New Condos at Trailer Park Get Final Council Approval—With a Twist

At the last minute, Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown reverses his vote, offering hope to the project's opponents who say their fight "isn't over."

Updated at 9:10 a.m.

With objections from Gleam Davis and Kevin McKeown, who continued to lament the loss of affordable housing and the displacement of "vulnerable" residents, the Santa Monica City Council approved on a second reading Tuesday night an agreement with a developer that allows the closure of Village Trailer Park and the construction of hundreds of new apartments and condos in its place.

Tuesday's 5-1 vote puts to rest six years of negotiations with the park owner and developer, Marc Luzzatto, who intends to replace most of the trailers with a 341,290-square-foot, mixed-use retail and housing project called The East Village. Those City Council members who favored the agreement said they hoped it would bring current mobile home park residents out of relocation limbo.

"There are people living on the site currently who have been waiting for this council to act," said Mayor Richard Bloom.

On Tuesday, McKeown rehashed some of his earlier concerns, primarily that only 16 apartments of the planned 377 residential units will be be deed-restricted for tenants with "very low" and "low incomes." Ninety-nine of the new units, however, will be rent-controlled.

But only Davis cast a dissenting vote.

Though he opposed the agreement and initially voted "no," McKeown reversed his decision at the last minute Tuesday night.

"I have to bow to the inevitability of a 4 to 2 to 1 vote," the councilman explained. The vote to that point had been Bloom, Bob Holbrook, Pam O'Connor and Terry O'Day in favor, Davis and McKeown opposed, and Bobby Shriver abstaining. "I am aware that our council rules [state] matters can be brought back for consideration only by those on the prevailing side, and I therefore change my vote to yes."

At 2930 Colorado Ave., just east of 26th Street, Village Trailer Park was built in 1951. It was originally one of 11 trailer parks in Santa Monica, providing residents an inexpensive option for home ownership—but is now just one of two.

In the summer of 2006, the park owners announced their intent to close the park, a community described by its residents—many of whom are elderly—as tight-knit, void of crime and altogether irreplaceable. Not wanting to lose their homes, they've fought the plans for development.

"The homes at Village Trailer Park are the only places in Santa Monica where low-cost home ownership is possible," said resident Brenda Barnes. She has said the average rent (all of the 99 spaces are rent-controlled) is $416 per month.

With input from city leaders, commissioners and staffers, the developer has changed his plans over the years, with the final iteration retaining 10 trailer spaces at the park but on a separate parcel fronting Standford Street.

His plans also call for nearly 25,000 square feet of retail space, all of it on the ground-floor of the project's three buildings, each of which will feature rooftop decks or pools.

The agreement approved Tuesday was required because the land is zoned strictly for mobile homes and child care uses. In exchange for green-lighting the commercial development, the agreement offers relocation options and benefits for residents.

Sue Himmelrich, a Santa Monica and attorney with Western Center on Law and Poverty, has argued the agreement violates the city's own Affordable Housing Production Program, a 2006 plan that requires new developments to provide, as a part of their projects, certain amounts of "low income" housing.

She contends, and McKeown agrees, the city miscalculated the ratio of affordable units required to be built at The East Village. They and city staffers disagree over whether the land's zoning qualifies as "multi-family housing," which would mandate a higher percentage of affordable units to be built.

Councilman Terry O'Day said though he "has a strong commitment to affordable housing," he voted in favor of the agreement because it goes "above and beyond" to protect the park residents.

Displaced residents will chose from among a number of options valued between $18,000 and $85,000. One of the more popular will likely be the option to move into a new manufactured trailer—paid for by the developer—at at Mountain View Mobile Home Park. That option and three others also include $1,500 payments for moving costs.

"We are striking a deal going as far as we could to protect the current residents… and give them a range of options," O'Day said. "I’ll stick with my vote."

Davis said she voted "no" because none of the trailers had been appraised. "Without those on-site appraisals, it's impossible to fully analyze the [Tenant] Impact Report and tenant relocation packages."

Citing McKeown's switched vote and residents' threats to sue, former City Council candidate John C. Smith, who ran an anti-development campaign, told project opponents via email, "it's not over."

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PHIL HENDRICKS November 28, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Predictably Bloom pushed for approval using his Orwellian "logic" to justify the action. I will never escape the sickening regret I feel for having worked on two of Bloom's campaigns. He has degenerated into little more than a cipher. His father and mother would be appalled at his actions and sickened by his betrayal of his family's values and heritage. A sad, empty soul in the end.
Brenda Barnes November 29, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Absolutely correct, Phil. I read a flyer a month or so ago from when he first ran. He had filed a lawsuit against the three-block square Ralph's Market development from Cloverfield to 20th and Colorado to Olympic, with no through streets. He was touting himself as the environmentalist he was, and said he was for "responsible" growth. You could never have imagined what he would turn into, a guy who would put out flyers paid for by developers saying Betsy Butler shields child predators, based on her voting against taking away due process rights of teachers accused of improprieties. The saddest thing for me is how so many turn like that. That is why in the last election I sent an e-mail to all candidates who were not already developers' lapdogs (DLs) asking them to commit to specific things: voting to keep Village Trailer Park, voting not to expand the Miramar, and committing to keep the Senior Center in Palisades Park. Only four committed to that in the weeks before the election, so I know who can really be counted on. None of them was elected. The four were John C. Smith, Jon Mann, Bob Seldon, and Armen Melkonians. Armen had a plan for running the City without developers' money, and since the others would commit to actual actions rather than vague platitudes, I found them reliable too. We who own homes at Village Trailer Park are now starting an organization to either recall or vote out in 2014 all DLs. We have to stop 30 more development agreements coming.
Valerie Ferguson January 05, 2013 at 01:34 AM
That just shows how elitis the city council really is. They are looking out for their own interest not for the good of the average people who live and work and pay taxes in this city....those very people who put them in office to make decisions that are (suppose to be) for the benefit of ALL Santa Monicans...not just the wealthiest. Where are the elderly people going to live?....what happened to respect for the elderly?
Brenda Barnes January 05, 2013 at 07:47 AM
So true, Valerie. And the next chapter of the story just tweaked around on how much "affordable" housing was to be required in the replacement buildings, not that any of that would be affordable actually by most of the people being displaced. The replacements are to be 325 square feet boxes in a highrise, half the space the seniors and families in the Park have now. Then parking may or may not be included for even one car, and whatever is would be in a separate underground garage whereas now parking for however many cars the family has is included on the ground level next to their house. The worst two points, though, are the real kickers. The families now OWN their homes, free and clear, and have the right as long as rent control lasts in SM to will their homes to their heirs, sell them, rent them out, anything anyone who owns a home can do with it. The replacements would be rentals! And the space rent including numerous amenities now for the homes the families own is average $416 a month whereas for the half-size boxes with virtually no amenities it will be $1500. How anyone can justify voting for that--it just shows getting the City's cut of the developers' profits, $5 million for the general fund, to spend on projects like $55 million for two parks in front of City Hall--is all that matters, not whether 109 families become homeless and 109 families don't have the opportunity for low-cost home ownership with low space rent in the future.


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