The Planning Commission unanimously shot down a mobile home park owner's request to sell off the lots, saying they questioned residents' support for the sale and didn't want to lose affordable rental housing.
Dan Guggeneheim, who owns Vineyard Villa Mobile Home Park on Vineyard Avenue, was requesting approval to convert his 208-unit park into residential condominium units.
Residents in the 30-acre senior complex, which borders Hacienda Mobile Home Park, pay monthly rent on the land but own their mobile homes. The conversion would not take place for at least 10 years and renters would be given the option of purchasing their air space or continue renting. The park, which has been under rent control stabilization, would remain that way until the agreement runs out in 2017.
Currently, renters pay between $500 and $912, depending on when they moved into the park, according to a city staff report. After the agreement runs out, the owner can raise the rents for low-income residents over a four-year span leading up to the conversion at 2-5 percent per year, in accordance with the consumer price index set by the state. For those who aren't considered low-income and don't want to purchase the lot, their rent could be raised to market levels, estimated at 20 percent a year for four years, the staff report states.
The commission voted 5-0 to deny the proposal after the two and a half hour hearing. Much of their reasoning harkened back to a survey that was conducted by the owners' legal representation, Gilchrist & Rutter, to assess residents' level of support for the conversion.
The survey was conducted early last year in the form of a questionnaire sent to residents, asking them to answer with one of three options: support the conversion, decline to respond or not support. The city received 119 responses from the 208 units. Of those, 41 residents (~20 percent) said they supported the switch to ownership, while 38 (~18 percent) said they did not support it and 40 (~19 percent) declined to respond.
Commissioner Anne Fox led the commission's discussion on the merits of the survey, saying she felt it left out important information such as the worth of the homes and homeowners' dues, had persuasive language and shouldn't be considered valid.
"I have some issues on whether it was a bonafide survey and also, whether there was support," Fox said. "If you look at the law, it says you should obtain a survey of support of residents and I don't consider 20 percent of 208 units to be a survey of support. It looks as though one in five or less actually support the conversion."
"My view is it doesn't take an awful lot to comply with the law and based on that, isn't this whole hearing tonight a sham?" said commissioner Arne Olson, eliciting applause from seniors in the Council Chambers.
Commissioners said they felt it would be difficult for a resident to say now whether they would support the sale of the lots in 10 or more years. Attorneys for Gilchrist & Rutter countered that the survey was required by the state to be conducted before any approval was made.
Six people spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing, four of them in support of the conversion and two against. The commission also received a number of letters and emails on the topic.
Gloria Robertson, who said she's lived in Vineyard Villa for 20 years, supported the proposal, saying she thought the owner has been more than fair.
"It's a good opportunity to buy land if we want and when the time comes," she said. "I'm all in favor of it."
Art Moniz, a newer resident to the park, said the conversion is a bad idea.
"There will be residents who won't be able to get loans," Moniz said.
He added that residents who don't fall into the lower-income bracket that affords them state assistance will have a hard time purchasing the land. Qualifications for low-income status are $46,000 or less for one individual, $53,000 for two and $66,000 for three.
Commissioner Jennifer Pearce said she didn't want to eliminate affordable rental housing for seniors.
"It's an important section of our community," she said. "By taking this away and making it an ownership situation, you're potentially doing a real disservice to not only these residents but the town as a whole."
The property owner has 15 days to appeal the commission's decision to the City Council.