Gary Hall started his 20-slide PowerPoint presentation during the Nov. 19 Santa Maria City Council meeting with a joke. He told the council, “Yes, you’re getting tired of looking at me, and I’m getting tired of looking at you, too.”
During a meeting one year ago, Hall argued for the city to adopt some sort of mechanism that limits the amount of annual increase in rent for residents living in mobile home parks. He’s attended almost every meeting since then to repeat this request.
[ED. Note: Gary Hall is President of GSMOL Chapter 1747]
Following his initial comments in 2018, Mayor Alice Patino directed City Manager Jason Stilwell to prepare an item to add to the council’s agenda. This turned into a nearly yearlong process involving various meetings between park owners and residents, with the city acting as a facilitator.
Out of this process came what the city calls an enforceable model lease that City Attorney Thomas Watson said represents a compromise between park owners and residents. At its Nov. 19 meeting, the City Council authorized the city to enter into enforceable agreements with park owners who agree to sign a contract requiring them to offer this model lease to residents if they reach an impasse during their own negations.
This enforceability was one of Hall’s primary requests when he reached out to the city last year on behalf of the North Santa Barbara County Manufactured Homeowners Team. But this group of residents had a list of other terms they were seeking, and those aren’t included in the model lease.
Residents at the meeting asked the City Council to make changes to some of these terms, including one that limits the rate that rent can increase annually. Councilmember Michael Moats also inquired about the council’s ability to make changes to the terms in the model lease, but Watson said the council was only there to vote on the enforcement agreement.
Despite the residents who started this process being unhappy with the outcome, City Council moved forward with the enforceable agreement on a 3-2 vote, with Councilmembers Gloria Soto and Mike Cordero voting against the measure.
Soto told the Sun that she voted no for a few reasons—one being that she doesn’t see the move as enforceable because park owners have to first agree to opt in and sign the contract.
At the meeting, Watson said that so far park owners representing more than 80 percent of the mobile homes in the city have either already signed an agreement or indicated that they will sign an agreement. But he acknowledged the terms in the model lease had to be ones that park owners would accept.
“It may not be the best lease, but the park owners are willing to accept that as something that is legally enforceable against them,” Watson said.
In addition to the terms of the model lease, the city also included a paragraph in the enforcement agreement stating that the city will not pursue a rent control ordinance for the duration of the model lease, which is 10 years.
Lisa Toke, an attorney representing three of the largest parks in Santa Maria, said this item was necessary to include for her clients to sign the agreement. She said her clients, who aren’t totally satisfied with the model lease either, made concessions throughout this process that they otherwise wouldn’t have made without this protection from a rent control ordinance.
On top of her concerns about the document’s enforceability, Soto said she feels like the terms in the model lease don’t provide enough relief to residents who initiated this process last year.
“I think that the residents came to us with a problem, asking us to help them with this problem, and in the end, we didn’t meet their needs,” Soto said.
But other council members didn’t see it that way. Mayor Alice Patino said this satisfies the residents’ request for something enforceable, while still allowing people the opportunity to negotiate their own leases without government interference.
Councilmember Etta Waterfield said that the residents and park owners will never fully agree on lease terms, so there was no sense in delaying a vote. Additionally, she said it seemed like what residents were requesting changed throughout this process.
“This is the best of what both parties came up with, and every time that something was done, the goal posts kept on being moved a little bit more and a little bit more,” Waterfield said.
Hall disagreed with this characterization. He said residents may have offered different methods of reaching their goals—such as an enforceable model lease or a rent control ordinance—but their objectives have always remained the same.
“I tried to re-emphasize the fact that we haven’t changed anything; our goals have remained the same from day one,” Hall told the Sun. “It’s a lack of satisfaction of those goals that causes us to take action.”
While park owners and City Council are ready to move past this issue, Hall isn’t. But he’s not sure what comes next. During a City Council meeting in October, he presented the city with a draft rent control ordinance that he said residents would pursue if the model lease failed to include the provision they were seeking.
“If we honor what we said, we need to press on with the ordinance,” Hall said. “While at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘Holy crap, do I really want to keep poking myself in the eye for another year trying to get something else through that the council’s never going to agree to?’ But does that mean we shouldn’t try?”