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A risk worth taking

Recently several letters to the Times have debated whether the City Council was given appropriate legal advice before it adopted the Mobilehome Park Rent Stabilization Ordinance, including the “rent rollback.” I was a city councilman at the time and voted for the rollback and the ordinance. I also participated in all the briefings provided by the city attorneys. I want to set the record straight.

The City Council was advised of the legal risks. Without question, City Attorneys Michael Jenkins and Christi Hogin counseled us that the “rollback” provision was legally vulnerable. Jenkins and Hogin told the council that rent rollbacks to a date prior to the adoption of the rent control law were approved by the courts only in situations where the landlords were aware that the rent control law was under consideration. They advised us that courts approved these rollbacks specifically to reverse rent increases that were imposed in anticipation of rent control. We were further told — and told again — that any other justifications for a rollback were untested and therefore legally risky.

Hogin told the City Council that if rents were rolled back to a date prior to the city’s incorporation date, the park owners would challenge the ordinance’s legality. I considered this advice before I cast my vote in favor of the ordinance.

The City Council decided the risk was worth taking. During public hearings, the City Council heard considerable testimony from park residents who had been taken advantage of by the park owners. I was moved by the plight of the residents and cast my vote in favor of the ordinance. I understood that my vote was not risk free.

After the ordinance passed (only Larry Wan voted against it), the park owners took the city to court to try to prove that there was no justification for rent control in Malibu. In spite of their efforts, the city’s ordinance was largely upheld by the court. Although the court struck down a few of the specific provisions relating to the rollback, mobilehome park residents still enjoy the benefits of rent control (and the city taxpayers picked up the tab for the first few years when the residents only paid the “rolled-back” rents).

Was the risk of trying to roll back rents worth taking? In retrospect, perhaps not. But at the time, the potential benefits of the ordinance seemed worth the legal risk. It is unfortunate that Walt and Carolyn, and their vocal supporters in the parks, are simply not mature enough to take responsibility for the choice they made.

The decision was well-intentioned and the choice well-informed. Walt and Carolyn should be ashamed of themselves for trying to blame Christi Hogin for the votes they themselves cast. I wonder who they think they are fooling.

Michael Caggiano

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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