California SC rules on mobile home park case

By Nathan Bass | Dec 5, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - By a 6-1 vote, the California Supreme Court has ruled that the conversion of a mobile home park from tenant occupancy to residential ownership is a "development" that falls under California's Coastal and Mello Acts.

Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote the majority opinion and Justice Joyce L. Kennard filed a written dissent.

The City of Los Angeles refused to accept Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates' application to convert its mobile home park from "tenant occupancy" to "resident ownership" because Palisades Bowl had not applied for a coastal development permit or sought Mello Act approval.

Rather than providing the applications, Palisades Bowl sought legal recourse through superior court.

Palisades Bowl argued that the conversion was not a development, so not subject to the Coastal Act and also that the City's action was barred by other law governing mobile home part conversions.

The superior court commanded the city to vacate its decision and to evaluate the conversion application without considering whether it complied with either the Coastal Act or the Mello Act.

The Court of Appeal reversed the superior court, reasoning that policy considerations behind the Coastal and Mello Acts trumped other state law regulating mobile home park conversions.

Pacific Bowl appealed to the state's highest court.

"The Coastal Act," wrote Justice Werdegar, "was enacted by the legislature as a comprehensive scheme to govern land use planning for the entire coastal zone of California"

"[T]he permanent protection of the state's natural and scenic resources is a paramount concern" and the Coastal Act "is to be liberally construed to accomplish its purposes and objectives."

The Mello Act establishes "minimum requirements for housing within the coastal zone for persons and families of low or moderate income."

"[I]t prohibits local governments from authorizing the conversion or demolition of existing residential dwelling units occupied by persons and families of low or moderate income . . . unless provision has been made for the replacement of those units with units for persons and families of low or moderate income."

Palisades Bowl argued that a provision of the "Subdivision Map Act, exempts mobilehome park conversions to resident ownership from other state laws, regulations, or policies, and prohibits local governmental entities from enforcing compliance with any state law requirements except for those imposed by the section itself."

The majority held that the Subdivision Map Act section relied on by Palisades Bowl "which states a uniform, statewide procedure for protecting nonpurchasing residents against economic displacement, does not exempt conversions of mobilehome parks to resident ownership from the requirements of the Coastal Act which also apply to such conversions, and has no effect on the authority those acts delegate to local entities to enforce compliance with their provisions."

"Local agencies therefore are not precluded from establishing such procedures and holding such hearings as are appropriate to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure compliance with the Coastal Act and the Mello Act . . . The judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed."

Justice Kennard wrote in her dissent, "The majority holds that when a mobilehome park is located within the coastal zone, a person or entity seeking to convert the park to resident ownership must comply not only with [the Subdivision Map Act] but also with the California Coastal Act of 1976 and the Mello Act. I disagree."

"Because subdividing a mobilehome park to convert it to resident ownership does not involve a change in the density or intensity of the property's use, it is not a 'development' within the meaning of the Coastal Zone Act, and therefore it is not subject to regulation under that act."

"Nor does the Mello Act apply. The plain language of [the Subdivision Map Act] shows that the Legislature intended [the Subdivision Map Act] to displace other state laws such as the Mello Act."

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