The Punta Gorda housing project abutting highway 101 by the Milpas Street Southbound exit.

Paul Wellman

The Punta Gorda housing project abutting highway 101 by the Milpas Street Southbound exit.

Pop-Up Housing Hits Snag

City Claims Jurisdiction over Flood Safety at Punta Gorda Homes

When the cluster of 40 two-story “stationary” mobile homes sprouted directly over the freeway at the edge of town last year, Santa Barbara City Hall went quietly apoplectic. Such plans could never have survived the city’s stringent approval process, but California’s Department of Housing and Community Development had exclusive jurisdiction. Why? Because, as a matter of law, the units were considered mobile housing, despite their slab foundations and conspicuous lack of mobility. Now, it turns out City Hall has some authority after all.

The new mobile homes — built, painted, landscaped, and partially occupied — must meet the city’s flood safety requirements. And according to an engineering study commissioned by City Hall, some land on which the units were built abuts Sycamore Creek, and the water level will be a half-an-inch higher than permissible. Three of the eight units already occupied are close to the creek — which expands wide but not deep during heavy rains. City building officials now insist they must check the premises to make sure the floor elevations will allow water to flow through the crawl spaces. Should such inspections be denied, the city will take legal action to have the tenants removed.

Although the city’s engineering report indicates the flood waters will rise half-an-inch too high, the margin of error is six inches. City Hall will submit its findings to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — which oversees development in such flood plains. Bill Ryan of the Green Valley Corporation — the San Jose company that bought units called the Sycamore Creek Mobile Home Park in 2012 — said his company’s engineers would get together with the city’s and FEMA’s and “work something out.”

The housing development — with so many units clustered so tightly by the freeway — generated considerable blowback last year. And the speed with which the two-story, two-bedroom rental units — which go for $1,600-$1,900 a month — went up caused even more complaints. Ryan promises, however, that the new development will be an infinitely better neighbor than its predecessor, the DeLuxe Mobile Home Park, which was so filthy and blighted that City Hall ordered it shut down.

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