Friday, March 16, 2007

First hand experience waiting for a stall.

We have lived in LAH for 26+ years and have owned horses a great deal of that time. Our girls were on a waiting list for stalls at Westwind Barn for two years and we finally gave up and built our own barn at home. This list, which was run by Friends of Westwind, was a sham. It was not made public - and we saw many many non-residents move into the Barn ahead of us. After many requests... and many years.... this list is STILL not made public. We were extremely naive about this - but finally realized FOW was running Westwind as a private club for their friends (the vast majority of whom were non- residents). The interesting thing about this is that Westwind Barn is LOS ALTOS HILLS TAXPAYER FUNDED. I'm not in favor of my LAH RESIDENT taxes funding a private club which consists of over 75% NON- residents. It just makes no sense - and I strongly feel our Council is not acting with the best interest of our Town in mind when they allow FOW to continue this farce. FOW has defaulted on their (sweetheart) agreement, but the Council continues to insist on letting them continue to manage the barn.

There is a Town Committee set up to look at Westwind Barn - but they were not allowed to consider other forms of governance. I understand that if residents cannot fill the barn, the remaining stalls could be offered to non- residents, but there should be clear and positive first benefit to residents - with residents making the rules. The private club continues - and local taxpayers continue to fund it. Westwind Barn could (and should) be a showcase facility in Los Altos Hills - and should, foremost, be benefitting the residents who fund it - OUR residents.

The non-residents are in positions of authority - and have made the majority of the decisions. Can you imagine if a LAH resident went to Los Altos or Mountain View and told THEM how a facility in THEIR town was going to be run? It just wouldn't happen - and I think our Town Council has a lot of explaining to do here. Why are the Council Members not making sure OUR tax money is benefitting OUR residents? They have a fiduciary duty to do this - and they are failing.

Shari Emling

Research on status of Westwind Barn and Friends of Westwind


I need to clarify some remarks made in the previous email regarding Westwind Barn and Friends of Westwind. This email, will provide additional information, but also invites informative responses from others with a different point of view. All responses will be posted on the Hills2000 BLOG, available through the Hills2000 home page or directly at This BLOG is moderated, so please make your submissions through

Why is this the right time to review the management of Westwind Barn?

For many, Westwind Barn and Byrne Preserve represent the visible picture of Los Altos Hills. The rural nature, open space, and pathway system, all come together to say who we are. For this reason, many of us feel that it is important to spend the $500,000 or more needed to renovate the barn. The City Council and Community Leaders have a responsibility to fulfill their fiduciary duties to the community and exercise sound business judgment and follow established management practices in a manner they believe to be in the best interests of the community. Don’t we, as members of the community also need to review the operation of the barn and ask the question of whether the needs of the public are being met?

Friends of Westwind is a private club that represents the interests of its members. It’s unrealistic to assume that some minor changes to the bylaws will change the goals of the organization. An operating agreement is being proposed that makes changes to the election process, but no changes to the current board. There is every reason to assume that Friends will continue to operate in its own interests.

The Town is reviewing the current lease, and considering an operating agreement that is being offered exclusively to Friends of Westwind. Before the LAH council puts their signature onto a new contract they have a responsibility to ensure that Westwind be run responsibly and that it presents an open and friendly atmosphere that meets the needs of LAH residents.


Friends of Westwind have operated the barn for the last 29 years and have benefited from a very favorable lease from the Town. The lease has been renegotiated regularly, and the bylaws of Friends have changed from time to time to provide more influence to the non-resident boarders. The non-residents, which currently comprise over 75% of the boarders largely operate and control the barn. The website provides a copy of the current lease and bylaws labeled “Current Lease” and “1998 Bylaws.”

Friends of Westwind do not run the events that we are most familiar with. The Town with the permission of Friends runs annual events including Earth Day, Fun Run, and the Barn Lighting. The Town runs the Year-Round Riding Program with the Town requesting arena time from Friends. 4-H for the Handicapped runs its handicapped-riding program with specific accommodations dictated by the lease. None of these activities actually requires boarding in the barn.

Friends of Westwind holds a 10-year lease, however, due to recent lawsuits against Friends and the Town, Friends is in technical default, and the Town is looking to change the current lease. The Town is under negotiation with Friends on an operating agreement, the terms of which are being discussed in closed session of the city council. An early draft has been made public.

A Lawsuit against Friends of Westwind addresses pay and overtime.

In early 2006, problems with living conditions for the two ranch hands employed by Friends of Westwind was made public in the San Jose Mercury. It turns out that this is not a new issue as evidenced by a letter from Friends to the LAH City Council in 2001. (See and click on “Click here to read the FOW response in 2001 to the same issues.”) As a result of the Mercury article, the Town investigated the living conditions, and found the housing unsafe. Consequently Friends evicted the ranch hands with just hours’ notice. One ranch hand had been employed and resident at the barn for 15 years and the other over 5 years. The ranch hands initiated a lawsuit .

The ranch hands lived at the barn in order to accommodate a Lease requirement to provide 24-hour on-site coverage at the barn. Without getting into the legal details, the question as to whether the ranch hands were paid for the off-time hours they were required to be on-site and off-time hours spent tending to the needs of the horses, is a key issue in the lawsuit. (Numerous articles have appeared in the local papers, a rather complete compilation appears at )

The question as to whether Friends can require its ranch hands to be on-site for specific hours, respond to horse needs as they occur, and not pay them for that time, is currently being litigated. This is a complex legal question, which includes issues with housing, but regardless of the legal outcome, this is simply not the standard that the Town should expect. For the council to say that a private club has the right to handle its own employee issues begs the question of who negotiated the contract with Friends, and who is looking to negotiate another contract without sufficient oversight.

What about the stories of starving horses?

Without making any interpretation about starving, let us just look at the facts pertaining to the Friends of Westwind disciplinary actions against one of its members and that member’s horses. A member of Friends of Westwind for the last 10 years, and a Board member for 5 years had lost favor with the current board for disrespectful remarks to the barn manager -- although specific accusations were never made. The bylaws of the Friends of Westwind, allows for a hearing where the charges are made and remedies up to and including expulsion can be made.

The barn manager, on December 30, 2006, provided a 3-day notice to this member requiring her to remove her two horses, which at that time were boarded and receiving 5 and 6 flakes of hay respectively. She asked for a hearing before the board to hear the complaints. She and her lawyer were excluded from a closed session hearing. The result of that hearing is the letter already posted to the Hills2000 BLOG which states in part, “we will provide the following service for your horses: 2 flakes of hay per day, unlimited access to water, and cleaning of the stalls.”

Also of interest in this letter from the Friends Board is the section stating, “All disciplinary proceeding in our organization are to be conducted in private. Our organization has the right to conduct any investigation related to disciplinary issues internally. Neither Friends of Westwind, Inc, nor any of its members have the right to make public any information pertaining to such issues. Please note that this right to privacy applies to both parties even after a member has been expelled.”

Friends may have an issue with one of its members, however there are legal ways to handle these problems. There is no justification to reduce the feed to horses under their care by 66% rather than seek legal remedy.

While this may be legal in a private club, it is certainly inconsistent with the open and friendly atmosphere many of us hope to see at a Town owned facility. We thank the horse owner for releasing these letters to the Town, the papers, and us.

Your comments and research are requested.

Once again, there is another side to each argument. You are encouraged to do your own research. We will BLOG any opinion and research we receive.

I’ve conducted the research herein, the opinions expressed are mine, and I will make every effort to correct inaccuracies.

John Harpootlian

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Friends of Westwind member response

January 22, 2007

Ulli Sharma, President
Friends of Westwind Community Barn
27210 Altamont Road
Los Altos Hills, CA. 94022


Ms. Sharma:

I received your letter dated January 21, 2007. I have repeatedly attempted to resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner. You and other board of directors and the current barn manager continue to escalate and inflame the matter.

Clearly there are some personal issues that are beyond my control. However, I am quite shocked that you would now attempt to harm my horses. As you are aware Tex and Brice each receive 5 flakes and 6 flakes of hay per day respectively. Brice also receives 2 pounds of pellets in the morning and 2 pounds of pellets in the evening to maintain his weight.

To limit their rations to only two flakes of hay per day is inhumane and amounts to cruelty to animals. Additionally, denying them their daily turnouts will also cause undue stress.

I have followed all rules and regulations with regards to Westwind Barn policies and procedures. I have attempted to determine what the so-called evidence against me is. Despite my requests, you have failed to provide me this information.

I attempted to get this information at the hearing on January 19, 2007. Again, you denied me access to this information. You have violated my civil rights, you have denied me due process and now you have the audacity to deny me free speech. This conduct is outrageous.

At the hearing of January 19, 2007 you attempted to deny me my lawyer’s presence. You also denied me my fundamental right to confront my accuser and stated that Mr. Bisono would not be present.

Additionally, you stated that you decided during the meeting of January 19, 2007 at the Los Altos Hills Town Council Chambers (of which I have a video-tape) that you decided my membership would be terminated. We have video proof that you adjourned that meeting, therefore any “secret” meeting you had on Los Altos Hills Town Council property to determine my dismissal was unlawful. All meetings of the board of directors must be specially noticed and posted.

You have caused me undue hardship and severe emotional distress.

I once again request that you cease and desist. Any change in my horse’s routines will be reported to the SPCA and appropriate legal action will be taken.


Name withheld

Friends of Westwind terminates a membership

Ulli Sharma
President, Friends of Westwind
27210 Altamont Road
Los Altos Hill, CA 94022

January 21, 2007

Name withheld

Re: Termination of your membership

Dear :

I regret to inform you that the Board of Directors of Friends of Westwind, Inc., has voted by unanimous decision to terminate your membership in our organization. This decision was made on January 19, 2007, and is effective immediately.

The reasons for this decision are as follows:

1) During the special board meeting on Jan. 10, 2007, which had been requested by you for the specific purpose of discussing the disciplinary charges brought against you, you refused to cooperate with requests made by the board. All persons present at a meeting of our organization have an obligation to obey the legitimate orders of the presiding officer. Failure to do so can result in expulsion from the organization.

2) All disciplinary proceedings in our organization are to be conducted in private. Our organization has the right to conduct any investigation related to disciplinary issues internally. Neither Friends of Westwind, Inc., nor any of its members have the right to make public any information pertaining to such issues. Please note that this right to privacy applies to both parties even after a member has been expelled.
While our investigation of your situation was pending, you chose to disclose information pertaining to the disciplinary charges brought against you to the Los Altos Hills Horsemen's Association. Furthermore, you have disclosed information about these proceedings to the councilmembers of the Town of Los Altos Hills in writing. Additionally, you have personally appeared at the Los Altos Hills Town Council meeting on January 11, 2007, to complain about Friends of Westwind, Inc. Such behavior is unacceptable for a member of our organization and can result in expulsion from our organization.

3) You were given a written 3 Day Notice to remove your horses from Westwind Barn on December 30, 2006. As of today, January 21, 2007, you have not complied with the notice. On the contrary, you have responded in writing declaring that you have no intention of complying with the notice. Such conduct is in direct violation of the rules of our organization, which you chose to accept when you first joined our organization, and which you again actively chose to accept and abide by every year since then when you renewed your membership agreement on an annual basis.

An organization has the right to require its members to conduct themselves in a manner that is not injurious to the organization. Your conduct has failed the standard which we expect from our membership.

I am again asking you to remove your horses from the premises of Westwind Barn immediately. Until you do so, we will provide the following service for your horses: 2 flakes of hay per day, unlimited access to water, and cleaning of the stalls. No additional services such as grain, blanketing or turnout will be provided by Friends of Wetswind, Inc. and our staff. You will be billed at the prevailing daily rate for every day your horses have been at the barn since January 3rd, 2007, up to and including the day you remove them from the barn.


Ulli Sharma
President, Friends of Westwind