President’s Letter August 2021

Greetings to all Owners and Friends of the Suites,

The San Francisco Suites City Share Owners Association was incorporated in January 1983 soon after the conversion of what had been a nondescript apartment building at 796 Pine Street into the San Francisco Suites on Nob Hill, with a more prestigious address at 710 Powell Street. The developers’ intentions had been to create a full-service, luxurious urban timeshare in a style mostly evocative of the Edwardian era, but with contemporary conveniences (jacuzzi tubs, stereo systems with turntables) and modern flourishes (art-deco stained glass). To accomplish their stylistic goals, they embarked on a shopping excursion to England to purchase antique furniture and period artwork which was shipped to San Francisco in large crates. Many if not most of these acquisitions still grace our facility, from the elegant chandeliers and a large grandfather clock to the variety of English paintings, prints, and watercolors throughout.

As we approach our 39th year of operation, we can point to the high standards of accommodation and service which have endured despite obvious changes in management, Board direction, and even artistic taste. But what I would like to focus on in this letter is a change that we are experiencing now, which may have significant and exciting consequences for our future, namely the changes in our ownership population.

The first members of the Association, who purchased their shares directly from the developers, paid generously for ownership at the Suites; parlors and masters both sold in five-figures. Many of these owners are still members, loyal, even protective of the Suites’ ambiance and traditions, and actively involved in its governance. But thirty-nine years is a long time, and we are witnessing a kind of transformation whereby these original owners are passing on their shares to younger friends and family members, selling their shares, or deeding them back to the Association if they are free of any legal or financial encumbrances. And what we are also seeing is a new kind of owner buying into the Association. These new owners are often from a later generation whose attitudes, taste, and service expectations may differ from those of 1983. Admittedly, they may have bought into the Association precisely because they like the Suites the way it is and would prefer that it not change to suit them. Even so, the large question remains: how do we balance the Suites’ long-standing traditions and old-fashioned ambiance still enjoyed by most owners against some features of modern life deemed essential by many newer and some long-time owners?

Sometimes technology forces our hand, from installing and continually improving Wifi to upgrading our computer-based reservation system. But almost any alteration in amenities or accommodation is met with some resistance. I remember some concern when the smaller televisions discreetly hidden inside the entertainment consoles evolved into larger outside flat-screen sets; or complaints about the remodeling of the kitchens and bathrooms which necessitated the removal of the brass fixtures and oak-paneled cabinets; or the dismay expressed by some at the newer, “busier” reupholstered window-seat cushions which replaced the older, faded, plainer ones. And who can forget the outrage expressed by many owners at the removal of the beloved stained glass windows, allegedly for safety reasons, when the exterior of the building was remodeled? To illustrate a more recent difficulty in balancing comfortable tradition with modern convenience, the possibility of allowing owners to access their share time use and to reserve directly online has been countered by considerable pushback to keep the personal connection of speaking to the Front Desk to do the same.

Being able to respond carefully to the demands or benefits of modern life keeps the Suites relevant, but seeing familiar faces in the lobby and in the hallways, knowing the light and sounds and comforts of a particular suite, being pampered by the staff who seem to know exactly our needs or preferences – these are the qualities that keep us as members, not the strength of our Wifi signal.

I personally believe that participating in this discussion of old versus new to be the most interesting part of my role as Board President, and that the decisions the Board makes on “change” might be the most important legacy they leave to the Association.

I welcome you back to the Suites,

Geoffrey Bellah
President, Board of Directors

 

 

 

 

 

president’s letter

Suites

March 1, 2021

Dear Members of the Association,

Perhaps it is a function of our recent national Presidential campaign and election, or of heightened interest in political affairs, but the Board and I have devoted a good portion of the past year to issues surrounding our Association elections, membership voting, and the rules which govern the process. I’d like to summarize for you four important items which have recently come before me or the Board and which could have a significant impact on our future as a self-managed and governing Association.

First, you are probably aware of the just-approved revision of our bylaws – a move which was prompted by the passage and signing into law of California Senate Bill 323. This new law created a nightmare for all HOAs, but especially for timeshares, by complicating and extending the election process, and by setting out many new requirements that either seemed irrelevant to timeshares or burdened them unduly. Our “new” bylaws have freed us from the most egregious of these requirements and restored to us our simpler election procedures. The changeover, however, was not easy. First, the Association had to adopt SB 323s new rules by a vote, had to conduct last years Board election according to them, and then had to replace them through revamped bylaws, again needing the Association’s approval through another election. The Board thanks the membership for trusting us as we wended our way through the process and for approving the revised bylaws by a vote of 337 to 7. Let’s hope our newly adopted bylaws with new/old election rules will serve us well, without revisions, for a long time – unless the state intervenes once again.

Even with the new/old election rules, the process remains complicated and fraught with the potential for error. Even one mistake could render an election invalid or subject the Association to a lawsuit. (You may recall that a Board election in 2019 had to be postponed and rescheduled at considerable expense because of a mistake in the voting instructions.) As you may have noticed, the Board has employed an outside agency to conduct the last two elections. In both instances, the agency we hired guarantees the integrity of the process and takes over the more onerous aspects of conducting an election, for example, photocopying instructions and ballots, stuffing envelopes, addressing the same, validating and counting ballots, providing a bonded inspector, and so on – all at a cost not much higher than our own in-house expenses to do the same. I believe strongly that contracting with an outside agency to oversee and conduct our elections is the safest, most efficient, and practical way to go forward in these litigious times.

According to California law, when an Association “owns” properties that have been deeded back to it or returned to it after foreclosure, those properties’ shares can be cast in an election. Currently, our Association owns 17 shares with an equivalent 51 votes, a considerable number if one remembers that in the most recent election only 344 members voted.

The same California law states that the votes accruing to these properties may be cast for various purposes: to ensure a quorum in an election, to help the passage of a resolution before the membership, such as the question to deposit surplus funds into reserves, or – and this is the problematic one – to support candidates running for the Board. Moreover, the President of the Board has sole discretion to distribute these votes as he or she wishes.

Since I have been President, I have cast the Association-owned votes in favor of the revised CC & Rs, the new election rules, the restated bylaws, and of course, the surplus funds resolution, believing that passage of the above measures benefits the whole Association. However, I have not cast any Association votes for any candidates for the Board, a stance that surprisingly does not have the full support of the Board.

There are obvious reasons for me not to do so. I would not want to give the impression that the Board is a self-perpetuating body, protecting itself by favoring only incumbents and not voting for those candidates who are new to us or often critical of its work. And I certainly want the selection of the Board decided by the owners, not by the Board itself or Board President. Finally, I do not want to create a precedent that future, less honest Board Presidents might abuse. My view is that the Board President or the Board should not influence the election. Although my casting Association-owned shares for candidates that I or the Board prefers would be legal, to my way of thinking it would not be ethical.

The last matter I would like to raise here is again related to Davis-Stirling, California’s law governing HOAs, including timeshares. You recently received a campaign letter from a member of our Association in which she publicly endorsed three candidates for the Board. This may have struck you as unusual, unseemly, or even intrusive. However, this member was completely within her rights to contact you and advocate for or against candidates. Be assured that your email addresses were not disclosed to her or to other members. As the disclaimer states, her views are hers alone and do not represent those of the Board, the Association, or the management. The exciting thing is her letter provides the membership with a perspective outside of the ones offered by the candidates’ own statements, and one that can be countered by any other member who wishes to add to the discussion by submitting his or her own campaign message.

Elections, voting, and campaigning may not seem to be the primary foci of the Board’s work, but in this time of bitterly fought campaigns, alleged voter fraud, and challenged election results, I can assure you that as long as I am President of this Board, our elections will be conducted legally and transparently, and always aimed towards helping the Association select the best candidates or improve its governance.

Be well,

Geoffrey Bellah
President of the Board
San Francisco Suites

Presidents Letter December 2020

San Francisco Suites

Dear San Francisco Suites Association Members,
In March 2020 the Suites closed to guests, following the mandate imposed by the mayor of San Francisco on all hotels, lodges, short-term rentals, and timeshares. Then, in September, the Suites was permitted to reopen, with strict safety protocols and reduced occupancy. Now, we are closed again, effective December 6, ordered to do so by the mayor in response to alarming increases in infection rates combined with a serious reduction in available ICU spaces in the city.
As before, we remain in operation with a skeleton staff, to maintain and protect the facility and to answer calls, to cancel and rebook reservations, and to prepare for the eventual resumption of full operations. We learned when the facility was closed to guests for seven months that it needs continuous attention, especially when unoccupied, lest major systems such as plumbing and electrical fail due to inactivity. We also realized that the task of running the Suites is ongoing, whether we are accommodating guests or not, from scheduling and completing repairs to preparing for upcoming elections.
For example, during the time the Suites was closed, decorative grillwork was placed at the Powell Street entrance, providing more security to an area increasingly vulnerable to intrusions. (A planned gate for the Pine Street entrance is currently under review by the city.) The Board Room’s wallpaper, which last year had been damaged by a water leak, was replaced. A new, more powerful wifi system was installed. A second bannister was added to the stairwell between the fourth floor and roof. And, equally significant, protective plexiglass barriers were erected at the front desk to ensure that our staff and guests are safe during interactions.
General Manager Cynthia Reid has been working closely with the staff to ensure they understand the importance of following the health guidelines, whether they are at the Suites or at home. She has also continued the business of the Association, monitoring sales of shares, conducting auctions and adoptions, preparing the budget, anticipating future projects, and maintaining contact with the Board.
We are fortunate that we have such a loyal, dedicated staff who are committed to performing their duties to the highest professional standards, even when doing so might risk their health and perhaps their lives. And on behalf of the Board, I would like to thank the on-site staff for their diligence and commitment to the Suites during these very difficult and dangerous times. Also, to thank the staff staying at home but promising to follow the recommended health and safety guidelines as we eagerly await their return to work.
The Board has also been busy during these past nine months. As you know, the long anticipated and once-delayed election for revised bylaws is currently in process, and you should have received by this time your voting packet and ballot. These revised bylaws define and describe us much more accurately than the current version, which under the strictures of California’s Davis-Stirling Act governing HOAs inappropriately places us in the same category as condominiums and corporate timeshares. I urge you to read the letter from the Suites’ attorney Wayne Louvier summarizing the positive changes in the new bylaws which will unbind us from Davis-Stirling and allow us to function more efficiently and independently, especially with respect to elections.
The deadline for returning your ballot is Saturday, January 9, 2021. Please complete your ballot soon, and send it to The Inspector of Elections, signed on the pre-paid envelope that we have provided. The Inspector of Elections, with whom we’ve contracted to conduct this election, will show the ballot count via Zoom on January 9.
As a reminder, you may access the “refreshed” San Francisco Suites website to read the latest information on the pandemic from the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Department of Health as well as the current and past editions of the Board meetings’ minutes, the General Manager’s News, and President’s Letters.
I wish you all good health and happiness in the coming year. I know I speak for everyone at San Francisco Suites – staff, management, and the Board – when I say that we look forward to seeing you once again at “your home away from home.”
Sincerely,
Geoffrey Bellah, President
Board of Directors

President’s Letter September 2, 2020

September 2, 2020

Dear Members of the San Francisco Suites Association:

We have just received word from the Mayor of San Francisco that the City has been taken off the “Watch List” and will permit some indoor and outdoor businesses to reopen. According to the announcement, hotels and other lodgings can return to operations, under certain conditions, by the middle of September. I’ve spoken with General Manager Cynthia Reid, and we would like to reopen the Suites for regular guests on September 14th. The conditions set by the City closely match those the Board approved in June when anticipating an earlier reopening: restricted overall capacity, strict cleaning, and safety protocols, staggered suite availability, and other protective measures that all arriving guests will be informed of as requirements for staying at the Suites during this time.

In spite our nearly six-month closure, our second home has undergone some necessary repairs and refurbishment, much of which could not have happened easily if the facility had been open to guests. One major addition which you will soon notice when you do return to the Suites will be improved security at our entrances on Pine Street and Powell Street. The Board engaged our architect Kevin Hackett to design a beautifully ornate gate for the Pine entry and decorative grillwork for the Powell entry, both intended to improve the safety of our staff and guests at the same time enhancing the exterior appearance of our beloved building.

The Board has been working very hard on another project of less visibility but of equally significant impact on our Association: the revision (or “restatement” in legalese) of our Bylaws to make them more responsive to our situation as an independent timeshare and less burdened by the complicated, inconsistent, and often irrelevant guidelines and rules imposed upon us by the Davis-Stirling Act, which governs all HOAs in California. In conjunction with our attorney, we are finally able to send you a draft of the restated Bylaws for your consideration and approval. These new Bylaws retain almost all of the sound regulations of the former ones but have deleted the references to Davis-Stirling, and most importantly will allow us to return to the election rules we followed most successfully before the enactment of SB 323 last year – a law which has wreaked financial and procedural havoc on most HOAs in the State, especially timeshares.

As we are still subject to SB 323’s rules, the upcoming election to approve the restated Bylaws will perfectly illustrate for you the complexity of its onerous rules. The result is a distended timeline, the hiring of an independent contractor to oversee the election, numerous legal notices and consultations, and of course, tremendous expenses to be absorbed by our Association. However, the ultimate effect will be our eventual unbinding from Davis-Stirling and SB 323 so that we can conduct our affairs with consistency, efficiency, and fairness – as we have in the past.

Here is the timeline which we will be following: On September 8, 2020, our contractor for this election The Ballot Box will send out a notice of the upcoming election, and on October 8, 2020, The Ballot Box will mail the election packet which will include a copy of the restated Bylaws, a letter from our attorney explaining and justifying the changes in the Bylaws, voter rules, and a separate ballot for each share owned. The ballots must be returned to The Ballot Box by November 7, 2020, the day of the election when they will be counted by The Ballot Box.

I urge all of you to vote in this important election since a large membership response will confirm the rightness of these changes which the Board believes will improve the effectiveness of the Association’s governance.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey Bellah, President