By William W. Abbott

Mobilehome parks represent meaningful opportunities for affordable housing. Conversions of rental mobilehome parks to individual ownerships can create affordable ownership opportunities for lower income families and individuals, or displacement of the same economically disadvantaged households burdened with a difficult-to-relocate housing asset. The legislature has struggled with crafting the appropriate protocols for cities and counties to follow when reviewing applications for park conversion. The most recent judicial decision involves city and county practice when determining whether or not an application represented a bona fide application to convert (Government Code section 66427.5.)

Originally enacted in 1991, this code section has steadily morphed to add new provisions in response to legislative recognition of new issues associated in conversion. In 2002, the appellate court in El Dorado Palm Springs, Ltd.v. City of Palm Springs (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1153 concluded that based upon the statute as then enacted, that the scope of local government discretion when acting on an application was strictly constrained to that limited provisions found in the code, and in particular, concluded that local governments were precluded from imposing conditions to prevent sham or fraudulent conversions. This scenario of limited discretion of course is at great variance to the discretion typically enjoyed by most cities and counties when acting upon pending applications for land use approvals. In response to the El Dorado decision, the legislature, in the same year amended section 66427.5 to provide for a tenant survey. The code directed that the results of the survey would be delivered to the city or county processing the applications, and that the scope of review was limited to compliance with “section 66427.5”.

With that as background, Goldstone sought approval for a mobilehome park conversion in Santa Cruz County. The applicant completed the requisite park tenant survey, the overwhelming results of which were in opposition to the conversion. There was a dispute as to how the survey information was conducted and whether or not the homeowners association cajoled tenants into opposing the conversion. The planning commission recommended against the conversion and the Board of Supervisors, based upon the negative resident survey results, denied the application. The applicant filed a writ challenging the decision, arguing that the scope of local inquiry was limited to whether or not the statutorily required survey was conducted, but not the results of the survey. Recognizing the ambiguity in the code, the appellate court ultimately concluded that the city or county processing the application could take into consideration the results of the tenant survey when making its decision to approve or deny the conversion. As a result, the appellate decision affirms the County’s denial. Paul Goldstone v. County of Santa Cruz (July 17, 2012, H036273) ___Cal.App.4th ___.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.