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Mobile Home Rent Hikes Losing in Early Count : Election: Measure A seeks to rescind limits on rent increases to recently vacated trailer spaces. Balloting could have statewide implications.

April 14, 1993|ANNA CEKOLA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — In an election being watched statewide, voters Tuesday night appeared to be rejecting a ballot measure that would allow owners of mobile home parks to increase rents when tenants move out.

Of the 924 absentee ballots cast in the election, 69.5% of the voters, or 640, voted no, in effect saying they wanted to keep the city's rent-control ordinance as is, including limits on recently vacated spaces. Voting yes were 28% of the voters.

About 14% of the 14,600 registered voters in San Juan Capistrano voted in the election, according to the latest figures available from the registrar of voters.

Although turnout for the election was relatively low, debate on the issue in the community of 27,000 has been lively.

Known as Measure A, the rent-control measure sought to rescind a new section of the city's 15-year-old rent control law that extends limits on rent increases to recently vacated mobile home spaces. While most mobile home residents in the community own their own units, they must pay rent on the space they occupy.

A countywide coalition of park owners, who initiated Tuesday's special election, said rents on open spaces should be allowed to rise to market value for new tenants.

Opponents of the measure, however, said it could have a "devastating" effect on the ability of mobile home owners to sell their homes.

It also threatens similar laws throughout the state, they said. About 90 cities statewide have rent control laws, although not all apply to vacated spaces.

About 3,000 people live in the seven mobile home parks in San Juan Capistrano, one of only two cities in Orange County with mobile home park rent controls.

While mobile home residents were optimistic about the early election returns, a group of park owners has promised to sue the city if the controls on vacant spaces prevail.

"If this comes through, they may sue," said Al Simmons, a mobile home resident who formed a tenant group called Help Our People Exist. "But my feeling is if we win big enough, I think they're going to have to think twice."

Throughout the day, a handful of demonstrators urged passersby on Del Obispo Street to oppose the rent control on vacated spaces.

Meanwhile, at one voter precinct at the Capistrano Valley Mobile Estate, the turnout was brisk, especially among those who live in the park or other parks in town.

Mobile home resident Joanne Chickering said she voted against the measure, fearing that increases in rent on vacant spaces would make it more difficult to sell her unit someday.

"I definitely want control," Chickering said. "It's impossible to sell your unit; you have enough expenses already. You don't want this (rent increase) as extra."

Some voters questioned the need for the election, which cost the city about $30,000.

"This should never have been an election," voter Helen Parker said. "This is a waste of money."

Precinct workers say the measure also caused confusion for some, who misunderstood what a yes and no vote meant.

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