CITY HALL — Eight hours of emotional public testimony and half again as many devoted to official deliberations.

That’s how long the Planning Commission spent on a proposal to develop one of the last trailer parks in Santa Monica into a 500-unit mixed-use complex, a plan which will displace over 50 households, many of which are low-income and elderly.

And although the commission had pronounced reservations about the design of the four–building complex and the amount of affordable housing and other benefits they were able to extract from the developer, the principal message of the night was clear.

The Village Trailer Park will likely close, and it is up to city officials to ensure that those displaced get the richest relocation package possible.

“If you believe, as I do, that law and the state will ultimately close the trailer park, and I believe that day is coming closer, the residents need to know that no matter what, they have a decent package of relocation benefits and a secure future,” said Commissioner Richard McKinnon.

The news fell on unwilling ears.

Many residents of the trailer park seated in the audience were audibly upset by that and other frank statements from the dais that indicated that commissioners had resigned themselves to the fact that Village Trailer Park, LLC., the company that owns the trailer park, will be able to close the site as soon as six months after the Rent Control Board gives its OK.

The estimated date of the six-month notice: Aug. 15.

Given that, commissioners set about beefing up the set of six relocation options negotiated between planners and Village Trailer Park, Inc. to make sure that when residents were asked to leave the park, they had somewhere to go.

“We have people who have lived there a long, long time, and have an emotional attachment and will potentially be displaced as an outcome of all of this. We want to ensure the softest landing possible,” said Commissioner Ted Winterer.

Benefits provided under four of the six plans start at $18,500 and additional costs then accrue based on which plan they choose.

Winterer got behind a suggestion by Commissioner Jim Ries to increase the amount of money that the developer had to contribute to house displaced tenants in two of the seven options on the table.

One allows residents to claim one of 109 low-income apartments in the new development and another lets them find their own place. In either case, the developer must cover some of the rent for the residents’ apartment for four years while the project is under construction.

The current $1,180 cap wouldn’t get most people an apartment in Santa Monica, Ries said, opting to increase the ceiling to $1,652. Tenants would continue paying the amount of rent they currently pay for their trailers — which he estimated at $300 — and the developer would cover the rest up to $1,652 so they could afford a studio or one bedroom apartment in Santa Monica.

Some studio rentals in Santa Monica, notably 375- and 400-square-foot units close to Downtown, exceed that amount.

Ries also opted for extending the term of the payments until the building was fit for occupancy rather than cutting people off after four years without a place to move into.

The heightened ceiling seemed baseless to Commissioner Amy Anderson, who urged fellow commissioners to rely on market data rather than their perceptions of the Santa Monica rental market.

“We have the data. Let’s use that data to find out what the middle ground is,” Anderson said.

Commissioners also sought to make the first option, a move from Village Trailer Park into the city-owned Mountain View Mobile Home Park, more flexible by allowing residents to either bring their trailers with them or require that the developer buy them a new mobile home if theirs could not be moved.

Right now, residents can only rent mobile units in the park, which many consider a step down from the home-ownership situation they have at their current site where they own the units, but not the land underneath.

The power to change that rule lies in the hands of the City Council.

Commissioners also weighed in on the design of the project, which they felt was too massive, with canyon-like gaps created by too-tall buildings set close together.

They found the prevalence of small studio and one-bedroom apartments upsetting, requesting more two and three-bedroom units, and upped the amount of affordable housing by another 5 percent of the total unit mix, or 24 units.

While those changes passed with relative ease, one more ambitious motion failed to even make it to a vote.

At the beginning of the meeting, McKinnon both expressed his belief that the park would close and put out an idea to delay that reality by as much as half a year.

The Village Trailer Park falls in a district in a state of flux. City officials are working on an area plan that will define where uses like housing and retail should go to meet a mix defined in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE, which dictates development.

The council should wait until that plan is finished before moving forward with the development agreement or risk locking all future development — like the proposed Bergamot Transit Village — into plans that may not appeal to their owners, McKinnon said.

“You’re making the plane as you’re flying it, and there are consequences to that you’ll have to live with,” McKinnon warned.

Commissioners also recommended that the City Council look at a much-reduced project put forward by Ron Goldman, a professional architect and volunteer who created a plan that would preserve half the park and develop half.

The City Council is expected to take the issue up July 24.

ashley@smdp.com

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