Residents of Amberlight Mobilehome Park in Hawthorne have new hope of keeping their park from closing after the Planning Commission last week imposed conditions that could cost the owner an additional $300,000 to shut it down.
Amberlight owner Louis Simpson had proposed paying residents the "off-site" value of their homes--what they would cost if they were on a used-trailer lot, for example, or an estimated $500 to $1,500 for the trailer, as well as some other costs of moving.
The commission, however, said that for each home that cannot be relocated, Simpson must pay the "on-site value"--what the homes would be worth in the park if it were not closed. That figure is estimated at $16,000 for each of the 20 coaches remaining in the park.
If the park is closed, Simpson probably will have to buy those homes because the only parks that will accept the old coaches are more than 60 miles away, too far for most tenants to move, the tenants' attorney said.
At least one Northern California city, Sunnyvale, has required park owners to pay "on-site" value for coaches, but statewide, park owners have usually been required to pay no more than $2,500 in relocation costs to displaced tenants, state officials said. In the South Bay, the most any park owner has had to pay has been $10,000 in relocation costs per home, for the closure of Terrace View Trailer Court in Torrance.
The problem of "reasonable" compensation for displaced residents of mobile homes is growing as more parks in urban areas close because of the rising value of land. Many mobile-home residents are elderly people with low to moderate incomes who own older trailers that often cannot be moved.
Simpson declined to comment on the commission's decision, referring questions to his attorney, Jim Mahacek of Santa Ana. Mahacek said he considers the decision illegal and said it is "highly probable" that it will be appealed to the City Council.
However, Mahacek did not rule out the possibility that the park, or a portion of it, could be sold to the tenants with the help of a state financing program.
Consider Reasonable Offer
"Mr. Simpson is a businessman," Mahacek said. "Give him a reasonable business offer and he will consider it."
The tenants' attorney, Bernida Reagan of Public Counsel, a public-interest law office of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar associations, said she is pleased with the commission's decision and hopes that the park can remain open.
"I'm pleased that the commission found that instead of the tenants doing all the sacrificing, the owner should sacrifice some," she said. Despite the additional money, Reagan said, "The tenants are more interested in remaining intact as a mobile-home park community."
Mathew Duran, 60, a four-year resident who owns three trailers at the park, said he hopes that the additional cost of closing the park will encourage Simpson to sell it to the tenants.
"I hope it has caused him to go a different route," Duran said.
Simpson has said in the past that he planned to sell the 3-acre lot--at Rosecrans and Cordary avenues in a redevelopment area--to developers for a commercial project.
Last year, the tenants offered $500,000 for two-thirds of the property, but Simpson would not budge from his asking price of $660,000.
Bette Jenner, an 18-year resident of the park, said that even if the tenants are unsuccessful in their effort to purchase the site, getting "on-site" value for their coaches will give them more housing options.
"If we do have to lose our homes, at least we can get into another coach in another town," she said.
Planning Commissioner Barbara Workman said the decision to require the higher values for the coaches stemmed from a realization that displaced mobile-home owners should be treated more like displaced homeowners rather than displaced renters.
"It's a learning process," she said. "Those people own those homes and they would be homeless without adequate compensation."
Commissioner James Nakai agreed, saying, "You can't say they don't have anything at stake. They have a home at stake."
Nakai added that given the potential profit Simpson could make by selling the property to commercial developers, the tenants should share in the gains.
Simpson's attorney, Mahacek, disagreed, saying the commission overstepped its authority.
"There's no question of my client paying the full cost of relocation. But when they go beyond that and say you have to buy the coaches, that clearly goes beyond what state law requires," Mahacek said.
The state law states that local governments may impose requirements to mitigate the displacement of residents as long as such measures do not exceed the "reasonable" costs of relocation.
"We have the right to determine the reasonable costs of relocation," Workman said, but Mahacek contended that "reasonable cost" does not mean purchasing the coaches.
"If there is a dispute, that's up to the courts to decide," said Julie Stewart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Meanwhile, one elderly tenant said the additional money his coach would bring is not providing any comfort.
"If I was a dealer, then I would sell my home," said 71-year-old Claude Bennett, a 14-year resident of the park. "But this is my home, this is my place to live. Not one of us has lived in peace since (Simpson) bought the park. It's aggravating at this stage in one's life."