2017-04-20 / Community

Court rules in city’s favor in Ranch case

Judge says law is working
By Becca Whitnall

COSTLY WIN—After five years of wrangling and $750,000 in legal fees, the City of Thousand Oaks has prevailed in a lawsuit filed by residents of Ranch Mobile Home Park, who claimed the city’s 2011 rent-control stabilization ordinance was illegally applied. ACORN FILE PHOTO COSTLY WIN—After five years of wrangling and $750,000 in legal fees, the City of Thousand Oaks has prevailed in a lawsuit filed by residents of Ranch Mobile Home Park, who claimed the city’s 2011 rent-control stabilization ordinance was illegally applied. ACORN FILE PHOTO A protracted, and sometimes ugly, legal battle between the City of Thousand Oaks and the residents of a low-income mobile home park for seniors is over.

Late last month the California 2nd District Court of Appeal found the city broke no laws when it altered its long-standing rent-control ordinance in 2011 to reflect a 10-year deal crafted by the owners and tenants of six T.O. mobile home parks.

At the time, the city was under pressure from park owners who were threatening to sue if Thousand Oaks didn’t allow fair-market increases.

The ordinance controls rent increases through the year 2021 and prevents residents from being evicted from their units for the inability to pay.

Attorneys representing a group of residents from one of the two communities that refused to take part in negotiations— Ranch Mobile Home Park—had argued since 2012 that the new law was discriminatory because it unfairly targeted the disabled. Some of the park’s residents are disabled and nearly all are on a fixed income.

The complaint was filed by Karen Montana, the daughter of former Ranch resident Leo Rampersad, who died shortly after the case got underway, and Senior Alliance For Empowerment (SAFE), a nonprofit created by the park’s residents.

When the City Council adopted the law in 2011 the cost to rent space at Ranch was $133 a month, the lowest rate in the city, if not the county. The change allowed the park’s owner to increase the monthly rent to $325, phased in over seven years. He had requested a $500 hike.

Appellate Judge Kenneth Yegan said in his decision that the law seemed to be working.

“No mobile home park has closed since the adoption of (the ordinance), and the Ranch— even with a $191.85 per month rent increase—is still the most affordable mobile home park in the city,” Yegan wrote. “Disparate impact claims may not be based on statistically insignificant disparities.”

Despite the legal win, few at City Hall are taking victory laps. In addition to the cost related to hiring outside counsel to make repeated court appearances, the case, Rampersad v. City of Thousand Oaks, put the city in the unenviable position of having to litigate against seniors living below the poverty line.

Those at City Hall are glad it’s over.

“A long case has finally come to an end,” Mayor Claudia Bill-de la Peña said in an interview. “This decision was the right one for Thousand Oaks and all its mobile home parks. . . . I hope the residents know that every decision we made was with their best interest at heart.”

In return for a promise from the plaintiffs that they would not try to take the case before the California Supreme Court, the city has agreed it will not seek to recover its legal costs, which total around $750,000 for the five-year case, Assistant City Attorney David Womack said in an email.

Speaking on behalf of the city attorney’s office, Womack said the effort was ultimately worth it despite the immense cost.

“Considering the (benefits) of ending this prolonged litigation and obtaining a final resolution which effectively protects all of the city’s mobile home park residents, including the Ranch Mobile Home Park residents, the city considers this result to be a tremendous victory and vindication of the hard work and efforts by everyone involved with the passage of the city’s rent-stabilization ordinance,” he said.

Les Brown, attorney for the Ranch residents, had a different view of the outcome.

“It’s tragic that a city that wants to be known as a worldclass city went out of its way to destroy the last independent, affordable-housing community for low-income seniors in Thousand Oaks,” Brown said “They did this by breaking a promise to this very vulnerable group of citizens.”

Had the city not fought to win the case, every Thousand Oaks resident living at a mobile home park would have been put at risk, city attorney Tracy Noonan has said.

Jim Wolf, who since 2012 has been the unofficial spokesperson for park residents, withheld comment about the verdict at this time, but he said the group will continue to be an advocate for Ranch residents.

“We will continue to fight for affordable housing for the elderly, poor and disabled citizens of Thousand Oaks who hope to live out their lives here with independence and dignity,” Wolf wrote in an email to the paper.

Acorn editor Kyle Jorrey contributed to this article.

Return to top