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Adult Mobile Home Park Rule Will Be Reconsidered

December 18, 1987|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The state Supreme Court, in a rare action, agreed Thursday to reconsider its decision of last October upholding the legality of adults-only mobile home parks.

The justices said they would hear the case again for the limited purpose of deciding whether state civil rights laws permit such parks to ban adults under 25. The court's holding allowing parks to bar minors--people 17 or under--will remain intact.

All seven members of the court signed an order granting a petition for rehearing filed by lawyers for a young Santa Barbara family challenging a local mobile home park restriction limiting residency to people 25 or older.

In the petition, the family noted that while the court's October ruling clearly upheld the exclusion of minor children, it did not appear to settle the question of whether parks could prohibit adults 18 or older.

Under state civil rights statutes, adults cannot be denied access to mobile home parks unless the parks are reserved for "senior citizens," the petition contended.

In Thursday's order, the justices told attorneys in the case to prepare briefs addressing the question and to be prepared for arguments before the court.

James R. Provenza, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County representing the family, welcomed the opportunity to challenge what he said are widespread age restrictions on adults seeking entry to the more than 5,000 mobile home parks in the state.

"There are age limits all over the map--25, 35 or even 45 years of age," Provenza said. "A lot of people are being kept out of parks because of those rules.

"The court was very unclear on this issue," he said. "We were not able to determine whether it meant to uphold such restrictions."

Petitions for rehearing often are filed by the losing parties in high court decisions, but they almost always are denied. This was the first time the new court, now led by Chief Justice Malcolm M. Lucas, had agreed to reconsider one of its own decisions.

Last March, shortly after three new appointees of Gov. George Deukmejian took office, the new court agreed to reconsider six criminal law decisions issued by the old court just before the departure of former Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two other justices defeated in the Nov. 4, 1986, election.

The court's ruling Oct. 1 in the mobile home park case was the first major civil rights ruling by the Lucas court. The decision represented a substantial setback to civil rights attorneys who had argued that age restrictions unfairly limited the availability of low-cost housing to families with children.

The case had been brought in 1983 by two sisters, Teri Schmidt, then 24, and Toni Schmidt, then 26, who had been barred from residing at the Ranch Club Mobile Estates in Buellton with an 18-year-old sister and Toni's 9-year-old daughter.

Lawyers for the defendant in the case, Valley Mobile Home Park Investments, contended that mobile home parks often are ill-equipped to accommodate children and that the Legislature had intended to exempt such parks from statutes barring age discrimination in housing.

In its decision, the court agreed that state laws allowed mobile home parks to restrict their premises to adults, which the court defined as people 18 or older. Not clear, however, was the legality of restrictions on adults.

In their petition for rehearing, the Schmidts noted that at one point, the sisters--all 18 or over--had offered to live in the park without the minor child. Their offer, they said, had been emphatically rejected.

In another action Thursday, the court unanimously held that a group of seven oil companies operating intercounty pipelines in California must provide information and pay assessed taxes before they challenge the authority of the state Board of Equalization to assess land and rights of way underlying the pipelines.

The court, in an opinion by Justice John A. Arguelles, said the companies should contest the board's policy in a subsequent action seeking a refund. The justices stressed that they were not now ruling that the board has such authority.

State Deputy Atty. Gen. Philip G. Griffin said the decision upheld well-established tax law principles. "This was exactly the ruling we wanted," he said. "You have to pay your taxes in order to litigate all questions about your taxes."

Edward S. Renwick of Los Angeles, an attorney for the Western Oil & Gas Assn. and the companies involved in the case, said that refunds would be sought but that he had "no idea" how much revenue would be at stake.

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