A judge is poised to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the wording of St. Helena’s rent stabilization ballot measure.
Following a Thursday hearing, Napa County Superior Court Judge Monique Langhorne rejected the lawsuit’s central claims and scheduled a May 23 hearing where the case could be formally dismissed.
The challenge involves Measure F, a June 4 ballot measure that would introduce rent stabilization at Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park. Langhorne’s ruling rejected the lawsuit’s claim that the City Council-approved wording of the ballot question is false, misleading and improperly argumentative.
The ballot question “does in fact state the true nature of what this ordinance is about,” Langhorne said.
The ballot question reads “Shall Ordinance No. 2018-9 be adopted to 1) establish a rent stabilization program for St. Helena mobile home park residents who opt into the program by signing a lease of twelve months or less; 2) provide mobile home park owners a just and reasonable return on investment; and 3) create a dispute resolution process for the park owner and residents if the owner proposes an annual rent increase that is above the permissible limit?”
The lawsuit filed by Tom Vence, a Vineyard Valley resident who is also the park’s weekend manager, sought a court order removing the words “opt in,” changing the phrase “rent stabilization” to “rent control,” and specifying that the ordinance would apply to the park’s owners. The lawsuit also sought changes to the council’s ballot argument in favor of Measure F.
The phrase “opt in” incorrectly implied that the ordinance was entirely voluntary, argued Vence’s attorney, Brian Hildreth, during Thursday’s hearing.
“It’s not voluntary for the park owners,” Hildreth said.
The plaintiff’s argument that the ordinance only applies to owners of mobile home parks is “patently false” because it would also affect mobile home park residents who opt into rent stabilization, Langhorne ruled.
The ruling affirmed that if Measure F passes, Vineyard Valley residents “would have a choice” between a short-term lease subject to rent stabilization or a long-term lease subject to the park’s usual rent increases.