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Rent Control for Mobile Homes Is Hot Anaheim Election Issue

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A battle over rent control in mobile home parks is overshadowing three other measures on Tuesday’s special election ballot, including one that could result in a tax increase to pay for more police and fire services.

Voters will also decide whether City Council members should get a big raise and consider changing how Anaheim’s mayor is selected.

Turnout is expected to be low, because Tuesday’s election comes two weeks before a state primary election and because of an absentee ballot campaign being waged by both sides on the rent measure. Absentee ballots “may well be the key to the election,” City Councilman Bob D. Simpson said.

Mobile home park tenants angry about what they see as unfair rent increases were the leaders of the drive to place a rent-control measure on the ballot. Measure A would scale back current mobile home rents to 1988 levels and limit future annual increases to the inflation rate, not to exceed 8%.

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Owners of county mobile home parks, fearing that the Anaheim measure could set an unwelcome precedent, have banded together and contributed more than $100,000 to fight the initiative. People favoring the rent control measure have raised about $4,000.

“It’s still almost a one-issue election,” Allan Hughes, executive director of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, said about rent control.

Since 1987, when an initiative for rent control was declared invalid because of wording on the petitions used to collect signatures, residents of mobile home parks have been waging a diligent grass-roots campaign to pass a rent control law.

The Anaheim Political Action Committee, which organized the rent control movement, holds that owners are raising rents to force out tenants so the land can be sold to developers.

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Owners argue that Measure A would unfairly restrict their ability to do business and would result in mobile home parks being closed and sold.

There are 26 parks and 3,722 mobile homes in Anaheim. City officials estimate that start-up expenses for the ordinance will be $422,500, with administrative expenses of $466,650 annually after that.

However, in San Juan Capistrano--the only county city with a mobile home rent control ordinance--officials said those estimates seem high.

The three other ballot measures have received less attention. Measure D, an advisory vote, asks residents whether they are willing to pay more taxes to increase police and fire protection. If approved, the City Council would hold public hearings to discuss the amount of the tax and how long it would be levied.

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The city attorney has estimated that the tax would cost about $60 per household annually and would generate $5 million a year for police, fire and paramedic personnel and equipment. If approved, the tax is expected to become long-term or permanent, because once more personnel are hired their pay would be an ongoing expense.

The Police Department is lobbying strongly for Measure D. The Anaheim Police Department has 340 sworn officers, about 1.3 per 1,000 residents; the county’s average is 1.47 officers per 1,000 residents.

“I think all of us are praying it will pass,” Police Lt. Ray Welch said. “We’re inundated with calls for service, and we don’t have the personnel to handle them.”

However, some people are skeptical that residents will favor Measure D because of its vague wording.

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“I think people are really reluctant to give the government a blank check and say, ‘OK, raise our taxes. We don’t know how much you’re going to raise them or for how long, but go ahead and raise them,’ ” said Hughes of the Chamber of Commerce.

Others called the tax unfair because it asks all residents to pay the same price, even though some neighborhoods need more police and fire services than others. Critics of Mayor Fred Hunter say Measure D, which he initiated, is his way of fulfilling a campaign promise to hire more police officers.

“I’m not sure this is the best way to go,” Councilman Tom Daly said. “I have a lot questions in my mind, and I’m going to have to have some great answers before I move ahead with a citywide assessment district.”

Measures B and C are both changes to the City Charter.

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Measure C would raise the monthly salaries of City Council members to $1,000, the state maximum. Monthly salaries now are $400 for council members and $800 for the mayor. If Measure C passes, all salaries would be equal.

Measure B could drastically change Anaheim politics by opening candidacy for the mayor to any registered voter in the city. The measure would also increase the mayor’s term from two to four years and create a separate seat for mayor so a person could not run for both mayor and City Council.

Under the current City Charter, only council members who have served for at least two years may run for mayor. In the last two mayoral elections, Hunter and Councilman Irv Pickler have opposed one another; they spent $100,000 between them the first time and more than $500,000 in November.

Some say opening the mayor’s race to non-council members will bring badly needed new blood to city politics. They argue that the Hunter-Pickler duel, or one like it, could continue indefinitely if new candidates are not allowed in the race.

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But Miriam Kaywood, a former councilwoman, warned that allowing anyone to run for mayor could open the door to special-interest groups that could wage expensive campaigns for sympathetic candidates.

“I hope the voters will see how important these changes are,” Kaywood said.

City officials had tried unsuccessfully to postpone Tuesday’s election until March 19, when Anaheim voters will go to the polls in a primary for the 35th District state Senate seat that was vacated by John Seymour when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate.

BALLOT MEASURES

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These are the ballot measures that Anaheim voters will decide on Tuesday:

Measure A--Mobile Home Rent Control

Would roll back current mobile home park rents to 1988 levels and limit annual rent increases to the annual inflation rate, not to exceed 8%. Would require park owners and residents to pay an annual fee to defray administrative costs of the ordinance, and would establish a Mobilehome Rent Review Commission to authorize any additional rent increases.

Measure B--Direct Election of Mayor

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Would change the City Charter to allow any registered voter in the city to run for mayor. Only City Council members who have served two years may now run. Would expand mayor’s term from two to four years and create the position as a separate council seat, so a person could not run for both the council and mayor.

Measure C--City Council Salary Limit

Would change the City Charter to increase monthly salaries of the mayor and City Council members to $1,000, the state maximum for cities comparable in population to Anaheim. Council members now receive $400 monthly, and the mayor receives $800 a month.

Measure D--Advisory Vote on the Financing of New Police, Fire and Paramedic Services

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Asks residents whether they are willing to tax themselves for more emergency services. City Council will use the information to determine whether there is support for a citywide tax, estimated to cost about $60 per property parcel.


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