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[whitespace] Council puts off major decision on fate of tenants at mobile home park

Los Gatos--Town Council members ducked the bullet on mobile homes June 21, putting off a major decision on the fate of Los Gatos Mobile Home Park tenants until Aug. 2.

But the council did make a key finding that there are no comparable locations to relocate coaches to in the county, and closed that part of the hearing.

The rest of the hearing on what--if any--relocation costs park owners will have to cover when the park closes continued.

Park owners and tenants (both owners and renters) are at odds about what kind of deal the tenants should get when the park closes. Developer Barry Swensen has already submitted an application to put housing on the site, but that's on hold while the town figures out how to handle the issues surrounding the closure.

The remaining issues promise to be the most contentious of the entire closure debate, as both sides make rumblings about possible litigation if they're not happy with the town's ultimate decision.

When Town Attorney Orry Korb advised the council that a decision that's more partial to the tenants could expose the town to litigation from the owners, one tenant reminded the council that they could also be looking at a potential suit from the other side--a group of 17 mobile-home owners.

Councilmembers also asked for more information on the mobile-home market in the region, specifically about issues of financing, availability and relocation.

Park tenants say there's nowhere else in the county that will take the homes in the park, most of which are more than 10 years old.

Mobile home park closures are governed by strict state laws, which in the case of Los Gatos are further complicated by the town's rent-control ordinance.

The council got the closure report for the park, prepared by a Sacramento-based consultant, and asked for more information at that meeting, too, on how other cities have handled similar issues.

Trouble is, Los Gatos is in uncharted waters with a totally unprecedented situation, and councilmembers, understandably, have been extra cautious every step of the way, even though a final action on the closure report probably won't be taken for at least a year.

According to Korb, most of the laws on the books deal with rent-control cases, not issues of compensation for displaced tenants.

"We may be forging new territory in California," Councilwoman Linda Lubeck said. "None of us wants to do it, but we may have to."

Attorney Frederic Jacobsen, representing park owners Malcom and Margaret McNelly, argued in a May 28 letter to the council that the renters in the park aren't any different than apartment renters in the town, because they're renting from the McNelly family and the town extends the rent control ordinance to cover mobile homes.

Owners and tenants also disagree over whether the high cost of land in Los Gatos gives value to the mobile homes. Tenants say the land doesn't give any value to the coaches, but owners say land is exactly what gives the coaches any value at all.

"We get rents of $700 to $800 a month on trailers worth $7,000--that's because of the value of the land," Bonnie View Mobilehome Park owner Gerry Mirassou told the council. "The actual value of the land is not going to change. The only thing that will is who gets the value of the land at sale."

In an unrelated Los Gatos mobile-home dispute, an arbitrator released her report June 16 on a rent-control dispute at the Bonnie View Mobilehome Park on Oka Road, cutting the landlord's request for a 5 percent increase down to 1.6 percent.

A trio of tenants who live in owner-occupied mobile homes filed a complaint with the town for rent-dispute resolution, but that didn't go anywhere. After that, the two sides held two mediation meetings in April, but both of those failed to produce an agreement, and the dispute went to arbitration.

The arbitrator ruled that park owners couldn't pass on the rent increase to tenants because they were subtracting operating expenses from their annual gross income. Mirassou had applied for a supplemental increase on top of the annual increase allowed by the town's rent-control ordinance, which caps annual increases at the Consumer Price Index.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the July 1-7, 1999 issue of Metro.

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