In December 2014, San Diego's elected officials celebrated the end to the 11-year legal fight over the closure of De Anza Cove Mobile Home Park and the relocation of hundreds of residents. The residents and the city, with the help of a trial court judge, agreed to a $29 million settlement, including attorney fees.
“The City Council believes it is time to end the lawsuit, provide residents with reasonable compensation and reimbursement of attorney fees as determined by the judge, and return this park to the people of San Diego,” city attorney Jan Goldsmith said at a December 2014 press conference.
But the $29 million is a fraction of the total amount in relocation fees that the city will pay to De Anza Cove residents.
On March 18, the city and a second group of residents who had accepted nominal relocation offers from the city — under what they claim was duress and misrepresentation — agreed to settle the case. The total cost has not yet been disclosed but is expected to exceed $10 million.
Referred to as the Aglio case after resident Joseph Aglio filed the lawsuit, the litigation was separate from the larger De Anza Cove lawsuit. Aglio and the other 100 residents filed the lawsuit in 2009 but it was put on hold until the larger class action was settled.
In their lawsuit, Aglio and his co-plaintiffs allege the city forced them to accept relocation packages that were far under the amount required by California's Mobile Home Residency Law.
According to court documents, residents, most of whom retirees, felt pressure to accept relocation packages after the De Anza Cove park lease expired in 2003.
Shortly after taking control of the park, city employees began to cut down trees, demolish buildings such as the De Anza market, strip community meeting rooms and laundry facilities of equipment, and remove playground equipment from the public beach. At the same time, security presence at the park intensified. Armed guards patrolled De Anza Cove. The city constructed a guard post at the park entrance and ordered guards to check identification and record all vehicle information at the gate. Towing companies removed cars parked in lots that were once reserved for residents.
Then the city offered residents relocation packages, oftentimes under threat of eviction. Doing so, ruled a judge in the De Anza case, violated a court injunction requiring the park to be maintained under previous rules as the lawsuit played out in court.
Because of the deteriorating conditions, residents such as Aglio accepted nominal amounts to leave the park.
According to attorney Karen Frostrom, a partner at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire, which represented the residents, the city's early relocation offers ranged from $4360 to $8000.
After a settlement was reached in the De Anza case, Aglio's case was reinstated. Shortly after reinstatement, the two sides agreed to use the same relocation formula.
For the members of the Aglio lawsuit, that means a much larger relocation package: depending on the size of the home, former residents will get resettlement amounts between $62,400 and $172,560, not including moving expenses. Renters will also be given up to $8850 as is required by state law. Attorney fees have yet to be decided and will be separate from the judgement.
"I think that the residents' reactions to this are as varied as the settlement amounts," said Frostrom after the March 18 decision was announced. "The best takeaway is that this removes the decade of uncertainty that plagued their lives, as they did not know whether they would be able to continue living there and for how long. This settlement allows them to move into the next chapter of their lives and we hope that it is a good chapter and that they find relief in being out of a decade of litigation."
Now, San Diego elected officials can begin to make plans to redevelop the former neighborhood. Or, as stated by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in his January 2016 state of the city address, the city "will begin charting a bold new vision for its last unplanned area — the 76-acre mobile-home park next to De Anza Cove."
Update 3/22, 2:00 p.m.
The court released the totals for the settlement and attorney fees in the Aglio case on March 22. According the ruling, the city will pay no more than $14 million to the members of the Aglio class action. In addition, the city will also pay $4,666,667 in attorney fees as well as $140,000 for class-action counsel.