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Colony Cove Properties, LLC v. City of Carson

August 31, 2010

COLONY COVE PROPERTIES, LLC, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF CARSON, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, James Chalfant, Judge. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with directions. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS114932).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manella, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Government Code section 66427.5 contains state-mandated procedures for converting a mobilehome park from landlord ownership to resident ownership.*fn1 It requires, among other things, that parties seeking conversion to resident ownership obtain a "survey of support of residents of the mobilehome park" and submit the results of the survey to the local entity or agency "to be considered as part of the subdivision map hearing . . . ." (§ 66427.5, subd. (d)(1) and (5).) The statute also provides that the subdivision map hearing "shall be limited to the issue of compliance with this section." (Id., subd. (e).) Respondent Colony Cove Properties, LLC (Colony Cove), the owner of the Colony Cove Mobilehome Park located within the boundaries of appellant City of Carson (City), challenged an ordinance enacted by the City which specified that if the survey of support indicated 50 percent or more of the park residents supported the conversion, it would be presumed bona fide; if the survey indicated resident support of 35 percent or less, the conversion would be presumed not bona fide; and if resident support fell between 35 and 50 percent, the owner would be required to demonstrate a plan to convey the majority of the lots to current residents within a reasonable period of time.

In a lengthy order, the trial court concluded, inter alia, that under section 66427.5 the City's responsibilities when faced with a mobilehome park conversion application were essentially ministerial -- that the City was merely to determine whether the survey had been received and filed in accordance with the statute, not to evaluate its contents. The court issued a writ directing the City to vacate the ordinance in its entirety and, in addition, to vacate an ordinance which imposed a moratorium (expired by the time of the hearing) on mobilehome park conversions while the City studied the issue. We reject the trial court's conclusion that the City's role under section 66427.5 is purely ministerial, but nonetheless conclude that the ordinance at issue conflicted with section 66427.5 and is therefore invalid. In addition, we conclude that the issue of the validity of the moratorium was moot at the time the writ was granted. We therefore reverse in part and affirm in part.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. May 2008 Petition

On May 19, 2008, Colony Cove filed a verified writ petition stating that it wished to convert the mobilehome park it owned from rental-only status to condominium style, in which at least some of the residents would own the land underneath their units and also own an undivided interest in the park's common areas. It submitted an application to the City for a tentative map, which would allow Colony Cove to subdivide the property and sell individual interests.*fn2 According to the petition, Colony Cove's application "d[id] not contemplate any new building or development; it merely subdivide[d] the property lines to allow for resident ownership of lots in the Park."

The petition further alleged that in February 2008, the City introduced Ordinance No. 08-1401. As enacted, Ordinance No. 08-1401 provided that "[a] survey of residential support" must be conducted "in compliance with [section 66427.5, subdivision (d)]" and that "[f]or purposes of determining whether a proposed conversion is a bona-fide resident conversion, the following criteria shall be used": (1) "[w]here the survey of resident support . . . shows that more than 50% of resident households support[] the conversion to resident ownership, the conversion shall be presumed to be a bona-fide resident conversion"; (2) "[w]here the survey of resident support . . . shows that at least 35% but not more than 50% of residents support the conversion to resident ownership, the subdivider shall have the burden of demonstrating that the proposed conversion is a bona-fide resident conversion. In such cases, the subdivider shall demonstrate, at a minimum, that a viable plan, with a reasonable likelihood of success as determined by the decision-maker, is in place to convey the majority of the lots to current residents of the park within a reasonable period of time"; (3) "[w]here the survey of resident support . . . shows that less than 35% of residents support the conversion [to] ownership, the conversion shall be presumed not to be a bona-fide resident conversion."*fn3 (Italics omitted.)

The petition sought a writ of mandate directing the City to vacate Ordinance No. 08-1401.

B. June 2008 Petition

On June 13, 2008, Colony Cove filed a second verified petition for writ of mandate. The facts alleged concerning Colony Cove's desire to convert its mobilehome park and its application to the City for the approval necessary to subdivide the property and sell individual units were essentially the same as those alleged in the May 2008 petition. However, in the June petition, Colony Cove additionally alleged that in March 2007, the City adopted an ordinance imposing a 45-day moratorium on converting mobilehome parks to resident ownership. The moratorium ordinance prohibited consideration and approval of any mobilehome park conversion application if such application had not been deemed substantially complete by City staff prior to the effective date of the ordinance. In May 2007, the City adopted an ordinance extending the original moratorium for ten months and fifteen days. Finally, in March 2008, shortly after adopting Ordinance No. 08-1401 (the subject of the May 2008 petition), the City adopted Ordinance No. 08-1402U, extending the moratorium an additional year.

The June 2008 petition sought a writ of mandate vacating Ordinance No. 08-1402U, the last extension moratorium resolution, which at the time had approximately nine months to run. Colony Cove's May 2008 petition and June 2008 petition were consolidated prior to the hearing.

C. Evidence in Support of Petitions

Prior to the hearing on the petitions, Colony Cove submitted three declarations executed by its counsel, Thomas W. Casparian, who had been involved in the conversion of approximately 25 mobilehome parks to resident ownership since 1998.*fn4 In the declaration in support of the May 2008 petition, Casparian stated that when park owners attempt to survey residents regarding support for a proposed conversion, "[t]ypically, . . . fewer than fifty percent (50%) of residents even respond to the Survey." Even when a higher percentage of residents respond, Casparian declared, many fail to state whether they support or oppose conversion.*fn5 Accordingly, Casparian averred, the City's requirement that 50 percent of residents indicate support was a "practical impossibility." Casparian further stated that the City's requirement that in the absence of such support, the owner demonstrate a viable plan to convey the majority of lots to current residents did not take account of an alternative likely scenario: a large number of low-income residents would be unable to purchase but, at the same time, would be entitled under state law to lifetime residence at controlled rents; sale of those spaces could not take place until those residents left or died.

In the declaration in support of the June 2008 petition, Casparian stated that Colony Cove's application was initially submitted to the City in November 2006. In December 2006, City staff notified Colony Cove that additional information was needed to complete the application. Colony Cove submitted the information requested in October 2007 and was informed by City staff that the then-existing moratorium precluded consideration of the application. In November 2007, City staff advised Colony Cove that the City would begin processing the application, but thereafter informed Colony Cove that its application was still incomplete. In February 2008, the City stated that the existence of a moratorium again precluded consideration of the application.

In a supplemental declaration, Casparian stated that in April 2009, the City notified Colony Cove that its application had been deemed incomplete because it did not demonstrate that the proposed conversion was bona fide. The City noted that according to the survey of support submitted in conjunction with the application, less than 35 percent of the park's residents supported the conversion.

D. Evidence in Opposition to Petitions

The City submitted the declaration of Sheri Repp-Loadsman, its Planning Manager. Repp-Loadsman stated that in January 2007, the City had applications pending for the conversion of two separate mobilehome parks to resident ownership. In addition, the owner of a third mobilehome park had approached the City about conversion. The third park was located on the site of a former landfill. Concerned about a number of matters, including the possibility that park residents were unprepared to take on the cost of property maintenance and management or the liability for ownership of contaminated land, the City adopted the moratorium and its extensions to enable it to study the issue. During the moratorium, the Planning Department undertook and completed a study of the impact of mobilehome park conversions by identifying and visiting all the mobilehome parks located within the City, identifying health and safety issues within each park, and holding discussions with residents, managers and owners. Ordinance No. ...


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