Laguna Woods Village’s new CEO talks about goals, vision and challenges – Orange County Register

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The Board of Directors of Laguna Woods Village Management Services recently appointed Siobhan Foster as CEO/General Manager of VMS, succeeding Jeff Parker on February 4 after being supported by an overwhelming majority of the votes of the GRF, Third and United boards of directors.

Foster served as chief operating officer of VMS for almost four years. She came to Laguna Woods Village after a long career in city and local government.

“What interested me most about the Village is that while it’s essentially a separate city, it’s a very unique community of more than 18,500 residents over the age of 55, most of whom are in retirement,” Foster said. “The Village offers exceptional amenities in a vibrant half-coast location. From my first visit, I knew it was a very special place.”

We asked Foster about her goals in her new position, the challenges she faces in the Village and her vision to “provide excellent customer service and control costs”.

This interview has been edited at length.

Q. What is your focus as CEO/General Manager of Village Management Services?

A. Our focus is clear and simple: to provide quality service to residents of Laguna Woods Village while controlling costs.

* VMS’ exceptional management team will lead by example and focus team efforts on our simple yet profound guiding principle – a commitment to excellence and a dedication to service.

* VMS will strive every day to inspire the organization and the village community with a positive, service and result-oriented approach.

* The changed organizational structure of VMS reinforces a renewed vision of service and shares our collective successes in enhancing the Village experience for all residents.

Q. What do you see as your biggest challenges?

A. So many things have changed in the last 24 months. We all face uncertain times, and things affecting our nation, state and county all have an impact right here in the village.

* The pandemic has lasted much longer than anyone anticipated, and our residents are a high-risk population. Inflation stood at 6.8% at the end of 2021, compared to 1.4% in 2020.

* New state bio-recycling laws and a market correction have increased garbage fees by more than 30% for 2022 and will continue to increase for the next few years.

* Insurance costs have skyrocketed due to unprecedented wildfires here in California and global natural disasters.

* California is facing serious water shortages that are leading to increased water costs.

* Hiring and retaining a skilled workforce is harder than it has been in decades.

I will focus on service excellence and cost savings and will work hard with all Boards to ensure we deliver on our responsibilities.

Q. One of the biggest concerns is COVID-19. How do you deal with this concern? Do you support mandatory vaccinations/masks in the Village?

A. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the board’s direction has been that the Village follows the recommendations of the OC Health Care Agency, the California Department of Public Health, and the State of California. Masks are currently compulsory until at least February 15.

We have seen a significant increase in cases among staff and residents over the past few weeks, leading to the decision by the boards of GRF, Third and United to return to virtual meetings for the time being.

The virus and related issues have proved divisive among political parties, families, friends and neighbors. However, our job, in accordance with Board guidelines, is to follow the officially recommended guidelines for the health and safety of all our residents and staff and to do what is best for the community.

F. Residents consistently raise concerns about landscaping degradation, road maintenance with an emphasis on nighttime lighting, and resulting safety concerns. How would you address these concerns?

A. There is a fine balance between keeping HOA fees as low as possible and preserving an aging infrastructure. Many factors play a role here.

For example, imagine that a mutual board of directors is faced with the reality of the cost escalation I discussed earlier. These are all external and uncontrollable expenses. If a board decides not to increase ratings to reflect these factors, there are several options, none of which are good for the community:

* Reduce Service Levels: Reduce mowing, trimming and fertilizing schedules, reduce paving maintenance.

* Draw on Reserves: Depletes the mutual’s long-term health, reducing available assets in the event of a disaster or emergency.

* Cut budgets for capital improvements: road maintenance, electrical and plumbing maintenance, lighting, etc.

Over a 55-year period, too many years of saving take their toll. I encourage residents to learn about the committee structure within their mutual and GRF and provide feedback for boards to consider when making important tax decisions.

Q. How would you address the need for increased security?

A. Laguna Woods Village has a 24-hour Security Patrol and Security Operations Center. Security chiefs were respected members of the local sheriff, police departments, and BART prior to joining VMS.

Our extensive video surveillance system at the gates and throughout the community is unique for such a large private community.

In addition, we enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Departments who also provide exceptional 24/7 service.

Q. Concerns have also been raised by residents with declining physical abilities that the village will increasingly cater to active seniors.

A. This is a complicated subject as the Village was established and continues to be an active senior community based on a shared cost model.

At the same time I understand that the village is a home for many who have lived here for a significant time and want to age in place. Our social services department is an invaluable asset to residents who face challenges that come with advancing age. Additionally, the Towers is a wonderful option for Third and United residents who may find they prefer enhanced services.

Q. Regarding the increasing use of electric vehicles: Concerns have been raised that the village is not prepared to equip them with charging stations. How would you address these concerns?

A. As an EV owner and everyday user, I understand these concerns. The Village is approaching its 60th anniversary; When the Village infrastructure was first built, developers hardly imagined that electric vehicles would come in 2022. Many residents and board members understand the importance of addressing this important and growing trend.

One of the biggest challenges is the electrical infrastructure throughout the village.

As the EV charging stations in the community center are in constant use, I would expect more to be installed as the panels fill the need in the village.

Q. On the other hand, can elderly/disabled residents be assured that our bus service will continue?

A. One of the most important services offered by the village when it was founded was bus transportation for the residents. Of course, as trends and demographics change, residents’ driving habits also change.

Chris Laugenour, who recently retired from VMS, has done an exceptional job overseeing a passenger study and streamlining bus routes to be both convenient and cost effective. GRF is currently in discussions with Age Well Senior Services, whose role is to provide senior transportation to assume responsibility for the Village bus services with no changes in service levels.

I encourage all residents to watch the recording of the January 21 informational meeting. The recording can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzQtpq9Wsfw.

Q. Would you consider usage promotion fees based on individual/group usage rather than setting general association fees for all residents?

A. Major changes to the cost-sharing principles on which the Village was founded and operates would require changes not only to the Village’s financial basis, but also to the GRF, Third and United CC&Rs and operating rules. It would also affect the GRF Trust. Changing one of them is a tedious and expensive endeavor.

The GRF Community Activities Committee continually reviews fees charged for additional use of facilities and other amenities. It is based on the guidelines of the committees. It is important to remember that VMS’s role is to lead and implement programs controlled and approved by the Board.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

A. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I have a Bachelor of Arts from Lake Forest College and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Kansas.

I came to California for an internship with the City of Riverside, where I rose to the rank of Director of Public Works before joining the City of Pasadena as Director of Public Works and then the City of Covina as Director of Public Works.

During my time in Covina, I oversaw the design construction of a $9.2 million senior citizen and community center that improved the quality of life and services for the city’s 55+ residents, giving me extensive experience in understanding the needs of Laguna Woods Village procured residents.

I joined Village Management Services in mid-2018 as Chief Operating Officer. In the nearly four years of my tenure, I have learned a lot about the inner workings of this complex community and met its wonderful residents and volunteers, and I look forward to bringing my experience to bear in this new role.

Q. Is there anything else about Siobhan Foster that you would like to share with residents?

A. I am very excited to take on this new role and to work closely with our management team.

On the personal side, I’m a devoted dog lover who owns wonderful dachshunds and I’m an avid baseball and soccer fan.

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