Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Denise de Bellefeuille issued a decision Wednesday siding with the tenants of Rancho Mobile Home Park in western Goleta in a case against the city over its approval of an agreement with the owner of the park for a tenant-owned subdivision.
“Right now we feel really good about it,” said Kenneth Tatro, president of the Monarch Country Manufactured Home Owners Association, the tenants group that operates in Rancho Mobile Home Park, 7465 Hollister Ave.
For nearly a decade, the tenants of the mobile home park have been resisting attempts by their landlord, Daniel Guggenheim, to shake off the rent control that came with the park when he purchased it from the county and before the City of Goleta’s 2002 incorporation.
The city’s incorporation and adoption of the county’s rent-control regulations to the landowner constituted a new set rules, which to the landowners also constituted a regulatory taking, since it meant to the Guggenheims that they could not reap fuller benefits, whereas the tenants could charge higher prices for their coaches because of the added incentive of rent control.
Initially the city sided with the tenants to uphold rent control, and for years the landowners heaped litigation upon the city. In February 2009, however, given what the city saw as little legal support on the state level and facing more than $20 million in damages from the landowners, the city approved a development agreement with the Guggenheims, who then withdrew their claims for damages.
The residents, meanwhile, sued the city for its agreement, saying the city had not done its part properly to survey the residents, as required.
“The city, in spite of its excellent intentions, abused its discretion in failing to ascertain that a proper survey had been conducted, depriving it of a meaningful opportunity to consider the results as part of its analysis of the merits of approving the project,” according to the judge’s decision.
Judge de Bellefeuille’s writ of mandate said the City of Goleta is ordered to vacate its decision approving the Guggenheims’ development agreement. The decision also orders the city to require the park’s management to meet with the homeowners association to draft a survey “that comprehensively embraces the elements outlined in the Government Code,” circulate the ballot and resubmit the results to the city.
“We’ll discuss the ruling with the City Council, and they’ll make the decision as to what step is next,” Goleta City Attorney Tim Giles said.
The applicants, he said, have the opportunity to request a repeat hearing for their development plan, with the required evidence that would be supplied by “a proper survey.” They could also appeal the judge’s ruling.
“From our perspective, the law isn’t clear,” said Giles, noting that the court had acknowledged the city’s diligence in attempting to comply with the law. Legal counsel for Goleta in this case has to try to reconcile the many and variable rulings related to this issue, he said. Newly sworn-in Assemblyman Das Williams, he said, has agreed to carry legislation to clarify the ambiguous law.
In a closely related case, the original one on rent control between the city and the Guggenheims, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided in favor of the city, solidifying rent control for the other mobile home parks in the city that have been watching this case closely. Because the city initially had approved the Guggenheims’ development agreement, the rent control ruling did not affect Rancho Mobile Homes, where the fight started.
While the residents have won this case, their attorney, Ken Tatro, said they are under no illusions that the Guggenheims will go away quietly. Their attorney on the rent control case has hinted that the family may consider taking an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But for the moment, Tatro said, they would savor the win.
“It is another win for all manufactured-home owners statewide,” he said.