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Hit the Road : RV Park Dwellers Facing Crackdown on 90-Day Tenant Limit

Times Staff Writer

Margaret Carlson admits she doesn’t live in the lap of luxury. But, modest as it is, Carlson’s life in a cozy, 40-foot-long trailer at the Casitas Poquitas recreational vehicle park has suited her just fine.

Since moving to the park six years ago, the 77-year-old grandmother has kept busy, playing bridge with other longtime residents of the 141-space facility or enjoying one of the monthly potluck dinners. As Carlson sees it, Casitas Poquitas has been much more than a campground--it has been a friendly little community.

Now, however, the elderly widow is worried that her happy existence is about to be spoiled.

City officials have decided to begin enforcing a long-dormant law requiring visitors to Oceanside’s handful of recreational vehicle parks--designed as temporary campgrounds for vacationers--to move on after 90 days.

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For Carlson and other residents of Casitas Poquitas, some of them fixtures at the park since it opened in the late 1970s, that’s bad news. The tenants figure they’ll soon be forced to leave and some say they have no place to go.

“I’m a nervous wreck. I’ve been half-sick over it,” Carlson said one morning last week while chain-smoking cigarettes at her kitchen table. “This is my little home. I don’t want to go live in an apartment where you don’t even know your neighbor.”

Park residents are especially miffed that city officials have decided to begin enforcing a law that had been ignored for years. Indeed, several tenants said they were totally unaware when they moved in that the 90-day limit existed.

“A whole world has been disrupted here,” said Carole Morris, a Kernville resident who in recent years has spent six months at a time living in a 23-foot motor home at the park with her husband, Roger, when his engineering consulting business brought him to San Diego County. “If that 90-day limit has been a city ordinance this long, it seems like it’s one that should have been enforced a long time ago.”

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The entire affair, she said, has poisoned the pleasant ambiance of Casitas Poquitas, a tidy stretch of asphalt paths and concrete trailer pads separated by neatly painted fences, hedges and rock gardens. Tucked in the folds of a narrow valley off South Hill Street, the park is just a few blocks from the beach and includes amenities such as a pool and a small market.

While sympathetic to the plight of the park’s residents, city officials say they must uphold municipal regulations.

“The bottom line is we should be enforcing the 90-day limit,” said Mike Blessing, city planner. “As far as I know, there’s no way to get out from under that requirement.”

City officials say that, until recently, they had been unaware that visitors to the park were staying longer than 90 days. The matter was brought to their attention, oddly enough, when a Casitas Poquitas resident stormed into City Hall to complain about a recent rent increase at the park.

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While the city has rent-control regulations for mobile home parks, those restrictions do not apply to RV facilities. What caught the attention of city officials, however, was word that visitors to Casitas Poquitas had been staying there for years at a time.

A city code enforcement officer was dispatched to the park and, after verifying that some residents had been year-round tenants, turned the matter over to city planners. Planning Department officials expect to hold a meeting sometime this week to determine how to go about the ticklish task of asking longtime residents to vacate the park. So far, residents of the park have been given no eviction date.

While many of the park’s tenants live in campers or buses that can be easily relocated, others are housed in hefty trailers that are anything but mobile. Carlson’s trailer, for instance, will have to be towed by a large truck at a price that she can’t afford with the $382 Social Security check she gets each month.

“I feel like we’ve gotten a rotten deal,” said Carlson, a slight, bespectacled woman with long, gray hair. “You can’t get into a trailer park up and down the coast. I don’t know where I’ll go.”

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The operator of Casitas Poquitas, meanwhile, is confident that a compromise can be struck with city officials so that many longtime residents can stay.

Song Ramboldt, who began running Casitas Poquitas about a month ago, said she feels that the city will be willing to allow residents to comply with the law by driving their vehicles out of the park for a 24-hour period, then return. For residents of trailers that are more difficult to move, Ramboldt said, arrangements could be made so they could stay beyond the 90-day limit until they have sold their unit or found a new park.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Ramboldt said. “The city has better things to do.”

But residents like Morris are not so sure. They worry that city officials will doggedly enforce the law now that the issue has surfaced.

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“Some people have been talking about going to the City Council,” Morris said. “But if they make an exception with us, they’d probably have a chain reaction that would have too many ramifications. If they allow us to stay here, they’d have to do it for other parks.”

Several of the park’s permanent residents--about half the population in recent years--have already moved on because of the dispute, Morris said.

Moreover, some seasonal visitors have vowed to never return because the 90-day rule would put a crimp in their plans. The park has traditionally been a nest for so-called “Snow Birds"--visitors from Canada and the Pacific Northwest who flee the winter cold, staying for months at a time.

“For a lot of retired people, this park had become a way a life,” said Morris, 46. “It was like a big family reunion, the same people showing up year after year. They’d play golf together or have card games. Then they’d go home when the snow melts.”

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According to Carlson, Casitas Poquitas residents developed an unusual bond. Indeed, when Carlson had cataract surgery, her neighbors took turns helping her cook and do household chores.

“It’s just a swell class of people,” Carlson said. “Now everyone is moving out.”

In the meantime, Carlson figures she’s stuck. Although friends say the whole matter could blow over, Carlson is not so optimistic.

“How do they think I’m going to look in the city dump?” she said. “The way this is going, that’s about the only place I can think of that will take me.”

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