In the face of several ongoing lawsuits, little support from the courts and a legal obligation to process the owners’ conversion application, the Goleta City Council unanimously voted to initiate a development agreement with the owner of Rancho Mobile Home Park, 7465 Hollister Ave.

“At this point in time, given where we have been and where we find ourselves now, I believe the best option that we have available is to authorize our staff to enter into negotiations and begin to move forward,” Goleta Mayor Michael Bennett said.

The Tuesday evening vote brought to a close what had been for the last six years a fairly vigorous approach to supporting the mostly low-income residents of the park against what has been characterized as an attempt by owner Daniel Guggenheim to shake off the rent-control ordinance that was placed on the park by Santa Barbara County.

When Goleta incorporated in 2002, Guggenheim challenged the city’s adoption of the county’s rent-control ordinance, calling it a new ordinance. The city’s implementation of its rent-control ordinance was, in the eyes of the park owners, a violation of property rights and an unfair burden on the park to supply the necessary affordable housing required by the state. While the renters in the mobile home parks paid relatively low rents to keep their coaches there, they could turn around and sell their coaches at the market rate.

The city defended its action, lost, but then won on a technicality through a decision made on a similar case. The park owners have appealed the decision.

Meanwhile, over the next few years the Guggenheim family sued the city several more times: for the city’s requirement of an Environmental Impact Report on the subdivision the owners wanted to develop (a good portion of the park is in the Coastal Zone); for damages related to the delay because of the EIR; for an emergency interim moratorium the city instituted because of pending legislation; and for damages related to that delay.

The city lost the lawsuits on the EIR and the moratorium, which it is appealing. The damages actions have been stayed.

“This is a lose-lose,” said mobile home park resident Dennis Shelly, who was hoping to sell his home to be able to pay for another one he wanted in another state.

The park owners have offered terms they say are better than the minimums required by the state for residents in rental parks that are converting to tenant-owned units, terms that have yet to be ironed out with the city’s negotiating team.

“We do not like it, we are frustrated, we are ill-equipped and we are angry,” said Ken Tatro, who represents the mobile home park association as well as a coalition of mobile home park residents in the city that he says could be next to feel the squeeze by their landlords.

“In many ways I’ve dreaded this decision for a very long time,” said City Councilwoman Jonny Wallis, a member of the first city council, which was initially sued by the park owner.

“We have run our course with the legal system; we are not doing well now. We have no cause to think any further action on that front will bring you what you want,” she said to the park residents in the room.

The next best option, according to the city, would be to come out with a development agreement that could help some of the lower- and moderate-income residents with their rent as the park converts to a owner-occupied subdivision.

“This is a step in resolving the conflict with the city and allowing the residents who want to purchase their spaces in the park to do so, while at the same time protecting low-income residents. This is a win-win for everyone,” said Guggenheim attorney Richard Close.

The conversion application will be subject to the approval of the Goleta Planning Commission, the City Council as well as the state Coastal Commission.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at