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Mobile Home Owners Oppose Proposal : Planning: They call Santa Clarita officials unsympathetic. The new law would prevent units older than 10 years from being placed on residential lots.

October 03, 1994|MARK SABBATINI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA CLARITA — To Jim Robinson, owning a mobile home in this land of suburban plenty is a little like being Rodney Dangerfield: It's hard to get respect.

Robinson, president of the Santa Clarita Area Mobile Home Owners Council, contends that residents and officials in the 7-year-old city are more interested in housing the affluent than those just getting by.

As a result, he says, residents of the city's 16 mobile home parks face oppressive attitudes and regulations. To wit: City officials last week began drafting a new law that would prevent mobile homes older than 10 years from being placed on residential lots.

"What they're saying is the city of Santa Clarita has outgrown mobile homes and we sure wish you guys would die on the vine," Robinson said. "That's the attitude we're facing."

The proposed law was inspired by the complaints of residents in a 30-year-old neighborhood upset that a woman got city permission to put her 15-year-old mobile home on a vacant lot in their midst. Much of the neighbors' anger was directed at city officials, who said state and local laws left them no choice but to approve the woman's permits.

In addition to the proposed law, neighbors asked city officials to help negotiate a deal in which the mobile home owner would sell her property to neighborhood residents.

Council members say they are sympathetic to the concerns of mobile home owners and have done much for them since the city incorporated in 1987. But, they add, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

"Property values are one of the things that will be affected when you put (this) mobile home in a residential area," Santa Clarita Mayor George Pederson said.

Pederson said the city has nothing against mobile homes, or even against placing them on some residential lots. He said the character of the neighborhood and the rules of local homeowner associations must be considered, as they would be for any permanent house.

"Others may be perfectly all right and others may actually improve it," he said of the effect of mobile homes on a neighborhood.

Don't tell that to H.P. Alexander, 83, a traditional homeowner visiting a friend at the Greenbrier Mobilhome Park. Although he likes his friend, he would not want his friend's mobile home next door to his house.

"Let's face it, a mobile home is a mobile home," Alexander said. "If I told my wife we were moving into one, she'd leave me."

Others said their opinion would depend on the quality of the home and how well it was maintained. Many said with exterior additions such as wood paneling or stucco, larger mobile homes can be nearly indistinguishable from traditional housing.

"The thing that would bother me as a neighbor is if they didn't mow the lawn," said Martin Lackpour, 35, a homeowner with a view of the Canyon Breeze Village mobile home park at the bottom of the hill behind his house.

But there are plenty of people in the neighborhood who "look down on the people below us because it ruins the scenery," Lackpour added.

Mobile home parks--like regular neighborhoods--vary from elite to run-down, said Jason Edwards, 52, a contractor who owns six units at the Greenbrier park. Expensive parks can have units bigger than many people's conventional homes. And they are surrounded by pools and other recreational facilities.

On the other hand, poor-quality parks house the stereotypical "trailer trash" envisioned by many homeowners, Edwards said.

"Where the stigma comes from is people who drive along the side of the road and see a run-down trailer with no skirting, dogs are running all over the place and a car is upside down beside it," he said.

Robinson lives at the Canyon Breeze park with his wife, Patricia, in a 17-year-old double-wide mobile home that includes an outdoor Jacuzzi with fountains among their landscaping. But the couple said the park, and several others in the city, could be closed by their owners to make room for more expensive permanent housing in the next few years, leaving many with no place to put their mobile homes.

Existing laws don't protect mobile home dwellers enough from unexpected closure, and there is nothing to prevent park owners from increasing space rent fees to new tenants, Robinson said. As a result, more mobile home owners could end up trying to move into residential areas.

"People are running out of options," he said. "People are trying to find other places to live, better places to live."

Similar comments made by him at last week's City Council meeting drew the fury of at least one council member.

"The city has worked for seven years to give mobile home owners what they want, and now what we get from you is a veiled threat that you're all going to go out and find a vacant lot to put a mobile home on," Councilwoman Jan Heidt told him.

The city has implemented a rent stabilization ordinance so park owners cannot raise rent for existing tenants more than 6% a year, said Rich Henderson, a city planner. An ordinance to control rent for new tenants is under consideration.

Also, state law requires mobile home park owners to give at least six months notice to tenants before closing and to provide them with the fair cost of relocating, Henderson said.

In addition, city officials said extensive help was provided to mobile home owners after the Northridge earthquake damaged roughly three-quarters of mobile homes within city limits. For example, one Federal Emergency Management Agency employee sent to the city was assigned to work exclusively with mobile home owners.

"Because of the earthquake, we had to address the mobile homes coming off their foundations," said city planner Kevin Michel. "We got 1,400 of the homes approved to get braces throughout the parks. When we have our next earthquake, all of our parks will be in a lot better shape to weather the situation."

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