We believe that the article in the VC Star about us that came out on Aug 7th is a hit on us, an attempt to shut us down and make us go away so that a raw vegan village is never built on our land in the upper valley of Ojai.
We believe that it is an amazing coincidence that this article was written by Zeke Barlow who is a personal friend and associate of Bill Slaughter, our neighbor who is trying to maintain control he currently exerts over part of our land and the water from our aquifer. I go in to this in more detail below supported by documents showing the land dispute and the connection between the two men.
It is a typical response to change, and one that we totally understand. In recent weeks many people associated with our proposed raw vegan village, including core group members and a great many people who had previously been interested in becoming core group members, have been receiving calls from both the reporter Zeke Barlow and attorney Bill Slaughter telling them that our village is a "scam" and asking them many leading questions to support this assertion. Mr. Barlow said he was surprised that everyone in our actual core group was totally supportive of us and in no way felt scammed. However he felt he "had" to report on the two people he spoke with who did feel scammed, even though I sent him emails from the two people in question refuting their claims. These two were people who wanted to be a part of the core group but did not have the finances to buy in. I am naming them below as they already gave their names as well as our personal correspondences with them to the newspaper.
Chang Yu Tan
Here are our heart-felt feelings about one of the two people who wanted to be a part of the village, and who we welcomed in to our home. To have her turn on us with such ferocity is a totally life-changing occurrence, which will forever alter the way we deal with the public.
We are totally amazed that Chang-Yu Tan, the woman who called us "scammers" in the article, has launched this virulent attack that is now threatening our family. This is a woman who didn't even have the courtesy of renting a car when she visited us for a week. We drove her and her kids everywhere, entertained them every day, fed them, took them to several raw restaurants, and put them up in a vacation rental home in Santa Barbara.
She had called saying she wanted to buy in to the village and to visit us for this purpose. When we said we didn't have room to put her up she said she would sleep on the ground outside with her two very young children. So we rented a vacation rental to put her up in. She had just spent 5 months visiting other eco villages around the world. While Chang Yu visited us on the pretense of buying in to the village she contributed a total of $400 as a good-faith payment to hold her spot until she returned home to transfer the balance of the down-payment. Although she signed a contract, she never sent the down-payment. She never asked for her $400 back, and we thought this was because she felt bad about using us and then not buying in to the village.
Months later she asked to come visit us for 2+ weeks. I'll include that email below. Would a person who felt scammed really come back to stay with the scammers? Although initially I said OK, when I thought about it I did not want to go through another 2 or more weeks (the undisclosed open-ended period of time she invited herself for) with someone who I felt was just trying to live off of us.
....Excerpts from email from Chang-Yu Tan, after the first stay with us during which she now claims we "scammed" her out of $400 and pressured her in to buying in to the raw village....
Thanks so much for the encouragement. Hope things are going well with you all....
They [her children] are so looking forward to our visit in CA, talk about your kids all the time. So it’s about time I make some travel plan....
It’ll be nice if we can stay with your family for 2+ weeks at the beginning of our trip...Hugs and love to all of you.
Chang-yu, Enen & Didi
Does this sound like an email from a woman who felt scammed?
Rather, we avoided her when she came out to the raw spirit fest in Santa Barbara at the start of her new travels and I think this is why she is so upset.
Jinjee says: "We had a wonderful time with this sweet lady and our children had fun too. It helped me to realize that I'm not just building this village for my kids, but that I too had been missing a normal social life. However, we are very focused on founding this village and do not have time to spend on a myriad of people who would love to just come and hang out with us. We are not in "party mode". We are not a hippie commune. We're a group of professional people buying land and building an ecological housing development together to raise our children in".
Our core group consists of a doctor, two civil engineers, a construction manager, a construction business owner, a green architect, a financial advisor, CEO of a large non-profit organization, two people with their own graphic arts companies, an IT specialist, a permaculture specialist, a business MBA, a health researcher, a phD biologist, an executive with a major construction firm, a law enforcement officer, a horse trainer, a colonicist, a record company executive, and a resort booking agent. I feel the need to let people know the type of people who will be building this state-of-the-art, beautiful, low-environmental-impact, community of 20 small single story homes. It is not a group of tree huggers who will be living in trailers and yurts, and for the record raw vegans don't eat soy beans.
Most are families and married couples, and none have expressed any concern over our unusual family structure.
There are a lot of people in the raw movement who feel that because we share this lifestyle that means that they should get to park their trailer on your land or stay with you for free and eat your food and play with your kids. And then it seems they can actually become hostile if this is not a desire you share. If this is what being a public family in a spiritual movement means, we no longer want to be a public family. This is why we have removed our children's pictures from our website, and are instead focusing on the actual work of helping people who sincerely want to detox and go raw, rather than being a living example of a family living a 100% raw lifestyle.
We have had a lot of comments over the years thanking us for sharing our lifestyle online. We have really enjoyed being a part of the raw movement in this way, but now as our kids are getting older and more social, it is time for us to respect their privacy. This article has just been the last straw in a series of issues that was leading us to this decision, including people developing fixations on our children and coming to our house like Chang Yu and others who behaved in some ways that leave us not only amazed but also frightened.
Niedra and Bob
The other couple quoted in the article as suspecting us of "scamming" almost bought in to the village but didn't have enough funds, offered us 10K (instead of the 40K required), and we turned them down. Below is the emailed offer, which we never accepted. If we were scamming, we would not have turned down their 10K. We have a waiting list of 500 people who want to be a part of this village. We do always have several people interested, and when a spot comes up, usually due to people dropping out because of the economy, it really is the only spot available. We also opened up a few spots one at a time as we needed to, up to the limit of what we are told we will be able to zone on this land, 20 homes. We really liked this couple, and really wanted them in the village as they have amazing skills.
Here is the letter from Niedra, offering us $10,000 which we did not accept....
Dear Jinjee and Storm,
Bob and I will be able to wire $10,000.00 USD through to you on August 10th.
I know Storm had said for us to wait till we had half the down payment gathered up before we send you payment but we thought we would like to get the first 25% out, as a sign of good faith and intent towards paying the total amount as soon as possible.
Do let us know if this works for you - and what procedure we should follow for this.
We will be back in the US for two weeks - Sep 25 - Oct 7th and will of course be coming to Ojai for a short family visit to see my Mom.
if there are any raw food gatherings or activities you are doing at that time, let us know so we can join in.
Niedra and Bob
Letter in response to the article, from one of our core group members:
Because the author of this article is interested only in controversy and not fact, the article failed to mention that there are many people who are still invested as shareholders of the Topa Topa LLC. I am one of them and I am proud to have invested tens of thousands of dollars in the vision of an eco-village and retreat center.
If the reporter had bothered to interview more than one of the shareholders in order to get a fair and balanced article, he would have first learned that our financial books have ALWAYS been open to anyone who wishes to see them. Some of the shareholders went through them exhaustively before investing.
And had the reporter checked his facts, he would have learned about the business plan the shareholders recently developed TOGETHER. Or learned that now that we have all shareholders assembled, we are now forming our Board of Directors and an advisory board. Soon we will begin a group design charrette to collaboratively plan our village and draw up the actual blueprints necessary to begin the permitting process.
While Jinjee and Storm began the process to the best of their ability, none of these steps could come to fruition until all the shareholders were assembled and could begin to articulate our COLLECTIVE vision. That's just how cohousing communities and collectively-owned businesses work.
When I put my money down, I knew I was becoming a PARTNER in a health retreat business and cohousing village, and that included taking the risks that come with that business. Never did I expect to put money down, sit back, and just have a house and a retreat business handed to me. Nor did I expect Jinjee and Storm to just magically make it all happen by themselves. In fact, as an experienced entrepreneur, I can say that if they were in charge of everything, I wouldn't have been interested in investing.
So while Jinjee and Storm may have initiated this project, and not all of the details could be put in place in the very beginning, none of the many existing shareholders feel scammed at all. In fact, we are working hard now to bring all of the pieces together to make our collective dream happen.
The real question for me is why are a tiny handful of people in Ojai so resistant to having a new, eco-friendly tourism-generating retreat center in a town already well known for its many New Age retreat and meditation centers?
I believe the answer can be found in the longstanding, documented friendship the author of this article has with the property owner who lives next door to our land, and that property owner's publicly-stated personal interest in our water rights.
- Dawn Gifford
Re: the claim that we are not registering with the SEC, we are so small we qualified for exemption 505D. See below:
Rule 505 provides an exemption for offers and sales of securities totaling up to $5 million in any 12-month period. Under this exemption, you may sell to an unlimited number of "accredited investors" and up to 35 other persons who do not need to satisfy the sophistication or wealth standards associated with other exemptions.
The article and certain posts accuse us of not having permits, and this is entirely correct. We have not yet obtained permits, nor have we ever told anyone that we had our permits, or that we had started building. Our contractor told us that this project would be 90% in the planning. The planning utilized Integrative Design in which each part of the project is considered in relationship to each other part as well as the whole.
We committed to this project 2 years ago based on development investments offered to us, which evaporated after the crash. Since then it has taken all we have to keep the project alive. We are currently working on the fund-raising and when this phase is completed we will complete the planning and permitting phases of this project.
Exposing The Real Reason Behind The Article
Bill Slaughter who is a lawyer who lives on Sisar Rd. and has property adjacent to ours. Bill and Zeke collaborate on eco articles together. Below you will find a map of the property in question. The yellow line is our County-drawn property line. It was marked by two County markers at either end of the red section that have mysteriously disappeared, but there is still a record of them at the County. The green section represents the 2 acres that Bill Slaughter purchased when he found out that he did not own the land that his house sat on. He bought it and has been paying taxes on it ever since. When he went to fence off his land he extended his fence beyond the yellow boundary line onto the property that we have bought and have been paying taxes on.
The property that is in red is the two acres that we own that Bill has laid claim to with this fence. When I first met with Bill I found him to be very charming and likeable. He invited me in to his house and introduced me to his wife and kids. This meant a lot to me and in a lot of ways Bill is kind of like me; he has a profound love for the Mountain. Right now his back yard opens up on to the stream which is on our property. I know that the stream is what makes this area work for a lot of people and no one wants to see any of it changed or blocked off. I totally understand; I would feel the same way.
Our land sits over a huge aquifer. The reporter's friend William (Bill) Slaughter is a not only our neighbor, a respected attorney and Captain of the Search and Rescue in the upper valley of Ojai, but he also sits on the board of Sisar Mutual Water Company which uses the water from our aquifer to service 350 homes and ranches in the upper valley of Ojai at $15 a month each. The Sisar Mutual Water Company has a well on the 2 acres of our land that have been fenced off by Bill. This well serves the two water towers the company has on our land.
The bottom line is that Bill Slaughter has fenced off two acres of our land without payment or permission, and The Sisar Water Co. has a well on these two acres servicing the 2 water towers which are also on our land. We have the right to order the water company off the land any time with 90 days notice. Bill applied pressure to Storm to sign our water rights over to the water company, to grant them a permanent easement to be on our property, and he also asked Storm to sign off on allowing another well to be drilled on the two acres of land he has fenced off. Storm would not agree to do any of these things. However we have never asked Bill to remove his fences from our property nor have we asked anyone to remove the water towers from our land.
Here are documents showing the details of the land fenced off by Bill Slaughter.
Zeke Barlow has written a biased article on us. He has been calling everyone in our core group trying to get dirt on us and turning and twisting everything anyone says to him to put us in the worst light possible. He says he is doing this because he doesn't want to see anyone get ripped off by paying for a house that "will never be built" (his words). But the truth is that he doesn't want to see any of the houses get built and that is the whole push behind his slanted article.
Below we have included a screen shot of a Google search for "Zeke Barlow and William Slaughter" showing a connection between these two men, who have collaborated on several articles.
Here is a reporter that is acting as a hit man for a lawyer who is using his powers to control land that is clearly not his.
The most amazing thing about the whole thing is that we are surrounded by millions of acres of one of the most beautiful national forests in the county, with plenty of room for all to enjoy it.
Regarding refuting all the points in the article, we will be preparing documentation to prove the falseness of the claims to show to our core group and investors. Basically the people in the article who claimed that they felt scammed wanted to become members of the village without paying the required down-payments.
The serious accusations in the article are all refutable with documents, which I emailed the reporter, and which he failed to make mention of. Instead he said that I declined to comment.
That is because the whole reason behind this article is to try to keep us from building the raw vegan village in Bill's back yard.
Here are documents proving a long-standing connection between Bill Slaughter and Zeke Barlow.
They called every single person ever associated with us or the village they could find to dig up any dirt they could. Most wouldn't even talk to them, as they could sense their bad energy. But they did manage to rile up a few people. When they called, they started out saying "did you know that the raw village is a scam?", scaring people with totally untrue allegations, including that the County turned our initial application down and that our land was in forfeiture! - both blatant lies which we easily refuted to both Zeke and our core group with documentation.
Zeke's article states that the County will never let us build here and that we have never filed for permits. In actual fact, we have had positive conversations with the County and they had outlined a strategy for us to do what we want to do on this land without having to come up before a neighborhood review, which had shut previous owners down. The County was very supportive of our project, has a mandate to be the greenest County in California, and prepared for us a special application which we are in the process of raising the funds to complete.
Yes, it is a challenging project in challenging times. Yes, we do have an alternative family structure, but you'll have to wait for the book to find out all the details of that. Yes, we are changing the way we do business online. We don't want to be a public family any more. We are circling the wagons to protect our children. This article has led to a furor within the masses of "armchair warriors" with 3rd-grade level posts on the VCStar comments section, which have degenerated to racial innuendos and vegan-bashing "hate"-posts including threats to have our children taken away and have us imprisoned.
For this reaction, although we extend love to Chang Yu, Niedra, and Zeke -- we have to treat the way they are acting as a threat. Although many of you were unwittingly drawn in to this scheme and probably did not intend to do our family or children harm, your actions and decisions have led to our family being under a fierce attack, and we have no choice but to protect ourselves.
We have been the victims of "assassination in the press" for totally selfish purposes, but this will in no way deter us from building this village, either on our property or on another beautiful piece of land. There are many properties just as lovely, available for much cheaper now. It will be for our board to decide on these issues.
We are not without the means, support, resources, imagination, and faith needed to raise the funds to build this village. It takes visionaries to start big things. It takes administrative expertise to bring them to completion. We are fortunate to have a highly skilled and dedicated core group who have been galvanized by this article to come together and provide the necessary support needed to take this village project to the next level. This article has generated a lot of opportunities, support, and help, and for that we are grateful. Everything happens for a reason.
This is our final rebuttal to all the posting going on in the article comments section and the forums. Thank you to everyone who has posted positive and intelligent comments. As with any drama, it has the ability to totally pull us all in, but we have work to do. Just wanted people to have our side of the story and offer some factual information so that people don't have to invent their own often bizarre answers to some of the questions raised. Obviously we can't respond to every little accusation, as one leads to more, and the latest are just too silly -- that we are dirty soy-bean eating hippies living in trailers...So, enjoy, have fun. We are getting back to work! :)