Paul Wellman

Mobile Home Park Sale Triggers Uncertainty

Lips Tight on Fate of Tropical Garden

In late September, tenants at Tropical Garden Mobile Home Park received a letter from their new landlords, La Cumbre Management Company, which said, “At this time, there will be no significant changes in the operation of the community.” But after Don Donaldson sold the trailer park last month for $5.8 million, some residents saw the letter as the writing on the wall. Unknown owners behind the new Tropical Gardens Santa Barbara LLC bought the property from Donaldson, who declined to comment.

What will happen to the Eastside trailer park — just blocks from the ocean and home to about 90 residents who pay affordable rent on a month-to-month basis — remains to be seen. Though a mobile home park has not been developed in Santa Barbara for 20 years, the possibility exists as long as city and state ordinances are followed.

“I don’t think anybody knows the real plan yet because it’s only been 20 days,” said Chris Christian, an administrator with La Cumbre Management. “I think everything is possible.” The company does not want to dump money into refurbishing old trailers, Christian said, but he called Tropical Garden a “viable downtown mobile home park into the near future.” He stressed, “Our goal is not to evict anybody.”

But tenants’ worries are hardly placated. “It wouldn’t be far-fetched to pull out the trailers and rent the space to people who own [their own mobile homes],” said one tenant, who requested anonymity. “We could speculate all day.” This tenant, who pays $1,000 a month, including utilities, explained Tropical Garden is “not [really] a mobile home park” because the trailers must be maintained.

Most residents own their units next door at Flamingo Mobile Home Park, which has been on the market for much of this year. Attorney Steve Penner, who represents Flamingo owner Elizabeth Keeter, declined to say “one way or another whether there is or isn’t a pending sale.” A change of use (such as development) would trigger a dislocation allowance, proper noticing, and a public hearing.

As for Tropical Garden, the on-site manager has been reduced to halftime, but an off-duty manager is on call 27/4, according to management. Still, Christian called tenant fears — although “I understand them” — unfounded.

“All this could be bulldozed in a week,” added the tenant, pointing to the park’s 50 trailers, barely humming on Tuesday afternoon at about 5 p.m. “Quiet as a mouse,” he said. “This is your working [class].”

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