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Santa Monica Rent Board Delays Trailer Park Development

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

April 15, 2013 -- The Rent Control Board voted unanimously Thursday to delay a decision on whether to grant permits to remove 99 rent-controlled trailer pads at Santa Monica's Village Trailer Park, citing concerns that the proposed development would not provide enough affordable housing.

The proposed 377-unit mixed-use apartment complex -- approved by the City Council Tuesday --would replace the rent-controlled pads in the trailer park with 99 rent-controlled units, 15 of which would be deed-restricted for “low-income” households.

“We have a responsibility to preserve the affordable housing stock in this city,” said Rent Board member Todd Flora.

“Apparently we want to house the hipsters that are working at all these businesses,” he added, referring to the employees working at the creative businesses in the area.

However, with the developers' lawyers – as well as Rent Board staff -- maintaining that the trailer parks' owners have met all the legal requirements to close the park, further delay could open the Board to litigation.

Despite staff recommendations, the board continued to voice concerns about the number of rent control units provided under the DA.

“Let us be bold and brave and let us not fear the consequences,” said recently seated Board member Chris Walton, who pushed for more than the 99 rent-controlled units required by the City's charter.

Village Trailer Park co-owner Marc Luzzatto and his partners already sued the City of Santa Monica for $50 million in damages after a newly-seated City Council rescinded the development agreement (DA) for the property approved by the previous Council.

The lawsuit – which charged the City had reneged on its deal -- was settled when, after two months of closed-session discussions, the Council approved a revised DA Tuesday.

If the Rent Control Board were to lose a comparable lawsuit, it could have devastating consequences for the agency, whose projected revenue in the 2012/2013 financial year is $4,158,176, collected through fees levied against renters.

Aside from the 99 rent-controlled units, the project also includes 38 additional affordable units deed-restricted as affordable to “very low-income” or “extremely-low” income households.

According to Rent Board officials, the rents for “very low-income” units are $747 a month for a studio apartment, $854 for a one-bedroom and $1,014 for a two-bedroom. “Extremely low-income” units would cost $448 a month for a studio and $512 for a one-bedroom.

In addition to replacing the 99 pads, Luzzatto and his partners agreed to keep 10 pads on the site for residents who wished to remain in their trailers at the park.

They also agreed to buy new manufactured homes for residents wishing to relocate to nearby Mountain View Trailer Park, where there are 27 spaces currently preserved for Village Trailer Park residents.

At Thursday’s meeting several residents of the Village Trailer Park praised Luzzatto’s relocation efforts.

The Rent Control Board hearing is the final administrative obstacle facing the trailer park owners before they can move forward with closing the park, a process they began in 2006.

Since State law requires only that the owners give the residents a year notice before closing the park, the City entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Luzzatto and his partners to keep the park open during the negotiation of the DA.

The Rent Board will take up this issue again at its May 23 meeting.

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