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Mobile Home Zoning Plan Deepens Dispute in Carson

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Carson’s beleaguered mobile home residents have gone on the offensive, asking the City Council to approve an increasingly popular measure that would create a special zone for mobile home parks and make it all but impossible to shut one down.

Although the council did not discuss the proposal, referring it to the Planning Commission for review, its place on last week’s agenda has set the stage for the next battle of the Carson Mobile Home Wars. Park owners are already talking about a lawsuit if the ordinance passes.

For more than a decade, the well-organized mobile home residents have played an important role in municipal politics, gaining rent control for mobile homes in 1979, some relocation benefits in 1985 in case of park closings and more substantial benefits in 1989.

But in the last two years, the 2,700 mobile home households have seen those gains threatened with the closure of one park, plans to close three more and rumors of other pending sales as owners have sought to cash in on escalating land values.

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Coni Hathaway, co-chair of Homeowners Against Rent Decontrol, the city’s largest mobile homeowners organization, said the proposed ordinance was an effort to halt the wave of closures.

“We realize we are not going to stop them all,” she said. “What we have requested is a zone for mobile home parks so that if they are sold, they can remain mobile home parks. . . . Mobile homes in the city of Carson have provided affordable housing for senior citizens and families.”

According to the proposed ordinance, all parks in residential and commercial zones would become part of a new mobile home park zone. The proposed law would prevent park owners from closing down a park and converting the land to another use without a zoning change.

Mobile home residents in Carson have talked of a mobile home zoning ordinance since 1982.

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Similar ordinances are in effect in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, San Marcos, Escondido, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Chula Vista, Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and unincorporated portions of Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The proposed Carson ordinance differs from most of the others because it would also require an owner to give park residents six months to determine whether they want to buy the park.

The council meeting was filled with members of the homeowners organization Tuesday. The proposal also brought out park owners. They have kept a low profile since losing a bitter legal battle over the validity of signatures for a ballot measure to eliminate much of the city’s mobile home rent control ordinance last year.

The owners, who are suing to overturn the rent control and relocation assistance ordinances, promptly vowed to fight passage of the proposed ordinance.

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J. William Finkel, a Rancho Palos Verdes resident who is a part-owner of the Imperial Avalon park, said the stakes are high.

“If this new ordinance comes into effect, you are going to have a great many more lawsuits that are going to run into millions of dollars,” he said.

Because mobile home dwellers are only 8% of the city’s population, Finkel said, “what we intend to do is make up a newsletter and circularize it among the total population of the city and let them know where this money is going.”

Edward W. Jong said the ordinance would prevent the city from converting Avalon Boulevard between Carson Street and the San Diego (405) Freeway into “a major automobile dealers’ row. . . . This would bring in more revenues.”

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Carolyn Carlburg, an attorney representing Colony Cove Mobile Estates and Carson Harbor Village, the city’s two largest mobile home parks, said that state law appears to bar the sort of ordinance proposed by the residents.

She asserted that the ordinance, taken together with rent control and relocation assistance, amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property.

Urging that the city attorney review the proposal, Carlburg said, “Then we will come back to you when you have to make that hard political decision, and we will give all the good political reasons and public policy reasons why you should not do so, as well.”

In an interview later, she warned: “If the city continues on this course, they will be in perpetual litigation. Mobile home parks in Carson are located on major commercial thoroughfares. The owners are not going to lay down and let this happen. They have not collected market rates for 10 years.”

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But Art Eaton, president of the Imperial Avalon Acquisition Assn., which is trying to buy the Imperial Avalon park from its owners, said policy reasons dictate that Carson retain its mobile home parks.

“It is essential that the stock of low- and moderate-income housing be maintained in this city (for it) to remain eligible for state and federal funding that is needed in this city. Mobile home parks represent a substantial part of the low- and moderate-income housing stock in this city,” he said.

And in the sole comment from the council, Councilwoman Sylvia Muise, a longtime supporter of mobile home residents’ interests, criticized park owners.

“The council shouldn’t make political decisions, if you will, when we are dealing with people’s lives and the place that they live. . . . I really resent some of the comments that were made by some of the speakers,” she said. “If we are doing something that is helpful and beneficial to the mobile home residents, it is helpful and beneficial to the entire city of Carson.”

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Mary Pearson, 74, a Bel Air park resident, said: “I’m an old hand in Carson. I lived here before it was a city. . . . Now they are destroying the mobile home parks. Some are already gone. So I feel nervous about that. I don’t think it is a good idea for people to feel nervous about whether they are going to lose their homes or not. If we had a mobile home park zone, maybe it would stop.”

Despite opposition from the residents lobby, Citation park closed in May, the Carson Avalon and El Rancho parks have filed for permission to close, and owners of the Bel Abbey park have informed city officials that they intend to close.


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