Lupe & Sharon beat John Saunders, save Rancho La Paz!

They are singing. A tune by Bobby Fuller, but more in the style of the famous Clash cover, and with new lyrics:

Crushing greed in the hot sun –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)
Passing this bill was hard but fun –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)

The good news, if you haven’t already heard, is that with the Governor’s recent signing of Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva’s hard-fought AB 978, there is finally a reasonable “cap” (3% + CPI, once a year) on the rent increases park owner John Saunders can impose on the low-income homeowners of the senior mobile home park Rancho La Paz, which lies partly in Anaheim and partly in Fullerton.

Rent-gouger Saunders enjoying the “Excellence in Entrepeneurship” award from the OC Business Council.

The nightmare started in early 2019 when the Newport vulture capitalist Saunders (left) bought up that park – one of over forty he owns now – and did exactly what he’s done for years in many unprotected parks including in Huntington Beach – tell the homeowners there that the rent they’ve been paying for years is too low and he’s going to quickly fix that with steep and frequent hikes.

People like Anaheim’s gleefully ignorant and callous Mayor Harry Sidhu say things like “Well, you can’t get an apartment in Anaheim for $1000 a month.”  What they conveniently ignore is that THESE ARE HOMEOWNERS – their “mobile homes” (which are actually prohibitively expensive to move) often represent their life savings;  they pay PROPERTY TAXES ON THEM, and all they are renting from the park owner is a PATCH OF DIRT.

Saunders and his apologists justify his repeated steep hikes (54% so far) by the property taxes he has to pay on the park, which after his purchase are higher than the previous owners’ were.  But he knew about the taxes when he bought the park, AND his rent increases dwarf his tax burden, especially when you take into account the much higher rent he charges NEW residents – it’s all about his unbridled greed for profits.  I guess that’s “Excellence in Entrepeneurship” according to the OCBC.

Particularly at Rancho La Paz where the senior residents, having moved there with the expectation of affordable rent with small increases, are mostly living on a “fixed income” – social security – this rent-gouging has caused extreme hardship over the last 2-1/2 years, even deaths and homelessness.  And meanwhile neither the Anaheim nor Fullerton city councils made any move toward imposing rent caps to protect their most vulnerable residents.

CHORUS:
NINETEEN DIED and we’re filled with pain,
We thought our race was run.
Fifty-four moved and they shoulda stayed, cuz
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)

Of the 19 Rancho deaths (and several suicide attempts) that have occurred since Saunders’ takeover, it’s hard to say to what degree each of them was caused by stress and depression of housing insecurity.  But one typical story (told by Lupe above) was that of Kathleen Fabry, a popular local theater personality.  A few years earlier, Kathleen had had to give up her previous mobile home in Huntington Beach when Saunders raised rents there impossibly.  She dealt with that by buying a less expensive one and moving up to Rancho.  When Saunders took over THAT park in 2019 as though he were following her, she couldn’t take going through that whole trauma one more time, withdrew into her home in depression and despair, and died soon after.  That was right around last Christmas.

Aside from the deaths, Rancho residents found themselves having to choose between paying rent and paying for their food and medicine.  More and more they came to depend on charity just to eat each day.  Anaheim Councilwoman Denise Barnes became well-known in the park, bringing food regularly and, with her colleague Jose Moreno, trying fruitlessly to get their colleagues to impose a rent cap on Rancho.

Anaheim Council just sat on their buns –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)
Cuz Saunders funneled money to all of those bums –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)

With three of the very few caring local politicians – from left, Moreno, Barnes & Quirk-Silva.

For months Rancho seniors mobbed the City Halls of Anaheim and Fullerton with their horror stories, begging in vain for a rent cap.  They may not have realized how much campaign money the 5-member Anaheim majority was getting from Saunders, both under his own name, through his consultant Whittington, and funneled through several PAC’s.  Saunders really went all out in the 2020 election for the re-election of Steve Faessel and the defeat of the beloved Denise Barnes, also maxing out to new candidates Avelino Valencia and Jose Diaz, who also proceeded to “sit on their buns.”

The Anaheim Council majority didn’t do EXACTLY nothing, but close enough.  THEIR solution, in deference to their prodigious funder Saunders, was to set up a program to help A FEW seniors pay their rent increases – basically SUBSIDIZING THE PARK OWNER’S GREED WITH PUBLIC MONEY that was intended for other things like affordable housing.  (To be fair, Fullerton did the same but a little more generously than Anaheim.) 

O’Neil, with the winning parsimony.

Funny story there about the two competing programs members of the Anaheim Council majority came up with – the now-disgraced Jordan Brandman designed a slightly better one focused more on Rancho residents, while Trevor O’Neil created a “Senior Safety Net” that ended up getting the votes of Sidhu, Faessel and Kring, thus rejecting Jordan’s program.  Trevor’s was pathetic – it used public money to help ONE HUNDRED SENIORS, CITY-WIDE, pay their rents for THREE MONTHS, and disappeared so fast that nobody at Rancho La Paz even knew about it.  That didn’t stop Faessel (during his re-election) and Sidhu (fighting recall) from falsely boasting that the program “helped ALL Anaheim seniors with rent.”  [THEIR emphasis, and a shameless lie.]

Brandman, done in by his fierce devotion to Saunders.

The funny part, to digress a bit, was Jordan’s reaction to this snub from the rest of the majority.  The victory of Trevor’s plan over his gave him a fit of pique which he expressed in an evening of solidarity with his fellow Democrats Moreno and Barnes.  Before that night he’d been Sidhu’s trusted firewall against any of Moreno’s progressive ideas, but at that meeting he defiantly gave a “third” to every motion of Jose’s, which Jose took full advantage of by putting seven great items on the next meeting’s agenda.  (Sidhu dealt with that by “tabling” it all, and this Jordan rebellion never happened again.)

Also funny or interesting:  It was Jordan’s great loyalty to Saunders that ended his career this month, as apparently it was Barnes’ unexpected vote against a Saunders housing project in the Hills that caused Jordan to explode with those vicious texts that led to his disgrace and resignation.  Good times, good times…

Fullerton was willing to subsidize greed –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)
GSMOL didn’t give a flying f**k about our needs –
We fought John Saunders, and we won! (2x)

Jesus and Sharon

Before we finish our Hall of Shame we have to give a very dishonorable mention to Anaheim Assemblyman and Fake Democrat Tom Daly, who stubbornly refused to talk to any of the Rancho tenants and voted against the rent-cap bill, as he almost always votes, like a Republican.  To hell with Daly though, let’s talk about REAL Democrat Anaheim Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who constantly visited the park and gave all the help she could (as did her husband, Fullerton Mayor Jesus Silva, and Senator Josh Newman who was invaluable getting the new bill through that house.)

But Sharon’s first attempt to pass a rent-cap bill, in a Democratic-Supermajority legislature which had just passed rent control for apartments (AB 1482), ran into opposition from a most unexpected quarter – not so much Republicans or park owners, but an organization that purports to be the lobbying group for Mobile Home Owners themselves, Golden State Manufactured-home Owners League (GSMOL.)

Senator Josh Newman, another good guy.

And none of this misery would even have occurred if it weren’t for GSMOL originally lobbying to keep mobile home parks out of the 2019 rent-control bill AB 1482.  Then in 2020 they helped defeat Sharon’s bill.  It’s unclear what legislation at all this bourgeois group considers beneficial for mobile home owners – are they working for the enemy?  But to pass the bill in 2021 and avoid GSMOL’s opposition, Sharon had to tailor it so narrowly that it ONLY applies to this one park, Rancho La Paz.  This is the sort of slim pickings we have to celebrate as good news these days.

Lupe calls GSMOL the “Karens of Mobile Home Residents,” who talk a good talk, exaggerate their membership, hardly do anything to help their supposed constituency, and hang up on her phone calls (and mine.)  We hope that when residents across the state see what protection Sharon has achieved for Rancho, they’ll reconsider their membership in GSMOL. 

Spectrum News’ Vicky Nguyen speaks to Lupe:


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.