Saturday I attended a city presentation to learn more about the current hot topic, the upcoming referendum on the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Before the meeting, I had only a very hazy idea of what it all was about; I’m glad I went. City Manager Mark Prestwich and the representative from the City Attorney’s office were straight-forward, impartial and informative. The RSO is 27 pages long, but their PowerPoint presentation will be on the city website. Look at it. Please find out as much as you can about the ordinance before you vote on it. And please vote, one way or the other.
What I took away from the presentation is that the proposed RSO will affect only those residents of Vineyard Valley who “opt-in.” For those who don’t want to opt-in, they just don’t and life goes on as usual for them. The Vineyard Valley owner said that the rent increases have been 3 percent for years, which to me implies that they will continue at that level. Good. Coincidentally, that’s the limit on rent increases for those who opt-in.
For those who opt-in, rent increases are limited to the lesser of 3 percent of their base rent or the percentage increase in the Bay Area cost of living index, but the Vineyard Valley owners can ask for approval for a larger rent increase if they make a case that it’s needed, i.e. for serious road or water system repair. Those who don’t opt-in are agreeing to accept whatever rent increases are allowed under their respective leases.
Sounds good to me, so what’s the fuss about? Some think that any governmental restriction on how someone makes money is inherently bad. If that happens to be your belief, then you probably want to vote against it. Aside from that, though, what I’ve heard so far from those opposed is that it wouldn’t be fair to the owners. Which owners are they thinking of, the current ones or the next ones?
Since the current owners have demonstrated that they are considerate of their long-time residents, I applaud them and hope they continue to own Vineyard Valley for a long time and continue their resident-friendly operation. But people grow old, retire, family dies, priorities change, and who knows what will happen in a year? Or two, or five? At some time, sooner or later, the ownership will change.
What’s that got to do with the RSO? The owners of Vineyard Valley naturally will want to sell the park for the most they can. New owners can raise non-RSO rents as high as they want to increase the income and/or the resale value of Vineyard Valley. And that capability makes the park more valuable to the owners, both current and future.
Do you know how much people make buying mobile home parks? A lot! And how? All they have to do is raise the rents. That not only brings in more cash for them right away, but raising rents means residents who can’t afford to live there anymore have to move out, making room for people with more money (weekend home, anyone?) and the value of the property goes up even more. Something most of us don’t think about is that residents of Vineyard Valley don’t own the land their homes sit on -- that’s what they’re paying rent on. But as a practical matter, they can’t move their “mobile” homes out of Vineyard Valley because they’re not that mobile. In other words, they’re locked in. That’s called being between a rock and a hard place. Not a good place to be for someone on a fixed income. Can it happen here? In St. Helena? Of course it can. I’ve heard that some think it can’t, but they’re wrong. We don’t live in a bubble. St. Helena is not an undesirable place to live or to buy up property.
I’m going to vote for the ordinance (Measure F) at the referendum. I strongly encourage you to vote too, whichever way you think is right, but please learn the facts for yourself and don’t just vote the way some flyer or letter to the editor tells you to.