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December 05, 2003

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Publication Date: Friday, December 05, 2003

Council to stay in mobile home debate Council to stay in mobile home debate (December 05, 2003)

Lieber will fight for rent control

By Candice Shih

As the year comes to a close, a new chapter is opening for mobile home owners in their struggle to communicate and negotiate with their parks' management.

The City Council agreed to hold neighborhood meetings for mobile home park residents every two years, promote its mediation services, and continue regular communications with the recently formed park resident committees.

The council also decided at its Tuesday meeting to send a letter to the state Department of Housing and Community Development and controversial park owner John Vidovich regarding possible violations of state mobile home law at his parks, Sahara Village and Santiago Villa.

Council member Rosemary Stasek supported the use of a public interest law firm where mediation is not appropriate. "For mediation to be successful, it needs two willing parties. I do feel mediation can only go so far. Sometimes other steps need to be taken."

Although the idea to pursue a public interest law firm was not given concrete direction, several council members also lamented the lack of state enforcement of mobile home park laws, a situation that makes civil litigation the main form of recourse.

"Unfortunately, we need some teeth. We can't gum open some walnuts. We need squirrels," said Council member Greg Perry.

The recent decisions come on the heels of initiatives passed one year ago that were intended to give residents more ways to deal with the grievances they had with Vidovich's business practices. They included a neighborhood meeting, a resource fair, and mediation services.

But what's happened in the past year has not been enough, said state Assembly member Sally Lieber, who championed mobile home owners when she was mayor in 2002.

"I don't think there's been nearly enough progress on any of the initiatives," she said. "Now is the time for council to prove itself."

Lieber, who has worked on several bills protecting mobile home owners in Sacramento, is now working with residents to put a rent control measure before voters.

While Lieber and some residents remain committed to major solutions, leaders of the park's resident committees are focusing on the small positive steps that have been taken and remain hopeful for the future.

"It's giving us an 'in,'" said Sahara Village committee leader Sandy Sandlin of the council's new initiatives. "They're continuing. They could have dropped us."

Shawn Jipp, president of Santiago Villa's resident committee, reported that park management has been responsive on issues such as improving maintenance, building a children's playground, and reopening closed park facilities.

"Things look more positive than they have in the past. There will be some changes by the end of January," he said.

However, one of the biggest issues for residents has been the high space rent. According to Jipp, management does not appear to be flexible regarding the cost of rent.

E-mail Candice Shih at cshih@mv-voice.com


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