Petaluma  Sandalwood Estates
Petaluma Sandalwood Top
2009 / Once again, Bill Feeney/Sandalwood Estates sue City of Petaluma

Not only one - but two lawsuits in December 2008 against the City of Petaluma
from Sandalwood Estates Park owner
 

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Sandalwood Estates is a mobile/manufactured home park built in 1964 for senior citizens by the Thomas Family and remained within the family until December 2000. 

From 1964 to year 2000, it was called 
Candlewood Park.   As you drive into the park, you are on Candlewood Drive where the office and the club house are located.   Residents from age 55 to late nineties own their homes and pay rent on the small piece of land beneath their homes.

 

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    Although I never met the Thomas family,  you can  still feel their presence in the park.  The unique design of the park  reveals a certain personality trait
of the Thomas that is unmistakably kind and compassionate.

Unlike many parks that I visited, the Thomas built this whole park into small courts.  178 units built into U-shaped courts of four mobile homes each court.  I hear that the intention was to encourage communication and socialization among the home owners.   

The stories go on about the barbecues, the holiday celebrations, the games.  It was a large happy family.

The park remained within the Thomas family until December 2000, when Elaine Thomas, who inherited the park after her parents passed, finally consented to sell after repeated offers from Dieter and Helene Rabe of Napa County.   Elaine allegedly told some residents that the Rabes made her an offer she could not refuse.

Would she have sold out had she known the fate awaiting the homeowners of Candlewood Park?  Probably not according to those who knew her well.





Sandalwood Park


After almost forty years as Candlewood Park, the Rabes changed the name of the park to  "Sandalwood Park". 

It is not clear what took place between Dieter and Helene Rabe and the next owners.  The Rabes were in the park less than four months when  two wealthy investors, T. Patrick Smith and William M. Feeney, applied  for their license for Sandalwood Estates, LLC.  April 19, 2001.    Residents of the park did not find out of the deal until July, 2001.  Feeney and Smith had (allegedly) signed a contract with the Rabes to "lease " the park for 55 years (?)





Sad day for Sandalwood Homeowners



William Feeney and T. Patrick Smith had big plans for Sandalwood.  July 2001, Sandalwood Park became Sandalwood Estates, LLC. 

The Rabes / Feeney and Smith transaction was bad news for the homeowners of Sandalwood and it was a sad day for this community of seniors citizens where the majority are on fixed income.  The Rabes had probably paid over market value for the property, and now, in addition to the Rabes, this community was saddled with the Feeney and Smith's (alleged) lease and they demanded a "fair rate of return" on their investment soon after (allegedly) signing their 55-year rental contract.

When Feeney and Smith took over the park, this was a gentle and friendly community, but to Feeney and Smith, the land they leased was an investment.


The Homeowners of Sandalwood Estates



Sandalwood Estates, a mobile home / manufactured home park located off McDowell Boulevard North in Petaluma, California, is a community of senior citizens where the majority are on fixed income.  Some of the homeowners have been living in this park since it was built in 1964.  The ages range from fifty-five to late nineties.  The homeowners own their homes but pay rent on the small land beneath. 

Candlewood Park / Sandalwood Park, has always been affordable housing for senior citizens and most expected to live the rest of their lives in this comfortable and gentle community.   But for  many elderly more fragile residents, the transition of the park and the constant fear that they could not meet the demands of the new owners, added such stress and was overwhelming.  The fear of losing their homes robbed them of their last days of peace. 

Several homeowners died suddently soon after the new owners took over the lease of the land.   



Feeney and  Smith
And
First Meeting with the Homeowners


The club house was full.  Almost everyone was there and the tension was high as homeowners waited for the meeting to begin.  They were concerned about what they were about to hear, yet they hoped for the best.  These new landowners, would they see their anxiety?  Would they cared about their lives? 

Two large tableaux were set up with large blank sheets of paper ready for the speakers to demonstrate their plans for the future of Sandalwood Estates, LLC and the future of the homeowners.

From age 55 to late 90s, they listened while slowly realizing their worst fears confirmed.  Patrick Smith and Bill Feeney, multi-millionaires and new owners of the Sandalwood land, clearly spoke of their intention to raise the rent to $600.00 per month as quickly as possible.  It was more than double for most homeowners on fixed income.   

That evening residents of Sandalwood went home devastated.  Many in tears.   Most spent sleepless nights worrying, wondering what to do, where to go.   Where do you go if you are 85, unable to work and about to lose your home?

In their convertible Mercedes and BMW, Mr. Feeney and Mr. Smith made a grand entrance into the senior mobilehome park.  They demonstrated their authority and without doubt, they expected Sandalwood homeowners to be easily intimidated by their ruses.  

Sandalwood is a wonderful and friendly little community where everyone looks after each other.  Soon we began to see this community rise, organize, ready for a fight.   Leaders took control and worked hours, days, and months to learn the laws, talking to politicians, to lawyers, raising money to fight these abuses.  Yes, some gave up.  (It is alleged that  $55,000 homes were bought by Feeney and Smith for $10,000.)   Many moved rather than facing stressful battles.  And some died.

Feeney and Smith soon put their plans into actions and began working on the elderly.  They wanted everyone on long term leases.  Those who chose to stay under the city rent control laws were punished with notices of rent increases of more than 100%.  On May 9, 2002, an arbitration decision made by
arbitrator
Leland Dibble, denied Feeney and Smith their  demand to raise the rent for more than 6%, what is allowed by city Ordinance Section 6.50.040A.  

Feeney and Smith, angry at the decision, appealed the ruling and sued the City of Petaluma, claiming bias by Arbitrator Leland Dibble.  They lamented they were denied a "fair rate of return" on their investment.  They claimed that by denying them the requested rent increase, the homeowners were taking from them! ! !  They were the victims.  They, the sophisticated businessmen  millionaires who came to Petaluma looking to expand their wealth off the backs of the elderly, they were the victims.

As Mr. Dibble justly stated in Findings of Fact, Feeney and Smith knew when they acquired Sandalwood that the park was affordable housing for senior citizens.  "They appear to have overpaid in terms of lease payment for the property, and thus the tenants cannot be burdened with that miscalculation."
                                               
And Judge Owen agreed with Mr. Dibble and added: "Petitioner did not show that it was denied a fair hearing by Mr. Dibble since the mere fact that a decision is rendered against a party is insufficient to mandate disqualification for bias."

Still, Feeney and Smith were not satisfied as they continued to make good of their promise to take the homeowners to arbitration year after year.  Less than a month after they lost the lawsuit, Feeney & Smith sent new notices to the stressed homeowners for another rent incease of 111 %.  

Speaking to Argus Courier reporter, Chip McAuley, the attorney for the homeowners, Joseph Smith said: "The park owners either need to be criminally indicted or have a civil lawsuit brought against them for elder abuse and unfair business practices."  "A lot of tenants will die, or move out of the park and the Bay Area," he said.  Several have had strokes during the arbitration process.  "Someone has to intervene.  I can't do it alone."

After several years of duress on the homeowners, Bill Feeney and Patrick Smith finally entered into an agreement with the affected parties and the City of Petaluma.  The agreement, signed in January 2004, was relatively reasonable considering their demands.  But, was it the end?

Was it the end of harassment for Sandalwood seniors and elderly? 
Hardly.






January 11, 2009

Not only one - but two lawsuits were filed in December 2008 against the City of Petaluma from Sandalwood Estates Park owner and one against the County of Sonoma.

A decade of lawsuits and year after year Bill Feeney has been taking someone into arbitration . . .

 
2009, Bill Feeney / Sandalwood Estates was in arbitration again with nine more homeowners. 

Bill Feeney cries to City of Petaluma about legal costs of arbitrations. 

Petaluma Mayor, Pam Torliatt responded:  "Bill Feeney has a choice.   He chose to take homeowners to arbitration year after year." 

In 2001, Bill Feeney chose to enter into an agreement with Sandalwood Estates park owners, The Rabes, knowing this was a senior park under rent control. 

(In my opinion, something illegal happened in the Rabe/Feeney/Smith transactions)

The past more than eight years he has been trying to break rent control in Petaluma and more than eight years later Bill Feeney is still trying to destroy the spirit of the remaining homeowners.  (many died or moved out)  He is still taking several homeowners through arbitrations year after year, harass and retaliates against many and is making life miserable to try to force them to move out so he can replace the homes and get large rent increases.   The man is a miserable and aging creature and one day he will pay dearly for his acts against humanity.  


 




June 2010

Mark D. Alpert Attorney for Bill Feeney of Sandalwood Estates
failed in the courtrooms - now he desperately pleads with
Petaluma City Council




Sandalwood Estates Bill Feeney will do anything to get his way.  He sued the City of Petaluma numerous times - Taking seniors and elderly through arbitrations almost yearly - just like he and his partner said they would do if we did not sign a long-term lease. 

Read the open letter Mark Alpert (Bill Feeney's attorney) addressed to the Petaluma City Council wrote about their plan to get rid of  Petaluma Rent Control Laws    



I responded to Mark Alpert's Letter and was published in the Argus Courier the following week in a condense format.

Following is the full format:

July 19, 2010

Letter to Petaluma Argus Courier Editor
in Response to Santa Ana Attorney, Mark D. Alpert

Reading Mark Alpert’s letter, the attorney for Sandalwood Estates landowner (Guest Commentary July 15, 2010) made me angry.  But then I had to consider where the letter came from.  

If you don’t know Sandalwood Estates history you can read about it at:  www.petalumasandalwood.com/sandalwood.html

A fact of life is that we all age, and one day the large family home becomes too much for the aging body.  Living on a pension, downsizing to a senior mobilehome park is often an excellent choice but there are issues that we need to consider.   Living in a mobilehome park can leave you vulnerable to unscrupulous landowners because you own your home, but lease the land beneath your home.

Here is what a San Francisco attorney Joseph Smith told an Argus Courier reporter in 2002 about Sandalwood Estates:  "The park owners either need to be criminally indicted or have a civil lawsuit brought against them for elder abuse and unfair business practices."  "A lot of tenants will die, or move out of the park and the Bay Area," he said.  Several have had strokes during the arbitration process.  "Someone has to intervene.  I can't do it alone."

Yes, they should have been criminally indicted.

The pressure is always alive at Sandalwood Estates because Bill Feeney, the landowner, has taken homeowners to arbitration yearly.  He has sued the City of Petaluma numerous times and in 2009 he had two lawsuits against the city and one against Sonoma County – all intended to break the seniors and elderly at Sandalwood and to get rid of rent control laws. 

To show the character of the park landowner and management, I want to tell you what happened to me and my dog at Sandalwood Estates.  

My dog, Nika, was an exceptionally gentle and quiet dog.  In her memory a friend wrote: “Nika was the Audrey Hepburn of dogs - beautiful, gentle,shy, and well liked.”    Weighing only about 40 pounds, Nika was a small Afghan Hound  and my friend’s words described her very well.  NikaWhen my husband and I divorced in 2001, it made good sense to share Nika’s custody because I was working full-time, he had the house with the yard and I was moving into a senior mobile home park without a yard.  A prearranged agreement with Sandalwood owners was accepted before I signed the lease.  Nika was to live with me at least three days a week.

I moved into Sandalwood on April 1, 2001 and Feeney and Smith, applied for Sandalwood Estates LLC license on April 19, 2001.  No one ever told me of this approaching transaction until we all learned of it in July 2001.  After our first meeting with our new landowners, I knew we were in trouble at Sandalwood Estates and that is when I purchased the Domain name PetalumaSandalwood.com 

I normally speak up when I see abuse – specially abuse of the least able to defend themselves.  Vocal communication is difficult for me therefore, the Internet is my platform.

Sandalwood landowners did not like my web site and they wanted me to take it down.  I refused. 

In December 2005 I received an anonymous e-mail message from someone ranting about my web site.  It was a very angry person calling me all sorts of names - a liar - trailer trash, etc. . .   I had never received this sort of messages and I have had web sites on the Internet since 1995.  The following evening it was an anonymous phone call.  Someone said they were going to have my head chopped off.   

The death threat phone call was not traced but we traced the e-mail to our park management.  I sent a copy of that message to Bill Feeney and both Feeney and management, Kathy Fiebiger, apologized in separate letters.

It was three weeks later that I received the notice from park management giving me ten days to get rid of my dog.  Nika had been living with me three days a week for the past five years without any complaints or any problems at all from anyone.

Of course, I panicked.  I was afraid to lose my home but I could never get rid of Nika.  I cried a lot and took my web site down - for one day - then I got angry and called an attorney.

It was a three-month battle.  Each letter of pleadings was answered with the typical Feeney arrogance that we have become accustomed at Sandalwood.  Nika had lung cancer and she was at the end of her life, but they did not care.  They wanted her out of the park now or they were ready to begin eviction procedures.  I lived on the edge.  My nights were filled with nightmares.  It was a very long three months.

Finally, it was all over.  They gave up and I had won that battle, but four weeks later Nika lost her battle to cancer and died May 26, 2006. I was prepared for her death but not the inhumanity surrounding her life and death.



The very best advice I can give to anyone planning to move into Petaluma Sandalwood Estates is to have a qualified attorney go over all documents before signing anything.

I love my home.  I have good neighbors.  I love it here, but I remain cautious.  I did not get another dog after Nika died.




UPDATE

July 2013

On July 19, 2013, I adopted a little Chihuahua (mx?) from the Sonoma County Animal Shelter; a little rescue with an amazing story.   Her rescuer Shirley Zindler, an animal control officer, is also the author of the book, "The Secret Life of Dog Catchers."   Shirley named the little dog, Hannah.  Please go to the San Francisco Chronicle  to read Hannah's amazing story of survival.

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UPDATE

December 2013

Sandalwood Estates and Bill Feeney filed another arbitration and lost once again.  The Hearing was October 28, 2013.

To read Arbitrator Richard Levin's decision on this arbitration click here:  City of Petaluma vs. Sandalwood Mobilehome Park Arbitration



I applaud Ms. Janice Frym for her devotion to her deceased father, Herman Jensen, and for her courage in her fight for justice.  Her action reminds me of Robert Kenedy's famous quote: 


"Every time we turn our head the other way when we see the law flouted
When we tolerate  what we know to be wrong
When we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened
When we fail to speak up or speak out
We strike a blow against Freedom and Decency and Justice."
- Robert F. Kennedy -


Thank you, Ms Frym
Thank you Mr. Levin, Arbitrator









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