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Residents in Vineyard Valley have been working for years to get the protections of a Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) for Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park. Our City Council responded by crafting and approving the ordinance in November 2018.

Immediately, the park owners paid solicitors to collect signatures from St. Helena residents to put a referendum on the ballot, in an attempt to stop the ordinance from going into effect. The city will hold a special election on June 4. Information about the ordinance is being provided by the "YES for Measure F" campaign, supporters of the RSO from Vineyard Valley at secureseniorhousing.com.

The St. Helena RSO was patterned after similar ordinances that have withstood the test of time and have been upheld in courts. Over 110 jurisdictions in California have RSOs to secure affordable living in mobile home parks (MHP). Our neighbors in Calistoga, Napa, Santa Rosa and Sonoma have RSOs as does Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Malibu. Rent stabilization offers local seniors long-term land lease stability.

A Yes vote for Measure F gives current home owners of Vineyard Valley the choice to participate in the RSO, by either signing a one-year RSO land lease, with its multiple protections, or a seven-year lease with the landlord. When signing the landlord’s lease it is unknown what the rent increase or conditions will be when the lease comes up for renewal. Both leases are still administered and collected by the landlord.

New homebuyers take on the same terms of the lease that the selling homeowner had until the lease expires. When that lease expires, then the new homeowner can chose a rent stabilized lease or a landlord’s lease. This is known as vacancy control. It helps to stabilize rents over the long run. The choice is built in and stated no less than four times in the ordinance. The opposition will tell you that it is not a choice. This is simple untrue.

The RSO land lease is tied to 100 percent of CPI or 3 percent, whichever is lower. Our landlord stated at a City Council meeting, that the Vineyard Valley LLC’s business model is based on 3 percent annual increases. The City Council heard this and put it in the ordinance, along with a provision guaranteeing a fair and reasonable rate of return on the park owner’s investment. Residents want the LLC to succeed, but we also want the park to operate for the benefit of homeowners as well.

The owners of this park own two other MHPs that have Rent Stabilization Ordinances. They haven’t sold them, yet they have threatened to sell Vineyard Valley if the RSO succeeds. Lengthy letters from the park owner’s lawyers have threatened either closure or sale of the park. Due to these threats, or for fear of retaliation, or conflicts between neighbors, some Vineyard Valley residents have not wanted to support this ordinance publicly. Only 87 VV residents signed the citywide petition.

Our homes are our most valuable asset and we have a right to protect them. Mobile homes are not really mobile, there is no place to move them to, the cost to move them is prohibitive and the damages can be substantial. We own our home and we rent the land. This unique situation makes us what the MHP industry calls a “captive tenant.” We have no choice but to lease the land on which our houses sit; the ordinance simply gives legal stabilization to ongoing price increases and service cuts.

MHPs are considered lucrative and sought after by large investors, who then come in and raise rents substantially, driving homeowners out and losing an affordable source of city housing. There’s no telling when, or how much money it would take, for our current landlords to sell this park. With an RSO in place, it is less likely that Vineyard Valley would be sold to speculative developers because they can’t raise rents more than 3 percent on homes with an RSO land lease.

The RSO contains other provisions, such as requiring that the current level of park service and maintenance be maintained. If they are significantly reduced (pool closure or utilities no longer included) then the rent must be proportionally reduced. The ordinance requires dispute processes for both landowners and homeowners, which include mediation before costly litigation.

Rent stabilization is not rent control. Rent control is established on buildings and does not always include provisions for investors’ fair return on investment or required maintenance and continued services. St. Helena’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance is for mobile home parks only. We have no market forces in St. Helena to put a check on rents, there is only one mobile home park so there is no competition.

When you vote, please consider your 55-plus neighbors living in Vineyard Valley, as valuable, engaged and active residents of St. Helena. Just look around you’ll find us supporting local businesses, working in the city, attending social and school events and volunteering. Help us protect the affordable, senior living that we love, in Vineyard Valley. Vote yes on Measure F.

Robin McGuire

Resident, Vineyard Valley MHP

Campaign Committee Yes on Measure F

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