When Riverside Avenue resident Debora Wade bought into the property next door to her 10 years ago, she and her husband Karsten were doing it partly to preserve it as a single-family home in an increasingly dense neighborhood, she says.
Wade—who has Crohn’s disease, routinely struggling with long periods of severe illness—had her third surgery last year. In times of darkness, she’s looked for solace in her garden on the section of property that she shares with former Councilmember Micah Posner and his family, who live in a home at the front of the parcel.
“This was the place that I come to when all my drugs fail, and I’ve had fevers for six months straight, and I’m emaciated,” she says, of her garden. “I, at least, can go out to the garden and plant seeds. It’s what kept me alive.”
Wade has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to stop Posner—who ignited controversy for an illegal unit on the property while on the council—from adding a second unit to the property. The unit would be in between the house and the garden, known as Fairytale Farm.
Posner hopes that building the new unit will reinforce his apology.
“The garden is great, people love it,” Posner says. “Some people say, ‘Don’t build the unit, we have to save the garden,’ But they don’t understand that we’re not going to build the unit on the garden. I don’t see any way it could affect her at all.”
Wade concedes that she and Karsten did give the Posners the green light to build the previous unpermitted unit before he was elected to the council. Looking back, she says she was touched that, at the time, Posner’s wife, Akiko, had wanted to have enough income to be a stay-at-home mom—something she was fortunate enough to do herself.
“When he had a tenant living next to us, it wasn’t as peaceful. When you hear people having sex, when you hear people listening to music, I don’t like it,” Wade says. “You don’t want to be out there.”
Posner came over and talked to Wade as she recovered from her surgery—so often that she filed a temporary restraining order against him, although a judge later threw it out, requiring Wade to pay Posner’s legal fees. It’s an uncomfortable fallout for two formerly friendly neighbors. The Wades hosted Posner’s City Council campaign kickoff at their backyard farm nearly five years ago, and they were business partners in Santa Cruz Pedicabs.
The Zoning Board approved plans for the unit—technically a duplex under zoning laws—on Jan. 18, and Posner hopes to begin building after getting an architect’s appraisal, although Wade says she’ll appeal the decision to the Planning Commission. Posner hopes to enter either mediation or arbitration, which could provide the final ruling. He hopes to resolve these issues as soon as possible, but in the meantime, will continue going through with the permit process to have the unit built as soon as possible.
It’s in the contract that the families have to arbitrate, but the two sides have unsuccessfully held mediation sessions with different mediators—one of which consisted of four meetings, he says.
“Debora never voiced her concerns about the previous tenants. We are determined to be good neighbors and we would have addressed the concern,” Posner says.
Wade tried to set up an appointment with the Posners with the lawyer who drafted the document in San Francisco, but they told her that they couldn’t travel that far. Wade says it’s difficult to find an expert locally.
It’s true that, at least in Santa Cruz, the situation is anything but routine, according to Mike Ferry, a planner with the city. This is the first tenancy-in-common agreement he has dealt with, and he says it’s been unusual to have a tenancy-in-common agreement in Debora and Posner’s situation.
Update 2/23/17: This article was updated to say that the temporary restraining order Wade filed against Posner was thrown out, and Wade was forced to pay Posner’s legal fees.
Update 2/23/17: The reference to the unit as a ‘duplex’ was changed to ‘secondary unit’.
Update 2/23/17: Photo updated.