By a bare majority late Tuesday, the Marina City Council gave a long-sought victory to activists seeking rent control in the city's five mobile home parks.
A majority made up of Mayor Bruce Delgado and Councilmen Frank O'Connell and David Brown voted to give a preliminary OK to the "Mobile Home Rental Stabilization Ordinance" after a two-hour hearing.
Council members Nancy Amadeo and Jim Ford opposed the measure, maintaining the stance they have had since the city began putting together the proposed ordinance this summer.
Some Marina mobile home residents have been asking the city to enact rent control since the early 1990s, but their efforts previously came up short.
"It's been a lot of years," Delgado said immediately after the vote. He said he believed the proposed ordinance would be fair both to mobile home residents and park owners.
But Manuel Vieira, a representative of the Marina mobile home parks, blasted the measure as being "fiscally irresponsible" and "a special interest pet project" pushed by the council majority.
In an email shortly after the vote, Doug Johnson, regional representative of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association, said, "It's too bad Marina taxpayers will have to foot the bill for this type of incompetence and fiscal mismanagement."
However, several mobile home residents urged the council to pass the measure, saying it was time for the city to enact protection for mobile home residents.
"Thank you for having the courage to even look at this," said Patty Cramer, one of the leaders in the rent-control campaign.
A final vote to adopt the ordinance is scheduled for Oct. 4, and if it wins approval, it would take effect 30 days later.
During Tuesday's hearing, much of the dialogue was between council members and city-hired consultant Kenneth Baar over fine-tuning portions of the 25-page rent-control measure.
At Baar's recommendation, the council agreed to raise the allowable annual rent increase park owners could charge from 80 percent to 100 percent of increases in the Consumer Price Index.
That would make the measure stronger from possible legal challenge, Baar said.
The measure would impose a fee on mobile home residents under rent control to pay costs associated with administering the program, which would put disputes before an arbitrator.
At first, Brown suggested a $10 monthly fee, but several mobile home residents said that would be too high. And since possible costs associated with the program aren't nailed down, the council decided to leave the fee amounts to a follow-up measure.
Baar estimated it would cost about $10,000 a year to administer the rent control program, and an arbitration hearing over contested rental rates would likely cost $10,000. Litigation costs would be far more, but he said most of the 90 California cities and counties with mobile home rent control have faced little litigation.
Testimony from residents
Mobile home residents offered divided testimony in earlier hearings. Many argued that mobile home owners, many of them seniors and others living on fixed incomes, are at the mercy of park owners.
Others contend the measure would only affect about 100 of the 399 spaces in Marina mobile home parks because the majority of residents now have separate leases setting rental rates.
But advocates argued that some of those residents were forced into the rental agreements, and when their leases expire, those residents, too, would be protected against large rent increases.
Fears of increases
Amadeo said she heard from two mobile home residents, deeply afraid of rent increases, who encouraged her to support the measure. She pointed out with the annual allowable CPI-based rent increases and monthly fees, the ordinance wouldn't prevent rents from going up.
Baar said the courts would throw out any measure that simply freezes rents. Park owners are entitled to a fair return, he said.
Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.