Prop 98 One More Blow to Tiny Mobile Home Park

Friday, May 16, 2008
Kurtis Alexander
Santa Cruz Sentinel

CAPITOLA -- The stakes have been raised for Rick Halterman, who has fought to protect the rent control on his one-bedroom coach for most of the two decades he has lived at Castle Mobile Estates.

For more than 10 years, the 61-year-old Capitola resident has watched the owner of his mobile home park go in and out of court in an effort to raise his rent. He and his neighbors, many of whom live on fixed incomes, have pleaded their case for the city's rent control law, and the court has so far stood by them.

But now there's Proposition 98. If passed on June 3, the measure would eliminate rent-control laws across the state and give the owner of the 38th Street mobile home park new freedom to begin charging more money for rent.

"It'd mean we'd be on the streets," said Halterman, noting that there's no mobile home parks in the county with extra space for his coach. "The fight just never ends."

Thursday, Halterman was among about two-dozen mobile home owners and park tenants who took their protest against Proposition 98 to the streets -- just outside the entrance of Castle Mobile Estates.

The centerpiece of Proposition 98 is the limits it would set on the government's right to seize private property, otherwise known as eminent domain. But the measure would also limit the government from regulating private property, like having rent control laws. It calls for all rent controls to be phased out as sites are vacated.

Supporters of the measure argue that regulations like rent control unfairly devalue their property.

The operator of Castle Mobile Estates, listed as Abraham Keh on county records, has contributed $10,000 to the campaign in support of Proposition 98, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Keh, who lists addresses in Los Altos, Merced and San Dimas, could not be reached to comment. Management at the park did not return phone calls.

But court records show that Keh's apparent fight to eliminate rent control at the park goes beyond Proposition 98. He applied to the city of Capitola years ago to raise rents above what the city's 1979 rent-control ordinance allows. Keh did not get the permission he wanted and has since responded with several lawsuits against the city.

John Barisone, who has represented the city of Capitola, said Keh's legal action over the past decade has cost "six figures" to fend off. But Keh has not succeeded in breaking the city's rent protections.

"It's pretty intimidating," said Halterman, who pays about $300 to keep his mobile home at the park and doesn't want to pay more. "But I'm used to it."

The prospect of losing rent control not only at Castle Mobile Estates but at 72 other rent-controlled parks in Santa Cruz County under Proposition 98 inspired Thursday's rally.

"It's kind of sad they're picking on the most vulnerable people in the state," said Bill Newman, 83, who lives at nearby Surf and Sand Mobile Home Park and attended the demonstration.

Mobile home parks are the only places in Santa Cruz County where rent-control laws exist. About 4,600 units are rent-controlled, according to county records.

In addition to phasing out rent controls and weakening the government's ability to use eminent domain, opponents of Proposition 98 say the measure could further tie the government's hand when it comes to local land-use planning and environmental protections.

As an alternative to the measure, Proposition 99 was put on the ballot, which would bar government from using eminent domain to seize homes for private development but would not broadly eliminate these powers nor stop the government from establishing rent control.

Gary Patton, former county supervisor and executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, Kay Filice, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and county supervisorial candidate John Leopold spoke out against Proposition 98 and in favor of Proposition 99 at Thursday's event.

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