San Diego Late in 2003, Hawkeye Management Company, hired by the city of San Diego, began calling residents of De Anza Cove mobile-home park on Mission Bay. They wanted residents to sign contracts specifying terms of departure.
"They stripped out this restaurant on the golf course next to us," says resident and Mesa College biology instructor Jim Hannan, 62, "and we go into a place that looked like Armageddon, where this lady, who must have been a Marine once, looked at me and said, 'You mean you haven't signed your contract? I can't believe how much trouble you're in.' And I felt a fear in my gut that I've never felt before. The world dropped out of me, I tell you. They had all our files, and she pulled them out and said, 'We want you to sign that now.' I was shaking. I was so nervous thinking what might happen if I don't sign this. If I do sign it, I get something and can stay here a little bit longer."
The contract they presented us had all kinds of things, like the pounds of dog you could have," continues Hannan. "You could have either one 40-pound dog or two 20-pound dogs. You had to sign every page, and when you were done, you had signed a contract to stay zero, one, two, three, or four years. You would get a remittance according to the number of years you signed up for. The fewer the years, the more money you got. But $8000 was the most you could get, which would barely cover the cost of removal, because they want your place scraped clean and your mobile home out of here. With some of these units -- mine included -- you move them, and they will fall apart."
Hannan resisted signing the contract. Hawkeye's signing pressure started after superior court judge Charles Hayes issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from evicting every resident in the mobile-home park by November 23 of last year. The eviction notice "surprised the hell out of me," says Hannan. "Thirty-day notice? I freaked. To get thrown out into this housing environment we've got now? I work here, my wife works here, and we're not ready to have that happen. She's a part-time worker, and I'm taking care of my 90-year-old parents.
"But November 23 came around," Hannan continues, "and our lawyers -- we joined the homeowners association -- got the temporary restraining order. That saved our bacon, because otherwise, I guess, we'd be out on the street without getting anything for our property.
"When the eviction notice first came, I expected some discussion, the normal thing. After all, this was our duly elected government. We had what I call a capitalist pig who ran this place before the city took over. From him I expected that," says Hannan, "because he was into the money, period. I never thought the government would be into nothing but the money, but that's the way it turned out.
"The rumor is that the city wants to extend the golf course and build a Hilton hotel out here," he says. "And 9/11, oddly enough, saved us from that at first, because subsequently there was no money anywhere for big hotel construction. So the De Anza Cove Corporation gave up on that plan. When their lease ended last year, the city was left with the property and nobody to develop it. And the property is so valuable."
Attorney Anna Roppo, representing the city of San Diego in matters pertaining to De Anza Cove Park, says, "The city has no hotel plans whatsoever." The state granted that land to the city to become a park. They always intended it to be a park, not for the benefit of a few mobile-home owners, but for the entire public.
"Most of the people in the mobile-home park are reasonable and are falling in line," Roppo continues. "But there are a few people who are unhappy with the transition plan. They're the ones who organized the homeowners association. They are prone to exaggeration and overreaction."
Hannan recalls that when Hawkeye first pressured people to sign contracts, a number of elderly residents caved in quickly. "Right away," he says, "my next-door neighbor signed one to move out early. He is 80-something and an American hero. He was shot in the jaw on Iwo Jima.
"Obviously the more quail they can flush out of the bush," Hannan says, "the less they'll have to pay at the end of the line. So they're trying to scare people, and they're doing a damned good job of it, intimidating them, making life miserable and austere, and wiping the place clean of all vegetation. And they began it full force from day one."
Roppo sees it differently. The trees Hawkeye Management has been cutting down in the park this fall damage the sewer lines, she says. "Only 10 percent of them are being cut down. The city inherited the park's property and is now dealing with a previous lack of maintenance. It is spending $600,000 to upgrade infrastructure to make things better for residents," says Roppo.
But in addition to cutting down trees, Hawkeye is removing smaller bushes, digging up asphalt to within a few feet of mobile homes, and tearing down laundry facilities in the park. The De Anza Cove Homeowners Association hired its own evaluator, who claimed that cutting down trees should be only a last resort.
"Our expert told us the best thing to do for the sewer lines would be a Roto-Rooter job," says homeowner association president Ernie Abbit, who filed another request in superior court on November 4 for a restraining order, this one to stop the tree cutting. "It was especially bad on election day," says Abbit. "They start cutting at 7:00 a.m., and when they do it, our elderly people start crying and get hysterical. So not only did they bring along their rent-a-cop company Metropolitan Safety, but they got several San Diego police cars to come out, too. As if the police didn't have better things to do.