New Laguna Woods Village CEO talks of goals, vision, challenges – OCRegister

The Laguna Woods Village Management Services board of directors recently appointed Siobhan Foster as CEO/general manager of VMS to succeed Jeff Parker on Feb. 4, after she was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of votes from the GRF, Third and United boards.
Foster served as chief operating officer of VMS for nearly four years. She came to  Laguna Woods Village after a long career in  city and municipal management.
“What interested me most about the Village was that while it is essentially its own city, it is a very unique community of more than 18,500 55+ residents, the majority of whom are enjoying retirement years,” Foster said. “The Village offers exceptional amenities in a vibrant semi-coastal location. I knew upon my first visit that it is 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 to control costs.”
This interview has been edited for length.
A. Our focus is clear and simple: Provide quality services to the residents of Laguna Woods Village while controlling costs.
* VMS’ exceptional senior management will set the example and focus team efforts on our simple yet profound guiding force — 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 results-oriented approach.
* VMS’ modified organizational structure reinforces a renewed vision of service and sharing our collective successes in enhancing the Village experience for all residents.
A. So many things have changed in the past 24 months. We all are facing uncertain times, and the things that affect our nation, state and county all have a direct impact here in the Village.
* The pandemic has endured far longer than anyone anticipated, and our residents are a high-risk population.Inflation at year-end 2021 was 6.8%, as compared to 1.4% in 2020.
* New state organic recycling laws and a market correction have increased trash fees by more than 30% for 2022 and will continue to increase over the next several years.
* The cost of insurance has soared due to unprecedented wildfires here in California and global natural disasters.
* California faces serious water shortages leading to the increased cost of water.
* Hiring and retaining a skilled workforce is harder than it has been in decades.
I will focus on excellent service delivery and cost savings and will work hard with all the boards to ensure we remain on task.
A. From the onset of the pandemic, the directive from the boards of directors is that the Village follows the recommendations of the OC Health Care Agency, the California Department of Public Health and the State of California. At the present time there is a mask requirement scheduled to be in effect until at least Feb. 15.
We have been experiencing a significant rise in cases among staff and residents in the past several weeks, which led to the decision by the boards of GRF, Third and United to return to virtual meetings for the time being.
The virus and its related topics have proved divisive among political parties, families, friends and neighbors. However, our job, per the boards’ directive, is to follow official recommended guidelines for the health and safety of all our residents and staff and do what is best for the community.
A. There is a fine balance between keeping HOA fees as low as possible and maintaining an aging infrastructure. Many factors are at play here.
For example, consider that a mutual board faces the reality of the increase in costs I reviewed earlier. These are all external and uncontrollable expenses. If a board decides to not increase assessments to account for these factors, there are several options, none of which are good for the community:
* Cut service levels: Reduce mowing, trimming and fertilizing schedules, decrease paving maintenance.
* Dip into reserves: Weakens the long-term health of the mutual and reduces assets available in case of a disaster or an emergency.
* Cut capital improvement budgets: Street maintenance, electrical and plumbing maintenance, lighting, etc.
Over a period of 55 years, too many years of cutbacks take a toll. I recommend that residents learn about the committee structure within their mutual and GRF, and provide feedback the boards can take under consideration when making critical fiscal decisions.
A. Laguna Woods Village has a 24/7 security patrol and security dispatch center. The leaders of the Security Department have been distinguished members of 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.
Additionally, we enjoy an excellent working relationship with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and fire departments, which both provide exceptional service on a 24/7 basis as well.
A. This is a complicated topic because the Village was founded as and continues to be an active senior community based on a shared-cost model.
At the same time, I understand the Village is home for many who have lived here a significant period and wish to age in place. Our Social Services Division is an invaluable asset to residents facing challenges that come with advanced age. Further, the Towers is a wonderful option for Third and United residents who may discover they prefer expanded services.
A. As an owner and everyday user of an electric vehicle, I understand this concern. The Village is closing in on its 60-year anniversary; when the Village infrastructure was first built, the developers hardly imagined a move toward electric vehicles in the year 2022. Many residents and board members understand the importance of addressing this important and expanding trend.
One of the biggest challenges is the electrical infrastructure throughout the Village.
As the EV charging stations at the Community Center are in continuous use, I would expect more to be installed as the boards act to meet the need within the Village.
A. One of the Village’s key services offered at its founding was bus transportation for residents. Of course, as trends and demographics change, so do resident riding patterns.
Chris Laugenour, who recently retired from VMS, did an exceptional job of overseeing a rider study and streamlining the bus routes to be simultaneously convenient and cost efficient. GRF is currently in discussions with Age Well Senior Services, whose mission is to provide senior transportation, to assume responsibility for Village bus services with no changes to level of services.
I encourage all residents to watch the recording of the informational meeting that was held on Jan. 21. The recording can be found at:
A. Making major changes to the shared-cost principles upon which the Village was founded and operates under would require changes not only in the financial foundation of the Village, but also the CC&Rs and operating rules of GRF, Third and United. It also would affect the GRF Trust. Changing any of these is an arduous and expensive undertaking.
The GRF Community Activities Committee continuously examines fees charged for extra use of facilities and other amenities. It depends upon the directives established by the boards. It is important to remember that VMS’ role is to guide and implement board-driven and approved programs.
A. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I hold a Bachelor of Arts from Lake Forest College and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas.
I came to California for an internship with the City of Riverside where I rose to be Public Works director prior to joining the City of Pasadena as director of Public Works and subsequently the City of Covina as director of Public Works.
While in Covina, I led the design-build of a $9.2M senior and community center that enhanced the quality of life and services offered to the city’s 55+ residents, which gave me a great deal of experience in understanding the needs of Laguna Woods Village residents.
I joined Village Management Services as chief operating officer in mid-2018. In the nearly four years of my tenure, I have learned about the inner workings of this complex community as well as getting to know its wonderful residents and volunteers and look forward to bringing my experience to this new role.
A. I am very pleased and excited to take on this new role and work closely with our management team.
On the personal side, I am a devoted dog lover who owns wonderful dachshunds, and I am an avid baseball and football fan.
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