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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | When the city of San Diego included a mobile home park in Linda Vista in its for-sale list of surplus properties in January, residents there fretted. Then they lobbied, e-mailed, called and cried. And the city took the Linda Vista Village off the list.
But that wasn’t enough to return peaceful slumber to all of the residents in the 220 lots in the park. They know mobile home parks are out-of-vogue housing options that run counter to the city’s stated goals of more people living on less land. So they’ve mobilized, creating a committee to coalesce a plan to buy the park themselves, and retaining a consultant to help them navigate the situation.
The park’s residents own their homes, but the city owns the land underneath. That leaves them on shaky ground, they say. As they catch wind of the struggles of some of their mobile home compatriots elsewhere in the county, they know some developers are looking for loopholes. In some cases, including a recent one in the Mission Valley Village park, a developer secretly approached the owner of the park, though the property wasn’t on the market.
Those familiar with mobile home property transactions call that loophole an “unsolicited offer.” That circumvented giving the residents a chance to buy the land, because the developer offered more money than the residents could, in cash, with only a few days to respond. And now, that property is planned to become 445 apartments.
Linda Vista Village fears that fate. It’s not enough to be taken off the list, residents say.
“It leaves us sitting like ducks in the water,” said Linda Brannon-Blair, a homeowner in the park who sits on the purchase committee. Having the land sold “is what we fear the most right now.”
But the city vows it’s not selling. The city is not the same as a private landowner with a back room for accepting unsolicited offers, officials say.
“That property is not for sale, we are not working with anyone on the property, we have no intention of selling that property,” said Jim Waring, land-use czar for the Mayor’s Office. “It’s not on a list at all.”
Waring said the city couldn’t accept a secret offer even if it was outlandishly large, because of legal steps the city has to go through to sell anything. The municipal code states that for a private bid to be considered, the residents would have 45 days to gather resources to meet the city’s terms for sale.
“Considering the sensitivity of mobile home parks, [the residents] have protection in the fact that the landowner is the city,” he said. “If someone came in with a billion dollars we couldn’t do anything in two days. We couldn’t do it if we wanted to.”
The residents know, though, that the park’s operator, Matt Follett, is interested in buying the land. Follett currently leases the park from the city, collects rent and completes maintenance. The property is subject to a 65-year ground lease that expires in 2034.
Follett didn’t return phone calls Tuesday, but his attorney, Ken Lounsbury confirmed that Follett, through his Tecolote Investors LLC, has told the city he wants the property.
“For the past year and a half, Matt has indicated his interest as a purchaser,” Lounsbury said, adding that Follett had an appraisal completed on the land and submitted an offer “consistent with that appraisal” in February, soon after the city technically removed the park from the real estate for-sale list.
Lounsbury said that offer was rejected, even though Follett included an agreement to maintain all of the existing rent provisions including the units that would have remained as affordable housing. Sixty-six of the park’s 220 spaces are reserved for low-income occupants.
When resident Dennis Jones learned the city had slotted Linda Vista Village for sale as part of a massive real estate assets sale in January, he’d lived in the park for only two months. And before that, he was kicked out of his mobile home at De Anza Harbor Resort when the ground lease there expired and the city began converting the property, which is public tidelands, back to parkland.
So Jones is no stranger to changing terms at mobile home parks. He just wasn’t expecting to deal with the upheaval again so soon. And that’s why he and the majority of the residents in the park voted to purchase the land, so they can “attach” their homes to the land underneath.
“The park’s wonderful,” he said. “We found it so quiet. It’s a really homey atmosphere.”
Jerry Fisher, the consultant retained by the park’s homeowners association, said it’s his experience that this type of housing — long acknowledged to be the most affordable type of housing for many fixed-income people such as many senior citizens — is on its way out.
“It’s clear, there’s an underlying agenda that cities want to erase these facilities,” he said. “That’s clearly the agenda.”
Waring acknowledged that the city’s current Housing Element, the planning blueprint for methods and types of development, stipulates that no new mobile home parks will be built. Neighboring residents have opposed such projects in recent years. And the low-density model is changing in San Diego, he said.
“We don’t have a lot of mobile homes in the city anyway, and you actually can deliver more housing in the space,” he said. “To some extent they are aging assets because they’re not being replaced.”
Waring said mobile home parks will likely naturally phase out of San Diego, though at a snail’s pace — “over the coming decades,” he said.
But Waring emphasized the residents should rest easy. He’s promised Councilwoman Donna Frye, the City Council representative for the park, that should the department ever decide to sell the land, her office would be alerted.
“Those people shouldn’t worry,” Waring said. “The residents have nothing to worry about. There will be no surprises.”
(Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the full name of Linda Brannon-Blair. We regret the error.)