City Council discusses rent stabilization

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The Arcata City Council last week pondered, but didn’t pass two ordinances regulating both rent in mobile home parks and one that offers protections to residents when parks close or change ownership.

As drafted, Ordinance No. 1487 notes that Arcata hosts six mobile home parks containing 587 spaces. “These spaces represent a significant portion of [the] low-cost, market-rate, affordable housing supply within the city,” states the ordinance.

A Mobilehome Affordability Strategies Study found that almost half of Arcata’s mobile home residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Some 14 percent pay more than 50 percent.

As presented, the ordinance allowed for partial vacancy rent control, a floor of 2 percent, a rent rollback provision and a cap on increases.

Park owners may raise rent 2 percent per year, or lock it to the Consumer Price Index, but not exceed 5 percent, with some conditions should the CPI rise excessively, or fall. Rent increases related to capital improvements are conditioned on prior consultation with tenants.

When residents move away, park owners may increase the rent for that space by 10 percent. Some pass-through increases reflecting utility, government and other costs are allowed.

One provision allows tenants to petition for a rent freeze or rollback if the city manager determines that the park isn’t being properly maintained.

Another offers a mechanism for calculating Fair Return by park owners.

Other provisions regulate capital replacement-related increases, billing procedures and noticing and appeals processes.

Ordinance No. 1489 requires due process and protections for residents when mobile home parks change hands or are converted to co-ops. It provides a more lengthy noticing process for residents, including relocation assistance.

Councilmember Paul Pitino asked Community Development Director David Loya why the new ordinance was labeled “rent control,” when discussions had been centered around the term “stabilization.”

Loya said various studies around which the ordinance was formed had used the “rent control” term, but added, “It’s neither here nor there to me.”

Pitino said the term “rent control” carries “baggage,” and suggests failed schemes tried elsewhere.

During public comment, rent stabilization advocate Hilary Moser agreed that “rent control” wasn’t an accurate term. Others suggested that the ordinances be fine-tuned in various ways.

Councilmember Sofia Pereira objected to the 2 percent floor on rent increases, as did Pitino. Mayor Susan Ornelas had problems with some of the wording as well.

Staff will bring back a revised ordinance reflecting tweaks the council would like on fees and the pass-through provision. The 2 percent floor will disappear, with increases tied to the CPI.

Recusal demand denied

An attorney representing FolletUSA, which owns the Lazy J Mobile Home Park, sent a letter demanding that Pitino recuse himself from voting on mobile home issues because his son owns a mobile home in Arcata, creating a conflict of interest.

Pitino responded by saying that he had no financial relationship with his adult son, suggesting that the matter wouldn’t influence his judgment. “We have no financial interest; we have no connection between he and I,” Pitino said.

He said he checked with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), where an attorney informally advised him that his son doesn’t qualify as his immediate family, not being a spouse or dependent child. Another court case and the city attorney’s opinion backed up his opinion that recusal was not mandatory, and up to him.

“As far as I can tell, anybody that is in authority has said, ‘You’re OK,’ so I’m gonna stay,” he said.



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