With Yucaipa Recall Advancing, Mobile Home Rental Rate Stabilization Looming Larger

The move by Yucaipa municipal officials to close out the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board is looming as a much larger political issue in the context of the recall movement against three of the 55,496-population city’s councilmen.
With some 4,200 mobile home spaces in the City of Yucaipa, mobile home residents were a force to be reckoned with in any event. The discontinuation of the rent control board likely in and of itself was going to force no major reckoning on the city council, though, to be sure, the change was not one welcomed by those living in those semi-permanent dwellings. In January, however, three members of the city council – Mayor Justin Beaver, Bobby Duncan and Matt Garner – forced the departure of City Manager Ray Casey and City Attorney David Snow.
It does not appear that the council majority appreciated the degree to which a cross section of the Yucaipa community had come to appreciate having what they considered to be Casey’s steady hand on the tiller of Yucaipa’s ship of state. A 1981 graduate of Princeton University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Casey worked in the private sector as a project manager for a construction company for three years and then from 1985 until 1991 was employed by Manitou Engineering in Escondido as a consulting engineer. In 1991, he began his career in the public sector as the principal engineer in the City of Temecula’s land development department. He departed California to go to work for the Isabella County Road Commission in Michigan as that entity’s highway engineer and road commission manager. He was lured back to California, where he was employed as the development services deputy director and city engineer with the City of San Bernardino. In 2003, he left San Bernardino to become the public works director and city engineer with Yucaipa. In 2008, Casey was promoted to city manager.
Throughout his tenure up until his last few weeks in Yucaipa, Casey was highly thought of by the majority of his political masters on the city council, and for the most part, he managed to steer the city around any sandbars of controversy. Indeed, any missteps the city took during his tenure, to the degree such were made, were largely ones by members of the council rather than city staff. Having served on the League of California Cities’ Inland Empire Executive Committee for three years, the League of California Cities’ Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee for three years and he was the chairman of the City/County Manager Technical Advisory Committee for two years, Casey was generally perceived as being competent, and his training and experience as an engineer heightened his value to the city.
In October 2022, before Greg Bogh, who had been on the city council since 2010, and David Avila, who was first elected in 2014, left the council in December as a result of their opting out of running for reelection in November’s municipal election, both had joined with Beaver, who was then a councilman, Duncan, and Councilman Jon Thorp in a unanimous vote to extend Casey’s contract at least until June 30, 2024 and provide him with a 3 percent salary increase that would jump his salary to $299,420, such that he would be making $422,901.50 in total annual compensation, putting him among the 25 highest-paid city managers in California.
It thus seemed that Beaver and Duncan valued, as did most others, Casey’s level of skill and mastery of municipal processes and his institutional knowledge of Yucaipa. The apparent 180 degree flip the two engaged in when they joined with Garner, who had been elected in a close race in November to replace Avila as the city’s First District councilman, to bounce both Casey and Snow from the city’s two key staff positions, resounded with considerable shock around the community. Chris Venable, who had captured first place in the Second District contest in November to supplant Bogh on the council, and Thorp had voted against accepting Casey’s resignation, though they did go along with sacking Snow.
The council by a 4-to-1 vote, with Thorp dissenting, voted to hire Chris Mann as city manager to replace Casey. The council unanimously voted to hire Stephen Graham to come in as the new city attorney in Snow’s place.
Mann, a Yucaipa resident, was the chairman of the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board of Directors. He was also the city manager with the municipality of Canyon Lake. Graham was likewise employed as the city attorney with Canyon Lake as its city attorney, and he was further the city attorney in Hemet and Indio.
Graham’s hiring as city manager was immediate. He retained his city attorney posts in Canyon Lake, Hemet and Indio. Mann’s hiring was effective March 1. To take the Yucaipa city manager’s post, he resigned from the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board and as Canyon Lake city manager.
Jennifer Crawford, who had been serving as assistant city manager while Case was running the city, was appointed interim city manager to oversee City Hall until Mann was in place.
In their arrangement with Casey, Mayor Beaver and Councilmen Duncan and Garner had conferred upon him a severance package which has not been publicly disclosed but which was said to be “generous” and was reportedly equal to the salary he was to receive until his contract expired in June 2024. This created consternation among many Yucaipa residents who wondered aloud why the council majority, if it were so intent on easing Casey out and bringing Mann in, did not simply allow Casey’s contract to run its course and make arrangements to hire Mann at the mid-year point in 2024 instead of creating a situation in which the city is for all of 2023 and half of 2024 paying two city manager salaries for the services of a single city manager. Throughout January, February, March and into April, there was intense protest from a number of Yucaipa citizens with regard to Casey’s forced exit. Those going on record as being opposed to what Beaver, Duncan and Garner had done included former Yucaipa City Councilman Dick Riddell, former Planning Commissioner Denise Work, Kathy Sellers, Caecelia Johns, Robin Miskin, Kevin Miskin, George Sardeson and, Shirley Dalton, Colleen Wang, Lloyd Wekstad, Kathleen Woolsey, Lenore Will, Diane Smith, Kristine Mohler, Ramona Etheridge, Jamie Hilliwig, Dan Crain, Steve Freeman, Linda Roberts-Ross, Scott Riley, Jill Kowalski, Teri Boon, Jo Sutt, Matt Underwood, Hansen Wang, Sherry Todd, Martha Glubka, Ann Hartung, Joel McCabe, Arthur Walter and Johanne Dyerly.
On April 24, Sherilyn Long representing residents in District 1, Steve Maurer, representing residents in District 3, and George Sardeson, representing residents in District 4, came to Yucaipa Hall, where they filed a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions against Garner, Duncan and Beaver, respectively.
With a committed core of citizens looking to drive them from office based in large measure on the forced departure of Casey, Beaver’s, Duncan’s and Garner’s political survivability has now become a function of how well they can remain on good terms with other factions in the city, ones who are not as sensitive to the issues pertaining to Casey but are animated about other matters. Given the strong feelings of disappointment many mobile home residents have about the city shuttering the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board, Beaver, Duncan and Garner may be in a weaker position than they delivered themselves into with their action relating to Casey.
Indeed, given revelations that have come about as a consequence of the recall advocates research into Mann and the reports and rumors that information is spawning, things might get worse for Beaver, Duncan and Garner before they get better.
Some, though not all Yucaipa residents already knew that Mann, in addition to his career as municipal management professional, functions as a representative of developers and development interests seeking to move building proposals past the planning process and get them approved with local governments, that is, at the city and county level. To this end, Mann is the principal in Mann Communications, which is touted as a stable of “public relations strategists.” On its website, Mann Communications celebrates itself, essentially, as a company devoted to promoting development plans.
According to the narrative on the firm’s website’s specialization page, “Elected officials are facing increasing public pressure to vote against development of all types. As a result, it is more important than ever that officials are provided the political cover they need in order to support good projects. Mann Communications has extensive experience gaining positive results for our land use clients through aggressive government, media and community relations programs. Having worked with large international and Fortune 500 companies, the experts at Mann Communications provide our clients with a wealth of knowledge and experience and a winning approach to land use entitlement.”
That page continues, “In addition, Mann Communications Principal Chris Mann has been an active partner in numerous development projects in California, Nevada and Arizona. Having worked both as an elected official and as a developer, he uniquely understands the development process from both the public and private perspectives. Understanding the practices and motivations of each side better than most, he is able to provide tremendous value to the entire development process, making Mann Communications an invaluable member of any project team.”
Among Mann Communications clients or former clients are the AES Corporation and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, Inc., residential developers Lennar, Pardee, Meritage Homes and Richmond American, builders Holland Development, Jacobsen Family Holdings, Turner Dale, Rotkin Real Estate Group, Carlton Properties, Clear Channel Outdoor, BrightSource, Preferred Business Properties Real Estate Services, Beaumont Garden Center, Passantino Andersen, Robertson’s Cement, Oakmont Industrial Group, The Golshan Group and Desmond & Louis Incorporated.
For some, that Mann is involved in promoting development projects while he is employed in the capacity of city manager, overseeing municipal planning operations that are intended to provide a degree of insulation to Yucaipa’s residents by regulating land use constitutes a conflict of interest.
Compounding that are revelations that as a politician in Yucaipa – including his run for the water board in 2016 and his unopposed run for reelection in 2020 – he has created a political action committee that has taken a role in promoting the candidacies of some candidates while launching attacks in the form of “hit pieces” or negative ads, mailers and handbills targeting other candidates. This leaves him in the position of being city manager and answerable to members of the city council he assisted in putting into office, another conflict of interest, his critics maintain.
The conflicts run even deeper than that, some maintain.
As a pro-development operative, one who has worked for and received money from homebuilders, landowners, land speculators and real estate interests, Mann is aligned with those who might have and indeed do have an interest in seeing some or maybe even all of the Yucaipa’s mobile home parks closed out and converted into more valuable assets, such as residential or commercial projects, some Yucaipa residents have suggested. Viewed in this light, the city council’s discontinuation of the Yucaipa Mobile Home Rent Control Board comes across as part of a formula by which rent on mobile home space will escalate, more and more mobilehome owners will depart from the city’s mobile home parks and the owners of those parks will eventually find their way clear to close them down and either sell the land to speculators or developers or otherwise participate in developing the property themselves.
Whether that scenario is a realistic one or not, more and more mobilehome owners, through word of mouth or social media postings, are coming to believe that is the case. This does not portend well for Beaver, Duncan and Garner, as they are militating to fend off the recall effort.
At the April 24 Yucaipa City Council meeting, it appeared that the three had delegated Crawford, who has reassumed her position as assistant city manager and second-in-command at City Hall, this time not as Casey’s right-hand woman but as Mann’s, to attempt to disabuse a large number of the city’s mobile home residents of the notions that have been making the rounds lately.
Crawford started with an exposition regarding the changes to Yucaipa’s Mobilehome Park Rent Stabilization Program, which is perceived by many to have been substantially weakened by the current regime in Yucaipa.
Crawford took on the subject of how the city council had acted at its April 10 meeting in revamping sections of the Yucaipa Municipal Code pertaining to the city’s Mobilehome Park Rent Stabilization Program such that it had given first reading to an ordinance by which the city council dispensed with Mobilehome Rent Review Commission and eliminated its rent appeal process and in place of the city’s existing mobilehome rent stabilization processes it called for the solicitation of bids, referred to as a request for proposals, for a “mobilehome rent stabilization hearing officer.” The council’s direction was based on the challenges the city had experienced in fining, filling and maintaining the five-member commission with qualified candidates who could understand the complexity of the documents associated with special rent adjustment applications, Crawford explained. The second and final reading of that that ordinance, action by which the ordinance would be confirmed as going into effect 30 days hence, was being held that night. Nelson Fink, a city resident, offered his objection to the change, saying “[Y]ou are going to do away with the commission for rental [rates] on the parks and you are going to appoint someone to do that job,” which he said might undercut the fairness of the process, particularly as the ability appeal the determination on rates was being compromised or eliminated.
Beaver, sensitive to the suggestion that the council was seeking to undercut the evenhandedness and fairness of the city’s existing method of determining rental rates, pressed Crawford to respond. Using language lifted out of the staff report, Crawford reiterated that “It is very difficult to find a five-member commission who can understand the complexity associated with the Special Rent Adjustment Applications. On an ongoing basis, we have had a very difficult time not only finding five people but people that can understand the ordinance along with their obligation that can uphold itself if they get appealed to the council and the court.” She said those problems have been evident since 2011 and that previous city councils had taken up the issue without resolving it.
She said the new protocol, once in place would not do away with rent control but improve the program by seeing to it that the applications were evaluated by a competent and knowledgeable authority subject to the proceedings being taken down by a court reporter, leading to a more just determination of rental rates that would keep them in check.
Residents expressed skepticism that a single individual rather than a pane would be entrusted with making decisions on the rental rates.
Crawford defended the elimination of the appeal process by emphasizing that the hearing officer will be an accomplished attorney in the field or a retired judge, ensuring, she implied, that the decision rendered would be a sound one legally which would not in any likelihood be overturned. She said such a standard was adhered to in other municipal jurisdictions.
“Other communities use hearing officers and that helps expedite and thoroughly review the applications and they know the processes and our local ordinance to ensure that everything had been vetted appropriately to determine what would be the fair return or maintenance of net operating income or loss of amenity,” said Crawford.
Beaver averred that the city council would not have the expertise, confidence in its own competence in the field of rent determination nor standing to second guess a judge.
“This does not eliminate rent control,” Crawford said. “If anything, in my personal opinion… it enhances our program and ensures that the applications are being thoroughly reviewed to ensure that the residents aren’t paying any more than what they have to.”
The second reading of the ordinance was approved by the council, 5-to-0. The city council ultimately called upon Crawford to issue the request for proposals with the caveat that the hearing officer would be selected from a pool of attorneys and retired judges.
Those applying for the post must do so by May 16. Crawford and City Attorney Graham are to evaluate the applications. Crawford seemed to indicate that the city may hire more than one hearing officer.
How well the process the city is moving to will work and whether those residents of the city’s mobilehome parks will cotton to the process has yet to be determined.
The city council’s affinity for eliminating or conflating existing commissions, committees and citizen panels, as was done with dissolution of the fire services committee and establishment of a public safety committee has garnered mixed reviews from residents. Some see the changes as ones that promote efficiency and comprehension of purpose while others consider the moves as ones which limit the opportunity for citizen input and review.

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