EL MONTE — Opponents of an ordinance that provides for arbitration of disputes over rents in mobile home parks are trying for a second time to repeal the measure at the ballot box.
An initiative petition containing 4,471 signatures was filed with the city last week. The initiative also would preclude the City Council from passing any ordinance that would affect mobile home park rents.
Valid signatures from 10% of El Monte's 21,150 registered voters are needed to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.
The petition drive was engineered by Newport Beach political consultant Harvey Englander, whose firm, Campaign Management Inc., ran an unsuccessful campaign to repeal the ordinance in the June 7 election. Englander, who could not be reached for comment, again has been hired by the owners of Brookside Mobile Home Country Club, the largest mobile home park in the city.
City Clerk Kathleen Kaplan said the petitions will be forwarded to the county registrar-recorder's office, which will verify the signatures within the next 30 days to determine if the issue will be on the ballot.
The June referendum, initiated by Brookside owners Jeffrey Kaplan and Tom Tatum, was defeated by a vote of 4,108 to 3,688. The contentious election primarily centered on the owners and residents of Brookside.
Both opponents and backers of the rent ordinance expect the initiative to qualify because more than double the required number of signatures were submitted.
Leaders of a mobile-home owners group that led the fight to defeat the June ballot measure met last week to begin planning their campaign.
"We're not going to sit on our hands and wait," said Donald Smith, a leader of Homeowners for Yes on (Ordinance) 2216. "We started two months late last time, and we won. We figure we can do a good job on them this time."
The initiative seeks to repeal Ordinance 2216, which provides a two-step system of arbitration in rent and service disputes between mobile-home owners and park owners in parks of 60 or more spaces.
Besides 421-space Brookside, the ordinance covers 175-space Daleview Mobile Home Estates, 104-space Santa Fe Mobile Home Park and 76-space El Rovia Trailer Village.
The ordinance, which was passed in December but did not go into effect until after the June referendum, created a rent review commission that will make a final judgment if a committee of park owners and residents cannot come to agreement.
Under the ordinance, the five-member commission is to consist of two park residents, two park owners and an outside mediator to be appointed by the city if the other four commissioners cannot agree on the fifth member.
The initiative filed Wednesday calls for landlords to provide a 10% rent break to mobile home park residents who receive some kind of government assistance. Only 10% of a park's tenants could receive the subsidy, and landlords would not have to provide the subsidy if they could prove a "financial hardship."
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will likely begin another bitter campaign. In the last election, both sides hired political consultants and traded accusations concerning dirty politics.
The charges fueled a heated campaign, with residents protesting what they said was harassment by Brookside management, and opponents saying that park residents tried to sully the opposition with accusations of election fraud.
Opponents of the arbitration ordinance spent $57,780, while park residents spent $12,840, according to the latest financial disclosure statements.
Responding to complaints from owners of mobile homes, the district attorney's office is investigating the petition process that put the measure on the June ballot. Smith and others charged that some of the petition circulators hired by Englander were not El Monte residents, a violation of the Election Code.
The investigation that began in May has not been concluded, but officials said its outcome will have no effect on the June election and will not affect the current initiative.
'Needy, Not Greedy'
Arguing that "rent control is for the needy, not the greedy," Englander has said the landlord initiative would provide relief only to those who need it most. He has said the law now provides lower rents for all tenants, even those who have ample retirement benefits or are still working.
Mobile home park residents have responded that the initiative would provide token subsidies to a small number of people who receive only Social Security assistance, and does not give relief to those who receive other retirement benefits but still need protection from rent increases.