Council moves ahead with ordinance to keep senior mobile home parks

More than 50 mobile home residents stood in solidarity in Huntington Beach City Council chambers Monday, many of them holding signs that read, "Keep our senior parks as senior parks."

They stood in silence as City Clerk Joan Flynn read into the record proposed ordinance that would make the city the first in Orange County to allow senior mobile home parks to keep their age-restricted status.

Then, after the council voted 6 to 1 to approve the first reading of the law, the crowd of seniors burst into applause.

"Knowing people who live in a senior park, the social part of being in a senior community is really important," Councilwoman Jill Hardy said. "When a park becomes all ages, that weakens the community that was there for the seniors. It's a little bit harder to get a card club going or something that seniors would be interested in that a family with young children [would not be interested in]."

Mayor Matthew Harper cast the dissenting vote on grounds that the law could interfere with property values and rights.

"What impact does this have, not just on rents but on property value?" he said. "Government action doesn't exist in a vacuum, and it does have consequences, unintended or not."

Ten of the 18 mobile home parks in the city are currently labeled seniors only. Minimum ages for residents vary from park to park, but most of them adopted 55.

The ordinance, if it receives final approval, would make it more difficult for mobile home park owners to convert their properties from seniors only to all ages. Owners would have to go through a bureaucratic process to change the property's zoning.

The final council vote on the proposed ordinance is expected within the next two months. The goal for supporters is to enact it before a moratorium barring senior park owners from switching the status of their properties to all ages expires April 30.

"I'm happy that we've been able to find a way to support and protect our senior home parks after a very long time of hearing about the horror stories," Councilman Joe Shaw said.

If passed, the ordinance could end up helping to stabilize rents for seniors.

While proposed law does not attempt to control rents, it would preserve senior parks, and they tend to charge lower rates than all-ages communities, Councilwoman Connie Boardman said.

Shaw cited Huntington Shorecliffs mobile home park, where senior residents at the all-ages community said they have been displaced since 2008 by rent increases.

Sharon Dana, who lives in the park, told council members that her monthly rent went from $500 to $1,700.

"In many instances, you have spent all your money on your home," she said. "You can no longer afford the rent because when it changes to a family park, the rents jump tremendously."

Said city Planning Director Scott Hess about the proposed ordinance,

"It's really just to create additional options for senior citizens by keeping it senior residential."

A few council members asked whether the proposed ordinance could lead to lawsuits.

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said she is confident that the ordinance can be defended, since the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a similar ordinance adopted in Yucaipa.

Owners of Rancho Huntington Senior Mobile Home Park have threatened to sue the city, McGrath said, but added they have not yet taken action.

Councilman Dave Sullivan said residents who move into a senior park would be unfairly impacted by a sudden switch in status.

"My problem is that somebody goes in and buys a mobile home and puts it in a park that they are told, and is advertised as, a senior park, and then somebody pulls the rug from under them and changes it from being a senior park," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's immoral."

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