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Part I: Relocation Offer Raises Fears Among Trailer Park Tenants

By Jorge Casuso

First of two parts

May 28 -- An offer for affordable housing is fueling fears at one of Santa Monica’s two remaining trailer parks that the days are numbered for the quaint community tucked away in the city’s industrial lands.

The letter that arrived Tuesday from Community Corporation, the city’s largest affordable housing provider, was meant to provide a welcome option for the 80 or so households faced with eviction left in the park. Instead it seemed to bring little comfort.

“Due to the closure of the Village Trailer Park, you are eligible to begin leasing process for a unit with Community Corporation of Santa Monica,” read the opening sentence of the letter.

The words -- and the accompanying application form -- were read and re-read, repeated and analyzed by anxious residents in the tight-knit community off of Colorado Avenue near the eastern edge of the city.

Ray and Geri Meeks outside their mobile home (Photo by Jorge Casuso)

It was a wakeup call for the trailer park residents, many of them elderly, who were given a reprieve from imminent eviction last November, when the City Council voted to pursue a development agreement with the park's owners, who want to build a major residential complex on the site. ("Evictions Halted as City Launches into Trailer Park Development Agreement," December 3, 2007)

“I always thought Santa Monica was taking care of seniors,” said Ray Meeks, a retiree who lives in the park with his wife Geri. “But they sold us down the river on this one. What are we going to do? I don’t know.”

Community Corp housing isn’t an option for the Meeks and many of the trailer park residents -- who either make more than the minimum to qualify, or have assets of more than the $5,000 cap.

“The bar is so low, no one can get under it,” said Nick Sanelli, who did extensive renovation on the 1950 Pan American trailer he bought in the park five years ago.

While many, if not most of the residents -- who include retirees, local workers and even a pair of UCLA professors and their children -- fail to qualify for affordable housing, they also can’t afford to rent, much less buy, a home in the increasingly expensive beachside city.

Most Village Park residents own their trailers and pay between $300 and $600 a month to rent their spaces; by comparison, a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica currently fetches an average of $1,436 a month, while a two bedroom goes for $1,896, according to the Rent Control Board.

“They’re not offering us an alternative,” Sanelli said. “We can’t move to a like location.

“The city doesn’t want a trailer park, although it talks about diversity and fair housing," he said. "What’s more diverse and affordable than a trailer park?”

Developers -- who plan to build 240 condominiums and 109 rent-controlled units on the 3.85-acre site -- said they are trying to help the residents find a home as quickly as possible in case negotiations over a development agreement with the City unravel.

The talks were given the go-ahead last November, when the council voted to enter negotiations with the developer to build the complex, which would include 8,030 square feet of retail area, 34 above-ground parking spaces and a subterranean garage with 469 spaces.

Several tenants had expressed an interest in affordable housing and didn’t know that City law allowed them to jump to the top of Community Corp's lengthy waiting list if a removal permit has been filed for their building, said Marc Luzzatto, president of Village Trailer Park, LLC, a corporation consisting of a group of investors.

“The idea here is that Community Corporation has very affordable really wonderful housing in Santa Monica,” Luzzatto said. “We just want people to have as many options as possible.

“I think it’s prudent for residents to look at all options. . . since there is always the risk things don’t go well in our negotiations, and we could exercise our option to close the park.”

As long as the negotiations last, the tenants can stay, said Luzzatto. But if they were to end, tenants would have 114 days to leave their homes.

“As long as we’re talking, we’re not going to enforce our rights,” Luzzatto said. “As long as the process is moving forward, we’re fine with them staying.”

If the negotiations lead to a development agreement, the tenants could be in place for at least a year, said Bruce Leach, the City’s lead planner on the project.

The project, which would require an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), would have to go before the Planning Commission for approval, then to the City Council and the Architectural Review Board, which would need to approve the design, Leach said.

“This is not going to happen next month,” he said, adding that it would be at least a year before construction could begin.

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


"What are we going to do? I don’t know.” Ray Meeks


“We just want people to have as many options as possible." Marc Luzzatto


“The bar is so low, no one can get under it.” Nick Sanelli


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