No walk in the park

Colette Chaillou has been a resident at Pacific Mobile Home Park for more than 20 years. Over the years, she built many memories and a well-kept garden full of lilacs, roses and orchids.

But she may have to let it all go.

"I don't think it's right," she said as she sat on her couch on a Monday afternoon caressing her dog, Misty. "This is my home, my place. My little garden is here."

Huntington Beach is in the middle of plans to widen Atlanta Avenue where the mobile home park meets the corner of Huntington Street and Atlanta. The city is widening Atlanta between Huntington and Delaware streets to bring it into compliance with its general plan and the county's Master Plan of Arterial Highways, according to a city staff report.

Widening the street seems like a simple enough goal. But in order for the city to do so, it will need additional property that is now inhabited by eight mobile homes with mostly elderly residents.

The case represents a classic example of the tension that arises between local municipalities and the people they serve when projects such as the street-widening impact the livelihood of residents. Although the city would compensate them in accordance with federal guidelines, the move would disrupt the residents, especially those who thought they would spend the rest of their lives there.

"Eminent domain always presents challenges, and my position is they need to be used only when necessary," said Councilman Don Hansen. "My goal would be to make sure any displacement or challenges provide the least disruption that we can."

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said the city is not exercising eminent domain because "we will have to negotiate or at some point reach an agreement with the individual coach owner and the property owner."

If the property owner or the residents challenge the project, the city has the right to exercise eminent domain, which would need the council's approval, said Travis Hopkins, director of public works.

Chaillou said she's in limbo, and not sure when it will happen and if it will happen because the city has not provided her with the details.

The 72-year-old, who lives on a fixed income, said she can't afford hiring a moving company to relocate her, nor can she do it on her own.

"If I move, I'm going to take every plant with me," she said. "They better give me a garden."

Sue Rock, 51, and her husband will also have to move if the city begins construction.

"None of us are happy," she said. "I don't think they need to widen the street. Traffic is never a problem except on the Fourth of July."

Atlanta is identified as a major arterial in Huntington Beach, which requires a sidewalk, curb, gutter, a bike lane and two lanes in each direction. The area in need of widening has only one lane in each direction.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman said the widening will address many safety concerns.

"If you were to ride a bike down Atlanta on a summer day, I think you'd see the safety issues that would come up there," she said.

The project first came up in 2006 when it was added to the Federal Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The city is receiving funds from the Federal Highway Administration through the Orange County Transportation Authority and from the state for the project, the staff report said. The project is expected to cost $3.2 million, Hopkins said.

Chaillou, who said she likes her corner and neighbors, said there are many vacant units in the same park and the city can simply move them there.

But before the city can acquire the additional needed property or negotiate with the owner and residents — which represent the second phase of the project — it must receive federal authorization, which is currently underway, according to the report.

The city expects the approval of the second phase to come from Caltrans within the next month, Hopkins said. Once approved, the relocation plan process with the residents and the park owners will begin, he said.

Hopkins said the city will do all it can to accommodate the wishes of the residents, which could also include moving them within the same mobile home park.

Some residents are not looking to stay there.

Thor Ballew and his wife, Caitlyn, moved to their mobile home six years ago right after getting married. They wanted to enjoy a small place near the beach before moving to Long Beach or even to Northern California.

They started thinking about moving two years ago, but found themselves stuck, Ballew, 40, said. They can't sell their home because no one will buy it knowing it will be seized by the city for a street project, he said.

Hopkins said the city would pay fair market value for the Ballews' home.

Complicating matters is a lawsuit that was brought on by the mobile home owners, who say the city isn't following the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The city prepared a mitigated negative declaration to determine the effects the project will have on the residents. But the owners say it's not enough to show the impact the project will have on those who will have to move and those who are adjacent to where the construction is planned, said Mark Alpert, the attorney representing the park owners.

The project will include construction of a wall next to some of the remaining residents, which will impact their quality of life, he said.

"I think our client's ultimate goal would be, 'It would be great if it's stopped, but if it's not stopped, it should be done in a way that minimizes the impact on the residents,'" Alpert said.

Both the city and Caltrans found an Environmental Impact Report to be unnecessary, Hopkins said.

Hansen and Boardman both said they are happy to meet with any resident who is concerned about the project.

"I would prefer a situation where the owner was working cooperatively with us and was engaging with us in a way that minimizes disruption to the residents and renters," Hansen said.

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