Looking for input and suggestions on unresolved conflict
From: dmcfe (dmcfeaol.com)
Date: Tue, 16 Jun 2009 11:52:55 -0700 (PDT)




-----Original Message-----

From: carriefe [at] aol.com

To: dmcfe [at] aol.com

Sent: Mon, Jun 15, 2009 8:55 am

Subject: looking for input and suggestions on unresolved conflict

We are members of Tierra Nueva Cohousing in California.

Do other consensus cohousing communities have forms of "extra" membership, and 
if so, how have you handled conflict when it occurs?

What forms of agreement for rights and responsibilities are out there for 
special memberships that are not residential?

About 15 years ago, we joined the existing group before land was secured and 
plans for construction were made, and attended meetings as prospective members, 
listened to and learned the consensus process until we decided that this is 
what we wanted for ourselves and for the children we were planning to have.? 
Once we began to pay into the monthly "pot" for expenses for the project, we 
were given our "thumbs" and invited to participate fully in the consensus 
process of the group.? We knew that until we had a developer on board and land 
secured, we were taking a risk in paying into the monthly contribution, but we 
became committed to the cohousing concept and the concept of consensus, as a 
group process to make our hoped for communitie's decisions.

We had our two boys, helped to build the project, accepting all 
responsibilities needed for completion of the project, and moved in when 

A few years down the road, a house next-door came up for sale, and was 
purchased by a couple who had friends in Tierra Nueva, and who decided to buy 
the single family home on a large lot adjacent to Tierra Nueva.

This couple's children were young adults and no longer living at home.? This 
couple was attracted to the many amenities offered by Tierra Nueva (TN), but 
chose not to buy a home in the community. They asked the community for an 
"associate membership" so they could enjoy the amenities of the commons in 
Tierra Nueva for an "In Kind Contribution" valuing $600 a year.? At the time 
the "membership" was being discussed in plenary at TN's consensus circle to be 
brought for a test for consensus, we had a lawyer living in TN, who counseled 
the group that a "membership" would be illegal because this couple had no 
capital investment in Tierra Nueva, no ownership of a home or in the commons 
(and in fact required that any TN member using their property as a "walk 
through" to other parts in the neighborhood sign a waiver), and could not be 
part of the TN Homeowner's association.? Their property remained their own 
private property, of course, and their resources remained their own private 
resources, of course.

At the time, no serious conflict with these neighbors had yet occurred, and the 
group came to a consensus decision to give them an "Invitational Membership", ( 
with a wink and a nod, keeping the decision out of the minutes we submitted to 
our hired professionals who manage our Home Owners Association and the HOA dues 
we pay).? On the understanding from group discussion that this couple support 
the values of cohousing and our consensus process, they were given access to 
our commons, an invitation to our Business Meetings, committee meetings, meals, 
celebrations, etc, everything a bought-in residential cohousing member was 
entitled to excepting? the ability to "block" a consensus decision, choose HOA 
Board members, or "vote" on our HOA budget.? Please keep in mind that these 
neighbors have not? cosidered "buying" a cohousing home. They do not share 
their property resources with the TN community.

Now, five or six years down the line, there have been problems in openly 
advocating against consensus, not supporting consensus process in plenary 
meetings through behavior, and selectively discrediting Tierra Nueva values and 
past agreements, by these Invitational Members. Behavior of intimidation by 
yelling and threatening behaviors in meetings and on the commons has occurred 
and been the subject of mediation, peer, and professional, without positive 

Some TN members and residents have asked to have a plenary discussion to take 
stock of the arrangement , review and possibly recreate? the Invitational 
Membership's one paragraph "proclamation" that was thumbed, (an actual 
agreement was never constructed--no written agreement exists because it would 
be illegal), to be clear about what the rights and responsibilities of the 
Invitational Members are.? This has been met with resistance, to say the least, 
and after three years of requests, (and a $6000 professional mediation 
recommendation to do so, that failed to come to pass),? to bring the discussion 
to a meeting by several member families.? We are losing long-term residents and 
the participation of other long-term residents, as a result of unaddressed 
conflict.? Attempts to talk one-on-one, (a community value),? or mediate with 
these neighbors has been
met with uncooperative responses ranging from unresponsiveness to hostile 
personal reprimands, with no change in behavior or willingness to work, in good 
faith, to resolve the issues. The advocation of majority decision making is now 
the position of the Invitational Members for not addressing the terms of their 
membership.? Distressing behaviors continue to play out in the commons, and 
now, even though the couple is in the process of divorcing, they will not come 
to the table to talk about their
changing relationship with the community, (they are separated now and living in 
different homes on their property and plan to continue their TN arrangement as 

During this time of failure from the consensus process the community has relied 
on from it's creation, there has been no help from our HOA Board whose members 
include personal friends of the Invitational Members; one of the Invitational 
Members is part of our facilitation team, so going through the facilitators has 
proved to be futile as well--we can't get the discussion on the Business 

My question is, what other communities offer memberships of this kind and how 
have these communities protected their values, agreements and consensus 
process, as well as their residents when these agreements are broken (or in 
case they are broken)?? And what happens when there is an active attempt at 
silencing the discussion or keeping it from coming to the group?? What can be 
done at this point?? The dilemma of selling or even renting to others 
interested in cohousing is unsettling because what does one say, how does one 
explain that these neighbors are allowed to participate in every aspect of the 
community even though they don't support the past decisions, values, agreements 
and actively advocate against consensus process? 


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