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Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park

Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park in St. Helena.

Depending on who’s describing it, Measure F is either a tool to protect reasonably priced senior housing or an unwelcome government intrusion into a cordial relationship between Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park’s tenants and owners.

City officials steered a neutral course during Saturday’s informational workshop, taking a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to a polarizing measure that will be decided by a June 4 special election.

“We are Switzerland,” said City Manager Mark Prestwich before he and Deepa Sharma, an attorney representing the city, delved into the details of the rent stabilization ordinance (RSO).

A “yes” vote would enact an ordinance passed by the City Council last November introducing rent stabilization at the city’s mobile home parks, of which there is currently only one. A “no” vote would maintain the status quo at Vineyard Valley, where tenants typically sign a long-term lease with annual rent increases of 3 percent.

Under Measure F, tenants entering into new leases would have two choices: a short-term lease of 12 months or less subject to rent stabilization or a long-term lease with the park’s usual rent increases.

Annual rent increases for rent-stabilized leases would be capped at 100 percent of the change in the Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 3 percent of the base rent, whichever is less.

If park owners seek a higher rent increase than the formula allows, they would have to hold informational meetings to explain the reason for the increase – major capital improvements, for example – and engage in mediation with the leaseholders.

If mediation fails, the dispute could end up in arbitration, where an arbitrator would ensure that the park owner receives a “just and reasonable return.”

Rent increases exceeding 300 percent of the change in CPI would go straight to arbitration once mediation fails. Rent increases of 300 percent or less of the change in CPI would go to arbitration only if 51 percent of the rent-stabilized leaseholders sign a petition for rate review.

The city would pay all related costs (mediation, arbitration, staff time) until 50 percent of the leases opt into rent stabilization. Once that threshold is crossed, the city could charge a fee to the owner, who could pass half of that cost on to tenants.

The ordinance also contains a vacancy control provision. When a unit is “sold in place” and the new buyer chooses a rent-stabilized lease, the park owner wouldn’t be able to increase the rent beyond what’s allowed by the rent stabilization formula.

The owner would be able to bring the rent up to market rate if the buyer signs a long-term lease, if there’s a “termination of a tenancy,” if a mobile home is abandoned or removed for reasons other than off-site rehabilitation, or if the owner can establish that an adjustment is necessary for the owner to receive a fair return.

The city will hold another informational workshop about Measure F at 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, at the firehouse.

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