Who are YLPers? Why, all of us who call Yosemite Lakes Park our home. We’re more than an HOA, we are a community of people who love where we live!
More than just a place of majestic mountain views, YLP is people — individuals of all backgrounds and interests. In this series of periodic profiles, we hope to introduce you to many of these folks — to YLOA board members, to managers, to employees, to our valued volunteers and notable neighbors who share our 21 square miles of Sierra foothills. We hope you enjoy learning about these YLPers.
This week it’s Jonathan Penrose, YLOA and YSPUC General Manager — a UCLA alumnus with MBA, innovator for multiple companies, father, swimmer, biker…who loves YLP and YLPers and is passionate about becoming a more connected community.
What is your background?
I was born and grew up in Bakersfield, about two and a half hours south of YLP. I had a great childhood. I was the oldest of six and It was really a great place to grow up. And from there, I went to school at UCLA for my undergraduate work.
As a kid, what did you want to be?
There were two things that really probably defined my personality and my childhood. My mom tells me I would drive her crazy because I would always ask, “How come?” And the second piece was that I was very independent and wanted to “do things my own self.” My mom says that when we went on walks, I would insist on holding my own hand. Yeah, I don’t know exactly what that says about me but it’s an interesting thing to ponder.
Well, the first thing I ever remember wanting to be, was part of a think tank. I believe I was in sixth grade when I first heard the concept of think tanks. And I thought that would be the coolest job because you got to sit around and think about how things work and how to make things better….my favorite thing is finding creative solutions to complicated problems.
What was your education experience?
I started in college as an English and physics double major, because I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do because there were so many things that were interesting.
There was a small multidisciplinary program at UCLA that combined study of physics, chemistry, biology, math, computer science, computer modeling, engineering and psychology.
I’ve always been fascinated by connections and patterns and so, my bachelor’s degree is in cybernetics with a specialization in computer studies and i was also a departmental scholar in computer science at UCLA, which let me take graduate level computer science courses while still an undergraduate. (Jonathan also earned an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.)
How does a cybernetics background help you manage a community?
Well first let me tell you cybernetics is not Dianetics, right? Sometimes people get those two confused but cybernetics is the study of systems control and communication theory, and it studies the interactions between people and people, between people and machines or between machines and machines.
I would say that an HOA represents a complex system and a lot of people with a lot of different ideas with a lot of different financial applications. (Cybernetics helps you find) where you’re going based on the information you have available. So, I think those fundamental skill sets apply and it’s not just technology, it also is the study of how people interact with technology or how people interact with each other and trying to predict outcomes.
How did you pursue your goals? (education, employment)
(Having been a competitive swimmer in high school and college, Jonathan’s first job was teaching and coaching swimming. Among his students was an Olympics medalist, Gabe Woodward.
(He then did computer work for accounting and entertainment industry clients, and then the insurance industry. He later created his own technology and business consulting company.)
I saw a trend coming in the change of how computer consulting worked, which was historically based on hours, you know, you charged a given rate for a certain number of hours of work. Well, the problem with that is if you were good at what you were doing, you got it done a lot faster so if you fix everybody’s problems, you put yourself out of work and you actually made less money by doing a better job and I said this is a silly business model.
What we should do is we should align our interests so that we both win and so if we do a good job, we make more money and if we do a good job, you have fewer problems. So I started a company with the idea of subscription IT services, where you would pay us a fixed amount per server and workstation and we would provide all of your support for your computer network for that price…. And so that ultimately became, it’s called the managed service model now, and this is how most IT services are done today.
(Jonathan continued working in managed services until joining a Fresno company that provides and manages energy efficiency programs for California utilities. When that company took a different direction that Jonathan felt he could no longer help with, he assisted with setting up a nonprofit in Hawaii and then returned to Fresno and family.)
What brought you to YLP? (How did you find out about this job and why were you interested?)
(Jonathan saw the general manager position posted for YLP, where his family was residing.)
And I said you know what, the job posting, what was described really hit a lot of the areas I had experience with — technology, accounting, management.
And then I really like this community and I love, you know, what we were doing, I thought there were some things that we could probably do better, that we could apply some technology (and) better financial practices and that I had the experience to do that.
What were the biggest challenges YLP faced when you arrived?
Before I accepted the position, I reviewed our financial statements and it was clear… that we weren’t operating from a position of financial strength, that we had lots of deferred maintenance, that we had extremely low amounts of money in reserves….that we didn’t really even have sufficient operating capital to even handle the day-to-day things.
I knew there were answers to those because you can almost always find ways to save money in the existing processes and solutions that are in place. And we did find several ways to do that and we’re still in the process of implementing.
Some of those are in automation, computers, scanners, a better website, better communications and those are all ongoing things. I knew we could make a plan to get us where we needed to go over time.
Social media dilemma
I didn’t at the time understand how contentious things were. You know, even though I’m a techie, I’m not, you know, a big fan of social media. I think it can be incredibly useful and beneficial and in past parts of my career I did a lot of social media work for marketing and advertising.
The first manager’s meeting that I had with our managers here was pretty Illuminating. The single biggest concern that our managers had was the social media criticism and negativity, and the second-biggest was how much turnover there had been in the general manager position….
We didn’t have a long-term plan of how we were going to solve the problems. There was a lot of frustration about things that were promised or put into the budget that weren’t actually done or completed. We had items that, you know, like redoing the men’s bathroom, for example, that Dave (Pol) had asked about getting when he was here the first time, you know, 15 years ago.
HOAs have their certain patterns that repeat in all HOAs and there’s always a diversity of opinion. There’s always, you know, people that think we should spend more money. There are people that think we should spend less money. They all have like their own little piece of what they’re interested in. And that creates a set of challenges.
Some people really value our security services. Some people think we shouldn’t have security at all. Some people really value and love our restaurants. Some people think we shouldn’t have for restaurants at all. Some people think the golf course is the best thing about YLP and some people think we should shut the golf course down.
But you still have to build consensus, right? You still have to because each of our amenities is important to a different segment of our community….
You have to be strong enough in your vision and convictions to not be reactive about what we do and what we spend our money on. We have to have a multi-year vision.
Why do dues need to keep rising?
Costs go up. That is inevitable, inflation. What materials cost today is not what materials cost 20 years ago. Labor costs today are not what labor costs were 20 years ago. And so, if we expect that dues will not go up, that’s a faulty assumption. They have to go up to even stay at the same level just because costs increase and the only (funding( source a homeowners’ association has is the association members.
I understand that there have been people that have lived here for a long time that are on fixed incomes. In fact, that’s the foundation of Proposition 13…. (Unfortunately) that’s contributed very dramatically to the decline in infrastructure and the quality of the infrastructure in the state of California because that was the revenue source for municipalities.
We don’t always anticipate the side effects of an action or of a choice… And that’s essentially what happened here with us where we kept dues low. The focus was on keeping dues low without thinking ahead that we were going to have to spend money in the future.
Just like your house. At some point, you’ve got to replace the roof, or you have to repaint your house. Hopefully you set aside funds and planned for that, but it doesn’t change the reality that it’s going to happen at some point.
I think the thing that I’m most disappointed about what we’ve accomplished in the last three years, is that we haven’t really given legs and life to YLP Cares. I really think that that is a game changer in multiple ways. I think it helps people that truly are in need of help.
There’s a piece about giving and volunteering and donating funds, that it absolutely helps the person receiving that but it also provides a benefit in the value to the people doing it.
What do you regard as your biggest accomplishments so far?
So, what am I proud of? I’m actually really proud of the of the evolution that we’ve had in our employee culture. (Also) putting us on track with a (Fix Our Stuff) plan that is addressing the 20 years of deferred maintenance and updating amenities, actually executing on that plan. That’s not just me, of course, that includes the boards as well. But I feel good about that.
I can point to specific accomplishments or specific things, but the goal was never those specific things. The real goal and the real vision is moving us forward to create a more connected community…. My belief is that when you create better spaces, it ultimately helps to lead to better engagement and connection with our neighbors and community.
What are your other interests, hobbies?
Most of what I’ve been doing the last three years is spending a lot of hours trying to figure out how to make all this stuff work…
I love to scuba dive. I think that’s connected to my swimming experience. I just love being in the water or being around the water. I’ve always wanted to have a vision of someday sailing around the world. I do plan to do that someday…I was fortunate enough to find a great deal on a sailboat over in San Francisco Bay. It was just kind of serendipity, you know, the boat’s actually as old as I am. I have a motorcycle and love the sense of wind blowing in your face and you know, riding up through the hills and up into the Yosemite area.
Recently, I’ve been looking at powered paragliders because there’s much more opportunity to to use them. You don’t have to travel up to a top of a mountain somewhere.
I love to read. I mean for fun, I mostly read science fiction. (Last year, he did online readings from “Lord of the Rings” on the YLP website during the pandemic shutdown.)
I thought having a reading would be a fun community event and I really enjoy it. I mean, I competed in speech and debate in high school and, you know, I enjoy doing the different voices and I love literature.
His request of the community
I’ve been in a lot of organizations of all different kinds, but I will tell you that I have never been part of an organization with employees that care as much as the ones do here.
You know, there’s nobody here to get rich. The people are here because they want to make a difference.
Mostly we have fantastic interactions with our homeowners and residents. But there’s one thing that I could ask, is that people would treat each other and treat our staff with respect and make requests instead of demands.
We’re never deliberately doing something here with the purpose of bothering or hurting somebody else or making their lives difficult.
Almost universally the natural response from the staff is a desire to help; except when they are approached by people that make demands, positioning themselves above, as in, “Well, I’m a homeowner, I pay your salary.” While that’s true, many of our staff are YLP homeowners, too.
As chef Dave likes to say, ‘Be nice’. It works a lot better when we treat each other with respect and kindness.
It really is a phenomenal group of people, OK? I mean this place is more like a family more than it is like a business. We have a certain amount of dysfunction, like all families, but there is compassion and caring and concern and real people.