By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A plan by the owner of a Santa Rosa mobile home park to stop renting spaces and start selling them was panned by angry senior citizens Thursday and unanimously rejected by the Santa Rosa Planning Commission.
In a 6-0 vote, commission members cited the strong opposition by mostly low-income residents and the apparent motive of the owner to sidestep rent control as reasons for blocking the plan.
“This is a slam dunk for me,” said Commissioner Erin Carlstrom. “I don’t intend to make an entire community of seniors essentially homeless.”
The out-of-area investment group that owns the 178-unit Country Mobile Home Park off Fulton Road has been seeking the conversion for four years. A 2007 city ordinance aimed at protecting residents of the city’s 14 mobile home parks from such conversions was repealed after the courts shot down a similar county law. That paved the way for the owner to again push the project this spring.
But city planners and attorneys have taken a dim view of the plan, calling it a sham conversion not for the benefit of the residents but rather aimed at avoiding rent control.
After attorneys for both sides jousted about the complex legal and legislative history of laws governing such conversions, City Attorney Mike Casey told the commissioners they had a limited, but important, say in the matter.
“Our hands are tied, but they are not tied so much that you can’t exercise a little bit of discretion here,” Casey said.
Contrary to the park owners’ contention, Casey said commissioners could consider a survey of residents when trying to determine if the conversion was bona fide. That survey found that 138 households, or 77 percent, opposed conversion, while only nine, or 5 percent, wanted it.
The residents’ attorney, Will Constantine, told the commission it was the park owners’ refusal to even discuss the prices residents would need to pay to buy their lots that brought such strong opposition.
“Never once have they made a serious attempt to get resident support,” Constantine said.
Resident Suzanne Angeo told the commission that she and her husband are “just above low income” and therefore would lose protection from state rent control laws if the conversion passed.
Since they can’t afford to buy their space, their rent would go up to the market rate of more than $1,000 a month, double what they pay now. They said they would be forced to move, sell their home at a loss, leaving them with nothing, she said.
“That’s economic displacement,” Angeo said.
Resident Bill Sleet said the conversion would erode the city’s stock of low-income senior housing “sorely needed for our rapidly aging population.”
He called the plan little more than a “scheme to circumvent rent control and at the same time make the owners a lot of money.”
Residents applauded several speakers and erupted in cheers as the commissioners voted.
Constantine, who specializes in helping mobile home communities throughout the state oppose such conversions, said he expects the owners to appeal the decision to the City Council, and to the courts if necessary.