By Allison Jarrell
The crowd of seniors that packed into City Hall on Aug. 15 erupted in cheers after the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted unanimously to create permanent zoning for four seniors-only mobile home parks in town.
San Juan is home to seven mobile home parks, ranging from 61 units to 313 units. Four of those parks are seniors-only communities (ages 55 and over): El Nido Mobile Estates, Rancho Alipaz Mobile Estates, Capistrano Valley Mobile Estates, and Villa San Juan Mobile Home Park.
Earlier this year, El Nido and Rancho Alipaz park owners gave notice to their residents that they intended to convert their parks to all-ages, causing concern in the seniors-only communities. For El Nido residents, the notices marked a new chapter in an ongoing fight with park management over rent control. Park owner Richard Worley is currently suing the city over its rejection of his second request to raise rent in two years’ time.
Hearing residents’ concerns, on Feb. 21, the City Council initiated a moratorium in order to prevent any of the parks from converting for 45 days, and on April 4, that moratorium was extended for six more months. At that point, the Council initiated a permanent change to protect the seniors-only parks by establishing a mobile home park overlay zone for seniors.
“Essentially, the code prevents any of the seniors-only mobile home parks to convert to all-age,” said Laura Stokes, the city’s housing coordinator and assistant planner. “It would keep them as they are, at 55 and over.”
The code went before the city’s Planning Commission in May and July, receiving a unanimous recommendation for Council approval.
During the Aug. 15 public hearing, Joseph Stark, president of the El Nido Mobile Estates Homeowners Association, said the issue was not “a battle between seniors and all ages.”
“This is…keeping what we were promised,” Stark said. “We’re not asking for changes…we’re asking to keep things the way they are.”
Later on, Howard Newman, a Rancho Alipaz resident, noted that there are about 80 seniors among the four parks who are veterans of the U.S. armed services.
“When the time came and they were asked, they stood up and did their duty,” Newman said. “They ask you tonight to stand up on their behalf, do your duty, and vote yes on this ordinance.”
Julie Paule of the Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association (WMA) was the lone speaker against the ordinance. Paule said WMA advocates for private property rights, which is why they are opposed to the code amendment.
“This action will actually harm your working families that are seeking affordable options in San Juan Capistrano,” Paule said. She later added that El Nido and Rancho Alipaz have already given notice to go all-age, and the city will “likely have two lawsuits” coming its way to litigate the matter.
City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger responded to Paule’s comments, saying that “at least one of the park owners, after the notice of the moratorium was sent out, initiated a process to potentially change the age-restricted nature of their park.”
“…six months’ notice is required for the park owner to change their rules and regulations that are applicable to their park,” Ballinger said, quoting California Civil Code. “Because that six-month time period had not expired by the time the city adopted its original moratorium, it’s staff’s belief and my belief that that change did not actually occur as a legal matter. It wasn’t perfected because of the statutory language.”
With the Council’s unanimous approval, the new ordinance will take effect in September (30 days following the Aug. 15 adoption).