Neighbors at the Green Lantern Village mobile home park in Westminster continued greeting each other Saturday with the good news: “We will remain. Yes, we will remain.”
They exchanged sweet treats and pots of orchids, celebrating a hard-won victory to remain in their homes, capping a fight that they launched nearly three years ago against the property owner who had planned to shut down the park to make way for a luxury development.
That victory came Jan. 16, when Westminster officials terminated the property owner’s application for a permit to allow new development, which lacked an environmental impact report. Tenants rejoiced.
Their saga began in April 2017 when the owner gathered residents to announce that the Beach Boulevard site with 130 spaces had already entered escrow, preparing for a sale. Stunned, the tenants — mostly elderly and disabled people, including veterans and refugees of the Vietnam War, who worried they would be priced out of Orange County’s housing market — vowed to fight the move.
“We were going into the unknown,” said Son Do, a retired custodian who moved to the park in 2011. “Look at us, many low-income, we had no experience with city laws or permits or legal filings. But I can tell you that we showed up at every meeting to share our stories, share our urgency and to explain to people why the place we had chosen to spend the rest of our lives should stay the same.”
Representatives of Walsh Properties had submitted paperwork to the city, asking for a different land-use permit to allow new development. Ross Bartlett, a member of the park owner’s family, told residents that he and relatives had been talking about selling the site for at least a decade.
His grandfather bought the property at the end of World War II, and to keep operating, owners would need to rip up roads inside the park, installing new electrical, water and sewer lines at a likely cost of $3 million, which Bartlett said the family could not afford.
Tenants didn’t believe the “company line.”
“They came in here and delivered this unbelievable decision, and they expected everyone just to accept it? It’s always about money,” said Nho Truong, a 16-year resident. “My wife and I had planned to live out our existence here. I have never paid a bill late, never bounced a check, and one day, I got the form that said my property is worth hardly close to the $131,000 I paid for it.”
His three-bedroom home is one of the largest at the park, he said, and with upgraded floors and countertops and a redesigned garden, it has become his haven. “No one would go willingly,” added the retired bookstore owner who also ran the Dai Nam publishing house.
Truong is among the Vietnamese Americans who occupy about 80% of the park’s 130 units. Residents argued that they would be forced out of the area and that the county would lose affordable housing that it desperately needs.
“We live side by side with Americans who fought in the Vietnam War and other wars. We joined to learn how to fight this battle. We try to protect each other,” said Do, who helped initiate a letter campaign with heart-wrenching stories about residents who came to the U.S. empty-handed, wishing only for a new place to call home.
Supporters are happy that the refugees are ushering in the Lunar New Year with good news.
“Seeing residents come together displayed the importance and need for community advocacy and support for individuals who rely on safe, accessible and affordable housing,” said Lili Graham, litigation counsel for Disability Rights California, a group helping to represent the tenants in their campaign against redevelopment. “The loss of their housing would have been devastating for them and would have worsened the city’s housing shortage.”
Do agreed, adding: “One of the women here had a stroke due to such incredible stress. For months and months, we’ve suffered with loss of sleep, loss of appetite, not sure of where we will end up. Now, a burden is lifted.”