By John Earl
Surf City Voice
Editor’s note: This story has been revised since its original posting. Photo: Mobile home owners attend city meeting in July to discuss possible revisions to the city’s Mobile Home Advisory Board. They were not invited to two subsequent meetings.
To the exclusion of the city’s mobile home park residents, a government review committee has worked quietly in the background to produce proposals that would either officially eliminate the city’s Mobile Home Advisory Board (MHAB) or probably cause it to die by atrophy, the Surf City Voice has learned.
The two meetings—virtually unannounced—were held by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee (IRC) which has been reviewing all city run committees recently for ways to cut costs.
HB residents interested in the fate of the other city committees may also have been excluded from those meetings.
Mayor Joe Carchio chairs the IRC. Councilmembers Matt Harper and Devin Dwyer are its other two members.
Carchio recently joined Harper to accuse the MHAB of bias against mobile home park owners, but under his watch the IRC has been biased in its own way against mobile home park residents, as shown by their exclusion from the meetings.
While Carchio, who as chairperson bears ultimate responsibility for how the IRC meetings are managed, did nothing to inform mobile home park residents of either meeting, he did have the opportunity—prior to the second of two of those consecutively unannounced IRC meetings—to speak with Vickie Talley, president of the Mobile Home Educational Trust (MHET), the lobby group that helped Carchio get elected in 2006 and contributed $10,000 as part of a $40,000 real estate industry PAC fund spent in an attempt to elect Harper—who won—and two other failed candidates in the 2010 city council race.
Based on a report given to the Voice that Carchio had called Talley by phone, Cabrillo mobile home park resident Mary Jo Baretich was “outraged” about Carchio’s alleged call to Talley and being left out of the meetings when contacted by the Voice. “It’s none of her business,” she said, noting that Talley is not a mobile home park owner, despite heading up the MHET.
Baretich is also a regional manager for the Golden State Manufactured-home Owners League (GSMOL), which lobbies for mobile home residents with but a fraction of MHET’s funds (and spent nothing on local candidates). “We have over 6,000 voters in our 18 mobile home parks,” she said, adding that, “We have a right to be informed about meetings and a right to speak.”
Those voters who live in the city’s mobile home parks should not be treated as “second class citizens,” she said, adding that “the city is already allowing many of them to be thrown out into the street,” a reference to skyrocketing, unaffordable rents and park subdivision schemes. Baretich said she will be talking with GSMOL attorneys about possible violations of state law by the city.
But when contacted by the Voice, Carchio said that he had not called Talley but had bumped into her at the last City Council meeting and asked her why mobile home park owners did not show up for MHAB meetings. “I just wanted to get her ideas because they hadn’t participated in the past,” he said.
Carchio also said he didn’t know that mobile home owners and the general public hadn’t been informed of the meetings. “If the message didn’t get out, we were wrong,” he said. “Everything we do should be transparent and if we don’t do that, shame on us.”
Mobile home owner/park residents and their advocates had attended two previous IRC meetings to say that—due to its official city status—the MHAB helps keep them informed and provides some protection that they could not hope to have otherwise. They assumed, after signing contact lists, that city staff would keep them informed of all future meetings.
But city staffer Kellee Fritzal told the Voice that notifications were not sent for its meetings held on the 9th and the 23rd of August.
California’s Brown Act requires government agencies to publicly post agendas for legislative meetings. Compliance can be as simple as posting meeting agendas on the outside wall of City Hall 72 hours before the scheduled meeting times. But few people are aware that agendas are posted on at that location and fewer still are likely to travel across town to view them.
Curiously, a check of the city’s window cases outside of City Hall Tuesday night (Aug. 23) did not reveal the IRC meeting agenda for that night or any other night. However, the next morning, Frymire e-mailed the Voice a copy of a digital photo that she took that morning which showed the IRC agenda. (This paragraph was added for clarification, Aug. 28, 2 p.m.)
Most city agendas are posted conveniently on the City’s website, but as Aug. 23 the IRC’s agenda was not. In fact, the IRC schedule and location information, without agendas, was provided only by an obscure website link and the information provided was incorrect. Informed about the problem by the Voice, Laurie Frymire, the city’s Community Relations Officer, said she would fix the problem.
The MHAB was formed to act in an advisory capacity to the city on matters of mobile home park life in the city, including rent, health and safety, and legal issues, and to assist with settling disputes between park owners and residents. Many park residents are senior citizens living on fixed incomes and hundreds have lost their homes in recent years, according to advocates for those who remain in city mobile home parks.
The MHAB currently is designed to have nine members, including three park residents, three park owners, and three at-large members. All of its appointees are nominated by City Council liaisons (Councilmembers Joe Shaw and Keith Bohr) but must be approved by the council majority.
Harper’s and Carchio’s bias claim stems from the fact that, for the most part, park owners have refused over the past several years to participate in MHAB meetings despite regular encouragement by city staff to do so.
Harper proclaims that the city would be “liberating” mobile home park residents by dissolving the MHAB and leaving them to run their own independent organization; parroting Harper, Carchio says he wants to help them “to get rid of Big Brother streaming down your neck.”
Perhaps unknown to Harper—the city’s mobile home owners already have their own Mobile Home Park Coalition, but the majority of councilmembers, including Harper and Carchio, pay no attention to it. And it’s not big city government which worries the city’s mobile home owners, but the big and well-financed corporate brother that speaks for park owners; without an official connection to City Hall, fixed-income seniors can’t compete with the MHET for the ears of their political representatives.
In previous but announced IRC meetings held in July and Aug. 2, which were well attended by mobile home park residents, the prevailing opinion, minus a stern diatribe by Harper and the inability by Carchio to state a coherent position—was that the MHAB should continue but with greater efforts made to encourage participation by owners who could appoint park managers to represent them at meetings.
During the Aug. 9 IRC meeting, unannounced for mobile home owners, the MHAB was again discussed but no further changes were suggested, according to Fritzal. Although at-large member and current MHAB chairperson Barbara Boskovich, whom Carchio favored in previous IRC meetings, was invited to the meeting by phone call, no other interested parties were contacted, Fritzal confirmed.
Fritzal told the Voice that she also did not send out notifications to mobile home park residents or the general public for the Aug. 23 IRC meeting. Carchio, Dwyer and Harper, who had a copy of Frymire’s presentation of the previous agreed upon MHAB proposal, were the only people in attendance, according to Councilmember Devin Dwyer, who told the Voice that he was surprised when he found out there was a meeting on that day.
Fritzal said in an e-mail to the Voice that she didn’t send out notices “due to just reviewing [the] power point I did not think it would be changed or discussed. My fault.”
But major changes to the original agreed upon proposals were discussed and adopted at that meeting, without the input of stakeholders who would be most affected by any changes adopted by the City Council. Now two recommended options will be put before the council at its Sept. 6 study session. Then a final version will go to the council on September 15 for a full vote.
One change, favored by Harper and Carchio, would dissolve the committee. The second recommended option would cut the board from 9 to 6 members by eliminating the at-large members whose current purpose is to provide a buffer between park owners and park residents and an independent look at the issues. Under this option there would also be two-year term limits instead of the current four-year terms.
Tim Geddes is one of the at-large nominees whose appointment has been held up by the IRC review process, and who Harper has singled out with particular ire, calling him a “political professional.” Actually, Geddes is a high school history teacher, but Harper has been a paid political professional since he was elected to the Huntington Beach Union High School District in 1998. He has served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen since 2007.
Geddes accused Harper and Carchio of coming up with the accusation of political bias after they realized there would be no substantial cost benefits by reducing or eliminating city committees. “The fact they are seeking to eliminate at-large positions means that they are trying to marginalize community involvement,” he said. “How dare they say it is political when they have made it that from the start.”
Dan Kalmick, the other at-large nominee, was a city council candidate in the past two elections and, like Geddes, has had his differences on city issues with the usual council majority that includes Mayor Pro Tem Don Hansen, Bohr, Dwyer and Carchio. But Bohr put aside those differences and joined Shaw to nominate both Geddes and Kalmick anyway, along with Sharon Dana, who is nominated to serve as a mobile home owner representative from Shorecliffs, a mobile home park on Beach Blvd.
Dwyer told the Voice that he doesn’t see the logic in the argument that the MHAB is too political since the process of public representation in government is by definition political. Throughout, he has favored keeping the at-large members as part of the MHAB while going forward with greater efforts to increase involvement by mobile home park owners.
Dana, who confirmed that she too had been unaware of the last two IRC meetings, called Harper’s criticism of Geddes part of a “personal vendetta” and said that the proposal to chop off at-large members from the advisory board would kill it.
Alluding to the theory that mobile home park owners have nothing to gain by legitimizing the MHAB when doing so would only dilute their political influence through campaign financing, Dana explained. “That would really eliminate the board because you will not be able to get the owners or their reps. Then they [the council] will use that as an excuse to eliminate the board.”
Note: Proposed changes to the Mobile Home Advisory Board will be discussed the board’s next meeting, Aug. 29, at City Hall, at 6 p.m.