After months of lobbying from seniors in the Ukiah Valley, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors took up a “mobile home rent stabilization ordinance” for Mendocino County last Tuesday.
Translation: Rent control for trailer parks. Old, fixed income folks are being squeezed.
County legal staff had prepared a draft ordinance assembled from existing ordinances in other places.
Several dozen speakers —about half of them trailer park proprietors, the rest beleagured tenants — spoke to the issue.
The park proprietors sang the age-old song of the owning classes: government should stay out of private business, they’d be forced to increase rents, their rents are not too high, the problem was one particular park owner on Lake Mendocino Drive punishment for whose sins should not be visited on them, rent controls would make them do a lot more paper work…
Those who spoke in favor of controls were mostly from the one park singled out even by other park owners as gougers — $600-$700 per month for a cramped space east of Calpella. The gouged were preponderantly gray-haired seniors on fixed incomes hard pressed to pay their unreasonably high rents on top of other costs of living and, in many cases, on top of their trailer payment, too.
America can be a tough place for children, the elderly, the halt and the lame. The slightest sign of weakness brings the wolves.
After the presentations by the two sides, Supervisor John Pinches commented that he understood the plight of seniors on fixed incomes. “What assistance programs do we have? What’s available? We need to apply pressure for these people. We spend more on fish than on our senior citizens. We should do more to inform people of available assistance programs. It’s getting worse. We’re building eleven new bridges in this County so I guess everybody can live under a bridge if we don’t do something.”
Supervisor Carre Brown asked how the seniors might be helped.
“One person talked about a moratorium,” she said. “We talked about rental assistance. Is there any legal way the County could take a separate legal action against an owner of a single mobile home park under state regulations? What other options do we have to help people when you have hideous situations like this?”
County Counsel Jeanine Nadel replied, “I think with respect to the issue with Lake Mendocino Drive, it's a standing issue. I don't believe that the County would have legal standing to intervene on behalf of tenants. The renters have agreements with the owners of that park and they need to take action on their own. I know there is legal aid assistance. I don't know what efforts have been made in that regard…"
Brown: “I see people in this room who I have grown up with, I've known a lot of you all my life. This is very difficult for me. In fact, I'm almost in tears. But I have to be responsible for the cost that it's going to cost this county. We are not in great shape either. To keep our financial legs under us has been a really long haul the last few years. We expect it to be that way the next couple of years. So as it is for you it is the same for us.”
Supervisor Hamburg: “I share a lot of concerns that Supervisor Brown has raised regarding the cost of this. It does seem like we've got this one park that a lot of the problems are centered around.” Hamburg, sounding like the worst kind of liberal, went on about human dignity, "the philosophy of regulating” the free enterprise system, and just how doggone tough it all was to do something about one rat bastard ripping off a hundred of his fellow citizens.
Hamburg, after a lengthy feeling-of-the-pain of the supplicants, delivered the inevitable lib-lab death pill that “this County is also in bad financial straits and we would really need to figure out a way to make this affordable to move forward. I don't know how many mobile home parks there are in my district, but I have not heard from a lot of people in the Fifth District about this particular problem.”
The prob is the park on Lake Mendocino Drive, but fairly priced shelter in Mendocino County is a problem throughout the County, Dan, even in your district. Supervisor Pinches thought that the County’s new septic system regs should allow at least some people to move their trailers onto other people’s property (perhaps relatives) where they can now hook up to existing septic systems with the property owner making a few extra bucks for space rent.
McCowen interjected, “Well, it's not going to apply to these folks.”
Pinches: "It can. Say if their family member was raising three kids and now the three kids are gone and off to college and they are raising their own families and it's only a couple of them or one of them in the house, if they have a relative who has a mobile home they could make a deal where they put it in their backyard and tie into their septic system. For some people that may be an option to make a couple hundred bucks extra on space rent. … Basically the best thing that happens in the free enterprise system is competition. In Laytonville we have three less mobile home parks than when I was a kid. The property is there but there’s no mobile home park. One was wiped out to build a health center. One was wiped out to put nothing on it. Then we proposed in our general plan to build a new mobile home park north of Laytonville but the owner started putting all the numbers together and he said he couldn't afford to build it with all the costs associated with it because rents would be too high. So it just automatically stopped. But it may be an option for some of you.”
Supervisor Kendall Smith pointed out that the Ukiah ordinance is funded by a combination of fees from park owners and renters, adding that she wanted to know if any estimate of cost was made.
Deputy County Counsel Doug Losak: “We don't have any estimate of cost at this point at that level.”
Smith said she hadn't heard from her constituents that there was a mobile home space rent problem.
(The Smith-Hamburg constituency is overwhelmingly well-to-do.)
Smith: “It appears we are trying to deal with this one mobile home park with a global ordinance. Maybe that's a good approach, maybe it's not. If we can do anything legally, and I would like to do retroactive (sic), on your behalf I think what's gone on there from all the information we have that that's really rent gouging and it really shouldn't have occurred. But even if we put something into place tomorrow it's not really going to deal with that retroactivity [sic]. So you really are the ones who are stuck. We are sort of between a rock and a hard place about how we can be of assistance.”
CEO Carmel Angelo: “At this point in time we have been reducing our staff not increasing our staff. If an ordinance such as this is passed I don't believe that today we have staff to enforce that ordinance. I think it would take one or two staff to actually enforce this ordinance. Then if we look at doing something like the City of Ukiah has done where there’s a fee that's charged, it sets up an unrealistic expectation. People are paying for something so they want something for it. I don't know that any type of fee that is set up with this that we are going to have the staff to dedicate to this. I'm sorry to say that. But I really want this board to know that at this point in time we don't have staff resources to enforce an ordinance like this.”
Supervisor John McCowen: "This ordinance I don't believe will apply to anyone in my district unless there's somebody in South Ukiah that has a two mobile homes on a piece of ground that they are renting out. The city of Ukiah has adopted a mobile home rent stabilization program. I supported that. I believe they have six mobile home parks in the city limits. They are all what I would call traditional mobile home parks, a park filled with mobile homes on small spaces. I think that given the geographically compact area and that the circumstances of the different parks are pretty similar… When you go to a countywide ordinance, I do have concerns and from what we've heard here today, the situations at the different parks are very different one from another, from one end of the county to another. By this definition of two mobile homes on the same parcel that are being rented out, there’s a whole lot of people who suddenly become subject to this who don't even have any idea we are having this conversation. … We are all very sympathetic to the challenges faced by particularly seniors or anyone else on a fixed income living in a mobile home park and if you have an owner who is jacking the rent up every chance they have you’re pretty much being held hostage with a gun to your back.”
McCowen then agreed that it did seem like Lake Mendocino Mobile Home Estates who appeared to be gouging renters was the biggest problem. He also noted that he had received petitions from dozens of residents of several other parks in the County who opposed any regulation on grounds that it would make their situations worse. “I'm worried that if we taken action to help one group of people in one park we potentially could hurt a lot other people and a lot of other parks. I wish we had a solution in front of us but I'm not sure this is it.”
Smith asked if there was any way they could take action against a particular park owner.
Losak: “I could not find anything in state law that gives us standing, which is the main issue, for their rent increases. I don't see that happening. Somebody else mentioned about retroactive. I don't think that's going to be possible either. I found no other avenue that we could go after. I haven't looked as to whether the County can take specific action against this individual park though. But in general I have not seen anything in the law that would allow you to do it.”
Nadel agreed: “You can’t do retroactivity [sic]. There are other issues with respect to our limitations.”
Brown thought there might be a law against the rent increases at Lake Mendocino Mobile Home Estates, but no one knew of one. “I cannot vote on this because I am very concerned about all the implications for the County. But surely there has to be another way that we can help these people.”
No one knew of a way.
The tenants could stop paying rent, pool their money and sue. It's been done lots of places, and done successfully.
Pinches reluctantly moved to deny the request for a rent stabilization ordinance.
Hamburg seconded but took the opportunity to bemoan the situation again.
“Sometimes there are really horrible problems going on in this County that the Board of Supervisors can't really do much about and I think we are looking at one of those issues. I'm really frustrated that I don't know and I don't think anyone else up here knows how to go after this really egregious one intractable problem that has been brought to us repeatedly for the year and a half I've been on the board. I'm not satisfied that there isn't some way that we can go after this problem. I don't think the County has the capability to take this on. I don't think this is a problem for the other 60 mobile home parks in Mendocino County. This is largely a problem of one mobile home park and potentially it could be a problem for many others. But even if it were and even if we found not one, but ten mobile home parks that were treating their tenants poorly, I'm not sure what the County could do.”
And on and on about government limitations, resources, lack of “legal muscle,” etc. “I regret this motion. I regret being the seconder of this motion, but I just don't see any way to move forward.”
Supervisor Brown pointed out that she sent a letter to the park owner “and never heard a word back. Actually, I sent two, or a representative did come meet with the mobile home park people once or twice. But I'm not getting any communication from that particular individual and I haven't heard a lot from the park people other than them coming in here. I visited Northern Legal Services and looked at the income level and type of park it is and so forth. I couldn't get anywhere getting free legal services.”
The motion to deny the ordinance was approved unanimously.
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According to their website, Lake Mendocino Mobile Home Estates is owned by a company called SAR Enterprises which “was established in 1972 in Glendale, California for the primary purpose of managing a small, privately held, portfolio of residential and commercial real estate owned by Sam and Frances Ridino. In 1979, the Ridinos relocated to Santa Cruz County but maintained ownership of their Southern California properties. Robert Ridino [apparently their son] is currently the sole shareholder and serves as President and CEO of SAR Enterprises. Mr. Ridino also personally serves as Manager of most holding entities and normally maintains an equity interest in each investment. … SAR Enterprises consults with qualified individual investors to provide acquisition and management services related to commercial and residential real estate investment opportunities throughout the United States. We currently manage a diversified portfolio of investment real estate valued in excess of $200 million. This portfolio includes 36 properties in seven states with a diversified mix of income-producing properties represented; from “big box” single tenant retail to residential rental properties, office buildings, and shopping centers. Lake Mendocino Mobile Home Estates is a 99-space 5-Star senior mobile home community located on 20 acres, two miles east of US-101 in Ukiah, California. The property maintains a 15 year 100% occupancy rate. SAR Enterprises oversees an on-site resident manager.”