ST. HELENA — Opponents of rent stabilization at Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park have gathered enough signatures to force the City Council to repeal the new ordinance or put it on the ballot.
Opponents needed to collect 344 valid signatures, equivalent to 10 percent of St. Helena’s registered voters. They submitted 579 signatures, and of the 364 checked by the Napa County Election Division, 345 were confirmed to be valid.
Faced on Tuesday with a choice between repealing the ordinance or calling an election, councilmembers were generally in favor of an election, but they asked staff to come back with more details, possibly on Feb. 12.
If the council chooses not to repeal the ordinance, it would have the choice of calling a special election in no less than 88 days, at an estimated cost of $15,000-$20,000, or waiting for the November 2020 general election, which would cost about $5,000. In the meantime, the ordinance would remain suspended pending the outcome of the election.
City Manager Mark Prestwich said he will come back to the council with more details about the timeline, whether the city budget could accommodate the cost of an election, and the possibility of hiring a facilitator or mediator. He will also look into whether the council could save some money by scheduling the referendum for the March 2020 primary election.
“I think it is important to have a community-wide discussion about this and get the facts out there,” Councilmember Mary Koberstein said. “I think it will be easier then for everybody to move beyond it. I can’t see dragging this out for almost another two years.”
“I think two years is too long. I think 90 days is too short,” Councilmember Paul Dohring said.
Adopted by the council in November by a 3-2 vote, the ordinance would give residents of St. Helena’s only mobile home park the option of continuing under long-term leases with the traditional annual rent increases imposed by the park owners, or choosing a short-term lease that would cap rent increases at 3 percent of the base rent or 100 percent of the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.
Supporters say the ordinance would help preserve the park’s continued affordability for seniors and give residents the flexibility of opting in or out of rent stabilization. Opponents said it would jeopardize the strong relationship between residents and the owners and threaten the park’s business plan.
The owners’ attorney previously raised the possibility of suing the city or closing the park if the ordinance is enacted.