From paradise to police state. That's how some residents describe the atmosphere these days at the former De Anza Harbor Resort on the northeast shore of Mission Bay. The casually dressed, genial city rangers who once patrolled the mobile home park are gone, having been replaced by gun-toting security guards whose uniforms closely resemble deputy sheriffs-right down to shiny fake badges.
Since October-when city officials, flanked by four burly police officers, came to De Anza to tell residents that their days in the park were numbered-life at De Anza has been anything but pleasant for many of the estimated 1,000 people who call the parkland setting home.
“Some of these people are going through the trauma of their lives, and I don't think they deserve it,” said Jim Lewan, vice president of the homeowners association at De Anza, which the city recently renamed Mission Bay Park.
The feud between the city and residents has grown only hotter since the city took control of the park last November, when a 50-year lease on the property that allowed people to live on public parkland there expired.
Last week, that furor spilled over when attorneys representing the residents began filing claims against the city and Hawkeye Asset Management, the company it hired at $300,000 a year to run the park, alleging emotional distress and property damage.
Residents “voiced their concerns over the course of months to various representatives of the city and Hawkeye, yet the threats and intimidation did not stop and, in some instances, grew worse,” said one of their attorneys, Eric Seiken. “The residents and owners are tired of the abuse and decided enough was enough.”
To date, Seiken said 261 claims have been filed against the city and Hawkeye, each seeking damages of roughly $25,000-all told, that's more than $6.5 million in legal claims against a city that's dripping in legal woes.
The city already finds itself enmeshed in a class-action lawsuit filed earlier by residents, who argue the city ignored state laws governing the closure of mobile-home parks, including its refusal to prepare a tenant-impact report that is intended to protect park residents from undue hardship and assist with relocation.
Some park residents-many are elderly-have said they have nowhere else to go, and mobile-home park spaces are as rare as hen's teeth in San Diego County. In December, Superior Court Judge Charles R. Hayes granted a preliminary injunction barring the city from proceeding with plans to kick the residents off the 78-acre, palm-tree-lined park, ruling that residents had “established a reasonable probability of [legal] success on the merits.”
But some residents believe that temporary ruling only stoked the fires at City Hall, which rarely takes a legal setback well.
“If the city had followed the orders of Judge Hayes, these latest [claims] would have been completely unnecessary,” said Ernie Abbit, president of the homeowners association. “Now, you can call this place Stalag 13.”
The claims include a bunch of harassing allegations that, individually, might not bug the average San Diegan. But taken in total, Lewan said, it demonstrates the city's determination to force residents out “by any means necessary.”
The complaints are numerous: limiting handicapped access, spray-painting trees and property for future removal, towing residents' cars and boats, refusing to allow use of any furniture in common areas, a poorly heated swimming pool, eliminating the park's playground and the erection of a 10-foot-high, barbed-wire fence to block a common northern access.
And then, of course, there's the armed guards. “I still have a hard time fathoming the need for armed security people,” Seiken said, “when you're dealing with a population that is primarily in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s with disabilities and handicaps-as well as single parents.”
Seiken gets plenty worked up when he talks about the claims. “We've had people who have been sitting in their homes and a security guard or some other representative... just walks on to their property, peering into windows, taking photographs,” he said. “We have had reports of cars that were lawfully parked being towed, with owners then being told there was really no reason why they were towed. The security has refused family and friends from coming on to the grounds, and anytime a complaint is voiced, the hand immediately goes to the gun with a ‘Do we have a problem with this?' And that's coming from personal experience. I've had my own difficulties getting access just to see my clients.”
Police Chief Bill Lansdowne has met with park residents recently, and city officials are planning more meetings this week amongst themselves, said police spokesman Dave Cohen. He declined to opine on the necessity for armed guards within an area that already sees a significant police presence. Some residents, including Lewan, said Lansdowne told them at one meeting that he wasn't too keen on armed rent-a-cops.
“My big concern is that there's going to be a homicide out there,” Seiken said. “If you push enough people the wrong way for a long period of time the way they have-it's been going on for six months now-you're going to have problems.”
Residents' attorneys say they have worked out some tentative agreements with the city-no use of profanity toward residents, maintaining the swimming pool temperature, using no-parking stickers that don't require a razor blade to remove and the resumption of certain classes, to name a few-but the city's attorney, Anna Roppo, has yet to firm up even those minor agreements.
“We haven't heard from the city since February,” Seiken said. Efforts by CityBeat to reach Roppo and Hawkeye representatives were unsuccessful.
Bob Spellman, a long-time De Anza resident, shook his head while looking at a lot scraped clean near his mobile home. “We've lost all amenities here,” he said. “All of our clubs are abandoned. We even tried to have a New Year's party, but noon that day-after we had bought beer and wine-security said we couldn't have alcoholic beverages here. Just plain nasty.”
He said residents could have run the park for significantly less than the $300,000 that goes to Hawkeye annually – not to mention an additional $332,000 of sparse city funds to pay for the armed security guards.
But, Spellman says, the city wasn't interested.
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