Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009 | Wendy McKenzie won’t have friends over to her mobile home in De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park. She may only be a street away from the water, but she can’t really use her deck to host.
The frame is cracking and chunks of wood are missing from the railing, the result of a sustained termite attack over the years. After replacing the sagging roof last year, she has been putting off fixing the deck or fumigating, and tries to strengthen the weakened areas with foam filler.
“You’re not going to spend money to tent it,” McKenzie said. “Why would I, if the place is going to be torn down?”
McKenzie is one of many residents in De Anza Cove living in limbo as a long legal battle has continued over the city’s attempts to evict residents from the park. Residents and other San Diegans interested in what the city will do with such prime bay-front real estate are left waiting, six years after the first of three lawsuits was filed.
Many of the homes in De Anza are older structures, and several residents have put off necessary renovations to their mobile homes or opted for cheaper fixes instead of investing several thousand dollars in homes when they’re not sure how much longer they will be there.
The mobile home park sits on about 75 acres of potentially lucrative real estate just west of Interstate 5, jutting into the water at Mission Bay Park. Homes are set up along winding roads right by the water, and over the years, many residents have made permanent additions to their homes, such as raised foundations, archways and decks. Originally a park of about 500 units, the current number of occupied homes has dropped to two-thirds that amount, said Timothy Tatro, one of the attorneys representing De Anza Cove Home Owner’s Association.
The city hopes to get that number down to zero as it attempts to open the land up to other uses.
The city first began exploring development options there in the early 1980s with the mobile home park’s 50-year lease set to expire in November 2003. It was advised by the state that the land couldn’t continue to be used for permanent residences.
But it wasn’t a smooth transition.
The dispute has long centered on what terms the residents, many of them seniors living on fixed incomes, would accept eviction by the city and, in the end, how much taxpayer money would go toward relocating several hundred people in a region not known for widely available affordable housing.
A judge ruled in early 2008 that the city had violated the state law that governs the use and closure of mobile home parks. But he did not establish how much residents should receive in relocation compensation and was vague on exactly how compensation should be determined, among other issues the plaintiffs had with the resolution, Tatro said. The plaintiffs have appealed the decision for more favorable terms. The earliest a ruling could appear is next year, Tatro said.
‘People Have to Let Their Houses Go’
Walking around in one of her homes in the park, Judy Polge began to notice the floor giving way in certain places. She wasn’t sure what was causing the hollowness — termites or rotting wood or something else. What she did know was that she wasn’t going to fix it — not the floor, nor the rotting beams. Not after recently replacing the roof so it wouldn’t cave in, Polge said.
“It’s really sad that people have to let their houses go and you don’t have the money to spend on it because of the economy,” Polge said. “You don’t know [what’s going to happen]. If you knew, you could scrape together to get the money to repair that spot.”
Other residents also put off fixes until it was almost too late to do anything else. Last summer, Virginia and Victor Sutton talked about replacing their deck after they noticed how badly the platform sank when they sat down in chairs. The last time they tented their house for termites was 15 years ago and a more recent estimate was pricier than expected, the Suttons said.
So the couple waited until the past month to reinforce the beams underneath the deck. In some areas, only paint was holding the tiles together, which they won’t be replacing.
“It had to be done or else we’d fall through,” Virginia Sutton said. “We did as much patching as we could. Now there’s nothing we can do, just wait.”
Meanwhile, other San Diegans who don’t live in the mobile home park, are impatiently waiting to see when the city gets use of the land back and what it will do once it does. In the 1980s and the 1990s, the city considered redevelopment plans for the land, including talks for hotel development, which would bring in lease and tax revenues.
“It’s demonstrative of the city’s inability to properly negotiate written agreements and enforce them,” said Stanley Paul Cook, a local Realtor. “It’s a source of potential income that could benefit the city.”
Residents want to move on as well, looking forward to the day when the legal battles end.
McKenzie lived on a boat before she moved to De Anza and when she leaves, she wants to return to that lifestyle.
“There’s a life waiting for me that I can’t get to,” McKenzie said. “But I can’t afford to walk away from here. It’s like being in prison.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the number of years since the first lawsuit was filed and the point in the process that the state advised the city the land couldn’t be used for permanent residents. They have been updated. We regret the error.
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