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Citizens work to overturn rent rules

OCEANSIDE — For more than two weeks volunteers have stood in front of supermarkets armed with petitions to collect voter signatures that would allow residents to have the final word on whether or not to OK vacancy decontrol.
Bob Markley, a member of the Alliance of Citizens to Improve Oceanside Neighborhoods, opposes vacancy decontrol that nixes a 30-year rent control ordinance and allowing mobile home park owners to raise space rents.
“The problem with the new amendment is that park owners can raise rent without limit,” Markley said.
Markley said that he was alarmed by the quick steps the city council took to approve the measure.
“It was drafted May 4, voted on May 18, and on May 25 it was adopted,” Markley said.
Markley is one of more than 100 volunteers drawing attention to the item and helping to collect over 7,700 signatures needed, which represents 10 percent of Oceanside voters. He said his hope is that council will call a referendum and overturn their decision to OK vacancy decontrol once signatures are collected and verified. If not, Markley said the next best result would be that the item is placed on the next election ballot for citizens to decide.
“Mobile home parks are monopolies,” Markley said. “They have captive customers. The homes are really not mobile after they are installed. It’s a monopoly and everyone knows it, residents know it, city council knows it. It’s not a free market.”
Markley said higher rents would cause future buyers to pay less for their mobile homes and not allow long time mobile home owners to get a fair return.
Markley said the decision by council to OK vacancy decontrol jeopardizes the expected income of seniors who live in mobile homes.
“Mobile homes are the lowest cost free standing homes possibile,” Markley said. “Affordable land rents makes it possible for them
(seniors) to live in their own home.”
Councilman Jerry Kern, who along with Councilmen Gary Felien and Jack Feller passed vacancy decontrol in a 3-2 vote, stands by his decision.
“It’s the most fair way to handle this situation,” Kern said. “For people renting now, their rent will not be raised as long as they live there.”
“They (mobile home owners) feel entitled to profit from rent control,” Kern added. “They want equity in land they do not own.”
Kern supports the item going to a vote if sufficient signatures are collected, but said he does not feel signatures from 10 percent of voters represents everyone.
Kern said he does not see vacancy decontrol as a step towards closing mobile home parks. He said he sees some mobile home parks staying in business for many years, and others that are located close to the beach, changing use in 5 to 10 years due to economic demands to serve the tourist industry.
Councilwoman Esther Sanchez, who along with Mayor Jim Wood, voted against vacancy decontrol, said she believes it is the wrong decision.
“It was made on political grounds, not on any sound economic grounds,” Sanchez said. “For 22,000 owners of mobile homes, it will wipe out their equity completely.
“It attacks the most vulnerable in our community,” Sanchez said. “It’s all about greed.”
Sanchez criticized Kern, Felien and Feller for not looking out for residents and not listening to the voices of citizens. During the council meetings on vacancy decontrol, hundreds showed up to oppose it.
Sanchez said the quick approval of vacancy decontrol without consulting the city manager was outrageous. She said she sees Kern, who may be aspiring to run for State Assembly, using the issue as a tool to get campaign contributions from the 10 park owners, most of whom live outside of Oceanside.
“It’s a rape of our city,” Sanchez said. “To think any investments will be passed through to residents is a complete lie.”
Sanchez described residents who are standing up to oppose vacancy decontrol as true Americans.
“They are very conservative, mostly Republican, and believe in faith and family values and are now fighting for their homes,” Sanchez said. “People are fed up. They’re telling them (Kern, Felien, Feller) you’ve gone too far.”