Bush Executed 

Vandalized topiary at issue in condo association suit; former AC Transit Board member winds up in the county lockup.

With Bay Area housing prices still soaring, you, dear Feeder reader, may be thinking of going condo. First, a warning: While condos might be cheaper, they have drawbacks, such as nosy neighbors, condo-association fees, and petty personal politics. Yep, condo politics can turn nasty -- for proof, look no further than the high-jinks between rival boardmembers at San Ramon Foothills, a 186-unit condo development in that tony Contra Costa suburb.

The SRF homeowners' association recently sued one of its own boardmembers for at least $25,000 in damages after she allegedly decapitated a topiary duck in front of the board president's condo this past summer. The suit also alleges that boardmember Susan Feinberg ripped down vines from a trellis and threw garbage out in a common area. Acting board prez Robert Louisell called the sheriff and told a deputy he caught Feinberg in a pink dress taking a handsaw to the shrub. Nobody was arrested.

Louisell refused to comment for this story, but fellow boardmember and Feinberg ally Harriet Ostrander was more than happy to dish. The fourteen-year condo resident told Feeder that she and Feinberg both resented that Louisell was using his position on the board for his own benefit. "Taking the head off that bush was the culmination of total frustration with the management company, which only pays attention to one person, Robert Louisell," said Ostrander, who works for a commercial realtor.

The exquisitely manicured duck-shaped bush in front of Louisell's condo stood out as an insult to Ostrander and Feinberg, who complained she could barely get the gardeners to mow her lawn. Ostrander, incidentally, says she feels badly that Feinberg got into trouble because she encouraged the idea of hunting the topiary duck. Ostrander says she didn't actually see her friend do it, but, well, the chances are she did. Still, Feinberg's friend questions the suit, asking, "How can you sue another boardmember for trimming a bush?"

Reached by phone at 10:10 a.m. on a recent weekday, Feinberg scolded Feeder for waking her up. She groggily groused that Louisell -- whom she repeatedly referred to as "the weasel" -- and her rivals were trying to get her to move because she raised tough questions about how things were being managed at the condos. "I feel like the Jew trying to be run out of town by the Nazis," said Feinberg, who is Jewish. A former criminal defense attorney who lives down the way from Louisell, Feinberg neither admitted guilt nor denied it. She did, however, complain about the gardeners spending all their time on the duck topiary: "They were basically licking his building with their tongues ... [while] we weren't even getting our bushes trimmed," grouses Feinberg, who told Feeder she was planning to give up her seat on the condo board.

From Transit Board to Jailbird
Former AC Transit Board member Nancy Jewell Cross, 84, was under lock and key at Santa Rita Jail this week on several misdemeanor charges including -- get this -- battery, vandalism, and grand theft. Actually, the eccentric troublemaker has been in jail since the beginning of October, when Fremont police arrested her after a dispute with her new landlord. Deputy District Attorney Matt Wendt says his office offered to let her out on her own recognizance if she took an anger management class, but she refused.

The trouble began on October 3 as Cross was moving into a room in the home of Taqi Muzaffar. According to Wendt, Cross complained within an hour of moving in that there was no phone in her room, and informed the landlord she wasn't going to pay the $450 rent. When Muzaffar asked for the rent, Wendt says Cross told him it was too late; she knew how to use the law and would live there for the next month rent-free while he tried to evict her. Tempers flared and Cross allegedly threw a twelve-ounce glass that hit Muzaffar in the leg. Wendt says that the landlord told Cross she couldn't just start throwing things, to which she purportedly replied, "Oh, really? I can do whatever I want." She then allegedly picked up another glass and threw it outside. (Wendt did not reveal the victim's name, but Feeder figured it out because Muzaffar filed a temporary restraining order against Cross citing the glass-throwing incident.)

When police arrived, the deputy DA says, Cross refused to talk, saying she'd answer questions only if they tortured her. So they took her to jail. When the jailer began searching her, Cross reportedly bellowed, "Here comes the torture."

Cross, who has a Ph.D in chemistry and still rides a bike at her advanced age, ran for the AC Transit board in 1998. Her opponent, incumbent Joe Bischofberger, didn't take the elderly gadfly seriously. He had good reason not to: She was a recent transplant from Menlo Park, where she was infamous for her wacky behavior. The San Mateo County judiciary declared her a vexatious litigant for filing frivolous lawsuits. Alameda County voters, however, didn't know better. Once elected, Cross immediately clashed with her colleagues, who expressed great joy at her defeat in 2002.

This isn't the first time Cross has mixed it up with her landlords. Cross-watchers may recall that in 1999 she allegedly bit her then-landlady's hand during an argument. And since Cross lost her AC Transit seat, Alameda County court records show she has made life difficult for several South County landlords. Since February 2003, she has been the subject of at least four court-ordered evictions.

Judging from court records, Cross usually wears out her welcome within a month of moving in. She then delays her eviction for weeks and sometimes months by filing several motions, or attempting to have judges disqualified from hearing the case. Wendt says Cross preys on unsuspecting landlords who figure she'll be a reliable tenant. "They see this nice old woman," he says, "but she wreaks havoc and costs them thousands of dollars."

It cost Gloria Cuevas and her husband $5,000 in legal fees during a three-month court battle to evict Cross earlier this year. Cuevas says the couple had decided to rent out an extra room in their five-bedroom Newark home to help pay the bills. "We were really struggling," she says, "which is why we were renting the room." When they met Cross, she seemed harmless, Cuevas notes. But within a week of their new tenant moving in, the couple began to wonder if they had made a mistake. Cuevas claims Cross walked around the backyard naked, cooked with a plastic bag over her head, and drank spoiled milk. One day, Cuevas says, they got into an argument because Cross was drying her wet towels in the microwave. When Cuevas tried to stop her from misusing the appliance, she says Cross pushed her. "I'm sorry to say she's a very nasty lady," Cuevas says.

Cross' trial was scheduled to begin this week. If convicted, she could live rent-free in county jail for several months, unless Santa Rita authorities evict her first.


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