After months of listening to public testimony from mobile home residents, the City Council on Monday night voted to place a measure on the April 12 ballot that would restrict rent increases at the city's 45 mobile home parks.
The proposed ordinance would limit yearly increases to 75% of the rise in the consumer price index or 7% of the existing rent, whichever is lower.
But members of the Bellflower Mobile Home Action Committee--a coalition of mobile home residents who have been urging the council to adopt a rent stabilization program since August--expressed disappointment with the measure.
Gorden Selby, an associate director of the Golden State Mobilehome Owners League, called the city's proposal "a sweetheart ordinance for the park owners." Selby said the committee intends to go ahead with a petition drive to place its own version of the rent-control measure on the June ballot.
"I feel that the city's ordinance was really crafted with best interests of the park owners rather than the mobile home tenants," said Selby, who co-authored the committee's ordinance. "What the city is doing is responding to political pressure. They don't want any rent control. They just tried to construct an ordinance that is the least offensive to park owners."
The committee's proposal, which was submitted to city officials last month, calls for restricting rent increases to 50% of the rise in the consumer price index.
Before casting his vote on Monday, Councilman William Pendelton urged committee members to abandon their efforts and consider the time and money involved in a special election. But Annabelle Silva, a spokeswoman for the group, said members will continue with their plans.
"You bet we're going ahead with this," said Silva, who criticized the council's proposed ordinance for not placing enough restrictions on park owners. "We've come too far to back down now. . . . We want (an ordinance) with some teeth in it."
If the mobile home group's proposal also makes the ballot in April and June, the city could be faced with a situation in which two almost identical rent-control ordinances could be adopted, City Atty. Maurice O'Shea said.
Although members of the mobile home committee argue that their proposed ordinance would supersede the council's because it was drafted by residents and would be adopted by "a vote of the people," O'Shea said he is not sure what the law mandates.
"I haven't really researched that and I hate to speculate," O'Shea said. "We would have in effect two ordinances adopted by the people. Once an ordinance is adopted by the people it cannot be repealed . . . . As far I know something like this has never been adjudicated."
O'Shea said the council has not directed him to research the matter, but he will look into it and report back to the council within the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, Silva said the committee will meet on Jan. 20 to discuss strategy and begin circulating petitions. To put the proposed ordinance on the June ballot, the group must collect about 3,750 signatures, City Clerk Debra Bauchop said.
If the group does not gather enough signatures in time to make the June ballot, it will push to get its measure on the November ballot, Selby said.
Some council members said the committee's petition drive was "a waste of time."
"The thing that undoes me is we spent all this effort at the last five council meetings to put this (ordinance) together and they (mobile home residents) decided to do their own thing anyway," Pendelton said. "Why didn't they just say 'Don't bother, boys'?"
"I think it's stupid," said Mayor Pro Tem Ken Cleveland. "I don't understand why they're doing it. It's a waste of everybody's time."
But Mayor Mike Brassard, who along with Cleveland abstained from the 3-0 vote, was skeptical about the committee's ability to gather enough signatures.
"Let's see if they can get the signatures first," he said. "It takes a lot of work. Let's cross one bridge at a time."
Cleveland and Brassard both said they abstained because they opposed rent control. When asked why he didn't just vote against the measure, Brassard replied: "Let's say I flipped a coin and it came up abstain."
Under the council's ordinance, any dispute involving increases that exceed the guidelines would be handled by the five-member rent review board, whose decision can only be appealed to the courts.
In addition to the consumer price index limits, another major difference between the council's and the committee's ordinance is that the council's version includes a three-year sunset clause. At the end of that time the ordinance would expire unless the council voted to renew it. The committee's version doesn't have that provision.
Under the council's ordinance, some mobile home parks can be exempt from the ordinance if at least 55% of the park's residents vote for such an exclusion. The committee's ordinance would affect all of the city's parks and does not allow for any exemptions.
The council was also expected to vote on whether to place a measure that would establish a redevelopment agency on the April ballot. But at Cleveland's suggestion, the council postponed action. Since a similar proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in 1983, redevelopment has been a dead issue in Bellflower, but it promises once again to become a major campaign issue in the upcoming city council election.
"We have too many things going on the April ballot," Cleveland told the council. "We need time to "make people understand that we are not out to take their property away from them."
The council will consider placing the measure on the June ballot.