Trial Court: Santa Cruz County Superior Court Superior Court No. CV164458 Trial Judge: Hon. Timothy R. Volkmann
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Premo, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
(Santa Cruz County Super. Ct. No. CV164458)
Appellant Paul Goldstone Trust U.T.D. June 27, 2003 (Goldstone) appeals from a judgment entered on its petition for writ of administrative mandamus, in which it sought to overturn the decision of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors denying its application to convert the Alimur Mobilehome Park (Alimur) from rental to condominium ownership. That petition was opposed in the trial court by respondent County of Santa Cruz (County) and intervenor Alimur Park Homeowners Association (HOA).
On appeal, Goldstone contends that County exceeded its authority under Government Code section 66427.5*fn1 by relying on the near-unanimous opposition of the mobilehome park residents, as reflected in a survey of resident support, as the reason for denying the conversion application. According to Goldstone, section 66427.5, subdivision (e) requires that the scope of a conversion application hearing is limited to determining whether or not the applicant complied with section 66427.5's requirements.
We disagree and shall affirm the judgment. Under section 66427.5, subdivision (d)(5), County was authorized to take the results of the resident survey into account when making its decision.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn2
Goldstone is the owner of Alimur, a 147-space mobilehome park located in an unincorporated portion of County. Alimur has operated as a rental park for many years, meaning residents owned their respective mobilehomes but leased the space on which their mobilehome sat. On June 19, 2007, Goldstone applied for a permit to convert Alimur to resident ownership.
Goldstone entered into an agreement with HOA over the content of a survey form (resident survey) to be provided to Alimur residents. The resident survey advised the residents of the proposed conversion to resident ownership and requested they complete the survey to indicate whether or not they supported the conversion. Residents were directed to contact representatives from both HOA and Goldstone if they had questions about "their views on the conversion and its impact on [the resident]."
In June 2008, Goldstone prepared and distributed to the residents a tenant impact report (TIR) which provided information on the proposed conversion and explained "the protections afforded to those Resident Households that elect not to purchase a condominium interest in the Park." According to the TIR, "[b]ased upon a demographic survey of all Resident Households taken during September 2007, it is estimated that 84% (eighty-four percent) of the current residents are low income; 48% (forty-eight percent) are seniors (62 years of age or older); and 11% (eleven percent) are disabled [citation]."
The resident survey was distributed on August 20, 2008. One hundred twenty-one residents returned completed ballots, with two supporting the conversion and 119 opposing it.*fn3
On October 7, 2008, Goldstone sent a letter to HOA claiming that residents had complained "of overt intimidation, misinformation and scare tactics by certain members of the HOA Board in pressuring them to vote against the conversion. It was reported the HOA representatives preyed on the elderly and most vulnerable residents, telling them that they were going to lose their homes and be forced to move if they did not vote against the conversion. Others reported that the HOA went door-to-door, refusing to leave until residents marked the survey against the conversion. Residents have reported that the intimidation used was relentless, and so frightening that they are not even willing to let their names be used for fear of retribution."
HOA responded to Goldstone on October 11, 2008, expressing disbelief that anyone at Alimur was intimidated or harassed by any other resident, let alone a member of HOA's Board. HOA urged the supposedly intimidated residents to come forward so that their complaints could be investigated.
The staff report, prepared for the scheduled February 25, 2009 hearing on Goldstone's conversion application, recommended that the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission vote to recommend that the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (Board) deny the application. According to the staff report, the proposed conversion was "presumed to not be a bona-fide resident conversion" as defined by former Santa Cruz County Code section 14.08.070*fn4 because the resident survey showed the conversion was supported by less than 50 percent of residents.
On February 23, 2009, Goldstone wrote a letter to the members of the planning commission in support of the application. In that letter, Goldstone again claimed that residents were "subject[ed] to a campaign of misinformation and harassment by the Park's HOA." Attached to the letter was a signed statement from one Alimur resident, Cynthia Bunch, who described how she was pressured to vote against the conversion by an HOA member. The letter also advised that, if the application were approved, Goldstone would provide incentives to promote unit purchases by the residents including a 15 percent discount off the appraised fair market value of the unit and 20 percent owner financing at below market rates, and would commit to extending statutory rent control protections to moderate-income residents as well as low-income residents.
At the February 25, 2009 planning commission hearing, residents submitted approximately 50 letters explaining why they opposed the conversion. The planning commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Board deny the conversion application.
On April 21, 2009, the Board held a public hearing to consider Goldstone's application. No Alimur residents testified in support of the application, though several testified in opposition. Many residents submitted written statements opposing the conversion. The Board voted unanimously to deny the application on the grounds that the proposed conversion was presumptively not a bona fide resident conversion in accordance with Santa Cruz County Code section 14.08.070 based on the fact that less than 50 percent of the residents surveyed supported the conversion.
In July 2009, Goldstone filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court. HOA was granted leave to intervene in the writ proceedings.
On September 15, 2009, the Board rescinded its denial of Goldstone's application and remanded the matter to the planning commission for reconsideration under section 66427.5. At the same meeting, the Board initiated the repeal of Chapter 14.08 of the Santa Cruz County Code. The impetus for both of these actions was the publication of Sequoia Park Associates v. County of Sonoma (2009) 176 Cal.App.4th 1270 (Sequoia Park), which invalidated a similar Sonoma County mobilehome conversion ordinance.
On December 30, 2009, the trial court denied Goldstone's writ petition without prejudice, pending the Board's taking further action on the conversion application. The court also found that, contrary to Goldstone's position, section 66427.5, subdivision (d)(5), "is clear and unambiguous on its face, and states that the results of the required resident survey shall be considered by the local agency reviewing the application as part of the subdivision map hearing required by . . . section 66427.5[,] [subdivision] (e). Based on this plain and clear language, the Court finds that a local agency considering a subdivision application under . . . section 66427.5 is required to consider ...