San Jose approves new zoning rules for mobile homes to bolster protections
Residents of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park have fought to save their homes for six years after the park's closure was announced. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

    San Jose lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously approved creating a new land use designation for mobile home parks that would prevent hundreds of low-income residents from being forced to lose their homes as developers eye the land to build extravagant new homes.

    The stricter redevelopment protections will apply to all 58 mobile home parks in the city including the Westwinds and Mountain Springs mobile home parks  — following a series of contentious battles over the threat of these sites being bulldozed to build upscale housing.

    The proposal will change the mobile home parks’ land use designation from “residential” to a new “mobile home park” designation, which would require the City Council to approve any requests to close a mobile home park or convert it to an alternative use

    Each of the city’s 58 mobile home parks have various land use designations. But Westwinds and Mountain Springs are the only two zoned under the “urban residential” designation — where developers could easily swoop in with high-density, market-rate housing — putting them at risk by allowing a developer to build up to 95 units of high-density housing per acre.

    The majority of the other parks — about 40 —  are designated as “residential,” which is capped at 8 units of housing per acre. Each mobile home park’s land use designation determines how much and which type of development can be built.

    Under the new “mobile home” land use designation, development on the mobile home sites would be limited to 25 units per acre and only allow mobile homes and park amenities such as “clubhouses and community rooms, pools, parks, and other common areas,” according to city documents.

    Dozens of concerned mobile home dwellers spoke out at Tuesday’s meeting, fearing they would be displaced from their homes.

    “I lost my job, my husband and I lost our house and we moved into Westwinds — it was the only thing we could afford,” resident Carol Todd said at Tuesday’s meeting. “This is the only place that kept us off the streets. We really would not want to lose our home and we’re really scared about that. We support keeping all the mobile home parks.”

    Originally, the new land use designation was proposed for just the two parks. But some councilmembers, including Pam Foley, Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez and Maya Esparza, pushed for applying the new land use designation to all of them.

    “I just want everybody to leave here tonight with a sigh of relief,” said Councilmember Dev Davis. “You’re not going anywhere. You are San Jose, we are San Jose, we want you.”

    City officials said rezoning the remaining 56 mobile home parks will cost between $375,000 and $500,000, requiring 12 to 18 months of work.

    Not all lawmakers were initially on board with the idea, such as Councilmember Lan Diep, who represents District 4 where the Westwinds Park is located. He said it was unnecessary since most mobile home park designations are already capped at 8 units, which isn’t dense enough for most developers.

    “To re-designate the land use designation of all the parks doesn’t change the process that would benefit Westwinds and Mountain Springs,” Diep said. “But I understand the fear… I will continue to fight again and again to protect our motorhome residents.”

    Mayor Sam Liccardo agreed the new land use designation wouldn’t add protections because most parks are not zoned for high-density housing anyway, but wanted to temper the community’s fears.

    “The uniform change of land use designations on these other 56 mobile home park communities will not generate any significant new protections,” Liccardo said. “Nonetheless, I’m going to support ensuring that we have mobile home park designation over all 56 parks, and I’m going to do it really because (of) what I heard from people… who said ‘we’re losing sleep, this is incredibly stressful, it’s bad for my health.”

    The looming closure of the Westwinds Park — the city’s largest mobile home park and fourth largest in the state — has threatened to displace 1,600 residents.

    Westwinds, located at 500 Nicholson Lane in North San Jose, is home to 700 mobile homes. In January, the residents caused an uproar after receiving eviction notices informing them the site would be redeveloped in 2022.

    The fight at Westwinds comes after senior residents at the Winchester Ranch Park faced eviction in recent years as they fought the city over razing their community to build new condos. In a win-win, the City Council in January approved converting the site to new housing under the condition that residents would be housed in subsidized units on site.

    San Jose already provides mobile home residents facing displacement with a fair-market value purchase of their home, rental subsidies and relocation assistance. But some residents fear that losing their homes means they’ll have nowhere else to go.

    The proposal encapsulates the ongoing struggle many Bay Area cities face in trying to approve new housing development while protecting residents at risk of displacement.

    Considered one of the last bastions of existing affordable housing in the Bay Area, mobile home parks are increasingly disappearing as the high priced real-estate market tempts property owners to sell and convert the parks into luxury housing. Rising land values and limited land threatens the displacement of thousands of low-income residents.

    California has about 5,200 mobile home and RV parks throughout the state, while Santa Clara County has 108. Meanwhile, 692 parks have closed in recent years, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

    The new zoning rules, which go into effect in 30 days, will require additional scrutiny for every conversion or closure — including public hearings and city-mandated protections.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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