Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Pacific Skies Estates resident Susan Burwell is supposed to vacate her mobile home in Pacifica by the end of the month. She refuses to accept a relocation package, however.
Most of the evicted tenants at the Pacific Skies Estates mobile home park have accepted relocation packages as ownership plans to replace aging trailers with new prefabricated homes and raise rents significantly.
The park in Pacifica is now mostly vacant as construction crews are busy dismantling the abandoned trailers and ancillary structures.
The tenants were offered $10,000 to $15,000 to move as private equity firm The Carlyle Group has invested $42 million to bring in new manufactured homes, upgrade the streets and utilities and build a new promenade on the cliff’s edge of the Pacific Ocean.
One resident, however, has refused to accept the relocation package saying it will do her little good.
Susan Burwell, 69, was the first of 22 tenants to receive an eviction notice July 29 and was to supposed to vacate her home of six years Sept. 29.
Pacifica officials, however, stepped in and negotiated on the tenants’ behalf a relocation package that also offered them more time to find a new place to live.
But Burwell only earns $1,296 in monthly Social Security benefits while her rent at the park is about $1,200, which includes garbage and electricity.
A $15,000 payout, she said, will do little in helping her find a permanent place to call home.
“Even $50,000 would do me no good. After the money is gone, then what?” she said.
Burwell is looking to rent a studio or even a converted garage to live for about $1,000 a month and wants to stay in Pacifica.
She has had no luck finding a new place, however.
Living with family is also not an option, she said.
A friend has even started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Burwell as she searches for a new home. The gesture is a humbling one but also embarrasses Burwell a bit.
She’s a proud woman who wants to stand on her own.
All kinds of things about her situation upsets her including the fact that City Manager Lorie Tinfow negotiated on her and the other tenants behalf.
“We didn’t ask her to,” Burwell said.
Many residents formed a tenants cooperative after getting the eviction notices in an effort to seek legal aid in their efforts to stave off eviction or negotiate for relocation assistance.
The park is subject to a rent control ordinance but it only applies to homeowners of the 93-home park. The park’s owners had steadily bought most of the homes in the park over the course of several years.
Ownership applied for a permit to renovate the park with the state in 2013 and the city of Pacifica signed off on it.
The California Coastal Commission, however, has not.
In November, commission staff sent a letter to Pacifica Planning Director Tina Wehrmeister indicating that what ownership had planned was not a renovation but a “complete redevelopment,” which would require a permit from the commission to proceed.
“There are a confusing set of permit requirements,” said Shirley Gibson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. “Demolishing those homes could have some environmental impacts.”
Gibson has been assisting Burwell in her quest to stave off eviction.
“She is not situated to be able to move at all,” Gibson said about Burwell.
Many other former residents, she said, took the money and have moved as far away as Oregon.
Burwell alleges the work being done on the property now is illegal because the Coastal Commission has not issued a permit to do the work.
She also alleges some of the workers on the job site have been staying overnight at some of the abandoned mobile homes.
She called the police one night when two men with sleeping bags in hand were entering a trailer adjacent to hers that she knew was supposed to be vacant.
“I was scared,” she said.
Mayor Sue Digre lived in the park for much of last year but did not accept the relocation package although she thought when it was first proposed that it was a “good deal.”
She said, however, that the deal wasn’t good for some residents.
“People are under extreme stress. It’s not even helpful for some when looking for another rental,” Digre said about the package. “There are no other mobiles available. It’s a very chilling time for everyone.”
Many of the tenants who were evicted once owned homes in the park but were bought out by ownership, Gibson said.
The park’s situation is essentially “big business thinking their way around rent control,” Gibson said.
The fear is that other mobile home park owners will follow the same path Pacific Skies ownership has, she said.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors recently passed an urgency ordinance preventing the closure of mobile home parks but it only applies to eight properties and only in unincorporated county lands.
The parks fill an affordable housing need in the county.
The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County is now $2,516, a 50.2 percent increase in four years, according to the county Housing Authority.
For Burwell, there essentially seems to be no place to live for a woman of her age living on a fixed income.
She is supposed to vacate her trailer at the end of this month.
“I don’t want to take the package. In the end I will be homeless,” she said. “The package is useless for me at this point.”
Burwell is not upset about the project itself, it’s ownership’s right, she said.
“It’s about evicting 100 people who can’t afford to live anywhere else,” she said.
As far as the GoFundMe page is concerned, Burwell said: “I’m so overwhelmed by the gesture. I’m almost uncomfortable with this.”
After her Jan. 31 deadline to vacate, she is not sure what she will do.
“I’ll be the last man standing,” she said.
To learn more about Burwell go to: www.gofundme.com/afutureforsusan
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102