Santa Cruz County is not allowed to regulate the height of mobile homes because state law has pre-empted the possibility of a local ordinance, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The Mobilehome Parks Act (MPA) governs the construction and installation of mobile homes in California and prohibits additional regulation by local governments, the court ruled. “[I]t is clear that the Legislature intended to limit local authority for zoning regulation to the specifically enumerated exceptions of where a mobile home park may be located, vehicle parking and lot lines, not the structures within the parks,” Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The litigation was spurred by the state Department of Housing and Community Development's issuance of a permit in 2001 to Kenneth Waterhouse, the owner and operator of Yacht Harbor Manor Mobilehome Park in unincorporated Santa Cruz. Waterhouse sought and received permission to install a two-story mobile home.

Two months before HCD approved Waterhouse's application, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance prohibiting mobile homes in mobile home parks from exceeding one story or 17 feet without county approval. After Waterhouse won approval from the state, the county sued him to block installation of the two-story home. A trial court judge ruled against the county, which appealed but lost again.

The question for the Sixth District was whether the Mobilehome Parks Act (Health and Safety Code § 18300 et seq.) pre-empted the county's ordinance. Cities and counties have general police powers to enact laws and regulations to protect the public, but that power is superceded when a state law “fully occupies” a field.

The Sixth District found that the Mobilehome Parks Act fully occupied the field, but the county pointed to Griffith v. County of Santa Cruz, 79 Cal.App.4th 1318 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, June 2000), in which the court ruled that the Mobilehome Parks Act did not prohibit the county from enforcing rent control regulations. The county also noted exceptions in the state law that allow the county to zone for mobile homes and mobile home parks, to regulate parking, signs and perimeter walls, and to create and adjust mobile home park lot lines.

The court ruled, however, that neither Griffith nor the statutory exceptions addressed the construction of mobile homes. Griffith “does not support the county's position in this case,” Rushing wrote, and the exceptions do not provide “the county authority to regulate the structure of mobile home units within the parks.”

Rushing continued, “[A] two-story mobile home, if it meets the construction standards, can be installed in a mobile home park, provided it meets the lot line requirements. The MPA provides no authority to localities to regulate whether or not a double-wide or triple-wide is installed in its parks. Similarly, there is no authority to regulate whether a two-story unit is installed.”

The Case:
County of Santa Cruz v. Waterhouse, No. H024127, 05 C.D.O.S. 2813, 2005 DJDAR 3787. Filed March 30, 2005. Modified April 28, 2005 at 2005 DJDAR 4921.
The Lawyers;
For the county: Dwight Herr, county counsel's office, (831) 423-5800.
For Waterhouse: David Spangenberg, Spangenberg & Ritson, (707) 473-4340.
For the Department of Housing and Community Development: John Davidson, attorney general's office, (415) 356-6365.