“We’re under attack,” said Ken Tatro, president of Monarch County Mobile Home Owners Association, to the crowd packing the clubhouse of Goleta’s Rancho Mobile Home Park on December 3. During the meeting, which addressed the accelerating “conversion” of California’s mobile home parks into condos, local mobile home owners heard Democratic State Assembly hopefuls Susan Jordan and Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams comment on rent control.
Area mobile home owners and advocates organized the event in response to a recent U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that declared Goleta’s rent control ordinance-in place since 1979-“unconstitutional.” This ruling followed a lawsuit (similar to others appearing all over California) that had been filed against the City of Goleta by Rancho Mobile Home Park owner Daniel Guggenheim, who claimed rent control was unjustly depriving him of a significant revenue. The ordinance that has been found unlawful had artificially kept rent affordable in local mobile home parks. Guggenheim can now do away with vacancy control-a form of rent control that restricts a landlord’s ability to raise rent upon a tenant’s move-out-and is also entitled to lost earnings due to his inability to increase rent since purchasing the park in 1997. The amount of compensation has yet to be specified.
The danger of losing vacancy control, says event organizer Jim Richard, is that a guaranteed spike in rent between tenants makes it impossible for mobile home owners to find buyers for their units after they move out. Mobile homes, after all, remain a low-cost housing option only if affordable space exists for them to occupy. Now, says Richard, “Mobile homes are cheap to buy, but too expensive to own.”
Guggenheim, claimed the tenants, followed a statewide pattern and set out to overwhelm a small town with lawsuits it could not afford to fight simply to boost his profits. Tenants were eager to hear how Jordan and Williams-both hoping to replace current State Assemblymember Pedro Nava-would address their plight.
Jordan-winning the coin-toss-spoke first and took a moment to address head-on any raised eyebrows surrounding her candidacy. “One thing I have to clear up from the very beginning: I am married to Pedro Nava.” Jordan then explained her empathy for park life. “I was raised by a single mother, I shared a bedroom with her until I went to college; so I understand low-income housing.” She went on to describe her success in fighting the greater government policies that threaten mobile home owners and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in particular, saying, “I have taken on this governor three times, and I have beat him three times.” Jordan advised tenants to find strength in numbers. “You need a very strong regional coalition. You need the support of surrounding cities.”
Williams, in his turn to speak, also described his ability to understand low-income lifestyle. “I’m a local kid,” he said. “I was once one of these Isla Vista kids. You know those little street urchins who go dumpster diving? That was me.” Williams explained his commitment to protecting “the California Dream,” which he believes to be characterized by opportunity, social equity, and prosperity, and asserted his respect for mobile home parks, saying, “There is no such thing as a higher or better use of space than affordable housing.” The councilmember advised tenants to “throw up every roadblock” possible to decrease incentives for conversion. Williams suggested a requirement that landowners who convert their spaces into condos provide tenants with “displacement assistance” of $10,000, effectively destroying the profitability of condo conversion.
Tenants present were grateful for the attention given by these politicians, but angry at being still ignored by Guggenheim. One tenant stated, “I want to know if the owners and managers are here; and if not, why not? It’s important that they see us here, stand up, and answer our questions.”