COLORADO AVE — Residents of the Village Trailer Park reached out to the California Environmental Protection Agency Friday to stop the destruction of unoccupied trailers by the owners of the property.
Brenda Barnes, a resident of the park and former attorney, informed the agency of the “tons of debris” allegedly blowing in the air without prior inspection for lead, mold and formaldehyde.
It’s the latest in a series of efforts to get officials from City Hall, the Southern California Air Quality Management District and state to intervene on behalf of the residents to stop what they call intimidation on the part of the park owners.
The owners have been trying to close the park down and encourage residents to move since 2006, when they first announced they wanted to get out of the trailer park business and build condominiums and low-income housing on the property.
City Hall stepped in to negotiate relocation for the current residents, who have come forward with stories of owners encouraging them to leave and allowing the park to degrade in the meantime.
The removal of old trailers owned by park operators, which began in November 2011, is, in their eyes, one more tactic to scare them into leaving.
“It’s psychological because these are our neighbors’ homes,” Barnes said. “It’s not just the destruction of some part of the environment. Also, it’s harassment of us personally because the reason it’s being done is to make us scared.”
Residents also claim that the removal of the trailers is unlawful because no permits were issued for their destruction and that the removal violates environmental quality laws in California.
Marc Luzzatto, a co-owner of the two entities that own the trailer park, dismissed these claims, saying that the removal of trailers owned by the company was done by the book.
“We followed exactly the same procedures we were told were the proper procedures for demolishing these trailers,” Luzzatto said. “We have permits from the city, the AQMD has reviewed the paperwork and has been at the site. We’ve done everything we’re supposed to do.”
According to city documents, permits were pulled on Feb. 28 to cap utilities where the trailers used to be.
Permits are not actually required to take the trailers away because, in the eyes of City Hall, the trailers are personal property, not buildings.
That means a number of municipal regulations, including those governing the removal of waste created by the trailers’ destruction, are not applicable.
Furthermore, California’s environmental laws, called CEQA, aren’t triggered because the permits issued to cap the utilities are considered ministerial, meaning no public process was needed to grant the permits.
The Southern California Air Quality Management District also sent an inspector out on Thursday and Friday to observe the demolition.
No regulations were violated, said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the AQMD.
The methods might be legal, but they’re also callous, opponents said.
Gregg Heacock, a leader of the Mid-City Neighbors group, said the tactics were being used to discourage and dishearten the neighbors.
“The way it’s being done, it’s shock and awe,” Heacock said, referring to the strategy used in the bombardment of Baghdad early in the Iraq War.
Barnes isn’t backing down.
She’s in the process of exhausting every avenue before going to court to try to get an injunction on the destruction of the trailers. That might be ready as soon as next week.
“First I have to try everything,” Barnes said. “If you haven’t exhausted your administrative remedies, the courts won’t help you.”
This isn’t the first time Barnes has been involved with a lawsuit in connection with Village Trailer Park.
In August 2011, her son, Michael McKinsey, filed a $5.15 million claim on behalf of himself and “others similarly situated” that alleged that City Hall violated the law and its own land use policy by approving the development of land adjacent to the park.
Letting large office and housing developments go forward was “tacit approval” for Luzzatto to convert the park into a mixed-use complex and evict tenants.