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Mobilehome park rent control rejected
Councilmembers have dismissed any prospect for Ceres mobilehome park rent controls but not before slamming the lone mobilehome park owner who has stirred so much angst among his tenants.

On Monday the Ceres City Council unanimously gave final rejection of enacting rent controls saying they would not give tenants of tenants in Colony Park Mobilehome Estates on Central Avenue the relief they seek.

Ceres officials have been examining the issue for two years and participated in a task force to explore rent controls in all of Stanislaus County. County supervisors backed away from a rent control ordinance.

Councilmembers have long been skeptical about rent controls but created an ad hoc committee of two councilmen, Ken Lane and Guillermo Ochoa, to study the matter. The subcommittee employed mobilehome rent expert, Dr. Kenneth Baar, to analyze conditions in Ceres.

Baar found that of the five mobilehome parks in Ceres, rents were exorbitant at Colony Park Estates. As of February, rents at Colony Park averaged $595 per month compared to $490 at Voyager's Cove and $409 at Las Casitas Mobilehome Park. Baar noted that mobilehomes are not truly mobile because they are prohibitively excessive to move to other parks. High rents have also made it difficult for owners of coaches to sell and get out.

As the park has become vacant, the company decided to begin leasing spaces to camp trailers and RVs, said one resident.

The 186-space park is owned by Equity LifeStyle Properties, Inc., or ELS, which is owned by Chicago billionaire Sam Zell. City officials previously tried to get ELS representatives to agree to a hardship policy that would soften rents for the elderly and disabled but no agreement was reached.

The council decided Monday to not go the same route taken by the city of Turlock, which subsidizes rents for certain low-income persons living in mobilehome parks. Turlock spends about $70,000 annually to help residents in hardship cases to pay their rents. The funds come from the Turlock Redevelopment Agency.

But City Attorney Mike Lyions pointed out that Ceres would not be able to afford a similar assistance program. He noted that Turlock park rents are lower than Ceres rents largely because no parks there are owned by ELS. Lyions also noted that there is a disparity of earning demographics between Ceres and Turlock.

When it became apparent that the council was not going for rent control, Sharon Burch - she has been crusading to improve park conditions since the 1990s - offered bitter words.

"I want to thank you all for the last two or three years for nothing," said Burch. "I want you to know that in the next year you're going to have a full blown campground across from one of your public schools. You're not going to know who lives there because we don't know who lives there now. We may have child molesters. We may have drug addicts. And you don't care."

Burch said she's moving from the within the next three months but promised to "tear up" her unit. Burch said another 120 others will do the same. "We're going to leave your city with a mess," she promised. "Since you don't care for us, we don't care for you."

Another Colony Park tenant, Harold Cambra, said he was following Burch's example.

"I paid $18,000 for my home," said Cambra. "Now I'm going to destroy it, tear it up because the rent's too high."

He offered other disparaging remarks about Ceres in a parting shot.

Len Shepherd, a resident of Las Casitas Mobilehome Park, applauded the council for not enacting rent control.

"When my wife and I looked for places to live in .... Ceres, we took one look at Colony Park in 1993 and said 'That place is a dump,' " said Shepherd. "We stayed away. Ever since it's gotten worse. It's not the city's problem. It's the residents' problem."

Shepherd said rent controls would have impacted other parks where rents are stable.

"If you'd had helped Colony Park, it would have caused a ripple effect in those of us in other mobilehome parks in Ceres - Voyager's Cove, Las Casitas where I live and Westward Ho," said Shepherd. "Our rents would have probably gone through the roof to match the high rent at Colony Park because of the rent control ordinance. It doesn't work to lower. It just stops the ceiling right there and everybody else goes up to meet it."

He also stated ELS has a property right to charge whatever they wish.

Councilman Lane said the task force looked hard at resolving Colony Park's problems.

"It's unfortunate that we have one property owner within Ceres that seems to play how he wants to play and doesn't care about the residents," said Lane. "I'm sorry for that but Mr. Shepherd was right in stating that if you install a rent control ordinance it's going to effect other parks that are doing a great job."

Lane added that he feels very bad for Colony Park residents and "wished people like ELS didn't exist."

Councilman Ochoa said he worked hard on behalf of the rent-weary tenants of the park.

"It's disappointing that one billionaire who lives in Chicago has this kind of clout and we basically felt like we couldn't do much although we gave it such a big try for two years and here we are," said Ochoa.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said he didn't feel controlling rents is "something we should get involved in." He added that rent control expose all taxpayers in Ceres to the potential costs of lawsuits defending an ordinance.