CITY HALL — “Yes, and may God forgive me.”
Rent Control Board member Todd Flora’s statement encapsulated much of the tenor of Thursday night’s Rent Control Board meeting in which the board unanimously agreed that the Village Trailer Park could close.
It brings to an end almost seven years of public process that began when part-owner Marc Luzzatto announced that the 109-space park would close in 2006 to make way for a 377-unit mixed-use development on the site.
Park residents and their supporters argued forcefully in comments and written letters that the Rent Control Board could and should fight the park closure, but commissioners told the crowd that the risk of litigation, and the chance that Luzzatto would prevail, was too great.
A loss at that stage would bankrupt the Rent Control Board, Flora warned, leaving thousands of other tenants in rent-controlled apartments without adequate protections against landlord abuses.
“We have a gun to our heads, one I have been persuaded is fully loaded and ready to fire,” Flora said, voice choked with emotion. “We have no room for legal Russian roulette.”
Others are less squeamish.
Brenda Barnes, a resident of the park, declared her intention to file suit to stop the closure. At least one lawsuit is already in play at the Los Angeles Superior Court challenging the legality of the development agreement for the new East Village project approved by the City Council in April.
The development required the City Council to change the zoning on the 3.85-acre property, which paved the way for lengthy negotiations that promised moving packages for the remaining residents that included units in the new development or ownership of new mobile home units in the City Hall-owned Mountain View Mobile Home Park, amongst others.
With the project approved, it was up to the Rent Control Board to OK the final step, a removal permit for the rent controlled units.
The organization’s charter dictates that the board “may” give a permit provided at least 15 percent of the controlled rental units built on the site be “affordable.”
The project meets that requirement because 38 of the units are restricted to “very low” and “extremely low”-income tenants. Units of greater affordability can count as more than one under city rules.
Although board members and community members had hung much on the definition of the word “may,” the semantic argument was not enough to sway their vote on Thursday.
“This is a very difficult problem,” said Commissioner Marilyn Korade Wilson. “As I understand it, we are constrained. From an emotional level, I feel very unhappy about it. You cannot listen to what we’ve heard tonight and not be moved by this whole, unfortunate situation.”
An unusual alliance of people came out to tell commissioners they were wrong.
Representatives of community groups and other residents whose faces have become commonplace at meetings at which the Village Trailer Park is discussed appeared to speak their mind, but so did Rosario Perry, an attorney better known for suing the Rent Control Board to protect landlord interests.
He argued that a memorandum of understanding between City Hall and Luzzatto did not guarantee that the Rent Control Board would sign off on the permit.
“I don’t often agree with him, and I find it really weird when I do agree with him, but he’s right in this instance,” said Ellen Hannan, a member of Mid-City Neighbors.
With both the permit and the development agreement in hand, however, Luzzatto is cleared to issue a closure notice for the park, which gives a six-month countdown for residents.
That will happen “shortly,” Luzzatto said.
“We can finally do the important work of allowing people to move on with their lives,” Luzzatto said. “Most of the people in the trailer park have been waiting for resolution so that they could move on. This was the defining moment for that.”