By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa was within its rights to consider the opinions of tenants when it rejected a plan for a condominium-style conversion of a mobile home park, a court has ruled.
The city in 2010 blocked plans by the owner of the 178-unit Country Mobile Home Park on Fulton Road to convert from one where tenants rented their spaces to one where they could own them.
Residents, most of them seniors, overwhelmingly opposed the plan. Many feared they would be pushed out because they wouldn’t be able to afford to buy their spaces or by escalating rents no longer subject to rent control.
But the park owner, Country Mobile Investments, argued that the city should not have taken the concerns of residents into account in deciding whether the plan was a “bona fide” conversion.
Doing so, the park owner argued, amounted to giving residents a “veto” over the property owner’s right to subdivide the property. But Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum ruled the city appropriately used the survey of residents as one tool in its deliberations.
“We’re very pleased and always felt the council had the discretion to take the action they did,” City Attorney Caroline Fowler said.
Residents of the park expressed relief this week that their long struggle against the plan, first floated in 2006, appears over.
Roger McConnell, 75, said he had just left the grocery store when he got the call from his attorney earlier this week informing him of the ruling.
“I just sat in my truck and cried,” McConnell said.
He became so emotional in part because his late wife, Nancy, “didn’t get to see this,” he said.
Trying to save the modest mobile home that he and Nancy shared in the park for 12 years is what motivated McConnell and others to fight against the conversion plan. She died over the summer, he said.
Mobile home park owners across the state sought to capitalize on the red-hot real estate market and get out from under rent-control ordinances by subdividing the parks, giving tenants the choice of buying their lots outright or continuing to rent.
Several mobile home park owners in Sonoma County either proposed conversions or were considering them before the real estate bubble burst. They argued the conversions would allow tenants to own their land for an affordable price. But advocates called them an end-run around rent-control laws, and governments worried about the loss of affordable housing sought to stymie the plans.
McConnell, a retired carpenter, said when the market was hot, there were law firms criss-crossing the state trying to convince owners to seek conversions by “trying to crawl through a loophole in the law.”
“There is a huge amount of money to be made if you can get one done,” McConnell said.
The case is not completely resolved. The owner’s claim that he should be compensated for the loss of value of his property remains to be heard, but “in light of (the judge’s) ruling, that’s not likely to go anywhere,” Fowler said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @citybeater.