Goleta is a newly incorporated City, about three years old, located just to the north of the City of Santa Barbara. It has four rent-controlled parks, and one very wealthy park owner who absolutely hates rent control and is willing to do almost anything to get rid of it.
The owner is Daniel M. Guggenheim of Newport Beach, an independently wealthy developer who has decided to buy up a few mobile home parks and use his wealth to scare cities into getting rid of rent control. Well, his tactic worked almost everywhere, but not in Goleta. So he found a couple of opportunistic loopholes in local/state/federal laws and filed a suit in the Federal Ninth Circuit Court, claiming that our ordinance was unconstitutional. Here’s what he did.
First, he discovered that the City of Goleta, at the time of its incorporation, had missed a deadline to transfer the rent control ordinance from County (Santa Barbara) jurisdiction over to City (Goleta) jurisdiction. That allowed him the opportunity to claim that the City’s Ordinance was “new law” and could therefore have its constitutionality challenged in Federal court. Well, in order to challenge it, he then needed to find a legal basis on which to challenge. He found it in the City of Cotati Case (which you all should know was appealed and reversed). But he hurried into Federal Court with the initial findings of Cotati (that rent control was unconstitutional), and equally hurriedly asked for a summary decision–—which the City of Goleta, just weeks old, failed to challenge. The judge had no choice but to find this Ordinance to be unconstitutional, so Guggenheim set about immediately to raise rents three-fold.
After much debate and coaxing from mobilehome owners, the Goleta City Council filed to appeal the Guggenheim decision. While this case was in the Federal appeals court, the Cotati case, in the very same appeals court, was reversed. This caused the Court to remand the Guggenheim back to the Federal Trial Court to be reheard on grounds that did not include the Cotati arguments. The trial date is set for June 6th before Judge Cooper, who heard the original case.
Mobilehome residents in Goleta have formed a coalition which has found success in coaxing the City of Goleta to defend the lawsuit more vigorously the second time around. The Coalition has also hired an attorney who has taken up the cause with a greater than expected exuberance, and who is also working in concert with the City’s effort to mount a strong challenge to the suit.
One of the most puzzling facts about this whole matter is that groups such as GSMOL, CMRAA, and MHOC have failed to realize the importance of this case. There is a feeling among many of the mobilehome residents in neighboring communities in Santa Barbara County (which has a duplicate ordinance) that should the Goleta ordinance fail to be upheld, that their county regulated ordinance would fall as well. Numerous Santa Barbara parks have sent small donations to help Goleta’s mobilehome owners, and believe me, the Goleta Coalition appreciates them all. We’re literally in the fight of our lives. In the park that Guggenheim owns, he has also filed with the City to convert the park to a subdivision (condo-type), and has filed to CLOSE the park as well. And to rub a little salt in the wounds, he is preparing to file suit in Superior court to overturn an arbitrator’s decision regarding our 2005 rent increase (that’s right, 2005—we have already been noticed for our 2006 rent increase to begin April 1).
All we can say about this whole matter is that it never ceases to amaze us that certain people with such enormous wealth can so easily put on a pair of blinders and simply not care about the financial destruction that he can cause for so many.
Article written by Dennis Shelly, Spokesperson, Goleta Mobile Home Owners Coalition (GMHOC), 7465 Hollister Ave., Sp. 423, Goleta, CA 93117.