VILLAGE TRAILER PARK — Residents of the Village Trailer Park staged a hastily organized protest Monday morning to rail against the demolition of 10 unoccupied trailers at the park, which they see as the last truly affordable housing in Santa Monica.
As news cameras rolled, residents hoisted signs reading “ Occupy VTP” and “Why Destroy Homes?”, and gave tours of units that had already been partially deconstructed as members of the demolition crew sat waiting on the curb on the opposite side of Colorado Avenue.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Dennis Shay, on-site manager for the park. “We’re just tearing down old trailers.”
At the outset, the protest was organized to condemn alleged faulty demolition practices that could have exposed residents to hazardous asbestos.
It became a flashpoint for the wider issue of VTP owner Marc Luzzatto’s ultimate goal — to redevelop the park into a 229,860 square foot mixed-use project with 240 condominiums and 109 low-income and single-room occupancy apartments.
A previous attempt at demolition had been stalled by residents who requested that the trailers be checked for asbestos, Luzzatto said.
“We hired inspectors, went in and got the sampling,” Luzzatto said.
The samples did turn up asbestos in some properties, a possibility indicated in an environmental review document drawn up for the mixed-use redevelopment.
This time, work crews arrived with an environmental consultant to oversee the work and keep down the dust, but residents were not satisfied on two points.
Protesters argued that Luzzatto stated in an environmental impact report that no trailers would be demolished for the project, although the same document mentions that trailers will be removed. While the residents own their own trailers, the land is held by the Village Trailer Park LLC.
Some of the trailers have been vacant for months, some as long as a year and a half, and it’s difficult to move the older trailers without deconstructing them, Luzzatto said.
Other community members, such as Gregg Heacock, chair of the Mid City Neighbors group, pointed out that the demolition was occurring only weeks after the Landmarks Commission directed staff to explore VTP’s historic significance at its Oct. 10 meeting.
VTP co-chair Catherine Eldridge compiled photocopies of old phone book records and photographs showing that VTP was inhabited in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the original workforce housing in Santa Monica for employees of the Douglas Aircraft Company.
Although the commission did ask to explore the historic status of the park, these trailers are not part of that inquiry, Luzzatto said.
“The only thing we’re doing is cleaning up old trailers that we own,” Luzzatto said. “They’re a nuisance.”
Removing old trailers is a routine thing, Luzzatto said, and the process has been under way for weeks. It has nothing to do with the redevelopment plans, which have been winding their way through city process for almost six years.
Residents have been at odds with park ownership since 2006, when they first received notice that the park was closing down in order to redevelop into the mixed-use complex.
Uncertainty about what will happen to the park, when it will happen and where tenants will go causes concern, said June Griffin, co-chair of VTP.
“Most of us picked this as the place where we’re going to spend the rest of our life,” Griffin said. “We don’t have that many years left, and we’d like to keep them in halfway decent shape.”
Some consideration has been taken for them, but nothing is set in stone.
VTP residents get priority on a list for housing vouchers, as well as for housing through the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, said Jing Yeo, the city planner working on the Village Trailer Park redevelopment.
Residents can also come back to the low-income apartments proposed to be built into the project, although they likely won’t be able to stay at the same rents they’re paying now — sometimes $400 or less per month, thanks to rent control laws.
Housing vouchers are in short supply, and Community Corporation housing is also based on availability.
Park closure has been postponed until a plan could be developed to take care of residents, Luzzatto said, but now closure is coming.
“I think there’s a group in the park that’s hoping to keep the redevelopment from happening,” Luzzatto said. “This is their way to keep it from happening.”