PARAMOUNT — In a special election Tuesday, voters will decide whether this city should join 60 other California cities and counties by enacting a mobile home rent control law.
Proponents say if the measure passes it will apply exclusively to mobile homes. But opponents say they fear it could eventually lead to citywide control of all rentals.
While the referendum is addressing only mobile home parks, all of the city's 10,803 registered voters will have the opportunity to decide the issue.
The rent control proposal, first passed as an ordinance by a majority of the City Council, would regulate rent increases based on the federal consumer price index, allowing increases once a year.
It would exempt mobile home parks if 67% of the residents vote against rent control in their individual parks. It would require that the base rent be that of Jan. 1, 1987. And it would establish a park mediation committee made up of representatives of park owners and tenants to handle rent disputes.
If the mobile home park rent control referendum fails, the council is restricted by law from taking up the issue again for 12 months.
Councilman Gerald A. Mulrooney said the ordinance is necessary to protect mobile park residents from high rent increases.
Many mobile park residents, a large number of whom are elderly, had been coming to City Council meetings for years seeking help in combatting what they saw as excessive rent increases by some park owners, Mulrooney said.
Councilman Charles R. Weldon said he is supporting the ordinance because it is fair to both the park owners and the tenants.
"There will never be rent control citywide," Weldon said. "This is an isolated thing."
A majority of the owners of the city's 19 mobile home parks have banded together to fight the measure, raising more than $50,000. in the effort.
Donald Bendetti, who owns Americana Mobile Home Park, said "park owners are opposed to any kind of rent control. We are opposed to the City Council telling us how to run our business."
Fear Rent Control
Another opponent of the ordinance, former council member Case Boogaard, said property owners worry that a mobile home rent control law could lead to citywide control of all rents. The city is undergoing a tremendous commercial and housing redevelopment, including apartment buildings, and property owners worry that the city could impose some type of control on these new units.
Boogaard, who served on the council for eight years, is co-chairman of the Paramount Taxpayers and Homeowners Committee. The group--through contributions from political action committees made up of various mobile home park owners--has raised more than $54,000 to fight the referendum, according to the latest financial statements filed with the city clerk.
The group has spent more than $21,000 to pay for printing, mailers and the hiring of workers. City officials, mobile home park owners and tenants have been involved in a heated battle since earlier in the year.
Back in July, the council tentatively passed a mobile home rent control ordinance but quickly placed it on hold when park owners challenged it. The owners demanded that the issue be put before the voters.
The council decided to have the special election--costing the city an estimated $18,000--after gathering more than 1,500 signatures from voters calling for a referendum.
Voted for Election
In September, the council voted 4 to 0, with Councilwoman Esther Caldwell abstaining, to have the special election.
But just before that decision a poll was conducted by park owners in which tenants were asked whether they favored the council's rent proposal or a version offered by the owners. The majority of the tenants polled favored the owners' compromise.
The private agreement is better than the city-proposed ordinance, Bendetti said.
As an example, he said the city ordinance allows yearly rent increases of up to 100% based on the federal consumer price index while the private agreement allows only a 90% increase.
"We decided to establish a private agreement because we didn't want government interference. We deliberately tweaked out a good agreement," said Bendetti.
Mulrooney said the majority of the council still supports the city proposal because there is no guarantee that the owners will honor the private agreement.
"The city ordinance is fair to everyone. It is fair to both owners and tenants," Mulrooney said.