Editorials

Editorial: Trailer park’s fate could satisfy all

jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In 1984, the Port San Luis Harbor District took over a small trailer park on prime real estate overlooking the ocean — a move motivated in part by a desire to save elderly residents from eviction.

The port intended to phase out the trailer park over time, and it has indeed shrunk from 40 spaces to 10. The older tenants have died, and residents who were middle-aged back in 1984 are now in their 70s and 80s.

Ironically, this new generation of older tenants now faces eviction as the harbor district begins the process of closing the mobile-home park to make way for a campground.

This is not an easy situation, especially for the two or three full-time residents who remain. We sympathize with these tenants who — after living in the park for decades — could now be forced from their homes and may even have to leave the area.

Because tenants have been paying about $200 a month in rent for their spaces — mobile- home rent control has kept rates low — it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find equally affordable housing elsewhere on the Central Coast.

On the other hand, we firmly believe that a larger segment of the population deserves the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful piece of public land. The proposed recreational campground, which features a range of accommodations — from hookups for RVs to tent sites — would be an excellent way to provide that.

A campground also would bring in much-needed revenue to the district, which suffers from the same financial strains affecting other government agencies.

Another plus: Development of the campground would allow the district to phase out the view-impeding RV camping allowed at two turnouts along Avila Beach Drive.

Yet we can’t overlook the consequences that park closure will have for residents, particularly for full-time tenants.

Some of these residents wonder why the district can’t continue to accommodate their homes even after the campground is developed — especially because they occupy only a small section of the 27 acres.

That seems like a reasonable solution for the few full-time residents, though for the record, we don’t believe the district should have to continue to provide space to part-time tenants who use their trailers as vacation homes.

District officials, however, say there’s a bureaucratic hurdle preventing them from allowing any of the trailer park tenants to remain. The San Luis Bay area plan would have to be amended to allow permanent residents to remain after the campground is developed — and that would require approval from the county and the Coastal Commission.

Given the circumstances, surely both agencies could find a way to expedite the process.

Barring that, we strongly urge the district to work with housing agencies to find affordable accommodations that meet the needs of the remaining tenants — preferably housing in the Avila area.

Mobile-home owners are, after all, in a precarious position when their parks are sold, because some of these units aren’t “mobile” at all and cannot be taken to other locations.

Government agencies have long recognized that by passing ordinances aimed at protecting park residents in the event that a park closes.

Harbor district officials have stressed that they are willing to work with tenants, and will offer them relocation benefits and assistance.

They also point out, though, that residents have known this day was coming; the district has made no secret of its plans to close the trailer park.

That is absolutely correct. But given that the wheels of government often do turn slowly, it wasn’t unreasonable for the tenants to believe they might be allowed to live out their lives there.

Indeed, some contend they were given a legal guarantee to that effect — and have retained a lawyer to represent them.

We would hate to see this escalate into a long and costly legal battle.

We strongly urge both sides to negotiate an agreement that will allow development of the campground to proceed — while ensuring that residents are able to remain in the community that has been their home for decades.

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