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Santa Monica Trailer Park Residents Get Ready for Legal Battle

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

April 16, 2013 -- Two residents of Santa Monica's Village Trailer Park, one a former attorney, are forming a nonprofit to fight the proposed development of the four-acre site approved by the City Council last week.

Brenda Barnes and Peter Naughton, two vocal opponents of the proposed 377-unit mixed-use development, have taken steps to set up the Village Park Estates Home Owners Association, Inc., a California nonprofit that would help raise funds to take the developers -- and possible the Rent Control Board -- to court.

Former attorney Barnes maintains that if the Board grants the developers a permit to replace 99 rent-controlled trailer pads with 99 rent-controlled units, she will file a lawsuit.

“It is not necessary to file a lawsuit if the Rent Control Board doesn't approve the removal permit,” Barnes said. “The DA (Development Agreement) will be worthless, and so it won't be necessary to file a lawsuit.”

The Board delayed a decision Thursday on whether to grant the removal permit, citing concerns that the 35 “very low-income” and three “extremely low-income” units proposed for the development would not provide enough affordable housing.

The Board will hear the case again at its May 23 meeting.

Co-owner of the Village Trailer Park Marc Luzzatto and his partners have maintained that they are within their legal rights to close the park, even without a development agreement.

The Council voted to approve the DA on April 9 after more than six years of planning, negotiation, a reversal of the Council's decision to rescind the project and a $50 million lawsuit filed by the developers.

But Barnes, and the Village Park Estates Home Owners Association, Inc., won't be satisfied unless the development is scuttled altogether, saving one of Santa Monica’s two remaining trailer parks.

“The specific purpose of this corporation is to assure the homeowners' perpetual ability to use the land at Village Trailer Park as a unique, special living space in which to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the organization's articles of incorporation reads.

And while the nonprofit -- whose status is pending State approval -- hasn't yet raised any money, Naughton is hopeful.

“The benefits to contributing to the legal defense fund would be tax exemptions for the donor,” he said, adding that he applied for nonprofit status in January and expects to hear from the State in the next couple of weeks.

“This is a growing publicity campaign that we're working on now,” he said.

Should Barnes, a former attorney, file a lawsuit over the Village Trailer Park, it wouldn't be the first time.

In March, she filed a $1 billion claim alleging that by negotiating a DA for the trailer park property, the City violated organized crime law. ("Former Attorney to Seek $1 Billion from Santa Monica over Trailer Park Negotiations," March 2013)

The claim was denied on April 1, she said, adding that she preparing for to sue.

The suit follows a similar one in which she alleged that the City's Planning Commission had violated State transparency laws. A judge ruled that the lawsuit was “meritless” and ordered Barnes to pay the City $16,600 in attorney fees.

She is appealing that decision.

Barnes currently has a lawsuit against the Rent Control Board that alleges Rent Board staff “has been conspiring with the staff of the City” to move the DA through, she said.

The Rent Board staff recommended that the Board approve the removal permit because Luzzatto and his partners have met the legal requirements for replacing rent-controlled units required by the City's charter.

“We are getting ready for whatever needs to be done,” said Barnes, adding that she had “six big-time attorneys” lined up.

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