MID-CITY — Residents living at the Village Trailer Park scored a significant victory against developers seeking to close the park and build apartments in its stead with some securing tens of thousands of dollars and the right to remain there for up to 50 years as part of a settlement approved last month.
The owners of the park, Marc Luzzatto and the Dinerstein Companies, agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by trailer park resident Calvin Normore, who challenged an environmental impact report for the 377-unit mixed-use residential development, which he said violated City Hall’s affordable housing requirements and land use plans for the area.
The settlement now clears the way for Luzzatto and Dinerstein to move forward with construction. Both parties could not be reached for comment.
Not only will they have to buy some residents new trailers and pay to have them installed at the nearby Mountain View Mobile Home Park, Luzzatto and Dinerstein must offer cash for the value of the land on which the trailers currently sit. That could mean as much as $95,000 for some of the nearly 40 households affected, according to Sabrina Venskus, the attorney who represented Normore.
Residents with trailers still intact also retain the right to sell their trailers and could possibly get more than $100,000 in the end, Normore said.
An escrow account in the amount of $2 million has been established for the residents.
“Victorious is too strong a word here,” Normore said. “A compromise would be a better word. I’m sure some neighbors think we should have fought this to the bitter end and that we could have saved the park from closing but this seemed to be the best settlement we could get. It’s a lot better than what the city was prepared to obtain.”
Normore criticized Santa Monica officials and members of the City Council for not fighting harder for the residents of the park.
Another significant aspect of the settlement is that 10 trailer park spaces will be preserved and those who are currently living there as well as others who are selected to move into vacant spaces will have some rights over the land in the form of a lease agreement that will last for five decades.
If one of the tenants decides they want to move before that, they can transfer that lease to another and get value for the remaining years. They also will be able to continue paying the same rent, which for Normore amounts to $553 a month, according to the settlement.
“We have not only kept some residents in that park who really need those low-income spaces and don’t really have anywhere to go, we also preserved truly affordable housing for the city — 10 units of extremely low-income homes,” Venskus said.
Venskus will receive a little less than $500,000 for her work on the case.
Venskus gave credit to the Dinerstein group for reaching the settlement.
“They were genuinely concerned about the residents and wanted to do the right thing,” she said. “They really went the extra mile. They understood they don’t have to be greedy in order to make money.”
The City Council in a 4-2 vote approved the development agreement with Luzzatto in 2012.
Two weeks later, a newly-seated City Council with two new members, Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez, voted to rescind the development agreement in a 4-3 vote ostensibly to resolve questions about the project’s adherence to local affordable housing rules.
Both new members voted to take back the agreement, along with Kevin McKeown and Gleam Davis.
Luzzatto then filed a $50 million lawsuit against City Hall.
The suit was settled and in March 2013 the council in a 4-3 vote approved a revised development agreement. Davis changed her mind after she felt her concerns about the amount of affordable housing had been addressed.
In that new development agreement Luzzatto opted to set aside more units for very-low income individuals.
Two elderly residents at the park said Thursday they were grateful for Normore’s efforts and are relieved that the nearly eight-year ordeal is coming to an end.
“It’s such a shame that someone can come in and kick seniors, sick people and young people out of their homes. It’s just sad,” said Mary Herring, 80, who has taken a buyout and will move into a new modular home at the City Hall-owned Mountain View. Herring owns a trailer resting on one of the 10 preserved plots. She has lived there since 1992.
“I really do appreciate what Calvin did for us,” she added.
Frances Ward, 76, is also moving to Mountain View. So is her daughter. She feels the settlement is fair and believes those asking for more are “just whiners.”
“I never worried about what was going to happen. It causes wrinkles,” Ward said as she read a copy of Reader’s Digest on her trailer’s porch. “Whatever happens, happens.”
Normore, a professor at UCLA, plans to stay at the park and occupy one of the 10 remaining plots, but he knows it will never be the same.
“It was a real community,” he said. “People looked after each other, they knew when others were in trouble and needed help. There’s just not going to be a community in Santa Monica like that ever again.”