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SP West Mobilehome Park: Judge won’t intervene in city settlement

August 26, 2005
Santa Paula News

A Ventura County judge has denied the request by Santa Paula West Mobilehome Park coach owners to intervene in the lawsuit between the city and the owner of the park.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA Ventura County judge has denied the request by Santa Paula West Mobilehome Park coach owners to intervene in the lawsuit between the city and the owner of the park. Judge Fred Bysshe issued his decision July 26 after Joe Donohue, vice president of Homeowners West Association, wrote the court that the residents were dismissed from the case in January by the plaintiff, Santa Paula West Mobilehome Park LLC, the owner of the park since 1998.The mobilehome park owner sued the city over the 2002 decision of the Mobilehome Rent Review Commission to raise rents by about $2.40 a month. The dispute started when the owner tried to raise space rent by about $260 a month - almost 60 percent - late in 2002. The park owner sued the city, alleging that the commission’s action was unconstitutional and denied the right to make a fair profit.As part of the settlement, the City Council agreed in late May to a $148 increase over a three-year period for the 188 coaches covered under a rent control ordinance; seven other park mobilehomes are exempt from the ordinance.Donohue wrote the court that the agreement between the city and Santa Paula West LLC was illegal after a negotiation between the city and park owner that was kept under wraps, even though park residents and their attorney made frequent attempts to determine if negotiations had been launched. Residents and their attorney were not notified until four days before a May 31 special council meeting where the settlement was decided, noted Donohue, an action that disregarded the voter-passed 1992 mobilehome rent ordinance. The due process rights of all 195 residents were violated because of the coach owners’ exclusion from the case, he added, as “We were ‘real parties in interest’ but dismissed.”
The city could have faced more than $350,000 in damages if the matter had not been settled, according to City Attorney Karl Berger.The population of SP West is primarily senior citizens on fixed incomes and low-income Hispanic families, according to an analysis provided by park residents to the Rent Review Commission two years ago.Donohue could not be reached for comment.The court found that the intervention would “unduly delay and prejudice the rights of both the petitioner and the respondent to this action,” both of whom opposed the motion to intervene. The ruling - although rejecting the coach owners’ request - noted that it does not preclude them from “seeking other avenues of redress.”