Anaheim and Fullerton Mobile Home Residents Remain Uncertain About Rents

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Mobile home residents during the April 3 Fullerton City Council meeting where many seniors shared their experiences with the proposed rent increase on their mobile home properties.

Anaheim and Fullerton mobile home residents still don’t know if their cities will block extreme rent hikes, like what people were facing at the Rancho La Paz senior mobile home park, which straddles the two cities.

Two city councils held their respective meetings Tuesday to potentially intervene on local mobile home rents after Rancho La Paz residents, faced with a rent increase as high as $400, petitioned both councils for relief March 19.

The council meetings came a little over a week after Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, along with Councilmen Trevor O’Neil and Stephen Faessel persuaded the Rancho La Paz owner, John Saunders, to delay the rent increases until Sept. 1.

Saunders has promised both cities he’ll be working with residents to create a reasonable rent increase schedule and help low-income residents obtain rent subsidies. The increase was originally scheduled to take effect June 1.

Fullerton council members ultimately directed their staff to research the legality of rent control ordinances for mobile home parks,  and research what other cities are doing before bringing the issue back to their first meeting in July.

Meanwhile, in Anaheim’s council chambers a few miles away, a verbal fight broke out between council members and no discussion or debate happened on rent control because the majority decided to table the issue. At the end of the meeting, Councilman Jose Moreno was able to reschedule a six-month mobile home rent freeze ordinance for the April 16 meeting.

Anaheim’s Verbal Fight on the Dais

Anaheim was to consider on Tuesday two ordinances: an urgency ordinance, which would’ve stopped mobile home park major rent increases in the city for 45 days; and a regular ordinance that would’ve halted major rent increases for mobile homes for roughly six months. That item would have to be voted on twice and would’ve taken effect 30 days after the second vote.

Under both ordinances, the owner could have increased rent up to 3 percent or increases based on the consumer price index, whichever amount was greater. There was also a petition mechanism in both ordinances for landowners.

But the Council was never able to discuss or debate the ordinances after O’Neil immediately moved to table the issue.

“As I see it, the agenda item before us is trying to address an issue that is no longer there,” O’Neil said. “My ad hoc committee and I will continue to address housing affordability and attainability … So with that, Mr. Mayor (Sidhu), I would move we lay this item on the table as it is now nothing more than a solution in search of a problem.”

The question was immediately called.

“This motion is not debatable, please vote.” Sidhu said.

A verbal fight immediately broke out between council members on the dais before the vote could happen.

Moreno, who brought the ordinances before the Council, kept trying to call a point of order in an attempt to get a discussion.  

“Mr. O’Neil, we know that you just don’t want to support residents right now,” Moreno fired at O’Neil.

“Oh, that’s just below the belt,” Councilwoman Lucille Kring told Moreno.

After some back and forth on the dais, the council consulted City Attorney Robert Fabela, who confirmed the motion is not debatable, according to the council’s rules.

Before the vote to table the ordinances, Moreno moved to suspend the council’s rules so the items could be debated.

Then Moreno and Kring started arguing with each other about who gets to speak more.

“We’re debating non-debatable motions, call the vote. You can have your say later in the meeting,” O’Neil interjected.

Moreno shot back, “Mr. O’Neil you didn’t protest when your colleagues were speaking either, so I think that you might wanna get off that high horse.”

Just before council members were about to vote to suspend the rules to allow for debate on the mobile home rent control ordinances, dais microphones picked up Sidhu telling Faessel how to vote on the issue.

“No, no. Just put down no. Just vote no. Voting no,” Sidhu told Faessel as he was leaning toward him.

Council members voted 3-4 to cancel the rules, with O’Neil, Kring, Sidhu and Faessel dissenting.

The verbal battle continued after the vote.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor (Sidhu), you said you’d allow me to speak after the vote,” Moreno said.  

O’Neil interjected, “After this vote.”

“Mr. O’Neil, if you wanna be the mayor, you should run for mayor,” Moreno responded.

“It is not debatable, this motion, now,” Sidhu said, cutting off the argument.

“We have to vote on this motion right now,” Sidhu said. “That is to table it.”

“But once tabled, I can’t speak to the item” Moreno said.

“No, you can’t. You can talk in your council comments if you like,” Sidhu responded.

Then the council voted 4-3 to table the two rent control ordinances, with Moreno, Councilwoman Denise Barnes and Councilman Jordan Brandman dissenting.

During council member comments and agenda-setting time at the end of the meeting, Moreno was able to schedule the six-month mobile home rent control for the April 16 meeting, with support from Barnes and Brandman.

Like Sidhu mentioned earlier in the meeting, Moreno did speak about the actions of the City Council. After making a couple critical comments directed toward O’Neil, Moreno leveled his criticism at Sidhu.

“We’re supposed to be ‘residents first,’ Mr. Mayor (Sidhu). You said it over and over at the state of the city,” Moreno said. “I’ve sent you email after email, communicated with you to try to meet on this situation and you didn’t have the courtesy to respond to me to try to meet … I want folks to know to I’ve made the effort to reach out to our mayor to work on this issue, since he made the request of me in public to meet with him and work with him. We have yet to work on an issue.”

Fullerton Lays Plans for Future Decisions

Meanwhile, the Fullerton City Council directed staff to research what the city can legally do and check what other California cities have done with mobile home parks before bringing the issue back at its first meeting in July.

“Mr. Saunders kicked the hornets nest here in this town. Much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the mobile home associations, mobile home residents and mobile home owners in Fullerton as well as this City Council,” Councilwoman Jan Flory said.

In the past, Saunders went through similar battles over mobile home park rent increases in Huntington Beach.

The Huntington Beach City Council approved a ballot measure in 2014 that would’ve enacted rent control in mobile home parks, but withdrew it after Saunders ironed out new leases with tenants, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Although there were disagreements among council members on how Fullerton should approach the mobile home rent issue, there wasn’t the verbal battle like what was happening in Anaheim.

Mayor Jesus Silva suggested bringing a rent control ordinance forward.

“The owner is willing to negotiate, but I also want to have something in place in case this does happen to other mobile homes,” Silva said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Fitzgerald said there’s no reason to think other mobile homes will implement major rent hikes like Saunders proposed to Rancho La Paz residents.

“And we have no indication that it will and I guess, my pushback on you — I understand the heart of what you’re saying. Believe me, we have all put pressure on this owner … to back off his original demands. And he has — he gave us every indication that he’s going to,” Fitzgerald said.

She continued, “I just think we need to calm down a little bit. Give this specific situation time to see if it can work out. I always think that letting the people and the private sector work out these problems leads to much better solutions than government coming in and dictating what solutions will be for the entire industry based on one bad apple.”  

Councilman Ahmad Zahra said he was going to work with Vickie Talley, an executive director at Manufactured Housing Educational Trust — a mobile home park special interest group representing parks in Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

During public comment, Talley said, “The rent subsidy program that Mr. Saunders offered is also closely being reevaluated … In fact our office will administer that program as a third party.”

She also said the organization works with owners and residents to help alleviate problems, like what happened at Rancho La Paz and the trust also provides rent subsidies to low-income residents.

“The other issue I’d like to ask about, it is an issue of trust, I know that came up a lot because people have researched John Saunders and they’re feeling that he’s not going to fulfill his word,” Zahra said. “I like to give people the benefit of the doubt … I said this to him, ‘We will be watching you.’”

After reading a Voice of OC article about residents forced from a Westminster mobile home park, Flory said staff should look at a Westminster ordinance that requires mobile home park owners to pay for moving people’s houses or pays a lump sum if the mobile homes can’t be moved.

“I think that the specter of holding that kind of ordinance of a mobile home park owner’s head would bring that person to heel and be more responsive to residents. That would not require rent control,” Flory said.

Councilman Bruce Whitaker voiced his support for Flory’s suggested approach.

“To the extent that we can at least provide our view on that and maybe a little bit of applying some tension to it, to make sure that you, our residents, are treated fairly, I’m certainly in favor of that,” Whitaker said.

In a letter written to Silva attached to the agenda, Saunders pledged no longtime resident will be forced out of Rancho La Paz mobile home park due to rents.

“We also understand that certain of the residents truly cannot afford the increased rent and pledge that, as long as we are treated fairly, no existing long-time tenant will be forced from the park due to an inability to pay all or any portion of the rent increase,” Saunders wrote.  

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Rosemary Mccloud, Rancho La Paz resident, Fullerton. “We really need you to take a very strong action because you are not going to see these people homeless on the streets. They are not just being run out of the park, they are being run out of the state of California. I can tell you right now people I’ve spoken to one is going to to Utah, one to Arizona and another one, believe or not, as far as Tennessee, somewhere they can live on the money they have available to use.”

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

June Perez, resident of Rancho La Paz mobile home, Fullerton. 76 years old. “I just hope and pray you will not lose interest in us because we will become your problem if we are displaced, and because there are no laws on the books from Sacramento to the city or county that will prevent us from having 40, 55, 70 percent increases in our rent, and thats just the land we are setting on.”

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Genovea Garcia Devern, Ranch La Paz resident, Anaheim. “With my heart and my hand I ask, to protect us and help us so there is no rent increase, because this affects all of us seniors and veterans that live here. There are about 700 residents who are suffering this stressful situation with depression and stress, some of us are prone to heart attacks, some are even contemplating suicide because we can’t pay the rent increase.”

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Ana Ramos, Anaheim Resident. “Im here to partially support rent control its not for everybody, not everyone qualifies. In the long time it harming more to the city than the goodness that it does, seniors truly need it because they don’t have another way to live, also who leaves the veterans? They shouldn’t even have to pay rent.”