Huntington Beach took a step this week toward protecting seniors and veterans living in mobile home parks from being priced out by rent hikes.
City Council members voted 5 to 2 on Monday to start the process of putting rent contol on the November ballot. A second council vote must still be held.
The proposed amendment to the city charter would affect mobile home park residents whose monthly rent is more than a third of their monthly income. It is designed to help seniors and veterans who are on fixed incomes.
The amendment would also prohibit park owners from increasing rents on those who qualify for rent control by more than 6% annually or the local consumer price index, whichever is higher. The CPI is one measure of inflation.
Council members Dave Sullivan and Jim Katapodis brought forward the item in response to months of public testimony by mobile home park residents, specifically those living in Pacific Mobile Home Park, who told city leaders about continual rent increases.
Mobile home park resident Carmine Santaniello, a veteran, said his rent was increased by 12% at the beginning of the year.
"I believe the stories, on the basis of my own research, that were heard tonight, and I think this council wouldn't be able to look themselves in the mirror if they didn't do something about it," Sullivan said.
Council members Joe Shaw, Jill Hardy and Connie Boardman said they favor placing the item on the November ballot, but had concerns about the speed with which the necessary documents are being completed.
The item must be approved at a special meeting July 28 for it to be sent to Orange County registrar's office in time. However, city staff is already working on getting on the ballot a fireworks measure that would ask voters if they want the state-approved varieties to be legal in the city.
"I worry about having a well-written and vetted measure that will pass the legal challenges, the political challenges, fundraising challenges and message challenges," Hardy said. "There's a lot of things to get done before mid-October when absentee ballots go out, and I want the best ballot measure that could possibly be written and I'm just a little concerned about the timeline."
She added that although the city may be pushing to get this issue on the ballot too quickly, she said she understands that mobile home residents can't wait for the next election in 2016 to seek relief.
Councilman Joe Carchio, who dissented, said rent control doesn't work and that if the measure loses at the polls, it would put the mobile home residents in a worse bargaining position than before.
"I really believe, and have always believed this, that the two parties can sit down and discuss something," he said. "You could probably come up with a better solution than us making that decision here tonight."
Mayor Matthew Harper, who also dissented, said Huntington Beach residents have already voted on the matter, in 2002, when they decided against imposing rent control in mobile home parks.
Additionally, Harper said it is not the right of the government to dictate how much something costs.
"The government has no business deciding the price for rent for land than it does the price of a potato, tomato, a rifle, a printing press, a Bible or even a plastic bag," he said.