CITY HALL — Saving the Village Trailer Park is going to be an expensive proposition that could jeopardize city services or other capital projects, city officials told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday.
The trailer park is one of the last of its kind in Santa Monica, and provides inexpensive housing to its approximately 50 residents, many of whom are elderly or disabled.
It’s also several acres of prime real estate, set to be developed into a mixed-use housing development with 240 condominiums, 109 affordable housing units and ground floor retail.
As such, it has become a rallying point for community groups, who protest the proposed destruction of affordable housing to benefit what they see as a monied interest.
Almost six years ago, owner Marc Luzzatto announced his intention to close down the park and redevelop it.
Residents received eviction notices, and the subsequent years have been swallowed in negotiations between City Hall and Luzzatto to beat out a development agreement and find places for the displaced to live.
And, although officials like City Councilmember Kevin McKeown and residents from several neighborhoods across the city have made the preservation of Village Trailer Park a social justice cause, the law seems stacked against them.
The state governs mobile home parks under a statute called the Mobile Home Residency Law, which gives owners like Luzzatto the right to go out of business despite City Hall’s desire to keep the park open, said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.
“Theoretically, the only way to preserve that mobile home park would be to acquire it,” Moutrie said.
That comes at a considerable cost, said City Manager Rod Gould. Gould requested Andy Agle, the director of Housing and Economic Development at City Hall, make an evaluation of the Village Trailer Park property. It came out to $22 to $30 million.
“Tens of millions of dollars is what it would take to preserve the mobile home park as it is today,” Gould said, and only then if City Hall found a willing seller in Luzzatto.
That money would either come out of the General Fund, which would impact city services, or by redirecting Redevelopment Agency money from another project, like the seismic improvements and retrofit of the Civic Center Auditorium or the Palisades Garden Walk park.
It’s unclear that City Hall could use redevelopment funds for the project, even if it wanted to. Redevelopment agencies across the state are fighting for their continued existence before the California Supreme Court in a court case that will be decided in January.
City officials took action in August 2010 to lock in funding for projects by committing the money in advance of Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement that unencumbered redevelopment money would be seized by the state to fill a $1.7 billion hole.
“Counting on RDA funds to buy Village Trailer Park is, I think, fanciful,” Gould said.
McKeown, supported by Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, requested that staff bring the item back with an analysis of all of the council’s options for the area, citing the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element that specifically calls for the protection of the trailer park.
Councilmember Bob Holbrook called the news “sobering,” but wasn’t prepared to interfere with Luzzatto’s nearly six-year-old development agreement.
“We can’t be responsible for everyone in Santa Monica,” Holbrook said. “I think it’s playing a card when you toss something like that out, and it’s truly unfair.”
Given the dire predictions of the city attorney and city manager, telling residents there might be some possibility of living out the remainder of their lives in place seemed cruel compared to taking the appropriate steps to get them new homes, said Mayor Richard Bloom.
“What’s worse is holding out unrealistic hope,” he said.
With only four council members present on the dais and only two votes for moving the discussion item forward, McKeown chose to re-agendize the item for the Nov. 22 meeting rather than let it die flat out.
In the meantime, community members will continue advocating for the park’s preservation, particularly as it moves its way through the draft environmental impact report process and an attempt to give the park landmark status.
“It’s home,” said Valerie Griffin, resident of the Wilshire Boulevard and Montana Avenue area and proponent of the park. “We need the city to prevent unregulated destruction of their way of life.”