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Trailer park plan is blocked

Ventura County board fails to pass a ban on converting mobile home sites to private ownership. Tenants fear the loss of rent control.

February 14, 2007|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Brushing aside the pleas of dozens of tenants, Ventura County supervisors Tuesday refused to temporarily halt conversions of mobile home parks to private ownership.

Chris Stephens, the county's planning director, had requested a 45-day moratorium to give staff time to update standards and requirements for subdividing the parks.

One mobile home park owner has indicated that he plans to submit an application to subdivide his 150-space property in Ojai, Stephens said. Some tenants fear that such conversions will mean the loss of rent control.

The county has never processed a mobile home conversion and must update language in its zoning and subdivision ordinances before it does so, Stephens told the Board of Supervisors.

But Supervisors Peter Foy and John Flynn said the new language could be inserted into city ordinances without imposing a moratorium.

"The word 'moratorium' does cause anxiety in people," said Flynn, who is usually supportive of affordable housing policies. "It is something that should be used very carefully."

Flynn and Foy succeeded in blocking the action, even though the other three supervisors supported it, because it required four votes for passage.

Tuesday's debate came in response to a statewide movement to convert mobile home parks into condominium-type associations. Across California, dozens of park owners are opting to subdivide their properties and sell off individual spaces.

Under state law, tenants who rent their spaces have the option of purchasing the land after a conversion takes place. But those who continued to rent would lose rent control, unless they qualified as low-income residents.

In Ventura County, mobile home park owners in Ojai and Santa Paula have indicated interest in converting their properties to private ownership.

Many of the speakers at the hearing said they feared conversion because they weren't sure they could afford a mortgage. Others said the thought of losing local rent controls made them nervous.

"We're frightened without a moratorium, Mr. Flynn," said Dian Spence of Ojai. "There is a potential of losing everything we have, and at 77 that is scary."

The Rev. Harold Ruddick, 83, a retired Lutheran minister, urged supervisors to protect the interests of mobile home residents, who number in the thousands, rather than of a few dozen property owners.

"We don't have the power you do," Ruddick told the board.

Stephens said that under his proposal, applications for conversions could be submitted but would not be approved until the board had agreed on updated language to county land-use laws.

The moratorium would have permitted the planning staff to process each application with a consistent set of standards, Stephens said. State law, which has evolved in recent years, includes provisions dealing with the economic effect of conversions on mobile home park tenants, he added.

Supervisors Steve Bennett, Kathy Long and Linda Parks said they supported the moratorium. Parks said taking such action before the county receives its first conversion application made sense.

"A moratorium is a good tool," Parks said. "We need to have an overall plan."

But Foy said sending park owners a notice that the processing of their documents might be delayed should suffice.

"Just let the applicants know that approval could take a while," he said.

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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