MONROVIA — Owners who plan to convert mobile home parks to other uses may have to pay displaced tenants up to $5,000 apiece or buy their homes under an ordinance passed by the City Council last week.
Park owners will have to compensate displaced tenants under the same standards as a public agency acquiring private property under eminent domain, said City Atty. Richard Morillo.
Sunnyvale and San Jose in Northern California have enacted similar ordinances in the last three years, Morillo said, but Monrovia is apparently the first city in Southern California to require park owners to purchase the mobile homes at fair market value if they cannot be moved within a 20-mile radius.
The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance Tuesday, seven months after residents of Park Santa Anita on 5th Avenue appealed to the council to save the park from closure.
Intend to Sell
Joseph Sherman of Pasadena and the Harold Looney Trust in Escondido, who have jointly owned the 64-space park for 20 years, intend to sell the five-acre property for commercial development, said Beverly Southers, a Carlsbad developer representing them. The owners have not announced when they will close the park.
"We are appalled at the position the city has taken," Southers said in an interview. "It's very unfair. The city is telling us we cannot make a profit on our own land."
Attorney Steve Andersen, who represents Southers and the park owners, said the ordinance is discriminatory because it was tailored for the Park Santa Anita situation.
But Mayor Robert Bartlett noted in an interview Monday that the measure would apply to all three mobile home parks in the city.
"This is a very humanistic approach," Bartlett said. "I don't think money alone can ever (compensate displaced tenants), really."
The two other parks have about 100 mobile homes, said Community Development Director Don Hopper.
Because the Santa Anita property is zoned for planned development, a conditional-use permit is required for any new use. The park's owners have not yet applied for such a permit.
Before granting the permit, the council must approve a relocation impact report describing the effects of the closure on the mostly elderly tenants at Park Santa Anita.
Bartlett and Councilwoman Lara Blakely have met as a council subcommittee with the 38 remaining tenants to decide whether the impact report the park owners filed in November was adequate.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to reject the report as "significantly deficient."
In a Jan. 10 memorandum to the council, the subcommittee criticized the impact report for suggesting that the Monrovia Redevelopment Agency help pay to relocate the tenants. The subcommittee also concluded that the report did not fully describe the trauma tenants would experience.
Blakely told the council that more than half the residents are over 70 and have lived in the park more than 15 years. Twenty-one meet federal low-income criteria, she said.
The new ordinance establishes what information must be provided in relocation impact reports. It also empowers the city manager to block rent increases above fair market value before a park is closed.
Barbara Daly, secretary of Park Santa Anita's tenant association, said the owners increased all monthly rents to $325 as of Feb. 1. Daly said she had been paying $239, while other tenants had been paying as little as $180 a month.
The ordinance, which took effect immediately, requires a park owner to pay displaced tenants for temporary housing and for moving the mobile home to another park. In addition, a displacement allowance of $3,000 to $5,000 must be provided for each household.
If a mobile home cannot be relocated within a 20-mile radius, because it is too old to move or the tenant cannot find a suitable site, the park owner must purchase it and pay for moving the tenant's personal belongings to a new location.
To offset the cost of new housing, an owner must provide up to $15,000 to cover the difference over a four-year period between that cost and what the tenant had paid at the park.
The park owner may be required to continue paying the difference for an additional four years, again with a ceiling of $15,000, if the relocated tenant is a senior or handicapped low-income resident who had lived in the park at least 10 years.
The 26 mobile home owners who have left the park since Southers announced the closure last May will not be eligible for the benefits because the ordinance is not retroactive.
According to Morillo, state law allows cities to impose conditions on park owners so that the impact on relocated residents is mitigated, as long as the requirements are reasonable.
He stressed that park owners may request a waiver of all the requirements if they can show that the costs would be excessive. To support such a claim, an owner must provide statements showing profits and losses for the previous five years.
Michelle Brooks, regional director of the Western Mobilehome Assn., a trade group of mobile home park owners, criticized the ordinance's requirement that owners buy the homes if relocation is not viable.
According to the council subcommittee's Jan. 10 report, 80% of a mobile home's value lies in its location in a mobile home park.
"You're forcing the owner to literally buy back his own land," Brooks told the council.
She cited a ruling by a Santa Cruz County Superior Court in April that an ordinance in the city of Scotts Valley was unconstitutional partially because of a similar requirement to buy back mobile homes. Morillo said the decision is being appealed.