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Part II: Negotiators Tackle Thorny Relocation Issues Facing Trailer Park Tenants

By Jorge Casuso

Second of two parts

May 29 -- What is your home in Santa Monica worth if you own the building but not the land? What do you do with a mobile home that is no longer mobile?

Those are among the thorny issues facing City officials and the owners of the Village Trailer Park who are negotiating how best to help relocate and compensate some 80 households facing eviction as part of a development agreement to build 349 residential units on the site.

Among the options being explored are relocating some of the homes to the city’s only other trailer park, finding a way to pay displaced tenants more than they would normally get and perhaps allowing them to stay while developers build the 109-unit rent-controlled building they are proposing on the 3.85-acre site.

“The one thing that is a key issue is the tenants,” said Bruce Leach, the City's lead planner on the project. “Some would like to cash out, some would move to Mountain View, some want the world to stay exactly as it is.

“We have anything but a clear answer at this point,” Leach said.

Nick Sanelli extensively renovated his mobile home. (Photos by Jorge Casuso)

The option to relocate 20 trailers to the nearby Mountain View Mobile Home Park near Stewart Street and Olympic Boulevard presents its own obstacles, Leach said.

The move wouldn’t take place for another six to nine months, since the City-owned park is currently being reorganized and a new infrastructure is being put in.

What’s more, that may not be a viable option for many of the Village Trailer Park homes, which have been turned into permanent structures and can’t be moved, Leach said.

A second option would be to consolidate the remaining tenants at one edge of the park, while developers build the rent-controlled units. But that also presents some obstacles that are currently being hashed out in the negotiations, Leach said.

While developers had initially proposed building 109 rent-controlled units each at 250 or 325 square feet, the Planning Commission and City Council directed staff to negotiate an agreement that includes one, two and three-bedroom units.

“The building needs to be a lot larger, and there are some height issues, so it complicates things, and it needs to be worked out,” said Leach.

Marc Luzzatto, president of Village Trailer Park, LLC, said the concept of allowing residents to stay on site while the building is constructed is “subject to a lot of moving parts,” adding that “it’s not a certainty.”

The third, and perhaps thorniest sticking point in the ongoing negotiations, is assessing the value of the homes and paying tenants relocation fees more generous than those called for by the State, Leach said. The City has put out a request for qualifications to hire a consultant who can iron out some of those sticking points.

The developers have offered to pay park residents the Blue Book value for their coaches, with a minimum price, Luzzatto said.

But residents said the price would not reflect the money they have pumped into homes that are now impossible to sell.

“I bought the trailer for $23,000 and I put in a lot of money,” said Nick Sanelli, who estimates the Blue Book value for his home would now be about $18,000. “I hired an architect, a contractor, a plumbing contractor.”

Sanelli, who works at a Santa Monica law firm, said he completely re-paneled the trailer and put in slate floors, custom cabinets and a skylight. Given the improvements and the Santa Monica location, he estimates his home is now worth some $170,000.

“I would like to get a fair market value for my trailer,” Sanelli said. “I can’t sell the property. I’m stuck. I’m going to lose the value of my investment.”

City officials hope a consultant can help hammer out some of the thorny issues, including whether the coveted Santa Monica location increases the value of a mobile home.

“One of the contentious aspects,” said Leach, is answering the question: “Is a coach worth more because of the land that they don’t own?"

“They’re renters,” he said. “When people rent an apartment, they may own a refrigerator. Here it’s a lot more complicated.”

But if a value can be placed on the coach, its impossible to put a price on the lifestyle the residents will be losing when the more than hafl-century-old park is razed.

“I sit on my porch, smoke a cigar, visit neighbors,” said Sanelli, a former musician who worked with the Beach Boys and The Doors, among others.

Former prizefighter Garland Kemp shows he can still throw a punch in front of an old portrait of him in the ring.

Garland Kemp, a former prizefighter who lives two coaches down, is also at a loss with what to do. He bought the mobile home when his wife began suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“I thought this would be less trouble” for her, said Kemp, who pays about $375 a month in rent. “She passed away and my daughter died.”

Kemp, who makes ends meet cutting hair, has had two offers for the home, which has a “two-star heating system” and an air conditioner he installed in the kitchen so his wife could cook in comfort. But no one wants to buy the trailer now.

If the developer allows tenants to stay while a rent-controlled building goes up, Kemp, who uses a walker to get around, would welcome the hike up the hill, which is “maybe three steps up.”

“I would rather be around here,” he said sitting in a room filled with portraits of his wife and old boxing pictures and memorabilia. “That would be alright.”


“I would like to get a fair market value for my trailer.” Nick Sanelli


“Is a coach worth more because of the land that they don’t own?" Bruce Leach


“I would rather be around here.” Garland Kemp


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