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Legal Battleships Are Still Docked At De Anza Cove

Watching the sun sparkle on the water is familiar to San Diegans who have visited Mission Bay. And it's also the view you get from the mobile home of Ernie Abbit, who told me what he likes about living at the De Anza Cove mobile home park.

"Everything. Absolutely everything. It's peaceful. It's beautiful. It's quiet. It's the kind of neighborhood you want to be in,” he said. “I've always liked the waterfront."

Aired 9/13/12 on KPBS News.

The years-long court battle over 76 acres of Mission Bay Park, and the mobile homes that remain there, could end early next year. Or an appeal could set it back in motion.

But Abbit, and his neighbors who now occupy more than 300 mobile homes, aren't supposed to be here because their lease ran out in 2003. The reason they remain relates to a prolonged legal tangle with the city, which the courts may resolve early next year.

Scott Chipman is a Mission Bay community activist whose views sum up the frustration of many people who want the city to reclaim the land.

"The important point here is that the rights of the people of San Diego are being denied the use of Mission Bay Park as it was intended to be used,” said Chipman, "because we have people who have permanent housing on tidelands and on Mission Bay Park property."

The De Anza Cove mobile home park takes up 76 acres in the middle of Mission Bay Park. Most of the residents of De Anza Cove are elderly, and they are paying rents that are far below the commercial rates you'd expect of waterfront property.

Despite the many disputes in this case, one fact is undeniable: Residents of the mobile home park had known for years that their leases would end in 2003. William Rathbone, a private attorney representing the city, said the plan to terminate the lease was spelled out in a long-term rental agreement, established in the 1980s.

"And every resident who entered the park after that date signed a document saying they agreed with that provision," said Rathbone.

But Abbit, who also serves as the head of the De Anza Cove homeowners association, said residents of De Anza Cove have limited options as to where they can move. He also said the city has not met its obligations to them.

"If we had been treated justly and properly, we would have left, and it wouldn't have been any problem," said Abbit.

Five years ago, a district court judge upheld the lease expiration. But he also ruled the city could not evict De Anza residents on the basis of their rental agreement. He said state law, governing mobile homes, must determine how much money, in the form of relocation benefits, the residents are entitled. What those benefits will be remains a question.

Assuming De Anza Cove is turned back to the city's park system, there is one other question: What will the city do with it? Will they turn it back into green space and playgrounds? Or will they try to lease the land to a resort hotel like the Mission Bay Hilton?

Bill Gelfand is the former manager of the De Anza Cove mobile home park, who now runs a campsite in Mission Bay Park called Campland. He said the city's desire to develop a hotel on De Anza Cove goes way back.

"When we purchased the lease back in 1969, right off the bat they told us they wanted the property converted to hotels," he said.

But there's not a lot of talk of building hotels these days. Gelfand said recessions have put a damper on hotel financing. And the limited leases that are allowed on California tidelands discourage hoteliers from building on the land.

Community activist Scott Chipman has another plan, which he's shared with at least two City Councilmembers. It would expand park green space on the shores De Anza cove and would move Gelfand’s operation, Campland, across Rose Creek onto the De Anza Cove property. But Chipman points out that his plan, or any other, depends on getting the legal mess taken care of.

“The city has an obligation to settle this as soon as possible, because this has been dragging out and dragging out,” said Chipman.

Some people suggest the city may be willing to drag its feet, given the rents they still receive from De Anza Cove. But City Councilman Kevin Falconer, the former chairman of the Mission Bay Park Committee, says he want to see things finished up.

“Every year that litigation continues is another year that property is not open for the public,” he said. “And that's what the property needs to be. Open for the public."

Early next year, a judge is expected to render a ruling that spells out the relocation benefits for the residents of De Anza Cove. But the city, and the mobile home owners, are $50 million apart in what they want those benefits to amount to.

Ernie Abbit said if mobile home owners think the judge's decision shortchanges them, they will consider filing an appeal. I asked him what he thought of the possibility that an appeal could cause this litigation to go on for years to come.

“That’s fine with me,” he said. “I will stay here as long as I have to and want to. And I do want to.”

Whatever the district court judge rules next year, there's still no telling when the legal process will loosen its grip on De Anza Cove.

Comments

Avatar for user 'jskdn'

jskdn | September 13, 2012 at 8:22 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

“But the city, and the mobile home owners, are $50 million apart in what they want those benefits to amount to.”

That would amount to an additional $167,000 per resident over what the city is offering, however much that is. How much are current rents? What would market-rate rents be?

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | September 13, 2012 at 8:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the note. I spoke with one resident who pays $1,400 a month for a site right on the bay. Another man paid $700 a month for a space further from the water. I think anyone would agree waterfront and near-waterfront property in San Diego would typically go for more than that. The court argument over relocation benefits basically comes down to what it would cost to help relocate the residents in a comparable place and/or compensate them for the loss of their mobile homes. Keep in mind that while the residents own their homes, they don't own the dirt it's located on. What is a comparable home? And what are De Anza Cove residents entitled to under the law? That's what the judge has to figure out.

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Avatar for user 'sbcabello'

sbcabello | September 13, 2012 at 11:22 a.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm not sure that I understand the most basic of premises in this controversy. Are their current residents who have pre-1980's leases that were written prior to the leases that include the language "your lease will expire in 2003"? If so, how many can there be? Does the language of the post 1980's leases state that after 2003, the city will pay to relocate residents to a comparable home at the same rate? If so, that would seem a ludicrous thing for the city to have promised - but not too dissimilar from the pension plan, I suppose. My problem with all of these long-term commitments is that they don't reflect the changing economic needs or obligations of the city. The land at DeAnza clearly does not belong to the mobile home residents. It belongs to all of the residents of the city. If a hotel comes in its place in exchange for millions of dollars, relieving us tax payers of further debt... that's one thing. If mobile residents sit on the sandy shore, sucking up our resources and opportunities, that's something else all together. I don't care if you're old, on a fixed income, or just feel that you're entitled to a bayfront view because you're special. As much as you've come to believe that you deserve to stay forever at DeAnza. You're wrong. As I understand it, your entitlement expired in 2003.

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Avatar for user 'jskdn'

jskdn | September 13, 2012 at 12:13 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for responding Tom. Some years back, a mobile home park that was also name De Anza, located on the ocean in Santa Cruz was subject to a legal challenge to that city's rent-control ordinance resulting in settlement that allowed rent de-control on resale and really large space rents for new tenants. That settlement was largely a function trying to control huge legal costs. I wonder how much this process is costing given this:
http://www.tatrozamoyski.com/deanza_history.html

And as long as the rents remain below market, there is a great incentive to drag out the legal proceedings. Even though the residents have known for decades that the space leases were to end, they are still able to drag their ability to stay there and expect the a relocation package that's huge. Mobile home coaches depreciate in value and I imagine the value of most these is negligible. Even if the coaches could be moved, is there anyplace to move them? Given the value of land, I would be surprised if there is any land zoned for mobile home parks in the area. Do tenants have a right to be relocated into a mobile park in San Diego? I have to wonder why being a tenant in a place where there was such a long-standing understanding of the end of the park would create such large cost obligations for the city.

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Avatar for user 'foxx333'

foxx333 | September 13, 2012 at 5:14 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Do you really think that the public will have use of that land if the Hilton gets it?? You better think again. The city planed to put a motel on that property for years now. Also the only reason the people are still there is because the city didn't follow state law. Maybe you should really know both sides of this legal battle. Not just what little they tell you on the news

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Avatar for user 'CitizenX'

CitizenX | September 13, 2012 at 7:27 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

Maybe another side to this story?

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2011/sep/14/cover-trailer-park/

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Avatar for user 'JD_PeaceKeeper'

JD_PeaceKeeper | September 13, 2012 at 9:33 p.m. ― 2 years, 3 months ago

This story is more involved than can typically fit into a 5-minute soundbite. It's easy to say that the residents knew the lease would end one day. But the case is not about trying to stay. The case is about finding a place for residents to go and helping them overcome the hardship of losing their homes. These homes cannot be moved, so residents are losing their homes and the equity in their homes. They have to re-enter the housing market at a time in their lives when most of them are not able to gain full time employment again. But more important to the story is that which is seldom reported. The City began reviewing development plans for a mammoth resort in the early 70s and continued to do so for decades. (You are kidding yourself if you think this land will become picnic benches and fire pits---it is far too valuable.) So the City began planning for park closure years ago, figured out what they would make in future development funds, figured out the cost of relocating all 500+ households, raised park rents to cover those projected relocation costs, and then spent on other things the money earmarked for relocation. The City then passed a local ordinance, attempting to exempt the City from having to comply with State law that governs the closure of mobilehome parks and applies to every other charter city in the state. Think about that for a moment---the City, as lawmaker, tried to give itself a free pass from having to comply, as park-owner, with the very law that applies to every other park-owner. No private park-owner would have been able to do that. The significance of the trial court's ruling 5-years-ago was not that the lease had expired, but that the City had violated state law by trying to evict residents from their homes without providing for their relocation. That's what the case is about: affordable housing, fair treatment, and playing by the rules. Go to courthouse and pull the file. Go to the attorneys' website and read the briefs and court rulings. The media focuses on the residents still being there, but they wouldn't still be there if the City had followed the law instead of misappropriating the funds. And 10 years of expensive litigation would have been avoided.

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