October 3, 2013 -- October 1, 2013. Aleshire & Wynder’s Rent Control and Mobilehome Park Team (including partners Bill Wynder, Sunny Soltani, and Associate Jeff Malawy) assisted its client, the City of Carson, in urging the passage of an important piece of legislation (SB 510 [Jackson]) which has just been signed into law by Governor Brown. SB 510 forever ends the much litigated, and much debated, question regarding the scope of a municipality’s discretion to deny mobilehome park subdivisions (or “conversions”) to resident ownership where the is a lack of resident support for the conversion. The new law conclusively establishes that cities can listen to the voices of their mobilehome park residents in determining whether to approve these subdivisions.
SB 510 was enacted after a decade of court battles up and down the state involving more than 25 municipalities and a veritable host of mobilehome park owners. Many of the lawsuits filed against local governments have cost public agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and have exposed them to millions of dollars of regulatory taking damages lawsuits. This new law ends these unwarranted legal exposures.
The battle first began in 1993, when the owner of El Dorado Mobilehome Park in Palm Springs applied to convert its park over the strenuous objections of his residents. The Palm Springs City Council approved the subdivision conversion, but added certain conditions to protect the park residents from the adverse impacts of the conversion.
In El Dorado Palm Springs, Ltd. v. City of Palm Springs (2002) 96 Cal. App. 4th 1153, the Court of Appeal held those conditions, though laudable on the part of the City Council, were nonetheless invalid -- that local agencies had no authority to protect residents from conversions outside of the conditions found in Government Code section 66427.5. The Court, while sympathetic to the desire of the Palm Springs City Council to protect its mobilehome park residents, concluded that such protections were the province of the legislature and not the courts.
Following El Dorado, partner Bill Wynder (who at the time was the assistant City Attorney in City of Palm Springs) actively sought a legislative fix to the statute invited by the Court of Appeal. In 2002, the Legislature responded by adopting AB 930, requiring park owners to conduct a “survey of resident support” prior to any mobilehome park conversion, and directed local agencies to “consider” the survey results in determining whether to approve a subdivision conversion application.
From the moment AB 930 was enacted into law, park owners argued that this survey of support was merely a procedural step (a ministerial “receive and file” action, if you will) that had to be taken by a park owner in order to obtain the needed subdivision conversion map approval. These same park owners further argued that the views of the residents as expressed in the survey were meaningless and irrelevant to the conversion process.
Cities and counties up and down the state found themselves in a quandary over what the requirements of AB 930 meant, what authority they had to implement these new requirements into their local codes, and what authority they had if the results of the AB 930 survey showed a lack of resident support for the subdivision conversion application. A&W advised its clients that the survey results must have some meaning, and sought to clarify the statute through yet another legislation fix in Sacramento while simultaneously aggressively defending its clients from an ever growing number of park owner lawsuits.
In the City of Carson alone, at least five subdivision conversion applications were filed in the past seven years, which led to six lawsuits, exposing the City of Carson to over $100 million in damages claims.
A&W’s team was successful in persuading the courts, case by case, that the AB 930 required survey results could be “considered” as a basis for denial or approval of a subdivision conversion application. Ultimately, A&W’s team was successful in persuading the Second Appellate District that the word “consider” means “consider” not “receive and file.” Carson Harbor Village, Ltd. v. City of Carson (2010) Second Appellate District Case No. B211777 was the first Court of Appeal opinion ever to hold that a local agency may deny a mobilehome park conversion, in part, based on the results of the AB 930 required resident survey. Colony Cove Properties, LLC v. City of Carson (2010) 187 Cal. App. 4th 1487 soon followed and was the first published opinion to hold that AB 930 resident survey results are relevant and must be “considered” by a local agency in its decision making.
Like the El Dorado court before it, the Colony Cove court again urged the legislature to further clarify and give meaning to the AB 930 requirement that a local agency “consider” the results of the resident survey. Still other Courts of Appeal, in Goldstone v. County of Santa Cruz (2012) 207 Cal. App. 4th 1038, Chino MHC, LP v. City of Chino (2012) 210 Cal. App. 4th 1049, and Monarch Country Mobilehome Owners Assn. v. City of Goleta (2013) Second Appellate District Case No. B231244, confirmed that a subdivision conversion application could be denied based on the results of the AB 930 resident survey. In each of these important appeals, A&W’s team served as either lead counsel or amicus counsel.
Like Colony Cove, each of these courts struggled with the important questions of how much resident support or opposition was required to warrant approval or denial of a subdivision conversion application, and just what discretion a local agency had to “consider” the survey results in its decision to approve or deny a subdivision conversion application. The Chino Court tried to read percentage thresholds into the statute. The Goldstone Court reiterated that the Legislature needed to clarify the scope of a local agency’s discretion with respect to the survey results.
As time passed, A&W’s team supported the City of Carson in drafting and lobbying for support of two bills, one of which (AB 566 in 2009) passed both houses of the State Legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, and the other (SB 444 in 2011) stalled before getting to the Governor’s desk.
This year, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson bravely stepped up to the plate and again tackled this very controversial and heavily opposed issue by introducing SB 510 -- a bill modeled after its previous sister bills. With the tenacity of Senator Jackson, help of Will Constantine, Esq., and Sue Gallagher, County Counsel of County of Sonoma, the support of the entire Carson City Council, the Carson City Treasurer, and the Carson Mobilehome resident community, this year SB 510 was adopted by the legislature and signed into law.
SB 510 forever clarifies that local agencies have the both the authority to “consider” the results of the resident survey and have the discretion to deny a subdivision conversion application that is not supported by a majority of the affected mobilehome park residents. The enactment of SB 510 is an important victory for all cities, counties, and mobilehome park residents across the entire state restoring and making clear the oversight authority of local agencies in making decisions on subdivision conversion applications.
For further information regarding SB 510, its application to pending lawsuits or current conversion applications or A&W’s Mobilehome Park Litigation practice, please contact William W. Wynder, Sunny K. Soltani, or Jeff M. Malawy, at (949) 223-1170.