During my 2014 congressional campaign, I began to be contacted by many people from across the country who are residents of homeowners’ associations (HOAs), sharing all manner of horror stories about their experiences. I see these issues as encompassing core civil rights issues, affecting the very essence of people’s lives: the right to live and raise families in safe, secure, peaceable homes. I wrote a couple of articles (and posted them on my campaign website) about my view of these constitutional issues, i.e., the usurpation of basic government functions by private entities who rely on their wealth for access and control of legislative initiatives, as well as their access to the courts.
I have continued to learn, and post on social media, about these issues, and one, in particular, called Hidden Valley Hidden Truths, which is an internet forum about the Hidden Valley Condominium in Berks County, PA, designed to expose a moldy and crumbling condominium, that could be one of any number of such buildings across the country that needs to be torn down. People have wondered why I seem to have devoted so much time to this one issue in this one condominium. Well, the fact is that there is quite a bit more to this story, and this building, and the number of people who are at risk because of its conditions. Indeed, there are hidden truths behind Hidden Valley that have motivated me.
The Wilson, Berks County, School District was going to purchase a tract of land adjacent to the Hidden Valley condominium at some point ten or more years ago. Both the vacant tract and the one upon which Hidden Valley is built are part of the same parcel in the “Lincoln Park” area of West Lawn, Spring Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Ironically, you cannot even find the Hidden Valley Condominiums at the 1334 West Wyomissing Boulevard address on Google Maps. It is hidden, indeed. Google Map it.
The school district did not complete the purchase of the tract because battery waste was found on the tract. The owner of that property, Al Barg, who was also once a president of the Hidden Valley Condominium Owners’ Association (HVCOA) and an owner of several units at Hidden Valley, sold the property instead to Weiner Development, which, it is my understanding, is affiliated with Pinnacle Development. In the mid-2000s, Pinnacle constructed Penn’s Crossing on the property, which is a low income retirement apartment building containing 52 units. Interestingly, Pinnacle was one of three property management companies at Hidden Valley over the course of a five-year period.
Despite the clear, unequivocal proof of the deplorable conditions of that building, and the failure of the HVCOA and Township of Spring to do and/or enforce the proper repairs, nothing was done.
The property upon which both are built has been referred to by one Environmental Protection Agency representative as the “Love Canal,” which became the subject of national attention when the presence of toxic waste on that site was revealed in the 1970s after having been concealed for decades. Accordingly, at least the 26 unit owners at the Hidden Valley Condominium, and the 52-plus residents at Penn’s Crossing, may be living on contaminated land.
Two significant fires have occurred at Hidden Valley, one in 1999 and one in 2011, both of which are believed to have been electrical in origin. The one in 1999 originated in unit D, and affected 6 to 8 units. There was not even a fire hydrant in the immediate vicinity. It was located 1,500 feet away, and the fire trucks had difficulty even gaining access. The 2011 fire originated unit V, and resulted ultimately in the death of one of the residents after over 80 percent of his body was burned. Although the Pennsylvania State Police are supposed to have exclusive jurisdiction in the investigation of fires resulting in injuries and death, the Spring Township fire marshal was the one who issued the official fire report labeling the cause of the fire as “undetermined.” There was allegedly a statement made by the man who died as well as a photograph of the burnt inside of an electrical box which were not mentioned in the report.
During the course of my campaign I also met a woman who bought a unit at Hidden Valley in 1999 when she was 26 years old. She worked on my campaign. Hers was one of the units affected by the 1999 fire, the bottom, left unit of the building (for those who have seen the photos on hiddenvalleyhiddentruths.webs.com). I learned much more about the situation and the fifteen years of litigation in which this homeowner had been involved. I will cover more of that story down the road, but the bottom line is that, despite the clear, unequivocal proof of the deplorable conditions of that building, and the failure of the HVCOA and Township of Spring to do and/or enforce the proper repairs, nothing was done. Instead, the litigation turned into a years-long assault on the character and person of the homeowner.
I note that this particular homeowner has shown a character, resolve, and moral fiber possessed by only the rarest of breeds of people in this world. She realized what she had come upon, and the number of people who were at risk because of what she learned, and she has fought, against all odds, for the principles involved in this situation — all over a $40,000, 800 square foot condo that took eleven months to repair after the 1999 fire. As you learn more about this, and as I continue to reveal more of the truths that have been, and continue to be, hidden, ask yourselves, Would I have done what this homeowner did? Do I have that strength?
After relying on lawyers, and being mistreated by them, for years, the homeowner lost her trial in the Berks County Court in 2009. It was a slam dunk case, but, for some reason, her lawyers did not zealously present it, and offer the abundant proof that always existed. I note that the EPA representative did tell her the matter was “political,” and that he, along with almost all others along the way, advised her to “just sell the unit,” i.e., don’t disclose these known hazardous conditions, but instead place others in harm’s way, and try to move on with your life and live in peace. She was actually told to get out of the state, or even the country (why would he suggest Belize?).
Not only this, but she was told to “just get out,” that they wanted her to “turn on all your shit and the place would burn the f*** down,” and many frightening, intriguing things along these lines, as when after turning over a stack of documents containing information about environmental contamination, insurance fraud against the HVCOA, and sundry other misconduct, she was warned that “once I turn over these documents, there is no backing out. You must go all the way now, and I will be killed if they find out.” Interestingly, there is a photograph of a 55 gallon drum that was found in the basement of the condo that was removed by an environmental company. Two former HVCOA board members are now dead, the one who issued the warning about the documents, and the one who burned in the 2011 fire, who also was allegedly about to blow the whistle on the HVCOA. More to be revealed.
I also asked that this complex be condemned, and that steps be taken immediately to address the safety and security of the people at Hidden Valley, at Penn’s Crossing, and in Lincoln Park . . .
After she lost her court case in 2009 and had her lawyer mishandle her appeals and commit egregious malpractice (or deliberate malfeasance), she did not go away. She continued to fight. She continued on her own, with just a few trusted friends along the way, continued to gather evidence, talk to witnesses, and fight the fight that her heart and conscience motivated her to engage in. It was a truly remarkable effort by a truly remarkable person. Again, more to be revealed.
After years of relying on lawyers, not finding anyone who would go down to this property, having her proof cut off at trial, having her personal work product stolen by her own attorneys, being denied any access to justice, and being followed, defamed, harassed, and abused all along, she finally did find a highly-credentialed structural engineer to issue a report on the property.
That report was finalized on February 5, 2015, confirming everything this homeowner has been maintaining all along. That report cites severe moisture infiltration, subsurface conditions, fire hazards, an entire electrical system requiring evaluation, the necessity of environmental testing, suspiciously missing documentation for the Department of Labor and Industry, altered documents, meeting minutes concerning the battery waste, a reference by our EPA friend to the complex as a “contaminated condo,” and the fact that “major demolition” would be needed to conduct any type of full and proper investigation.
On Monday, February 23, 2015, I attended a Spring Township Board of Supervisors meeting with Steph Runyeon, a friend and loyal supporter of the homeowner (more to be revealed). Steph presented the report and some other information to the board who, at least in the past, had information about the problems at Hidden Valley. Runyeon spoke in a very professional and appropriate manner, supporting the homeowner’s contentions all along. (A board member communicated that the HVCOA secured their lawyer through the township — more to be revealed.) Runyeon made a passionate appeal to the board to perform their elected duties and enforce appropriate action to ensure the issues he delineated would be properly addressed, and to protect the residents of Spring Township who are in harm’s way.
I got up after Runyeon and spoke directly about the people in danger, my motivations in taking an interest in this case, the extent of the information about the contamination issues, the HOA issues implicated by this situation, and the problems that occur when government functions are ceded to private, corrupt, money-driven entities. I also asked that this complex be condemned, and that steps be taken immediately to address the safety and security of the people at Hidden Valley, at Penn’s Crossing, and in Lincoln Park, where two elementary schools were recently torn down for some vague reason, one of them formerly lying on an adjacent tract of land.
Upon advisement, the homeowner did not attend, citing the history of abuse and defamation, and the recent information she had garnered from her EPA contact after discussions with township officials that “they” wanted a “pound of flesh” from her, that she would not get off “scot-free,” as they continued their defamatory remarks concerning her.
Interestingly, and very sadly, she was also told by this EPA representative that she should just put Hondurans, or Mexicans, or some other individuals in her unit who would be accustomed to those conditions, and would just be happy to have a roof over their head. Of course, this is unacceptable to this homeowner, as she has always been motivated to protect the many lives at risk at this “contaminated condo,” with its mold and fire hazards, and her demand has always been the same — to ascertain the truth. The truth has been hidden for many years. It is now being revealed.
On top of all of this, there was recently a fire, on March 4, 2015, in the adjacent Lincoln Park Apartments, which is still under investigation, but which are built like the Hidden Valley condominiums. Kenneth High, a local resident, said, “Tonight a fire ripped through Lincoln Park. Nine fire companies were called out. Hidden Valley is set up a similar way.” More to be revealed.
We need the continued assistance of anyone moved by this story. We do not expect the township to come in and do what they should do, and we are cautious about the other law enforcement authorities taking this case and running with it — read about the effort that was required at the Love Canal. We need this information proliferated. We need the people at Penn’s Crossing contacted. We need Spring Township contacted. We need to fill the meeting rooms, and use the phone lines of the PA Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, the Township of Spring, and the Governor of Pennsylvania, and anyone else we can think of to get some attention, and immediate action, on these issues. We need to demonstrate the power of the people and the strength in numbers, and we need to make sure that there are no more hidden truths at Hidden Valley. We need to show that this is what is demanded by our constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You may tell them that you got the information from Andy Ostrowski, and that I asked you to call.