Village Trailer Park (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)
Village Trailer Park (Photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — The City Council on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to build a mixed-use housing development where a trailer park now stands despite protests of those concerned that the decision would displace some of Santa Monica’s most vulnerable residents in return for a development of questionable value.

The 4-2 decision — with Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Councilmember Kevin McKeown against — ended a six-year saga over the Village Trailer Park, which co-owner Marc Luzzatto first intended to close in 2006.

Councilmember Bobby Shriver was absent for the vote.

The East Village development, as proposed, would replace the existing 109-space park with a 377-unit complex composed of three buildings. A section of the property would also contain 10 of the original trailer pads ostensibly for the use of residents who wanted to stay.

The plan represented an 8 percent reduction in the overall size of the project and 14 percent reduction in the number of units compared to the last time the City Council reviewed the plan.

It also came with a seven-part relocation plan for the remaining residents of the park who have been living for years uncertain of whether or not they would be able to remain in their homes.

Many took deals offered by the developers and left. Others died waiting.

Although it was not the project Luzzatto had originally envisioned, he said he was happy with what had come out of half a dozen years of negotiation because it brought closure.

“I feel good about it,” he said. “I’m happy with the outcome, and I’m happy for the residents.”

The vote opened up the option for some of the residents to move into city-owned Mountain View Mobile Home Park with brand-new units, paid for by the developer, something that would not have been possible without the development agreement, Luzzatto said.

The decision disappointed McKeown, who felt that the council ignored many substantive issues that had been raised by members of the public in recent weeks.

He had wanted to put off the vote until newly-elected council members Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer had taken the dais and were able to reflect Santa Monicans’ most recent electoral choice.

“I am so disappointed with this process,” McKeown said.

Throughout the night, McKeown found himself at the head of the speakers’ queue, bringing up concerns including potential seismic problems with the land underneath the proposed development and the loss of 99 rent-controlled spaces in the park.

Ten of the 109 will be preserved under the plan, a concession made by the developers in the final iteration of the design, but the affordable housing built into the project will not equal the amount lost in either number or value, McKeown said.

He pushed instead for what came to be known as “the Goldman alternative.” The plan, put forward by local architect Ron Goldman, proposed to keep enough of the pads to allow all existing tenants to remain on the property and build a smaller development.

That was a non-starter, Luzzatto told the council.

“The Goldman plan does not work,” he said. “We won’t do it, we’re not interested in it.”

Although the hearing took over three hours, little changed from beginning to end.

Luzzatto agreed to increase certain cash amounts of a seven-part relocation plan to sweeten the deal for residents and Councilmember Terry O’Day asked that the project retain lush landscaping reminiscent of the existing park.

Davis attempted to make a substitute motion that would stall the decision until questions about land values could be resolved, but the council’s will was not with her.

“I appreciate the concessions the developer has made and the improved relocation package, but it’s difficult for me to evaluate the plan without on-site appraisals and the value of the homes in which people live,” Davis said, explaining her no vote.

The development agreement proposes certain relocation payments for residents based on the value of the physical trailer rather than the trailer, its location and the fact that it sat on a rent-controlled pad.

That was inappropriate, said Sabrina Venskus, a land-use and environmental attorney representing some park residents.

Over 40 California jurisdictions require that the unit be valued “in-place,” meaning that the price would have risen as a result of them being in Santa Monica, Venskus said.

“It’s extraordinary that Santa Monica, with its pro-renters rights reputation, that they would not be willing to demand in-place value when 40 other jurisdictions do,” Venskus said.

Although East Village jumped one of its biggest hurdles Wednesday, it is not yet a done deal.

Two residents, Loretta Newman and Catherine Eldridge, have a judgment from the Los Angeles Superior Court saying that they cannot be moved from their homes without an order from the local government.

Newman’s trailer is smack dab in the middle of the development, making it impossible to move forward with the plans with her home in place. Furthermore, part of the contract with City Hall dictates that no permits may be issued until the developers can say they have the land all to themselves.

“There are likely legal battles ahead no matter what we do tonight,” Davis said.

Luzzatto must also go before the Rent Control Board for a removal permit for the park.

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