By Vince Echavaria
For the second time in less than six months, the Santa Monica City Council has approved a controversial mixed-use project that will redevelop the Village Trailer Park property.
The council, with two new members from the prior approval action, voted 4-3 March 19 to endorse a revised plan to construct 377 residential units and up to 24,940 square feet of ground floor retail at the 109-space trailer park site at 2930 Colorado Ave. Approximately 36 full-time residents remain at the 3.85-acre mobile home property, which opened in 1951 and is one of the last two remaining trailer parks in the city.
The vote came after the council, with new members Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer, in December rescinded the former council’s Nov. 14 approval, and developer Mark Luzzatto filed a lawsuit in response. Some council members argued that the development agreement did not provide an adequate number of affordable housing units in accordance with the city’s policies on the issue.
The former development agreement featured 16 affordable housing units including nine for very low income and seven for extremely low income tenants. But Sue Himmelrich, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told the council she believed the affordable housing component did not comply with the city’s general and specific plan, noting that a previously amended plan provided 44 affordable units.
In response to the affordable housing concern, the developer proposed revisions including converting 216 condominiums into apartments for a total of 377 apartment units, and designating 41 of the units for very low income tenants. In exchange, the 10 trailer spaces that would have been offered to the city to retain as trailer spots indefinitely will continue to be operated by the property owner for up to 10 years, with a commitment to operate them for at least five years.
If the amendment is approved on second reading by the council, the developer would dismiss its lawsuit against the city within 10 days after the ordinance takes effect.
Acknowledging the long back and forth process over several years, Luzzatto said he believes the latest revision will allow both the city and developer to move forward.
“I think we can all agree that it’s time to move on, for the sake of the community as a whole, for the residents of the trailer park and in the name of fairness,” Luzzatto said.
Luzzatto, a Santa Monica resident, argued that the developer has gone beyond the call of duty in providing a generous relocation package and that tenants who have relocated are happy in their new homes. For tenants who were forced to move, Luzzatto offered to purchase new manufactured homes at the city’s other mobile home park, Mountain View, in addition to other relocation options. Under the revised plan, residents will have the option to move to the new Village development once completed.
With the project’s proximity to the future Bergamot Station stop along the Expo light rail line, Luzzatto argued that the housing project is exactly what the city needs. “I would not in good conscience propose a project and relocation that I didn’t feel in my heart was sensitive and positive,” he told the council.
The amended proposal was enough to convince Councilwoman Gleam Davis to shift sides from the December vote, giving those in favor the narrow majority. She explained that her issues with inadequate affordable housing had been resolved.
“This has been a difficult road, but my issue was affordable housing and those concerns have been met,” she said.
Davis agreed that the project will provide the kind of housing that the city needs to have developed, and said that by converting into an entirely rental project it will increase housing affordability for community members, including younger residents.
But Councilman Kevin McKeown, who pushed for the recall vote in December, believes the revision still falls short on the affordable housing front and was dejected that homeowners are being displaced.
“The affordable housing replacement meets only the bare legal minimum and falls far short of replacing 109 rent controlled homes,” McKeown said. “It provides no community benefits with respect to affordable housing, which is our number one priority.”
Winterer, who also voted “no,” took issue with the 10 remaining trailer spaces being operated by the developer, saying that it will likely force the city to go through the relocation process again in five to 10 years. He added that he didn’t think the plan was good enough for the area.
“We went into this trying to get greater affordable levels and I’m not persuaded that what we have before us is better than what we had before and it’s arguably worse,” Winterer said.
Some residents were also not willing to back down despite the latest approval. Brenda Barnes, a former attorney, and her husband filed a claim against the city and developers seeking $59 million in damages allegedly suffered to date by the residents and $1 billion for future damages. The claim alleges that the city entered into a criminal conspiracy violating federal organized crime law when it agreed in 2007 to help developers get around residents’ rights to stay in the park forever.
Santa Monica City Council approves revised project to redevelop trailer park land
By Vince Echavaria