Santa Monica Lookout
Former Attorney to Seek $1 Billion from Santa Monica over Trailer Park Negotiations
By Jason Islas
March 20, 2013 -- A former Rent Control attorney is threatening to sue the City of Santa Monica for more than $1 billion over the development agreement (DA) negotiations for the Village Trailer Park.
Brenda Barnes, trailer park resident and former attorney, filed a claim Monday for $59 million “in damages allegedly suffered to date” by Village Trailer Park residents and an additional $1 billion in future damages.
The suit filed by Barnes, who resigned from the State Bar of California with charges pending, alleges that the negotiation of the DA for the property violated federal organized crime law.
“This goes back to the Magna Carta,” Barnes said. “The King cannot take people's homes just because he is the King.”
Barnes said that this is the start of a long fight that she estimates could stretch on for years. “That is, unless the City sees the error and futility of its ways and settles faster,” she said.
“People fighting to save their homes can be very tenacious,” Barnes said. “Ask any veteran of Viet Nam, Korea, Iraq, or Afghanistan.”
Barnes' filed her claim a day before the Council votes on whether to accept a revised DA for the site, potentially putting an end to a $50 million lawsuit filed by the property's owners after the Council voted to rescind a previous DA in December over concerns about the number of affordable units in the 377-unit development.
Most recently, she filed a suit claiming that the City's Planning Commission had violated State political transparency laws. A judge ruled that the lawsuit violated California's anti-SLAPP law, which offers protection from “meritless” lawsuits, and ordered Barnes to pay the City $16,600 in attorney fees.
She is appealing the decision.
In January 2012, Barnes filed a restraining order to prevent Village Trailer Park owners from demolishing trailers on the site that they had bought. She threatened a lawsuit when the demolitions continued but later dropped the claim.
Barnes' most recent claim against the City alleges that a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the owners of Village Trailer Park helped developers skirt “residents' rights to stay in the Park forever under rent control law, state law, and the constitutional right against deprivation of property without due process of law and just compensation.”
The City entered into the MOU after Village Trailer Park owners announced that they would close down the park. Under State law, they were required to give residents one-year notice.
The City negotiated the MOU to allow the Park to stay open during the negotiation of the DA, which eventually included several relocation options for the 36 residents still living on the site.
Among those options was the choice to move to the City-owned Mountain View Trailer with a new trailer, purchased by the Village Trailer Park owners.
That DA, which was accepted by the City Council in November, would have set aside 16 affordable units in the 377-unit development. Nine of those units would have been designated “very low income” and seven would have been designated “extremely low income.”
In December, Council member Kevin McKeown led a 4-to-3 vote to rescind that DA, citing concerns that there was not enough affordable housing, prompting Village Trailer Park owners to file a $50 million lawsuit against the City which claimed it had reneged on the MOU.
After two months of closed-session negotiations, a new DA, which includes a provision for 41 affordable units, will be considered by the Council Tuesday.
Should the Council vote to accept the revised DA, it won't likely sit well with Barnes who believes that the City has been “backing up development rather than the residents' vested rights.”
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