The Preston Cook paradox
A little over a year ago, the Sonoma City Council confronted a peculiar paradox when Preston Cook, the owner of Rancho de Sonoma mobile home park, requested the city's help in applying for a $700,000 state drinking water grant to connect his park to city water.
The paradox: Cook was simultaneously suing the city for $25 million in claimed damages resulting from a temporary moratorium on mobile home park conversions imposed by the city in 2008 and since lifted. Cook needs the water hookup because the park's well - which serves some 99 resident units - is contaminated with low but illegal levels of arsenic and he was mandated to bring park water into compliance with EPA standards in 2006. Most residents have been using bottled supplies for drinking water ever since.
The city's moratorium was imposed to give the City Council time to develop an ordinance governing mobile home park conversions, which have been occurring at what some residents consider an alarming rate all over California with one outcome being the incremental loss of rent-controlled accommodations for fixed-income senior citizens.
Upon completion of the ordinance in 2009, Cook's subdivision application was approved, but he has since claimed the conditions of the city law are illegal "because of conditions placed by the city at the eleventh hour, I don't have a legal conversion." It is those conditions that are the focus of Cook's suit.
Asked last year what the conditions he objects to, Cook said, "There are a lot of little things. One is landscaping requirements, the timing on doing capital improvements, a variety of other conditions."
A year ago, Cook said he was optimistic the suit could soon be resolved. It hasn't. It is difficult to calculate how much staff time and attorney fees have been invested in the suit, but the cost to the city on both counts has been substantial.
But the city, meanwhile, has taken the high road by consenting to Cook's request that it apply for the state grant, even though he qualifies for a low-interest loan to install the water hook-up.
Asked last year why he doesn't simply take the loan, Cook explained, "I prefer for the city to do it ... Why should I borrow the money when the city can get it for free?"
One answer could have been the February 2008 agreement Cook signed promising that if the city approved his conversion application for an owner-occupied subdivision, he would at his "sole cost and expense continue with certain upgrades to the water system (including hooking up to City water service and the City hook-up fees associated therewith) ..." In the same document, he stated that capital improvements would be capped at $2 million in cost.
On Monday, the City Council will meet in two special sessions - one closed (to discuss the lawsuit) and one open (concerning the state water grant) - to further consider the Cook conundrum.
We think the city has shown great patience with Cook and commitment to the best interest of his residents. It's time he reciprocated.