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Anne and Bernie Koch - photo by George Lurie

Sale of Coarsegold Apartment Complex Displacing Local Grandmothers

COARSEGOLD — The pending sale of an apartment complex called the Grandmother’s Village has upended the lives of dozens of local seniors.

The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians confirmed this week the tribe is buying the 40-acre property located on Oonay Nation Road. The real estate deal closes escrow May 1.

“The property will provide low-income housing for tribal members who apply and qualify based on HUD guidelines and eligibility,” said the Tribal Council in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Mary Bader – photo George Lurie

Until this week’s announcement, the real estate transaction had been cloaked in secrecy and, according to many of the complex’s residents, handled “very poorly” by the Grandmother’s Village governing board.

“A lot of people here are in their eighties and have no place to go,” says Mary Bader, who lived at the complex for three years. She moved out earlier this month after a friend in Oakhurst offered her a place to stay. “Honestly, I just couldn’t stand the stress anymore,” she says.

Anne and Bernie Koch, both in their eighties, are still living in their tidy apartment at the Grandmother’s Village, which has a total of 20 one- and two-bedroom units.

Anne and Bernie Koch – photo George Lurie

“We had no advance notice they were even considering a sale,” Anne says. “It’s been so frustrating. We’ve had no voice in any of this. We feel like we’re being bullied.”

Anne, a former teacher, is 80 and her husband Bernie, retired military, is 82. For the past 14 years, the couple have worked as volunteer hosts for the California State Parks system. Like the majority of residents at the senior community, the Koches live on a fixed income.

Grandmother’s Village was going to be “our forever place. We were so happy when we moved here,” Anne says. “It was peaceful and really affordable.”

The Grandmother’s Village in Coarsegold is tucked into a rolling hillside a few miles off Highway 41. The neatly manicured complex of stuccoed triplexes and fourplexes is operated by a 501(c)4 nonprofit called the California Grandmother’s Club. The organization was founded in 1949 in Santa Cruz by Lottie Pancoast Gregory, whose dream was to “provide affordable housing” for Golden State grandmothers.

“One of the primary purposes of the corporation,” according to the club’s original charter, “is to locate, build and maintain in the State of California, living facilities, to be known as colonies, for members and their spouses.”

The handful of California Grandmother’s Club chapters still active today include colonies in Sunnyvale and Lake Isabella. The club’s main chapter is in Arroyo Grande.

State board president Diana Darpli announced the planned sale of the Coarsegold chapter at a board meeting held in Coarsegold in October of last year.

Darpli said the sale was necessary because the nonprofit was deep in debt.

She also said the recent bust of a nearby illegal marijuana grow now “threatened” residents’ safety.

On Oct. 3, 2018, hundreds of pot plants were found and destroyed at a remote, heavily polluted grow site near the apartment complex. To date, no arrests have been made and law enforcement authorities reportedly have not ruled out cartel involvement in the operation, which none of the residents “had a clue about,” according to Bader.

Since announcing the plan to sell the Coarsegold chapter, the state board has had just one more formal meeting, held in January in Arroyo Grande. Representatives from Coarsegold traveled to that meeting but, according to Anne Koch, were prevented from entering the board room.

“They’ve kept us in the dark throughout this whole process,” Anne says. “All of the power and control has been consolidated in Arroyo Grande.”

Coarsegold’s Grandmother’s Village, also known as Grandmother’s Club #24, opened in the early 1990s. To join the club and be considered for residency at the complex, seniors 55 and older were required to pay an annual $10 membership fee and support club functions.

According to a story published at the time in the Fresno Bee headlined “Grandmothers Who Mean Business,” the organization held bake sales and sold cookies to raise nearly $1 million in construction costs.

The Coarsegold apartment complex was built on a section of the old Al-Miki Ranch. The ranch’s owner, Dr. Ruth Wilcox, actually joined the Grandmother’s Club after selling the building site to the nonprofit for $80,000 in the late 1980s.

Two early residents at the property described the set up “as close to paradise as either one of us will ever get.”

But Bader said tensions at the Coarsegold complex “increased dramatically” after the sale announcement by the state board. Tenants were required to sign new month-to-month rental agreements and secure renter’s insurance. They also had their apartments inspected — and their rents raised.

Since the first of the year, about half of the complex’s residents have moved out. Today, only nine units at the complex remain occupied.

When reached in Arroyo Grande earlier this month, Darpli confirmed Club #24 was in escrow but said she could not reveal the buyer’s identity — even to the Coarsegold tenants — or discuss any of the other details surrounding the sale because of “a non-disclosure agreement.”

Darpli referred all questions to the nonprofit’s attorney Stephen Geihs, who did not respond to multiple messages left at his Pismo Beach office.

Last week, the complex’ clubhouse was padlocked after its contents were loaded into a U-Haul trailer and removed. “They took everything, even the our local Club #24 Bible,” says Anne. “We were hoping to donate it and some other club memorabilia to the [Coarsegold] Museum.”

The Koches now spend most of their time packing — and watering their former neighbors’ lawns and gardens. “We just can’t stand to watch them whither and die,” Anne says.

The couple made arrangements this week to move to a senior-housing complex in Clovis, where their rent will jump from $560 to $800 a month.

“The new place doesn’t even have an outdoor patio for us to sit on,” Anne says. “It’s so sad to have to leave this place.”

But the Koches, who are devout Christians, say they’re trying hard not to let recent events at the Grandmother’s Village make them angry. “If you harbor anger,” Bernie says, “it’s like taking poison and hoping your enemy dies.”

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