It was with a heavy heart that I watched the St. Helena City Council approve the Rent Stabilization Ordinance for Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park, the only entity covered by the ordinance, at a recent council meeting.
A solid majority of the residents and the owners made their opposition known repeatedly, believing it was not needed, a “solution looking for a problem,” if you will. The same family has owned the park since 1975 and rent increases have been a steady 3 percent annually. Plus, the owners have asserted frequently that they have no intention of selling the property. It doesn’t get more stable than that, in our opinion.
With the goal of providing housing protection for seniors that could be done in house, the owners offered to provide a rent credit to any resident paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent and suggested, alternatively, that the city could offer a subsidy program for residents in need. All of this is now off the table since the ordinance was approved is my understanding.
The concept of “unintended consequences” comes to mind, i.e., outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action. There is a possibility of a perverse result here: a perverse effect contrary to what was originally intended, when an intended solution makes a problem worse. This is sometimes referred to as “backfire.”
How ironic it would be that the very thing some residents have been fearing for years, without any evidence whatsoever, that the owners would up and sell the park with very negative effects on homeowners, could be brought about by their surreptitious efforts with some council members to enforce a Rent Stabilization Ordinance. The owners have demonstrated how this would be an intrusion and interruption of their business model and suggest they may have to reconsider their decision to stay.
Another negative outcome could be litigation as both the owner and the city have retained attorneys to advise on the matter. This could turn out to be expensive and time consuming for all parties involved and certainly affect the residents of Vineyard Valley in ways large and small.
At this and a prior council meeting I recommended at least slowing down the process to allow time for our Vineyard Valley community to gather for facilitated meetings to see if we can find common ground, as we are sorely divided over the issue itself, and more importantly, how it was done, i.e., a few residents insisting they knew what was best for all of us without checking with us first. It was an unfortunate decision that has led to hard feelings and divisiveness that will take effort on everyone’s part to heal.
Vineyard Valley resident