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Planning Commission Keeps Focus on Trailer Park Residents

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

August 17 -- The Planning Commission Wednesday got behind a proposal to replace one of Santa Monica’s two remaining trailer parks with a large mixed-used development, but urged that the future of the park’s displaced residents -- many of them poor or elderly -- should be a priority.

With two new members on board, the commission recommended that the City Council enter into a development agreement with the new owners of Village Trailer Park, 2930 Colorado Avenue, which occupies 3.85 acres in the city’s industrial zone.

The development would include 240 market-rate condominiums, a 109-unit rent-controlled Single Room Occupancy (SRO) apartment building, 40,030 square feet of studio commercial space and 8,030 square feet of retail. A subterranean parking garage would provide 469 parking spaces, with 34 spaces above ground.

While commissioners generally favored the proposed development, they worried about the fate of the residents of the 109 rent-controlled mobile home units, 85 of which are occupied with primarily low-income or elderly residents.

“We want to be fair to all of the parties involved -- the trailer park residents, the developer, the City -- on what the expectations are,” said Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad, who made a motion to recommend that the council begin development agreement negotiations.

The motion, which was unanimously approved, also recommended that the council discuss a possible land swap or purchase of the site and enforce a development agreement clause that no redevelopment physically commence until land use guidelines for the for the city’s industrial area are drafted.

Developers said their plans take into account the residents’ and the City’s concerns.

“I think I have some sensitivity to what Santa Monica means and what it represents, and I have tried to incorporate those feelings and thoughts into the development of this proposal,” said Mark Luzzatto, who heads Village Trailer Park, LLC, the investment group that recently purchased the site from the park’s long-time sole proprietor.

“Some things will be lost, but I would like for everyone to focus on what is gained,” Luzzatto said. “There are brand new units with brand new energy efficient appliances, new bathrooms and new kitchens.”

Luzzatto said the concept plan allows trailer park residents to move into the rent-controlled apartment units or be paid to move to Mountain View Trailer Park on Stewart Street.

Residents who decline those two options have a first-look option of purchasing one of the condominiums, or the investment group would purchase their trailers at market value.

Many of Village Trailer Park residents vehemently oppose any redevelopment of the site and told the Planning Commission that all four of Luzzatto’s offers are seriously inadequate.

“I love the park,” said Jack Waddington, a Village Trailer Park resident. “It’s green, there are trees, flowers, people who grow plants and we have patios. It’s very pleasant.

“We are being deprived of an asset,” he said. “They [Village Trailer Park, LLC] have bought into this asset within the past few months, seeing big dollar signs in a neat little piece of property if only they could get rid of us.”

At 250 to 320 square feet, the SRO units are ridiculously small compared to trailers, residents said, and condominiums would be too expense for many to purchase.

Mountain View currently has less than 25 spaces available and residents with older model trailers said they cannot move their units from Village to Mountain View without sustaining significant damage.

Residents also worry that trailers older than five years have little or no value. If the investment group were to purchase these units, residents would not get enough compensation, unless the offer includes some value from the highly priced land located underneath the trailers.

Some residents also worried the project would pave the way for similar development in the city’s light manufacturing and studio district, whose development guidelines are being updated.

“Santa Monica is currently rewriting its Land Use and Circulation Element,” said Catherine Eldridge, a Village Trailer Park resident. “The new LUCE will not be in place for another two years at least and will not be available to protect this area.

“I state my opposition to this project not just as a resident of the trailer park, but as a resident of the mid-city area and of Santa Monica,” she said. “If this project gets through the legal process, it will change the allowable development picture for all of the Industrial Lands.”

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission not focus on specific details of the project. They said commissioners should just give broad advice to the City Council to begin development agreement negotiations and offer ideas about potential public benefits.

“The zoning on this site is for the mobile home park,” said Eileen Fogarty, director of Planning and Community Development. “As the city attorney has indicated, if the mobile home park ceases to exist, the applicant has a process that they can engage in.

“I do not think today, we as staff are at a point where we can say we think the Commission ought to consider this type of project or another type of project.”

Commissioners Lopez Dad, Gleam Davis and Jay Johnson recommended a list of issues and public benefits for the City Council to consider in the development agreement process, a list that the commission unanimously approved.

The investment group should keep density, height, parking, traffic and housing issues in mind throughout the entire process, commissioners agreed.

Some of the rent-controlled units should not be labeled as SRO units, because “SRO units tend to be transient housing,” said Davis, who was appointed to the commission Tuesday. “With vacancy de-control, rent control is very deficient on a regular basis because those units are always vacant.”

The SRO units should be at least 500 square feet instead of 320 or less, and the apartment building side should integrate well with the condominium building side so that the former trailer park residents who choose to rent apartments are not isolated from higher income condo owners, commissioners said.

Commissioners also recommended that the City Council:

  • Consider the individual needs of each trailer park resident, particularly the elderly or disabled,
  • Argue for a better method of valuing and reimbursing trailer owners,
  • Offer financial aid so that some low-income residents can move up from trailer renter status to condo ownership, and
  • Capture in the redeveloped site as much of the garden-style, open space, private and independent quality of life that trailer park resident currently enjoy.

“The Planning Commission spent almost three hours on this issue,” said City Council member Kevin McKeown, the council’s liaison to the commission.

“I hope the residents know that a lot of careful legal thought went into this from our City Attorney’s Office, Rent Control Office and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles,” McKeown said. “The residents are not forgotten.”

 

“Some things will be lost, but I would like for everyone to focus on what is gained.” Mark Luzzatto

 

Investors are "seeing big dollar signs in a neat little piece of property if only they could get rid of us.” Jack Waddington

 

“I do not think today, we as staff are at a point where we can say we think the Commission ought to consider this type of project or another type of project.” Eileen Fogarty

 

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