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Photograph by Jana Marcus

Legal Papers Beat Rock?: Bill Minkowski, wife Lillian and neighbor Hut Hutton, shown here in a 2001 photo, are among the De Anza residents who have been pushing to preserve rent control for years.


Golden Oldies

"We may be old but we're not beat." So said retired law professor Herb Rossman in December of 2001, as he and fellow residents of De Anza Mobile Estates, an oceanfront mobile home park for seniors, fought to preserve rent control in their park.

Almost two years later and Rossman et al still aren't about to throw in the towel on rent control, even though the City Council says it can no longer afford the cost of lawsuits that park owner Manufactured Home Communities keeps bringing against the cash-strapped city.

"It ain't over until the fat lady sings, and I haven't heard her singing yet," says Rossman, after the council voted 6-1 to lift rent control from current residents of the park after 34 years.

The decision also affects residents of Clear View Court, since that park's owners now have the option to offer similar leases to their tenants--leases which De Anza residents compare to "indentured slavery."

Under the proposed 44-page leases, when current residents sell, MHC can jack up rents to what it considers "fair market rate." Which is a nice way of saying that Gran in your basic $450-a-month coach will now have to cough up $1,350 a month, while Gramps, who pays $780 for an oceanfront model, will be slapped in his gray beard with a staggering $5,000 a month--and this from residents who are mostly 75 years and over, on fixed incomes and anticipating increasing medical costs.

These rent increases, along with other aspects of the lease, have led De Anza residents to conclude that "the ultimate goal of MHC is to use the land for whatever development provides them with the most lucrative return," especially in light of the recent claim that the park is already zoned for multiple residency and condos in addition to mobile homes.

Staff at the city's zoning department confirmed that the park is zoned as a multiple residence, low density district.

The good news? MHC's war on its tenants is not restricted to Santa Cruz--and so our local golden oldies may yet find other golden oldies in their quest against Goliath.

"MHC has essentially declared war on every one of its 50,000 tenants nationwide," explains Rossman, who has heard MHC-related horror stories from Texas, Florida, Oregon, Washington, Delaware and Illinois, and is considering the possibility of a class-action lawsuit.

Recognizing that MHC has unlimited financial resources, the will to break the city and a CEO who is a self-described "vulture investor," Rossman says the truth of the matter is that "when we go to sell, our house becomes, for all practical purposes, unsellable and MHC takes over."

Rather than rushing to sign the new leases, residents are exploring their options, including setting up a defense fund using money set aside from a settlement they won last year from MHC.

"It's not a lot of money. MHC can spend as much as we have in our fund in one week, so we're at a point now where everyone is gonna have to pitch in," says Rossman.

Says fellow park resident and seasoned political activist Ruth Hunter, "This amounts to the robbery of our homes, which for some is our only hedge against future illness and long-term care."

While she criticizes the City Council (which makes its final vote Sept. 23) for expressing sympathy "without offering alternatives or the opportunity for residents to join them when they met with MHC," Hunter acknowledges that the problems facing De Anza residents are broader than the immediate Santa Cruz-
based dilemma.

"We must unite, support De Anza, and say 'no' to corporate power," she says.

The Real Cancun

Hunter should know about corporate power, having just returned from Cancun, Mexico, which she describes as the scene of two different "beehives of activity" during recent World Trade Organization negotiations that ended in a stalemate.

Hunter categorizes the stalemate as a "bittersweet victory for delegates from poor nations," since they neither won nor lost anything.

At stake were proposed liberalized agricultural and tariff trade provisions that favored the U.S., the EU and Japan and which developing countries opposed.

Mirroring this division of interests, says Hunter, were the steel barricades that separated the Convention Center and elegant hotels on the peninsula from downtown Cancun, where many groups gathered to support the Mexican farmers who "were demanding a level playing field in the WTO negotiations," Hunter says.

Central to the campesinos' concerns was an end to the "dumping" of cheap corn, soy and cotton that floods the market place and drives farmers off their lands.

As it happens, Hunter was on a campesino march to protest the Plan Pueblo Panama, when word came that Lee Kyung Hae, the president of the Farmer and Fishermen's Union, had "climbed a fence, shouted, 'The WTO kills farmers,' then plunged a knife into his chest. He was dead within the hour," Hunter reports.

On a happier note, Hunter notes that "Mexican security had decided on a strategy of containment rather than confrontation" during the WTO meeting and that when negotiations collapsed, she heard "joyous shouts."

"This may be the turning point where globalization of trade can become a democratic process instead of one of exploitation by the rich on the backs of the poorer nations," she reports.

Privacy or Ban?

The Oct. 7 election may or may not be on hold, but the issues aren't. Take Prop. 54, the so-called "racial privacy initiative," which the ACLU believes is better understood as an "information ban" that will prevent state and local agencies from gathering information about race and ethnicity--information they say is crucial for protecting health, safety and civil rights.

With critics claiming that Prop. 54 would blindfold California by banning the gathering of information used to fight diseases like breast cancer, prevent hate crimes and domestic violence, and combat discrimination at school, in housing, at work and on the streets, check out the forum in opposition to Prop. 54, which takes place at 7:30pm, Wednesday, Sept. 24, at the First Congressional Church, 900 High St., Santa Cruz.

Watsonville Mayor Ramon Gomez, UCSC women's studies professor Bettina Aptheker, UCSC sociology professors John Brown Child and Michael Males, and the county's director of Public Health Administration, Betsy McCarty, will speak.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the September 24-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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