Christel Barros’ voice quivered as she took the microphone.
“It is really hard for me to talk right now. I am shaking,” Barros said. “The intimidating tone of these powerful people, it’s just overwhelming me.”
Barros, a retired social worker, said she has lived at the Flamingo Mobile Home Park at 1210 Cacique St. in Santa Barbara on and off since 1965. Her parents bought a mobile home there when she was 15 years old.
So, when she spoke at Tuesday’s Santa Barbara City Council meeting, she was coming from a place of deep emotion that dated back generations.
Barros was just one of several residents who spoke out Tuesday requesting that the City Council pass an emergency ordinance that would stop the park’s owners from allowing nonseniors to live at the park, and allow people to rent mobile home units.
“I love children,” Barros said. “I would love to hear their little voices. I grew up as a child here at this park myself. But that doesn’t mean I support these changes. Au contraire.”
The City Council listened and then voted 7-0 to pass the emergency moratorium on any changes to the park. The ordinance goes into effect immediately.
Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said other communities have passed similar seniors-only policies for mobile homes, citing the work of Assemblyman Steve Bennett, D-Ventura, who passed legislation while a member of the county Board of Supervisors.
“Other communities have moved to protect their vulnerable residents, and I am very grateful that our city is now doing that as well,” Harmon said.
The owners and attorneys for the park, however, were not as appreciative of the council’s action.
“We were never actually given the courtesy of notice about this even though my client’s park is directly targeted by this legislation,” said James Ballantine, an attorney for the past 30 years in Santa Barbara.
Ballantine said the city gathered a lot of information to write a staff report and ordinance, but that staff members failed to reach out to the park representatives. He said the owners have the right to allow nonseniors to live at the park.
“My clients did something it was planning to do since it purchased the park, which was change the rules to end the discrimination, to instead of being a senior park to be a park for all ages,” Ballantine said. “Being a park for all ages is something that is, well, families need housing.”
Ballantine fired off a 13-page response to the city’s ordinance through email before Tuesday’s council meeting.
“We really don’t want to be in a position where we are speaking to the city through litigation,” Ballantine said. “We would rather be included in the process, but obviously that hasn’t happened. I would urge caution on this. I would urge a dialogue with the park owner rather than just simply ramming legislation down its throat that really has some legal problems to it.”
The attorney’s point of view did not resonate with Councilman Eric Friedman.
“The argument that somehow protecting vulnerable seniors is somehow discriminatory is one of the most infuriating arguments I have come across,” Friedman said. “It’s a non sequitur. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s infuriating, and I have seen a lot of arguments over the years.”
Michael Cirillo, principal for Pacific Current Partners, which oversees Star Management, the management firm of the park, said, “There’s a need for affordable housing for all ages, and we are responding to that demand.”
“There is no intention to discriminate against seniors and force them to move from the park,” Cirillo said.
He said that management held a meeting on Nov. 30 and sent a notice to the park owners.
“The park will now commence renting to people of ages,” Cirillo said.
Resident Sharyn Nielson said allowing people of all ages at the park will “do away with a long-standing source of affordable housing for seniors in the city of Santa Barbara.” She said she bought into the idea that the park would be for those age 55 or older only.
Nielson is known on Santa Barbara’s Eastside for driving a golf cart to the beach and Montecito. She moved back to Santa Barbara a few years ago.
“It is not a house, but you buy in and you expect it will have some appreciation value, but them doing this just takes it all away,” Nielson said.
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said the moratorium will allow everyone to sit down and talk about how to proceed with protecting seniors at the park. She said the idea of preserving senior housing is important to her.
“This didn’t just spring up overnight,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “We have been working on this and working toward this and, frankly, I thought this was already in place. The residents of the mobile home park saw this coming and told us about this years ago, so it’s not out of nowhere that we suddenly got this idea to take this seriously.”
She said park management’s framing of the issue as seniors vs. families is “hurtful.”
“We are a web,” Sneddon said. “It takes all of us. We need our seniors. We need families. We need people to live here without families. We need a workforce. It’s a whole web of community that we need to be supporting.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.