Mayor, Harper, Go After Mobile Home Board Without Public Input

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.”

Major Changes
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.


HB City Council to Consider Plastic Bag Ban

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Voice

On August 1, Long Beach became the thirteenth jurisdiction within California to ban single-use plastic carryout bags at supermarkets and large retailers. Huntington Beach (HB) could soon join that list if City Council members Connie Boardman, Devin Dwyer and Joe Shaw can convince other council members.

A proposal to develop an ordinance to ban flimsy, disposable plastic carryout bags is on the Monday, August 15 HB City Council meeting agenda. The meeting starts at 7 pm at City Hall.

If a HB ordinance were to be modeled after the Long Beach one, it would also include a 10 cent customer fee for each paper bag dispensed, as the goal is not to convert to disposable paper bags but rather to encourage use of bags which can be used over 100 times.

The Long Beach ban took effect after a pivotal and unanimous California Supreme Court decision on July 14 which eases the way for local plastic bag bans by ruling that the city of Manhattan Beach did not have to complete a lengthy study of the environmental impact of disposable paper bags before baring retailers from dispensing plastic ones.

Such environmental impact reports are costly, and the plastic bag industry has successfully used them to block a municipality from enacting a local plastic bag ban by suing the city when an environmental impact report has not been performed.

Californians consume more than 12 billion single-use plastic bags per year, according to Environment California, a state-wide environmental advocacy organization. Very few get recycled, in part because plastic bags are rarely included in curbside recycling programs.

Plastic bag litter is not only an eyesore on land but also fouls waterways and kills marine animals who mistake the bags for food. A floating plastic bag resembles a jellyfish, which probably explains why plastic bags are found clogging the digestive tracts of dead sea turtles and marine mammals like whales and dolphins.

Plastic bags are a significant source of ocean pollution because, like all plastics derived from petroleum, they are non-biodegradable and are thought to persist in the ocean for up to hundreds of years as they just fragment over time into smaller bits of plastic.

The Long Beach-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been measuring the buildup up of plastic debris in an area of the Pacific twice the size of Texas and dubbed the “Pacific Garbage Patch” which, in 1999, already contained six times more plastic than zooplankton. Preliminary analysis of ocean samples collected less than a decade later indicate that the ratio of plastic to plankton has risen six-fold.

Even here right off the coast of southern California, Algalita has previously found plastic debris at all ocean depths and in amounts sometimes exceeding twice that of zooplankton.

Local attempts in California to ban the dispensing of throw-away plastic bags began to multiply after the plastic industry successfully lobbied the state legislature in 2006 to pass a law that specifically prohibited cities or counties from imposing fees on plastic bags while supposedly encouraging plastic bag recycling by mandating that stores install plastic bag recycling bins for customers to bring back their used bags (AB2447).

Environmental groups, like the Surfrider Foundation and Costa Mesa-based Earth Resource Foundation, had generally favored the bag fee approach as a way to motivate shoppers to get in the habit of bringing their own reusable bags. The prohibition against fees on plastic bags remains in effect until 2013.

An attempt to enact instead a state-wide ban on plastic carryout bags failed just last September when the California Senate voted down a bill already passed by the Assembly (AB 1998). The bill also included a requirement that shoppers be charged for paper carryout bags. Then Governor Schwarzenegger had signaled he would have signed it. Continue reading HB City Council to Consider Plastic Bag Ban

Councilman Harper’s Plan to ‘Liberate’ Mobile Home Owners from ‘Big Brother’

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Photo, L-R: Nancy Meeks, Cindy Ackely, Mary Jo Baretich, Jane Jones. Front row: Summer Taylor. All residents of Cabrillo mobile home park in Huntington Beach.

What do you call a professional politician (besides calling him a professional politician) who tells his constituents not to get political, tries to disconnect them from their government—the government they own and that employs him—and tells them that it will make them stronger?

Do you call him a liberator?

Huntington Beach City Councilmember Matt Harper, that professional politician, says he wants to liberate the city’s mobile home owners from big government by eliminating a city-run citizen-advisory board which exists to “ensure the quality of life in mobile home parks in the city through healthy communication with park owners, manufactured home owners and the City Council” and to “act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on matters concerning the mobile home community,” according to City Ordinance NO 3332.

Harper wasn’t preaching liberation politics when he first hinted at axing the Mobile Home Advisory Board (MHAB) at the July 5 City Council meeting by holding a routine vote to replace three of a total of six vacancies on the board. But he was standing tall for the individual and corporate owners of the mobile home parks whose PACs spent over $13,000 to help get him elected in 2010.

With a “new set of eyes,” he explained in his usual pretentious style, “I always try to ask…, what is the appropriate role for a city.” The board “looks one-sided, where it could be simply an existence of a place where political footballs…could be just thrown in one direction,” he added. Continue reading Councilman Harper’s Plan to ‘Liberate’ Mobile Home Owners from ‘Big Brother’