A Tropical Garden Getting Flipped?

Questions Arise Over Mobile Home Park's Fate

UNCERTAINTY FACTOR: As fears of gentrification permeate Santa Barbara’s Eastside, area investors are reportedly selling A Tropical Garden trailer park to mobile-home-park developers after buying it for $5.8 million last fall.
Paul Wellman

Six months after area investors bought A Tropical Garden, an Eastside trailer park, about a dozen tenants have moved out. Tenants claim the property has not been properly maintained, and eight trailers ​of the 52 ​are vacant.

Now, it appears investors with The Koto Group — which has several properties in Isla Vista and is owned by philanthropist and Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, investor James Knapp, and others — are flipping the property, according to multiple sources. Though the sale has not been recorded with the County Assessor’s Office, A Tropical Garden is listed for $7.3 million on Radius Group’s website, $1.5 million more than the owners paid for it. Information about the park’s future has been opaque, instilling fears among the 75 residents.

In recent months, real estate agents have been at the site more than the maintenance guys, said Gloria Guess, the park’s longtime office administrator. (Realtor Rob Hambleton, who represents the property, could not be reached by deadline.) Developers from Los Angeles, Guess added, have recently toured the park.

It’s just what tenants feared. But last fall, the new landlords showed up with expensive bottles of wine for everyone and letters that said “no significant changes” were planned “at this time.”

But there have been changes in staff. La Cumbre Management, which runs dozens of mobile home parks statewide, came in, and longtime general manager Greg Barnes, who is 87, retired. Live-on maintenance staff quit.

One of those workers ​— ​Darin Packard ​— ​complained La Cumbre is not equipped to handle routine maintenance requested as necessary for renters. Hedges were overgrown and several roofs caved in, he said. “They don’t quite understand,” Packard said. “This park needs to be maintained.” He explained A Tropical Garden is actually a trailer park, not a mobile home park. The difference is trailers are rented ​— ​for $1,000 per unit ​— ​while mobile-home-park residents typically own their units.

Packard claimed he had seen maintenance staff on-site only three times in five months. “It’s no different from your car,” he said. “If you don’t pay attention to something, it falls apart.”

Chris Christian, a supervisor at La Cumbre Management, said in an interview last fall the park’s future was uncertain, explaining the owners did not want to dump money into refurbishing old trailers. Christian added they did not intend to evict anyone. When contacted by The Santa Barbara Independent this week, Christian declined to comment. He initially said he would call back, but another representative with La Cumbre later said Christian was unavailable as he would be on vacation for two weeks. Likewise, multiple calls to reach Knapp and Orfalea were not returned.

Guess, who has worked at the park for 11 years, added that more than half of the roofs leaked during this rainy winter. Though she now works less, she said, her workload has increased. She said she has paid out of her own pocket for tenants’ repairs ​— ​including a new refrigerator ​— ​but was only partially reimbursed.

City zoning codes allow up to 48 residential units should A Tropical Garden someday be developed. There are city ordinances in place that make developing mobile home parks difficult ​— ​but not impossible. Such parks in the City of Santa Barbara have not been cemented in 20 years. The 15 remaining mobile home parks offer some of the city’s most affordable housing.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” said Packard. “It was going smoothly.” Now “fancy people” driving Cadillacs have been seen driving through the park, he said. “There is a lot of uncertainty.”


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