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City Rescinds Mobile Park Rent Limits : Oxnard: The council action settles a suit by owners. Frequent catcalls from coach owners nearly disrupt the session.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In an action that settles a lawsuit by park owners, a divided Oxnard City Council voted Thursday to remove limits on mobile home rent increases when the units change hands.

With the 3-2 decision, the council amended the city’s 1982 rent-stabilization ordinance for mobile home parks, which limited monthly rent increases to $50 when a mobile home is sold.

The change takes effect on Oct. 1. Affected are owners of 21 mobile home parks in Oxnard and residents of 2,725 mobile homes who rent spaces in the parks.

More than 100 mostly elderly park residents attended Thursday’s meeting, many saying that without rent limits, their attempts to sell their mobile homes would be stymied.

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Their frequent catcalls nearly disrupted testimony at times. After one outburst, Mayor Nao Takasugi threatened to clear council chambers unless the park tenants calmed down.

Along with amending the ordinance, the council approved a seven-year agreement with the park owners in which they agreed to drop a $100-million lawsuit challenging the city’s rent control over park vacancies.

In backing the settlement, City Atty. Gary Gillig said the city was vulnerable to the challenge because a seminal court case in Santa Barbara that overturned vacancy controls has not been reversed by a court of appeal.

But Don Lincoln, an attorney representing the tenants, told the council that a flurry of lower-court reversals of the case, Hall vs. Santa Barbara, suggests that an eventual appeal to a higher court would be successful.

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The settlement presented the council with “an opportunity to buy peace from park owners for seven years,” Gillig said, adding that because of the legal threat, the city was in a weak position.

In supporting the amendment, park attorney John Pentecost said current law still requires vacancy decontrol. Any changes to the settlement, he said, would threaten the chances of an agreement with park owners.

Obtaining the approval of all 21 park owners to further amendments would be an “insurmountable task,” Pentecost said.

But the amendment, which also allows a rise in rent increases from 75% of the Consumer Price Index to the amount of the full index, was called “morally and ethically wrong” by Councilwoman Dorothy Maron.

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Park residents blasted the council for first approving the amendment at its Aug. 6 meeting.

“You should not kowtow to greedy park owners,” Betsy Penrose said.

Jessie June, a resident of Oxnard Pacific Mobile Home Park, said the park was already evading vacancy controls by insisting that new buyers sign five-year leases. Long-term leases are exempt from the rent-stabilization ordinance, she said.

Because of the rent uncertainties created by the lease requirement, June said, none of the 24 coaches for sale in the park since January have been sold.

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Another tenant, Nella Freisen, told the council Oxnard is out of step with other cities in California. “Most of the cities are fighting, and winning,” she said.

By entering into the agreement with the park owners, said John Fiorello of the Oxnard Mobile Home Owners Advisory Council, Oxnard will lock in vacancy decontrol even if the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates Hall vs. Santa Barbara.

Councilman Manuel Lopez joined Maron in opposing the amendment.


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