CITY HALL — “Council members, the words you’ve been waiting for — the item is before us.”
A tired Mayor Richard Bloom recited the rote phrase at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, five hours after the City Council opened the public hearing on a contentious development agreement that could convert a half-empty trailer park into a five-story, mixed-use apartment complex.
The council did not reach a decision that night, instead continuing the matter to a special meeting called for Aug. 28 at which point they will be able to discuss the hours of testimony presented.
There’s a lot to chew on.
The issue brought out the crowds, with over 100 people originally signed up to speak before repetitiveness and the late hour weeded the number down to a more manageable 70.
Their comments ranged from emotional appeals to substantive alternatives to the proposed development, which proponents say will bring new life to the east side of Santa Monica and opponents counter is a recipe for gridlock as well as a cruel mistreatment of seniors.
The testimony had an equal measure of political theater, with a representative of Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, who’s running against Bloom for the 50th District seat, making an appearance to signal support of preserving the park, and Councilmember Kevin McKeown outing some speaking for the project for their connections to the developer.
Halfway through, an accident set off a fire alarm, forcing an evacuation of City Hall.
Christel Andersen, a resident of Pico neighborhood, found it symbolic.
“City Hall has a sense of humanity,” she said. “The whole building is screaming that you can’t close Village Trailer Park.”
The points of the case are simple to list, but hard to address.
As proposed, the development would displace 58 households, many of which include the elderly, disabled and/or low income.
The developer, represented by Marc Luzzatto, has been trying to close the park since 2006. The rents, which range between $300 and $400 on average, are too low to sustain the park, which has desperate infrastructure needs and safety concerns, he said
“The park is no longer viable, and will have to close regardless of the disposition of the (development agreement),” Luzzatto told council members Tuesday.
In the place of the 109 trailer pads, Luzzatto proposes to build a complex of four buildings with 438 apartments and condominiums, 124 of which would be classified as rent-controlled residences.
The developer said that the design, reduced from almost 500 residences to roughly 440, came with the weight of the Planning Commission behind it.
Three commissioners who came to speak Tuesday begged to differ.
Although the project had changed slightly since its June 20 visit to the commission, the developer had not addressed some of the key concerns raised, said Ted Winterer, who spoke for the Planning Commission on Tuesday night.
While the commission had expressed an interest in reducing the overall size of the project, which they felt was out of place next to smaller residences in the neighborhoods nearby, the developer shaved off only 11,500 square feet.
That’s less than 3 percent, Winterer said.
“Three is not where anyone landed,” agreed Richard McKinnon, a second Planning Commissioner who spoke that evening.
Commissioners also complained that they had asked the City Council to consider an alternative proposal made by Ron Goldman, a local architect.
Goldman’s concept would preserve 58 spaces for the remaining tenants and allow the developer to build a reduced project on the other half of the property.
The plan would reduce the size of the project, maintain residences for Village Trailer Park tenants and reduce the risk for the developer, which he called a “win-win-win.”
A nonprofit even stepped in to express interest in buying and running the park.
Maurice Priest, a Sacramento-based attorney and president of the nonprofit Resident Owned Parks, Inc., said that his company could run the park and keep the rents at an average $383 per month if Luzzatto would sell the land for the 58 spaces for $1.5 million.
Luzzatto wasn’t impressed by the idea.
He characterized Goldman’s proposal as a “non-starter,” and Priest’s valuation as “instructive” as it puts a purchase price of $1.5 million on 60 percent of the project.
“It doesn’t work, it’s a non-starter and we won’t do it,” Luzzatto said.
In Priest’s eyes, the purchase price he mentioned was illustrative rather than “instructive.”
“I wasn’t making an offer to him last night of $1.5 million,” Priest said Wednesday. “What I was determining was what kind of a purchase price could be supported with existing rents.”
Council members had little to say that evening about the hours of ideas and cajoling. Real discussion will proceed, without public comment, on Aug. 28.
If they accept the development agreement, the ball will begin rolling on the remaining 114 days left in the park closure notice, as negotiated by Luzzatto and City Hall in 2007.
The residents who currently live in the park would have a number of relocation options.
Under one, Village Trailer Park LLC would buy a brand new mobile home to be placed in either the City Hall-owned Mountain View Mobile Home Park or another park within 50 miles of the city.
The company would then transfer the title of the mobile home to the resident, making them the sole owner.
A different option would provide the residents a place to live in Santa Monica with $1,352 of the rent covered by the developer for up to 7.5 years or until the new East Village complex was built.
At that point, they could move into one of the affordable units in the new development.
While there is still a vocal group actively fighting for the preservation of the park, others are ready to take security over a win.
“Some handle the stress better than others, and I’m not one,” said Mark Martinez, a resident of Village Trailer Park. “Whatever can be done to help us find a place to live in peace, I’d appreciate that very much.”