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New DA for Santa Monica Trailer Park Could End Two-Month Stalemate

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

March 7, 2013 -- After two months of closed-session negotiations, Santa Monica has brokered a deal with owners of the Village Trailer Park that paves the way for the development of one of the City's two remaining trailer parks.

The deal would put an end to a pending $50 million lawsuit if the City Council votes at a special meeting on March 19 to accept the new development agreement (DA) that was altered as part of the deal to double the number of affordable apartments in the 377-unit mixed-use development.

If the DA is approved, it could spell the end of a contentious battle that started in 2006 when Village Trailer Park owners announced that they would be closing the park, a move that riled both residents and community members.

The new DA earmarks 41 of the 377 units to be “very low income” units and it would offer the remaining trailer park residents the option to move into one of the 160 affordable units at the newly-constructed, 20,000-square-foot Civic Center Village, scheduled to open early next year.

The original DA, approved by the Council in November, would have set aside 16 affordable units. Nine of those units would have been designated “very low income” and seven would have been designated “extremely low income.”

“As we've always said, we would like our project to be a positive development for the community,” said co-owner Marc Luzzatto.

In early December, Council member Kevin McKeown led the Council in a 4-to-3 vote to rescind the DA, citing concerns that the plan did not meet affordable housing requirements, spurring owners to file a lawsuit.

The suit contended that the City had reneged on a deal that had been negotiated in good faith, starting six years ago when owners agreed to keep the park open while they negotiated the development agreement despite legally being able to close the park after giving a year's notice to residents.

When McKeown put his motion to rescind the deal in December, he cited Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich.

Before she was appointed by the Council to the Commission, Himmelrich argued that the Village Trailer Park development needed a minimum of 49 affordable units to meet the standards.

“Other design and benefit issues remain as well, and must also be resolved to the satisfaction of a Council majority, but our action to rethink the original Development Agreement was sufficiently justified by that housing affordability point raised by the Western Center on Law and Poverty," McKeown told The Lookout in February.

City officials -- and the owners -- maintained that the original plan did meet the affordable housing requirements because there would be a mix of “very low income” and “extremely low income units.” Staff considers each “extremely low income” unit equivalent to two “very low income units.”

Staff also maintained that part of the affordable housing requirement was met because the owners agreed to donate 14,400 square feet -- estimated to be worth of $2.5 million -- of their parcel to the City in order to keep 10 trailers on the site.

Council members Gleam Davis, Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer all echoed McKeown's concern about affordable housing and joined him in voting to rescind the DA.

Though the new DA increases the number of affordable units, the owners have taken the land donation off the table, though they have agreed to keep 10 trailers on site for up to 10 years.

“While we have to keep our options open for the moment, we look forward to moving past the litigation and toward a positive conclusion to our journey,” Luzzatto said.


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