Escondido mobile home park residents Monday presented the city clerk with more than 11,000 signatures on petitions seeking to roll back rents to the levels of two years ago and impose rent controls on the park owners.
If the signatures are found to be valid, the proposal will be placed on a citywide ballot, probably June 7, unless the City Council votes to enact the measure earlier.
The petition drive, conducted over the past six months, was the latest in years of efforts by the mobile home owners to impose the controls and other requirements on the park owners. A similar issue was turned down by Escondido voters in 1984.
Under the proposed ordinance, the City Council would serve as a mobile home rent review board, hear all applications for rent increases, and rule on them based on 14 criteria set out in the ordinance. It also calls for the rollback of mobile home rents to the levels in effect on Jan. 1, 1986.
A group of about 50 supporters held a "victory" celebration in the City Hall plaza before the ribbon-tied pile of petitions was formally presented to the city.
A city clerk's office spokeswoman said the petitions will be examined by the county registrar of voters and presented to the council March 9. Because only about 5,900 valid signatures are required on the initiative petitions, the 11,000 names are considered far more than enough to ensure a place on the June 7 ballot.
The petitions bear the largest number of signatures in the city's history and include those of about 5,000 people who are not mobile home residents, said Don Olmsted, spokesman for the Escondido Mobilehome Political Action Committee (EMPAC), which conducted the campaign.
"We have exhausted every other reasonable alternative," Olmsted said, including "innumerable public hearings, council subcommittee meetings and closed-door negotiating sessions."
A 3-2 council majority has repeatedly turned down any form of mandatory rent control for mobile home park owners.
Mayor Jim Rady, one of the council members opposed to the measure, said that "11,000 or 50,000 signatures doesn't change my mind."
He said the majority of the council is "philosophically opposed" to mandatory rent controls in any form, "and I personally feel that such a system would damage the life style of the people who are supposed to be helped," by acting as a "disincentive" for park owners to maintain, improve and expand the parks.
"I think these people are being used to further the campaigns of council candidates," Rady said, referring to the mostly elderly and low-income members of the political action committee. He named Councilman Jerry Harmon, who has not announced an intention to seek re-election, and candidate Kris Murphy as the men behind the rent control initiative.
Harmon, who spoke to the mobile home group at its petition celebration, said he had an "optimistic hope" that the large number of signatures might sway at least one council vote, enabling the measure to be enacted early.
Rady disagreed. He predicted that the petitions will be certified and that the issue will go to election "and be defeated just like it was the last time. The dynamics haven't changed."
Councilman Doug Best, another opponent of the controls, also said the size of the petition hadn't changed his mind.
"They've politicized this thing too much," Best said. "There are only about 6,000 registered voters in mobile home parks, and the rest of the signatures they got from whoever came out of a Safeway market."
Ernie Cowan, the third council member to vote consistently against the controls, was in Washington and could not be reached for comment.
Murphy, who also addressed the political action group Monday, said the measure is fair to both park owners and residents because it would guarantee that owners receive a fair return on their investments and that tenants receive protection against improper rent increases.