A Brief History of Dos Pinos

The California laws for creating limited equity housing cooperatives were put in place in 1979. In 1985, the Dos Pinos development was the brainchild of Sweetwater Development company (Lou and Karen Fox). They owned a great swath of land that they wanted to develop with market rate homes, apartments, a shopping complex, etc. Their goal was to get the appropriate building permits from the city. The city required the developers to satisfy the low-to-moderate income requirement for a part of their proposed developments to get permits of the rest. Both parties agreed on the option of a limited equity housing cooperative model. Hence, Dos Pinos!

The developers built the project according to their specifications, with only their own ideas, intentions and visions on the table. Contrary to some people’s belief that Dos Pinos was “created as an intentional community” or “has always been an intentional community,” there was no intent of the original shareholders or technically the shareholders-to-be—they weren’t included in this process. In intentional communities, the most common characteristic is the extensive, pre-development activities in which future resident/owners participate.

Concrete evidence is even found in our physical plant. Common design features of co-housing housing and intentional communities usually include buildings clustered around a large common house with large kitchen or doors facing each other and opening into a large communal space. Instead Dos Pinos has a small community room, which is not centrally located and which has a very small kitchen. Our front doors all open to one direction–south—not toward each other. The window facings—mostly north and south–were chosen for passive solar design and energy conservation.

During the building of Dos Pinos, the developer started selling shares to prospective members through a sales agent hired for the task, i.e., the builders started the project and then, as any developer must, went out to find buyers. Committed shareholders-to-be were able to move in from the fall of 1985 as renters. During this time, the developer hired the first management company and a lawyer to write the Bylaws according to state law that created limited equity cooperatives in preparation for the turnover to the members of the cooperative.

Per the California law, by the time the developer sold 80% of the available shares (48 shares out of 60), we legally became a cooperative and “kicked out the landlord.” The real work of creating the guts and soul of the cooperative began. Henceforth, our monthly assessments were no longer rents, but monthly assessments paid to the corporation.

The developer still held the shares of the 12 other units, rented them out, and paid monthly assessments to the cooperative. But the limited equity model required the builder to sell at a price close to building costs, and because the price of a share made it a good economic decision for potential buyers, eventually all of the shares were purchased and the developer was totally out of the picture.

The original member/shareholders were not a cohesive self-defining group of people who knew each other and planned the development. Rather they were a group of individual households that bought into the concept of affordable housing and the appeal of some level of self-determination vs. renting with a landlord fully in control. Since the limited equity housing cooperative model is required by law to be organized and incorporated as a nonprofit public benefit corporation, the concept of consensus decision-making was never an option and is not an option now.

Yes! There were meetings of “shareholders-to-be” during the time we were renters and even a little before some people moved in. There were considerations of policies of the most practical type – parking: who gets to park where?, pets: how many are OK? what type?, etc. and community room use: how do we allow member use that works for the individual as well as for the community? These were just the first policies that needed to be determined, even as people were still moving in. Because there was no board during this period, these policies were agreed upon loosely and then somewhat revised and adopted by the actual board once the coop was established. Even here, there was never any consensus.

As a corporation, most decisions of Dos Pinos must be made by the elected board of directors. Of course, a few very important ones are left to the whole membership such as Bylaws changes, but the board of directors model is required.

The first Board of Directors was elected in early 1986. They had weekly meetings that often went past midnight. There was a lot to figure out and a lot to do including hiring its first coop management company (remember, the complex as rental housing was being managed by a management company that had been hired by the developer). As of spring 2012, Dos Pinos has had six management companies including the initial one hired by the developer.

The continuing evolution of the Dos Pinos community is a real tribute to members, past and present, who may not have come here with any expectation beyond finding an affordable place to live, but have worked hard to make it much more than that. The hard work of the original members and all other past and present members results in what Dos Pinos is today, arguably the longest operating, most successful limited equity housing cooperative without government subsidy in California.