To look at her, Donna Cordero doesn’t look like much of a rebel.
She’s 5-foot-nothing, an 82-year-old grandmother and a great-grandmother six times over. She’s also a proud American.
One who can’t understand her homeowners association’s objection to her American flag.
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Cordero lives in a retirement community in Peoria, Arizona, with nearly 4,000 houses in a multitude of colors, all of them brown. And an aversion to red, white and blue — at least, if it’s painted on the curb.
The HOA says it’s not about the flag but about forbidden “decorative additions.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the beginning of the story.
For $20, a company painted the curbs
In February, Cordero struck up a conversation with a firefighter, called to her street by a neighbor’s medical emergency. The firefighter asked her why no one in the neighborhood had their house numbers painted on the curb.
She called her homeowners association and says she was told the HOA had no responsibility for painting addresses on the curb, that she would have to hire someone to do it.
A month or two later, a company came through the neighborhood offering to do the job. For $20, it would paint on the numbers, along with her choice of accompanying artwork.
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Cordero is the widow of two veterans, one of them wounded in World War II. Both are buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. So, naturally, she chose the American flag.
“I thought, wouldn’t that be nice to let people know that the person who lives here still believes in the flag,” she told me.
The HOA didn’t find it all that nice. During a routine patrol “to observe the aesthetic appearance of the properties and to ensure they are maintaining ‘the look’,” an HOA inspector noticed Cordero’s flag.
HOA: This isn't about the flag
In June, Cordero was notified: “picture on your curb numbers must be removed.”
"I couldn't believe it," she told me recently. “I’m thinking, ‘Are you joking?’ Of all the things they pay attention to in this community, they’re looking at my little flag? It absolutely upset me. My neighbors that I’ve talked to can’t believe it either.”
Representatives of the homeowners association told me it’s not about the flag. It’s about putting “decorative artwork” on the curb which is a distinct no-no. Says so right there in the covenants, conditions and restrictions.
“This has nothing to do with being anti-American,” said Tom Canepa, the HOA’s vice president who also chairs the architectural control committee. “We have many residents who fly the flag properly and proudly and the HOA itself has been recognized for our appropriate displaying of the American flag. It has nothing to do with the flag. It has to do with fact that the standard is very clear in saying no decorative additions on the curb.”
The rationale for the rule, Canepa told me, is to avoid trouble.
“No decorative additions for everyone is probably the best way to be able to keep people from doing things that would not be appropriate,” he explained.
The HOA has told Cordero she must paint over the flag. Some of her neighbors already have complied, leaving an ugly blotch of mismatched white paint where a flag used to be. Some haven’t.
Canepa wouldn’t tell me what dire punishment will ensue if Cordero refuses to paint over her flag.
'You've got to stand for something'
Cordero says she’s not going to do it.
"(The HOA) said, well, some of them (her neighbors) already are in compliance and I said, 'Well, this old lady isn’t going to be one of them,'” she told me. “I think they are trying to oppress me and I don’t like it.
“You’ve got to stand for something or you will fall for nothing and I’m not going to fall for nothing. This is my property and I just can’t believe anybody would find that flag offensive.”
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I get it. People move into HOAs because they want to protect their investment from a neighbor who might paint his garage purple or allow a weed to pop up through the rocks. The rules are the rules and you agree to follow them when you buy into the neighborhood.
But is it possible we've taken this whole HOA thing too far when a small painting of the American flag has got to go?
Oh I know, it’s not the flag the HOA finds offensive. It’s just the freedom it represents that cannot be tolerated.
Allow the Old Glory on the curb today and tomorrow, chaos.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: HOA overreach: Demands that widow paint over American flag go too far