Trailer Park Developer Sues City for $50 Million

UPDATED: "It’s just not fair to lead us down the path for six years and cause us to spend huge sums of money," Village Trailer Park developer tells the Santa Monica LookOut.

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9.

The owners of Village Trailer Park have filed a lawsuit against the city that seeks more than $50 million in damages and threatens to shut down the park unless a development agreement for the site is re-approved, the Santa Monica LookOut reported.

The suit was filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, according to the LookOut. The case reportedly center's on the Santa Monica City Council's December decision to overturn its earlier approval of a development agreement for 25,000 square feet of retail space and 377 apartments at the trailer park.

According to the local news website:

The suit maintains that the action was illegal because, though the Council has 31 days after an ordinance approving a [development agreement] is passed to change its mind, it must follow the same steps required for passing the ordinance.

An ordinance must go before the Council twice, for a first and a second reading, before it is approved.

"I believe that the City Council knows full well that the action at the December 11 hearing cannot undo the City’s commitments,” Village Trailer Park co-owner Marc Luzzatto told the Lookout. "It’s just not fair to lead us down the path for six years and cause us to spend huge sums of money and lose so much money operating the park and then take away the City’s agreement."

The development agreement approval was nixed after six years of negotiations when two new City Council members—Ted Winterer and Tony Vazquez—were installed, replacing former Mayor Richard Bloom, who had voted in favor of the development agreement in November and Bobby Shriver, who had abstained. 

Winterer and Vazquez joined McKeown and councilwoman Gleam Davis in voting 4-3 in favor of reopening negotiations with the property owner in the hopes of securing more affordable housing at the site.

For the full story on the Village Trailer Park lawsuit, click over to surfsantamonica.com.


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Jean Wilson January 09, 2013 at 04:12 AM
So now the City is in hot water with our money and a lawsuit in the making. Hmmm, isn't one of the newly elected a lawyer?
Brenda Barnes January 09, 2013 at 10:39 PM
The City was always in hot water over this. They agreed in 2007 to help a developer get around 109 homeowners' rent control rights. They thought trailer park homeowners would be too old, weak, sick, and poor to fight back, but that has not been so. We have spent three solid years preparing a legal case against this, since it was obvious the Bloom Council was never going to disapprove anything the land speculator suggested. Bulldoze 109 homeowners homes without their agreement? Sure. Go back on all your agreements to replace the housing before you demolished any? Check. Take away every amenity and give half as big apartment shoe boxes in a highrise? Fine. Make the rents $1500 instead of $416? OK. The miracle is that even with two new votes four could be found to even delay this. We homeowners expected to have to win in court instead, like the Lincoln Place tenants, who were just tenants, not homeowners as we are, but still they won. Fortunately there are legal limits.
Dan Charney January 10, 2013 at 01:05 AM
I am agreeing with you completely Brenda- the whole deal was dirty from day one. Good- let him get out and let the park return to the city who should deed it to the homeowners for putting them through this - it should be restored to it's original mid-century jewel state- we should have these little park like places everywhere instead of closet like barracks built by the city to house lower income workers. Sustainable little parks are the key - with restored mid-century Airstreams and art and fruit bearing trees and organic gardens. As for the developer suing the city - well you know- there is no honor among thieves and back door deals are never a win- win. Hope this blows it all right out of the water- and the entire miserable "Urban Crawl" can slide somewhere else-
Dan Charney January 10, 2013 at 01:06 AM
God - I didn't see this comment- I wrote almost the exact same thing. I love it when it's "hoist by one's own petard"- so much for them both
Brenda Barnes January 10, 2013 at 02:29 AM
Re: the update: I love how the land speculator always claims to have the best attorneys in the state and then does EVERYTHING wrong. Now he files a lawsuit without his claim being denied. Typical. What has always confused me is what about this guy--who in five minutes anyone with any sense can tell is a phony at best and a liar, cheat, and thief at worst--made the City think they should bet on him. He served an eviction notice in 2006 without having any permits. The City and the Rent Control Board immediately wrote him that the notice was illegal. So why did they decide to help him after that? The owner of the building next door could have gotten approval for his deal by just applying with Luzzatto, but he didn't like him and didn't think he had any money, I hear. Something explains why the guy next door went alone instead. So what was wrong with the City's judgment?
Pilot Dave January 10, 2013 at 02:51 AM
The city should look at what happened to the town of Mammoth Lakes. Lawsuits like this could ruin a city.
RJ January 10, 2013 at 01:03 PM
......has anyone ever looked deeply into the whole "affordable housing" mechanism in Santa Monica?
Gregg Heacock January 10, 2013 at 04:46 PM
These comments seem less of a discussion and more of a marshaling of troops, much along the lines of what occurred during the deliberation process. Marc Luzzatto put his money down on the wrong horse. As long as the City Council had a majority supporting moving ahead with Development Agreements before seriously getting down to the business of laying out plans for responsible development, he had his way. Since the election, he has not. Now, he is doubling down on his original bet. And he appears to be gathering his group of supporters to create what might look to newcomers like support coming from average citizens. Brenda and Dan are doing well to parry each thrust. After all, they have been battling this nonsense for a long time. Let's see how long this level of "dialogue" continues before something meaningful is said that those supporting Luzzatto. In the meantime, it is hard to take Luzzatto's supporters very seriously. Luzzatto might do better by holding onto his money and letting professional planners from the City do his work for him. As Ron Goldman recently wrote to the City Council, regarding the building for residents in the East Village project, "64% of the 377 units are only accessible from 5ft. wide by 480-530ft. long corridors–enclosed, windowless hallways–1 ¾ the length of a football field–absolutely inhuman. . ." Such construction may bring quick profits, but it is hardly sustainable for the community.
Dan Charney January 10, 2013 at 04:56 PM
A few of us, yes- and it's not a pretty picture. Details to come.
Jean Wilson January 10, 2013 at 05:00 PM
Paranoid - I am not part of a developer conspiracy. I think the City Council should just stick to what they agreed to.
Brenda Barnes January 10, 2013 at 08:37 PM
The law (CEQA) says it is a fatal error, meaning they have to start over again, for a legislative body to approve a development agreement before the Environmental Impact Report is reviewed. The MOU Luzzatto is claiming he has rights under was agreed to in 2007 (and specifically says he has no right to approval, just to negotiate in good faith). The EIR was prepared in 2011. So IF he can prove he had rights under the MOU before 2011, he will prove the homeowners' case for us. This is an unwinnable case for him. We have 93 (!) separate legal reasons he cannot win, CEQA misapproval being just one.
Brenda Barnes January 10, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Gregg is absolutely right. The City is at fault here, but not for the reason Luzzatto says. The City wants development fees and increased taxes, so it agrees with anything a developer proposes. But they agreed to help him get around the rent control rights of 109 separate homeowners, and of the public that made rent control above the City Council. THe reason for that last choice was the Council approved demolition of 1000s of rental units in the 70s. In this case the City showed it hasn't changed. We homeowners will be filing a $200 million claim next week, as well as a motion to join Luzzatto's case with ours filed months ago, maybe even one filed eight years ago.
Brenda Barnes January 10, 2013 at 08:55 PM
To not forget Luzzatto's fault--he claims he kept the Park open six years because the City entered into the MOU with him. We homeowners were never part of any agreement. We wanted him to litigate his baseless claims in 2006. ThePark owner had already lost on the very same claims at the RCB, Superior Court, and Court of Appeal. Instead of making him litigate then, the City used bogus potential litigation threat to decide all kinds of things in closed session that should have been done in public, under the State Constitution and Brown Act. If the public knew how venal all these people are, there would have been an outcry sufficient to stop LUCE before it passed. The real reason he kept the Park open was to try to coerce everyone to move so by the time we got to this point there would be no opposition. None of this worked. The longer he went on--and the more the City sent six employees at a time to try to coerce us into moving--the more people saw there just was no legal reason we should move. We own our homes and were never offered anything for giving them up. Luzzatto is a cheapskate who thought with the City's help he could get homeowners to take only what renters get for Ellised buildings. Ellis specifically exempts mobilehome parks, so we are homeowners with additional rights. This latest delay is just a delay, not a win, but it is good to slow down the steamroller of greed and lawlessness so people have more time to react to each unlawful ploy.
Brenda Barnes January 10, 2013 at 09:12 PM
We've seen your comments about what cool neighborhoods SM has created Ellising 1000s of people. You might as well be part of the developer conspiracy, Jean, if you think cool neighborhoods for 20 somethings justify making longtime homeowners who invested in this City before you were born become homeless so developers can profit, the City gets a cut, and meanwhile, traffic is stopped on the SM Freeway over six hours every weekday and there are blocks and blocks where we can't feel any ocean breeze or see the sky or feel the sun except from the inaccessible roof or the middle of the street.. If the City agreed with a developer to take your home, I'd say who gave them that right? It's even worse with us. We are homeowners who are protected against eviction by the state mobilehome law and the local rent control law. No renters or homeowners have the special rights we do, so this was a test. If the City could close this Park without a reason under eminent domain, every homeowner in the City would be vulnerable. Every renter already is.
Dan Charney January 11, 2013 at 01:01 AM
If it's illegal to begin with - it should never have been agreed to- and we the residents need to hold them liable for this sort of action- not only is it irresponsible- it could destroy and make destitute or even worse- the entire city and it's already taxed to the max systems- grid lock going east on Pico or OP Blvd after 3 PM - no more room for more housing- sorry-
Dan Charney January 11, 2013 at 01:05 AM
They need to scrap the VTP project entirely - turn it over to the residents- - as for Luzzatto and his kind who do back door illegal deals against people they think are helpless with the politicos behind them- TOO BAD- YOU PLAY -YOU PAY- take your hankies and worlds smallest violin and go to another city- not here - not now -not ever
Brenda Barnes January 11, 2013 at 03:40 AM
Hear, hear, Dan!
Pete January 11, 2013 at 07:24 PM
Ultimately, the developer will win his right to develop his property. Due to the wavering caused by the newer members of the council, we will all pay millions of our tax dollars to help the developer build.
Brenda Barnes January 11, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Glad you don't control the courts, Pete. Have you read the history of Lincoln Place? All along the developer won, until it didn't. People fighting for right and for the homes they invested in 40 years ago for their heirs find wannabes with no rights like Luzzatto to be a joke.
Dan Charney January 11, 2013 at 09:06 PM
No he won't Pete- it violates too many laws and was a bad deal for the city to make- there is way too much at risk now if they let him do it - it's been temporarily stopped according to the council- but with some pressure- this and other bad developments can be required to be more interesting and environmentally friendly-
Brenda Barnes January 11, 2013 at 10:54 PM
I think it's interesting that at the first sign of opposition--minimal, just a delay, about such a minor thing that we on the other side were trying to figure out how to go on with our case against the City while this delay was still happening--the wannabe starts crying and turning on his erstwhile friends. That should show them finally that they bet on the wrong guy. Which was obvious all along, but truly, the Bloom Council never had any opposition other than people begging and trying to convince them of what was right, until the homeowners on this development started working on a legal case. The Council did not care what was right or what any of the residents wanted. $345,000 paid for their campaigns in this election, virtually all of Bloom's campaign for Assembly paid by developers, and someday all of them will have jobs paid for by those friends. Luckily, the lack of legal opposition made them complacent and sloppy. What kind of people go to school to end up with a case with 93 different legal defects, as the Planning Department did in this case??? I saw about a year ago that every time one of them said anything, it was another cause of action, and it was getting to be overkill. When people ask me how can that be, when the Council always acted like it was a done deal, I just say no matter how good a legal case is, it doesn't change a thing unless someone brings it. Now we have to organize political opposition, to save what is left of the City.
Dan Charney January 12, 2013 at 12:44 AM
Well said and so true and exactly what they count on- in this case- they ran into Brenda Barnes - Official Ball of Fire- and thankfully that ball is rolling now- many of us bitch and moan about congestion and over-building and the misery of downtown but here is our chance to reverse it- I would also like to see the current developers who contributed to campaigns have all their apps denied-
Brenda Barnes January 12, 2013 at 10:52 AM
I think there is a legal basis for that. After all, if they contributed to the campaigns of the decision-makers, it's aka a bribe for their app to be granted.
Brenda Barnes January 19, 2013 at 10:06 PM
This article should be updated again. The lawsuit and the claim were filed on the same day, when the law requires a claim to be denied before a city can be sued for damages. This land speculator is full of hot air, shown by people who took his supposed good deals for relocation from VTP already moving back, He also is harassing tenants by things like trying to evict one for nonpayment of rent when the resident has a written letter from the management company saying they knew he was here two years earlier but they continued to take rent, Then the next month after he joined our landmark appeal they refused to take his rent, with four witnesses including two Samohi varsity athletes.
Dan Charney January 23, 2013 at 02:56 AM
I was thinking a lot about this- and I have to wonder here if Mark Luzzato isn't getting some crappy legal advice. How can you sue someone when they haven't yet denied your DA? The date of the filing is January 7th- before he was denied. And- if I were you Mark- I'd be attaching or actually just suing Metro- it seems they are the problem here- not just for you by their delays - but also because the city of SM basically made an MOU with you based on nothing legally substantial but Metro's promise. The city was misled by Metro which resulted in all kinds of trouble and expense. Metro has deep pockets and won't want this on their books- whereas SM is broke. Maybe this would be a far more expedient direction to go in- at least it's what I would be doing.
Brenda Barnes March 17, 2013 at 06:41 AM
The City has agreed to his demands and it's all going forward on Tues the 19th. We're filing a homeowners' claim against the City and the Rent Control Board on the 18th, for $59 million. This will result in a real lawsuit, not a pretend one like Luzzatto's. They knew it wasn't real, since he filed the lawsuit the same day he filed his claim. Claims have to be denied or 45 days have to pass b/4 you can file a lawsuit. They pretended they--with City Attorneys up the gazoo, who do this work day-in day-out for years, so there is no way they would miss such a mistake on claims law--believed his lawsuit was real, and met in closed session week after week about it. Oh well, now they can meet in closed session about a real one until they settle it, as LA did the Lincoln Place case.
Dan Charney March 17, 2013 at 11:50 PM
And may you prevail before the fact -not after they bulldoze it- it should be transparent which developer has contributed what to whom - all those DA's should be denied- and all consultants who are the "new wave" of developer support- fired- but this one- the VTP is very important not just for the total civil injustice of it- but for the precedent- they must not get away with doing this to homeowners- and what an absurd design concept for this choking area- more power to you Brenda-
Brenda Barnes March 18, 2013 at 06:13 AM
Thank you for your support, and I see you've had a sex change! The Lincoln Place tenants all came back, after 7 years of free rent and then $8 million in damages. And they are just tenants, not homeowners. It is wrong to displace tenants or anyone for development--the City used the 1994 earthquake as an excuse to do that. State law allows landlords to go out of business, but it takes the City allowing building more than they have to lead to demolition. The Council voluntarily chooses to do it because they get $3-5 million from each developer, and then use that to get grants and money from other gov't, averaging nine times as much. That's how they had $55 million to waste on two blocks of park in front of City Hall. So they have one employee per 35 residents and waste money hand over fist. Every consent calendar there is $300-500,000 mores in overruns, on top of the huge amounts they entered into for contracts. VTP is unique. The 2/2/13 LA Times on p. E9 has an article about people restoring vintage trailers into hotels with rooms at $150 a night. I love living here, and I've lived in several mansions. They were not so quiet and peaceful, or surrounded by wildlife, both flora and fauna. I also had to work all the time to pay my mortgages, which I don't here. It's such a great place, right in the middle of what was a great City and still is a great location. The typical outcome is an injunction against demolition, since that is irreparable harm.
Dan Charney March 19, 2013 at 01:45 AM
Yes - the operation was a success !!! Nothing like being an idiot with tech stuff- bless Jenna Chandler for telling me how to finally change it- hahahah- as for the rest of it- "somethings gotta give"- I love living where I do too - and no question with the greening of 4th ST and OP -I am looking at a grim situation I think-
Brenda Barnes March 19, 2013 at 06:44 AM
Let's hope it's long enough in the future for you that we can organize and stop this runaway train, or Hurricane Lucee, nee LUCE, as Armen Melkonians calls the Council's overdevelopment and bad planning. What a combination!


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