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13 Years and Two Trips to the Court of Appeals Later, A&W Attorneys Help the City of Carson Make New Law

Jeff Malawy, William Wynder, Sunny SoltaniThe Subdivision Map Act allows the owner of a rental mobilehome park to convert the park from a landlord-tenant form of ownership to a subdivided condominium-style form of ownership.  A park owner must first obtain the approval of local government which has authority to “approve, conditionally approve, or disapprove” the application after holding a hearing to determine whether the park owner has complied with Section 66427.5 of that Act.

In 2002, Mr. James Goldstein, a highly litigious mobilehome park owner, filed his application to subdivide and convert Carson Harbor Village, a 420-space manufactured housing community located in the City of Carson.  Park residents learned that, in the event his conversion application were to be approved, upon the sale of the very first condominium space Carson’s rent control laws would have been eliminated in the entire park. 

Faced with the threat of conversion, park residents organized and were instrumental in building a case to demonstrate, at multiple City Council hearings, and later in court, that the proposed conversion was not supported by residents, and was not consistent with the affordability goals or open space policies of the Carson General Plan. 

The City Council first denied the Goldstein conversion application in 2007.  He promptly sued the City and the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in his favor.  In 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District, in an un-published opinion, reversed the Superior Court’s ruling and directed the City Council to re-hear the conversion application.  In a split decision, the Court of Appeals conclude that, on re-hearing, the City Council was “preempted from denying [the] conversion application for inconsistency with the [City’s] General Plan.”

In a marathon hearing lasting over 10 hours, in May of 2012, the City Council again denied the conversion application, in part, because the conversion was inconsistent with the City’s General Plan.  There followed more litigation by Mr. Goldstein.  For a second and third time, the Superior Court ruled in his favor and against the City.  Determined to right these on-going wrongs, the City Council took the extraordinary step of appealing, for a second time, to the Court of Appeals in order to protect these mobilehome park residents.

Earlier this year, the California Court of Appeals, this time in a published opinion reported at Carson Harbor Village v. City of Carson (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 56, reversed the Superior Court and concluded that the City of Carson acted lawfully in denying the conversion application for this mobilehome park.  The published opinion turned on, and then expanded, the California Supreme Court’s decision in Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles (2012) 55 Cal.4th 783.

In remarkable language, the Carson Harbor Court majority wrote:  “we acknowledge that we were wrong . . . in Carson Harbor I. . . .  Section 66427.5 [is] merely a ‘preliminary step in the subdivision process in the context of a mobilehome park conversion . . . .  Section 66427.5, subdivision (e), was [never] intended to eliminate the broader structure of the Subdivision Map Act vis-à -vis a tentative map and a final map, and the approval of the same . . . .’”  Carson Harbor Village abuts a lake and marsh area, the city’s only protected wild/natural open space. Justices Laurence Rubin and Madeleine Flier concluded that the Pacific Palisades decision applied to this mobilehome park conversion application because Carson’s planning regulations prioritize open space and affordable housing.

On October, 29, 2015, the California Supreme Court declined to review the decision of the Court of Appeals making this land-mark decision final and binding throughout the state.  This opinion has the practical effect of repudiating earlier appellate court decisions which appeared to strip away the authority of local municipalities to protect their residents from “sham” mobilehome park conversions largely intended to allow landlords to escape the protections afforded residents under mobilehome space rent regulatory systems.  City Attorney Sunny Soltani commented that “decisions like  Donohue v. Santa Paula West Mobile Home Park (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 1168, El Dorado Palm Springs, Ltd. v. City of Palm Springs (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1153 and Sequoia Park Associates v. County of Sonoma (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1270, can now largely be relegated to the past.”

We are therefore pleased to announce that Aleshire & Wynder attorneys have successfully defended against this park owner’s attempts to achieve the “end of mobilehome park rent control in California.” Thanks to A&W’s attorneys, Carson’s rent control laws continue to protect park residents from excessive and unfair increases in rent and non-bona fide conversions.  This new opinion affords all of California’s cities with mobilehome park rent control one more “tool” to protect the integrity of local rent control regulations.  For more information, contact Sunny Soltani ssoltani@awattorneys.com, or Jeff Malawy jmalawy@awattorneys.com