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Santa Monica trailer park lawsuits seeks $50 million from city

January 10, 2013 |  5:31 pm

Village trailer park
Owners of Santa Monica’s Village Trailer park have filed a lawsuit against the city after the City Council reversed course on plans to replace the park with a massive mixed-use development.

In court papers filed this week, owners of the trailer park, including principal Marc Luzzatto, claimed the council’s December vote to rescind its previous approval of a development agreement was a “perversion of the legislative process.”

The lawsuit adds another layer to an ongoing battle with residents over his development plan. The plan would have forced a few dozen residents to relocate, many of whom insisted the eviction would cause emotional and financial hardship.

The owners say the city’s December vote demonstrates that the city breached its memorandum of understanding by failing to negotiate in good faith.  The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction to compel the city to annul its vote. Further, the lawsuit claims that the city’s vote to rescind the development agreement was an unlawful attempt to “hold closure hostage.”  

The suit seeks damages of at least $50 million and permission to close the park immediately.

“We spent six years working to satisfy the concerns of all constituencies,” Luzzatto said in a statement emailed to The Times. “We would have preferred that the City honor its commitments so that we would not have had to pursue litigation.  Besides the significant legal issues, there’s an issue of fundamental fairness at stake here.

Members of the Santa Monica city attorney's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Supporters of the project have said that Luzzatto has already done more than the law requires to ease the tenants' transition. Tenants have been given the option of moving into a new trailer at another location, or moving to an affordable rental unit and accepting a payment of about $20,000.

As one in a bizarre series of moves, an outgoing council approved a development agreement in November that would have called for 377 units, including 16 low-income units.

The plan's legality became the focus of debate two weeks later.

At a meeting in December, Councilman Kevin McKeown argued that the agreement’s 16 low-income units failed to meet local affordable housing requirements. The council -- with two new members -- later voted 4 to 3 to reconsider and rescind its approval of the agreement.  

City staff was instructed to continue negotiations with Luzzatto at the December meeting, but officials said then that there was no timeline for when the issue might next be considered by the council.


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--Matt Stevens

Photo: Signs outside home in Santa Monica trailer park expresses the opinion of many residents here. Credit:  Genaro Molina