BY JASON WALSH, May 4, 2015, 5:01PM 

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“Dear Landlord, please don’t put a price on my soul…”

– Bob Dylan, “Dear Landlord”

Here’s what was making national headlines when Sonoma approved its rent-control ordinance for mobile home parks in 1992:

  • Marginalized inner-city African Americans rioted for nearly a week after urban police brutalized a defenseless black man.
  • Clint Eastwood directed his way to box-office gold with a reflective movie about a professional gunman and his innate desire for violence.
  • Late night TV faced a generational shift as the longtime hosts of NBC’s “The Tonight Show” and CBS’s “Late Night” made way for new blood.
  • A Bush was running against a Clinton for president.
  • Bill Cosby was one of the most talked about entertainers in Hollywood.

Well, it seems some things never change. And this is exactly the point owners of mobile home parks in Sonoma are decrying this month, as they say the city’s 23-year-old rent control policy is about as dated and unwelcome these days as a kitsch reference to Urkel.

Hence last week’s rent control “study session,” an April public forum at the Veterans Memorial Hall in which council members heard from representatives of both mobile home owners and the park owners who rent them space, in the hopes the two factions could come to some sort of compromise on revisions to the city’s longstanding rent-control policy.

Both the park owners and the tenants have had a chance to propose revisions to council members, who will consider the suggestions and direct staff toward a revised rent control ordinance over the course of another couple of meetings. Truth is, no one would blame the council if they kept the ordinance just as it is. The three mobile home parks in the city limits – De Anza Moon Valley, Pueblo Serena and Rancho de Sonoma – essentially act as affordable senior housing stock for Sonoma, allowing some of the Valley’s longtime Sonomans living on fixed incomes to stay in their hometown, where rising rents and housing prices have made that increasingly difficult to do so.

Among the arguments for weakening the rent control restrictions presented by Brad Yusim, the attorney representing mobile home park corporation Equity LifeStyle Properties, was that mobile-home owners can use the city-mandated low rents as a selling point toward cashing in their homes for premium profits – a suggestion that drew guffaws at the study session last Wednesday.

Of course, the idea that the mobile-home residents are actually closet real-estate magnates – sitting on their investments until the timing’s right to “sell high” and strike it rich – is as ludicrous as it sounds. But it’s also a telling insight into the mindset of the park owners.

Equity LifeStyle last year lost a 14-year legal fight with Contempo Marin, a mobile home park in San Rafael whose rents are also determined by a city rent control policy. The case ultimately validated the city’s rent control policy for the mobile home park. Equity also presented the same argument in San Rafael that it seems to be making in Sonoma – the rent control drives up prices at point-of-mobile home sale, making the parks anything but “affordable.”

(Calls for comments from folks who’d sold out of Contempo Marin were not returned at press time, due to their daily scheduled Champagne baths and progressive caviar lunches throughout Belvedere island.)

The City of San Rafael stuck to its guns and fought to protect the rent control, prevailing in a case that stopped just shy of the Supreme Court.

The City of Sonoma should display a similar intestinal fortitude on behalf of its mobile home park residents.

As mobile homeowner supporter Robert Fleak points out in a letter to the Index-Tribune: “Affordable housing and the private industry are diametrically opposed in theory and reality.”

I’m sure that’s the one thing the park owners and park residents can definitely agree upon.
Read more at http://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/3889667-181/editorial-mobile-home-owners-tied-to#8hrBCQzPXEY59GTY.99

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