Letters for the week of April 7-13, 2004 

Wilson Ogg responds to our coverage of Pinebrook, which he characterizes not as a sham, but legitimate family.

Page 2 of 3

7. Harper accuses me of intentionally engaging in a course of conduct to hide Pinebrook from the rent board. I had no need to avoid "detection" by the rent board. Pinebrook has always had high visibility, was once depicted in Life magazine, and could be on the National Register of Historic Places.

8. Language to the effect that "Ogg wound up evicting" Naomi Brandes is false and defamatory. She vacated her quarters after I served upon her a thirty-day notice to vacate. In my nearly forty years of Pinebrook ownership, I never completed eviction proceedings against any family member. It would be inconsistent with family membership, with all disputes preferably handled by arbitration under the family agreement.

9. Language to the effect that a rent board hearing examiner concluded that the family association was a sham designed to circumvent rent control is false. The proceedings were dismissed by Naomi Brandes' counsel before any decision was reached. The decision of the hearing examiner would not become effective unless it was neither appealed nor dismissed within thirty days. Miss Brandes dismissed the proceedings within thirty days.

I explained to Harper that the family sharing agreement was drafted pursuant to the 1980 California Supreme Court decision in Adamson v. Santa Barbara. The decision clearly allows persons unrelated by blood or marriage to constitute themselves as a family for zoning purposes and necessarily as a family for rent control purposes. Mr. Harper avoids any mention at all of Adamson v. Santa Barbara. Instead, with apparent malice, Harper engaged in a campaign to ridicule me by ignoring the true background of Brandes v. Ogg and apparently to fabricate a false background that would be of help to Mr. Ostly and Ms. Brandes in their attempt to improperly recover $110,000 from State Farm.

Harper's column also contains many comments apparently and somewhat cleverly used to prejudice the reader against me. An example of this is his comment that "he speaks with a distinguished British-sounding accent despite being a California native." My so-called accent is actually a symptom of auditory dyslexia. People familiar with auditory dyslexia recognize my accent as a speech impediment. The only language I speak is English but unfortunately with an impediment -- sorry about that, Mr. Harper. Harper apparently thinks I am a "character" because I have auditory dyslexia leading to a speech impediment and, at the same time, a Mensa membership.

For an objective approach to Brandes v. Ogg by a disinterested party, I am enclosing a letter to the Rent Stabilization Board by a former Pinebrook family member. The publication of [my] letter, as well as the enclosed letter by Mr. Cox, would allow your readers to get a clear picture of the situation underlying Brandes v. Ogg.
Wilson Ogg, Berkeley

Enclosure
I'm sorry to hear that Wilson Ogg's good faith has been abused by a member of Pinebrook. It find it shocking and depressing to think that a person who joined his extended family has treated him so poorly and unfairly. I wish to attest to the character of Mr. Ogg, and express my fear that the actions of Ms. Naomi Brandes will deprive others of the remarkable experience I had in extended-family group living by forcing him into a forced sale of Pinebrook.

When we first met, Wilson explained the terms of joining Pinebrook very clearly to me (including the legal details of Adamson v. Santa Barbara). If accepted, I would not be a tenant, I'd be a family member. This was a different concept in group living, but after thinking about it for a while, asking a bunch of questions, I was satisfied with the answers I heard, and I decided Pinebrook was for me.

Once I moved in, anything I ever needed in terms of the physical structure, kitchen unit, laundry etc., was attended to right away. Wilson was always extremely polite, respectful, reasonable, cooperative, thorough, and friendly. I felt completely at home visiting him in his study, or having him over for tea and conversation. I was happy to chip in by assisting him with his computer. It actually was a family; we all pitched in and were close friends. It was quite unlike anything I'd ever experienced when I was merely "renting a place." Wilson Ogg is an uncommon person, and he made Pinebrook something extraordinary.

Pinebrook is not a weird cult, nor is it a sham to get around zoning. It is in every way an extended family. If Ms. Brandes was cynical about this concept, then it is she, not Wilson, who is to blame; through her self-centered and cynical approach to group living, she short-changed herself, and is now in the process of hurting an exceptional person, and doing others a rare privilege that she apparently still fails to appreciate.
Jon Cox, letter to Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board

EDITOR'S NOTE
If indeed we mischaracterized the true reason for Wilson Ogg's manner of speaking, then we apologize, and regret the error. However, we stand by the rest of Will Harper's column, which was largely based upon public documents, including documents on file at the Berkeley Rent Board and Alameda County Superior Court.

For example, the "gas leak" allegation that Ogg says "Brandes never made" was, in fact, contained in both her Tenant Petition for Individual Rent Adjustment to the Berkeley Rent Board and her civil complaint in Superior Court.

Moreover, the phrase "contemplated trespass" was contained in Ogg's own February 4, 2003 letter to J. Morgan of the Berkeley Rent Board. Contrary to Ogg's assertions, the Berkeley Rent Board Hearing Examiner, Debra Hutton, did in fact conclude that the "sharing agreement was a disguised rental agreement designed to circumvent the Rent Stabilization Ordinance by sham." Two weeks later, the case was dismissed pursuant to a settlement.

Finally, the difference between eviction and sending a notice to vacate is not a significant distinction.

"Wake Up: Words, Music and Healing," Performance, 2/18

Where is the art?
Thank you Express and Natasha Nargis for opening-day publicity for my art exhibition, Insomnia (Awakening), at Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland, and performances of poetry, music, and dance around the subjects of sexual assault and child abuse during the exhibit. The art itself is a retrospective installation of works spanning my career, centered on the installation within the larger context, "Insomnia" (on the red wall). I first looked for the article in the Visual Arts section of your paper, which shockingly no longer exists in the paper itself, but is to be found online only. Next I looked at your catch-all section, Billboard, could not find it there, and after some further searching, concluded the article had not been printed after all. Imagine my surprise when Pro Arts director Margot Dunlap at last found the above-titled article (no mention of art!) in the Performance section. Please understand, all aspects of my project were conceived and built around the huge body of over two hundred artworks in the show. To appreciate the magnitude, the exhibit must be seen. Finally, the illustration by Al Cameron accompanying the article of possibly one of my sculptures may have mistakenly led people to believe that that was my artwork.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: All publicity is good publicity, and so I thank you.
Chandra Garsson, Oakland

EDITOR'S NOTE

Now Opening: On Stage
This week, we'd like to call attention to On Stage, a new weekly column of capsule theater reviews by longtime Express theater critic Lisa Drostova. On Stage will be an opinionated guide to local productions playing in the East Bay. In the coming months, we'll be fleshing it out with reviews of shows other than those Lisa has already reviewed for the paper. We'll also soon add a separate column of capsule art reviews to join it.

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