Should park managers be certified?

The blurred distinction between mobile home parks and RV parks is growing even more fuzzy in California, where a Senate bill that would require managers of trailer courts to get annual training and certification is in the legislative hopper. Trailer courts–and, almost incidentally, RV parks as well.

SB 869, introduced in January by Senator Connie Leyva, would require “each person employed or acting in an onsite or offsite managerial capacity or role, on behalf of a mobilehome park or recreational vehicle park to receive appropriate training of at least 18 hours” by May, 2024, and additional training each year thereafter. Trained park managers would receive a certificate of completion, to be posted “in a conspicuous location onsite.” Failure to get the training or to post the certificate could result in civil penalties and a suspension of a facility’s operating permit.

The bill is vague on the training specifics, leaving it up to the state’s Dept. of Housing and Community Development to fill in the blanks. But it does specify that the department “shall review the complaints it has received” from park residents when designing the curriculum, paying particular attention to complaints about evictions, fees, management of utilities, homeowner communications and how sales of a campground are handled. The training is also to include parks’ contingency planning and how they will respond to medical and other emergencies.

There is more, but it may all be moot, as the bill has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee Suspense File. A potential graveyard for all legislation with an annual price tag of $150,000 or more, the Suspense File’s hundreds of bills will be reviewed by the committee May 18 and either approved for floor vote or quietly allowed to expire. Which way SB869 will be decided is uncertain, but clearly CampCalNOW, the state’s trade association for RV parks and campgrounds, believes it’s a done deal, emailing its members with the assurance that the bill has been “shelved.”

Perhaps. On the other hand, Eric Guerra, a consultant for the Senate Select Committee on Manufactured Home Communities, believes that “things are still open.” The bill “is a pretty high priority” for Senator Leyva, who chairs the committee, following a rising chorus of complaints from park dwellers about predatory practices by park managers. Unlike neighboring Oregon and Nevada, both of which mandate training and licensing for park managers, California has no standards for such employees, even though the managers may be responsible for the safety of more than 200 residents, sometimes in remote areas.

Although most complaints that triggered the proposal have come from trailer parks, RV parks got swept into it because in many cases “they have become de facto mobile home parks,” Guerra explained. And while CampCalNOW argued that most RV parks in the state don’t have the kind of long-term residents that the bill is seeking to protect, the exceptions have been disturbingly stark. Most notably, the Fairplex RV Park in Pomona, a former KOA, was the subject of a blistering 2016 L.A. Times investigation that resulted in a state audit issuing several safety violations, including for frayed overhead electrical wires and bathrooms in disrepair. That memory lingers, Guerra said, and the Fairplex park was not unique.

It’s entirely possible, if Senator Leyva gets a sense that the political winds are unfavorable, that SB869 will yet be amended to modify its RV park aspects, while leaving stronger measures in place for mobile home parks. But whose interests would be served by a more narrowly tailored bill? A training requirement of 18 hours–which the bill expressly allows to be done online, in as many installments each year as desired–is at most a nominal obligation. RV parks, like trailer courts, increasingly are home to economically and physically vulnerable populations, in a state that is at growing risk of wildfires and mudslides. Ensuring that the people most directly responsible for maintaining a safe environment have just a teeny bit of instruction about their duties would seem a no-brainer.

The wonder is not that RV parks might be opposed to legislation that would set some minimum operational standards, but that more campground owners are not proactively implementing policies and practices that would safeguard their customers. Consider this, for example: when’s the last time you stayed at an RV park that had an automatic external defibrillator that you could readily access, in case your traveling companion had a heart attack? As with so many other common sense precautions, most RV park owners simply hope for the best and reflexively push back against anything that smacks of government regulation.

Leyva’s bill does not mandate AEDs, but by raising the subject of how campgrounds respond to emergencies, certainly opens the door for discussing this and other measures. RVers in California should be thankful for that, even if campground owners are less enthused.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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