Senior mobile home park issue heats up

Residents of a senior mobile home park in Huntington Beach are furious about a memo they received last week telling them the park would soon be open to all ages, an apparent reaction by the owner of the property to the city's intention to restrict such conversions.

Folks from the Rancho Huntington Mobile Park on Brookhurst Street appeared at a meeting Monday of city's Mobile Home Advisory Board and vented their anger over the notice. During the meeting, city staff alerted the nine-member board that an ordinance restricting such action was being written.

Residents of the mobile home park said they found the note, from an "authorized agent of the owner," posted on their doors July 16. The notice said that while the owner had no intentions of changing the status of the park before, the change in thinking came after the council's vote to draft the ordinance and moratorium to "preserve our legal rights."

The letter also said the owner is considering keeping the property as a senior park "for a fixed period of time while the [homeowners association] and management" work out a deal for a long-term lease.

"Unfortunately, that is the law. We have to follow the law in regards to notices," said Amber Monte, a newly appointed board member who represents the owers of Rancho Huntington. "The notices certainly weren't our intention to harass. We were simply following the law."

An authority with the state Department of Housing and Community Development said it is up to the owner of a property whether and when to notify residents of any status change. In Huntington Beach, those who favor protecting senior housing are hoping a moratorium will prevent owners from making a change before an ordinance is drafted.

Monte said a meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the park to discuss the memo.

Betsy Crimi, a resident at Rancho, said she considered the management's actions a "form of elder abuse."

"Yes, the owners are willing to come and speak with us, but the damage has already been done to our frail and elderly in our park," the 73-year-old said.

This month, Councilman Jim Katapodis introduced a resolution directing city staff to draft an ordinance that would restrict the conversion of senior parks to family, or all-ages, parks.

Huntington Beach has 18 mobile home parks, eight of which are set aside for seniors.

The city's deputy economic development director, Kellee Fritzal, told board members that the ordinance would aim to impose an overlay district for the eight senior parks, requiring park owners to go through city and planning officials, she said.

"It doesn't deny [park owners], it just creates city involvement in that change," Fritzal said.

The board is expected to receive the draft ordinance by its next meeting in late October, Fritzal said. She added that a moratorium is also being drawn up to prevent senior parks from converting during the drafting process.

"We had no intention of changing the status of the community, but the actions of the City Council really forced us," Monte said on behalf of the park owners. "So if you're going to be angry at anyone, you should be angry with the City Council."

Residents in the room groaned and booed after Monte made her statement and three or four people left the meeting before it ended.

Crimi said it's the city's job to protect seniors.

Board member Vickie Talley, however, told those in attendance that the board is there to look out for the interests of mobile home park owners and all park residents, not just seniors.

"I began this [statement] by saying I didn't know we were here just representing seniors, and we're not," she said. "We're here representing the entire mobile home park industry in the city of Huntington Beach."

Maura Van Strien has lived in Rancho Huntington for 10 years and said she wasn't expecting to receive such a notice on her door.

She said the park was the place where she and her husband intended to retire. And at 64, she doesn't want to sign a long-term lease and pay higher rent, which they may not be able to afford.

"We didn't expect this kind of thing at our age. We didn't expect to be run out of our homes," Van Strien said. "We've worked our whole lives, we bought our home and paid for it, we paid our taxes and I hate to say it, but now we're victims. We're in a situation we're we can't change [locations]."

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