposed the revisions) yelled out, “where is he?!!”

I’ll skip the discussion of the new hardscape in front of the building that is cracking and the dealings with arborists about the trees in the rear courtyard and get to my immediate concern, the composting.

The impassioned resident proposed building a worm bin with about $100 of association money, which sounded great to everyone: we have lots of planters and flower beds so the new soil would be useful. I asked how long it would take and suggested maybe disposing of food waste in the yard waste container for the interim, at a cost of $5.35 a month, with a one year commitment. I was immediately shot down by the impassioned resident who said that what the way we are currently disposing of food waste (in the garbage) is free and he didn’t care if it was ten cents a year for city pickup. He asked how long I’d lived there (1 year, 3 months) and said it would take a very long time to get the bin built and operational. And with that, the meeting came to a close.

Evidently seniority as a resident and concern over the funds trumps progressive behavior – no surprise there. And it seems that one impassioned resident, who talks the loudest and lets emotion trump reason (fanaticism in lieu of intellectualism, says Paolo Freire), can maintain the status quo when at least sixty two other people, with varying opinions, surely, are holed up and not participating in the decision-making. It’s too bad, really.

I’ve since discovered that Madison Market has a composting area that I can use for my food waste, so my conscience can be clear. I’ve also asked the caretaker and the board whether I can order the cheap curbside pickup for all interested parties while the worm bin construction progresses. We’ll see where that goes.


Jon Hunter said...


What building do you live in?

I would suggest that you purchase your own worm bin and invite other resident's to add to the waste... that way you get the advantage of the castings and the worm juice!

moderator said...

Jon's idea is good as long as you can prevent others from ruining it for the worms and any nearby humans by putting in meat, dairy or citrus, which will produce nothing but rotting garbage, flies and VERY bad odors.
a properly operated worm bin will produce excellent compost which can be mixed with soil or used as top dressing, but someone has to manually harvest it, separate the worms for re-use. Unless you're a dedicated person with a few hours to spare for this task the City's "Green Cones" are likely to be a better choice. I graduated from Seattle's Master Composting class more than a decade ago and save my worm bin output for my choicest plants, buy many bags of Cedar Grove compost for general garden use each year.

Keith said...

Thank you both for comments. The landscape committee in my building is pretty gung ho about this worm bin so we'll see how it goes.

Jon, I live in an old building on Capitol Hill but I'd rather not name it since I was somewhat critical of them. It's near Madison Market though and is great, just not as progressive as I'd like.

Moderator, I understand no meat but can you not compost any citrus? Orange peels, good, but actual orange bad? Egg shells are okay too, aren't they? Thanks for your insight; my only experience has been with the city yard waste collection service.