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By PK Hattis | Source |

CAPITOLA — The Capitola City Council voted unanimously Thursday to add mobile home rent stabilization measures to its municipal code just days before a steep increase in rental prices for residents of Cabrillo Mobile Home Estates Park were set to roll out.

The decision came after weeks of protest from residents of Cabrillo Mobile Home Estates Park who said that the park’s private owner had informed them that their rents would increase 56% from $641 to $1,000 beginning June 1 after expiration of an existing 12-year lease.

The ordinance, requiring a four-fifths majority, took immediate effect after its passage Thursday night.

Among other things, it sets a maximum allowable annual rent increase slightly higher than the consumer price index or the park’s base rent, whichever amount is lower. It also includes exemptions for other mobile home parks already under long-term leases or operating with more protective agreements.

“Raising my rent would significantly impact the quality of my health care, necessitating adjustments to my prescriptions,” said Cabrillo Estates resident and president of its homeowners association John Hakin prior to the vote. “I urge you to vote for the rent stabilization ordinances so we can continue to live here and that I can afford my health care. And it would take a lot of stress off a lot of people.”

The council chambers was standing room only, packed full with more than 70 people in attendance, the vast majority of whom were in support of the ordinance and were either residents of the 68-space park themselves or neighbors and friends.

Many speakers from the public voiced concern for the residents, many of whom are elderly, live on a low or fixed income, or come from underserved communities.

“The possibility of losing all this because we can’t pay rent is horrible. I love the social interaction, I love seeing and talking to the children, I love the laughter and greeting people as they walk by while I’m gardening,” said Dianne Delisle who is 83. “The idea that even if I could hang in for a while, many of my neighbors would be gone, especially the children. And that makes me extremely sad.”

Ordinance overview
According to the staff report, the ordinance sets a maximum allowable annual rent increase at 5% plus the consumer price index or up to 10% of the base rent, whichever is lower. The base rent is the rent as of May 25.

It also includes a process for resident disputes and allows owners to raise the base rent of spaces that become vacant by 15%.

Ordinance exemptions include spaces that are subject to a lease longer than 12 months; newly constructed spaces; spaces where the tenant does not claim the space as a principal residence; spaces subject to an agreement that offers more protection than the ordinance; parks that are owned by residents.

The majority of the city’s eight mobile home parks are exempt under these conditions, with the exception of Cabrillo Estates and possibly some residents at Surf and Sand Mobile Home Park, according to the staff report.

The Cabrillo Estates owner, Linda Vieira of Vieira Enterprises, did not respond to multiple Sentinel requests for comment on Friday, but did call into the meeting Thursday to voice opposition.

“There are several severe elements of this restrictive legislation that we oppose, but unfortunately not having received adequate notice, we cannot fully articulate our details of the opposition,” remarked Vieira, saying she did not receive notice of the agenda item by the city. “Therefore, we urge the council to forbear adoption of this unworkable ordinance at this time.”

City Clerk Julia Moss confirmed that the agenda had been posted more than 72 hours in advance of the meeting in accordance with state requirements in the Brown Act.

Mark Alpert, who said he represented Surf and Sand about 15 years ago during a lengthy litigation from a previous rent control ordinance that resulted in a settlement and various long-term leases, also called in to voice opposition.

“I don’t think you’ve had enough time to think about the potential litigation costs that are very, very likely to result from making the decisions to adopt rent control,” said Alpert, adding that he thought possible litigation from Surf and Sand was “very likely.”

Council comments

Ultimately, four councilmembers voted in approval of the ordinance, with a recusal from Mayor Margaux Keiser who lives within 500 feet of a park subject to the new code.

Vice Mayor Kristen Brown took exception to comments suggesting the council hadn’t fully thought through the action or was moved by its “emotional appeal,” calling the remarks “a little bit insulting.”

“I’m a renter and the entirety of the time I’ve been on council I’ve had to move twice and twice I didn’t know if I was going to be able to find a place I could afford to live,” said Brown. “If I were to now be faced with a 56% rent increase I would not be able to afford it.”

One Spanish-speaking resident of Cabrillo Estates told the council, with translation from Capitola police officer Jaime Ponciano, that she was very concerned about the impact of the potential rent increase, but did not have enough resources available to help her understand what action was being considered.

City Manager Jamie Goldstein, in response to a question from Councilmember Joe Clarke, confirmed the city does not currently translate its ordinances.

“I’m hoping that’s something we can get done,” said Clarke who also advocated for expanded Spanish-language outreach for “something like this that affects so many of our citizens.”

Councilmember Yvette Brooks echoed Clarke’s request for multilingual information sharing, adding she was “proud” to support passage of the ordinance.

“This affects real people’s lives – senior’s lives, children’s lives and the workers in our community,” said Brooks, “and its our responsibility – my responsibility – as your representative to ensure everyone has an opportunity to thrive here.”

The council also approved the first reading of another ordinance that is substantively the same as the urgency ordinance, but is intended as a more long-term replacement that will provide an extra layer of protection against potential challenges.

That ordinance is on track to replace the immediate ordinance and take effect by July 8.

[Ed. Note: From the day the residents of Cabrillo first engaged with GSMOL to the May 23 City Council meeting was two months to the day, an amazingly short time to get an RSO in place!]

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