Updated at bottom with a statement from Marc Luzzatto. The Santa Monica City Council finally approved the East Village development--a mix of apartments, condominiums, shops and office spaces in walking distance of the planned Bergamot light rail station--on Wednesday night. The decision, which green-lights the closure of a vintage trailer park home to many elderly and disabled Santa Monicans, brings to a close a saga that has spanned more than six years.
Fittingly, even the final decision didn't come quick. There were five hours of public comment on the matter at Tuesday's council meeting--so many Santa Monicans were determined to speak that the meeting was continued until Wednesday, when the council voted to approve the development agreement proposed by property owner Marc Luzzatto.
Mayor Richard Bloom was joined by council members Bob Holbrook and Pam O'Connor voting in favor of the development. Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Kevin McKeown voted against. Outgoing council member Bobby Shriver did not show up to the meeting, which meant the decision hinged on the vote of Terry O'Day.
O'Day was reelected to the council last week, after running on a platform to defend renter rights. His campaign website proclaims O'Day "Protected renters rights and affordable housing by voting to prevent evictions of Village Trailer Park residents."
Until Wednesday, residents of the park were holding out hope that the decision could be delayed until two newly-elected council members known to be slow-growth advocates--Tony Vazquez and Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer (who was critical of the development when it came before the commission earlier this year)--took their places on the council.
Now that the council has approved the East Village development agreement, Luzzatto has just one more hurdle to clear: he must go before the city of Santa Monica's Rent Control Board and secure a rent control removal permit. No date has been set for that hearing, but the board is expected to approve the request.
Once the removal permit has been issued, residents will have 120 days to select from several relocation options sketched out in the development agreement, after which they will have an additional 60 days to move. A number of current residents plan to relocate to Mountain View Mobile Home Park, located a matter of blocks from Village Trailer Park.
At least ten residents will have the option of staying on the property. The final plan for the East Village development maintains ten rent-controlled trailer pads (of the park's 109 current spaces) on site. The agreement also stipulates that 99 of East Village's 377 housing units be rent-controlled.
The price that displaced residents should be paid for their trailers was a point of contention throughout the process.
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Attorney Sabrina Venskus, who represents 40 residents in their fight against the development, says, "For us, one of the biggest tragedies of this vote is that the city council refused to even consider paying those residents who can't go to Mountain View because of income requirements...in-place fair market value." Venskus points to dozens of jurisdictions across the state that require the locations of the trailer to be taken into consideration in the appraisal process. Santa Monica will not be one of them.
Now that the council has approved the development, a disappointed Venskus says she see few options for residents who are still not ready to give up the fight.
Update: 10:18amWe reached out to Marc Luzzatto, for his reaction on the decision. He noted that when he bought a stake in the property in 2006 there were 77 full-time residents at the park; today there are only 36. He says he has gotten positive feedback from those residents who have already relocated.
Luzzatto adds, "I hope that people will take a step back and look at the situation in context and recognize that we have not only met but exceeded both our moral and legal obligations. Please remember that I'm not an out of town developer looking to build a project and get out of town. I've lived in Santa Monica for more than twenty years and have a relationship with many of the trailer park residents. They and I will continue to be members of this community and I want them to land in a great place."