California Supreme Court Holds Coastal Act and Mello Act Apply to Conversions of Rental Mobilehome Parks to Residential Ownership

On November 29, 2012, the Supreme Court of California in Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, (2012) __ Cal.4th __ (Case No. S187243) affirmed the judgment of the Second District Court of Appeal, finding a mobilehome park conversion is a “subdivision” under the Subdivision Map Act and also a “development” subject to permitting requirements of the Coastal Act.

The controversy in this case arose after the City of Los Angeles (City) rejected an application from Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC to convert its 170-unit mobilehome park, which is within the coastal zone, from tenant occupancy to resident ownership. The City asserted Palisades Bowl had failed to include applications for a coastal development permit or for Mello Act approvals. Rather than submit these applications, Palisades Bowl filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief.

At the trial court, Palisades Bowl argued the proposed conversion from tenant occupancy to resident ownership was not subject to the Coastal Act because it was not a “development” as defined by that act. The trial court agreed and also found that Government Code section 66427.5 precluded the City from imposing conditions and requirements mandated by the Coastal and Mello Acts. The court of appeal reversed the trial court’s decision, and the Supreme Court subsequently granted review.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

i.        The Coastal Act

The Supreme Court first addressed whether the Coastal Act requires a permit for mobilehome park ownership conversions. The Coastal Act requires a coastal development permit for “any development” in the coastal zone. Public Resources Code section 30106 defines “development” as a “change in the density or intensity of use of land, including, but not limited to, subdivision pursuant to the Subdivision Map Act.” The Court pointed out that the Subdivision Map Act specifically refers to mobilehome park conversion as a form of subdivision.

Palisades Bowl argued the conversion of the mobilehome park was not a development under the Coastal Act because it would not alter the density or intensity of land use. The Supreme Court disagreed and cited to Public Resources Code section 30106, which lists “subdivision” in a non-exclusive list of projects subject to the Coastal Act. Furthermore, the Court noted that section 30106 addresses changes in the intensity of land uses. Therefore, Palisades Bowl’s assumption that the Coastal Act only applied to projects increasing density or intensity of use was mistaken.

The Supreme Court held that all subdivisions, even conversions of mobilehome parks that do not immediately alter use of land, are “developments” for the purposes of the Coastal Act. The Court also concluded that a broad interpretation of “development” as used in the Coastal Act is consistent with what the Legislature intended.

ii.      The Mello Act

The Supreme Court next considered whether the requirements of the housing elements law, Government Code sections 65580-65589.8, applies to conversions of residential units within the coastal zone. Under these Government Code sections, local governments are required to adopt a “housing element” as part of their general plans. The housing element must identify and analyze existing and projected housing needs, among numerous other requirements. The Mello Act supplements the housing element requirements by establishing “minimum requirements for housing within the coastal zone for persons and families of low or moderate income.” Specifically, local governments are prohibited from authorizing the conversion or demolition of occupied low or moderate income residential units without making provisions for the replacement of those units.

The Supreme Court held the Mello Act expressly applies to “most conversions” of residential units in the coastal zone, including the conversion of the ownership structure of a mobilehome park.

iii.    The Subdivision Map Act

Lastly, the Supreme Court considered Palisades Bowl’s argument that Government Code section 66427.5 of the Subdivision Map Act exempts mobilehome park conversions from other state laws, regulations, or policies. Palisades Bowl argued that this section prohibits local governmental entities from enforcing compliance with any state law requirements other than those imposed by section 66427.5.

Government Code section 66427.5 imposes several requirements on subdividers and seeks to prevent the economic displacement of all nonpurchasing residents during the conversion of a rental mobilehome park to resident ownership. Part of the procedure required by section 66527.5 involves a hearing before the relevant decision-making body which is limited in scope to the issue of compliance with section 66427.5. Palisades Bowl argued that by limiting the scope of the required hearing, the Legislature intended to define the full extent of local government’s obligation and power to review an application for an ownership conversion of a mobilehome park. By this reasoning, the City lacked authority to reject Palisades Bowl’s application for failure to comply with the Coastal and Mello Acts.

The Supreme Court disagreed with Palisades Bowl, holding Government Code section 66427.5 does not exempt conversions of mobilehome parks to resident ownership from compliance with the Coastal Act and Mello Act. The Supreme Court construed the hearing requirement of section 66427.5 to allow local agencies to establish procedures and conduct additional hearings required by other state laws, including the Coastal and Mello Acts.