When Ken Parsonson loaded up the last of his furniture and drove away last weekend, the Pepper Grove Trailer Park, in effect, ceased to exist.
But the legal complications surrounding the demise of the trailer park and the eviction of its tenants may last for years, long after any remnant of Pepper Grove itself.
For six weeks, Parsonson had been the sole remaining tenant in the Glendale park, and his only neighbors were--increasingly--trash, abandoned furniture, broken trees, dripping water pipes and dangling power lines. Everybody else--about 100 mainly elderly people in 59 households--had pulled up stakes during the struggle against eviction that had lasted more than a year.
But Parsonson hung on through the weeks when the washing machines and garbage Dumpster were removed, when gangs of youths started to roam the area, when the electricity and water service were sometimes interrupted, he said.
"It was really becoming a trash heap," Parsonson, a 36-year-old engineer, said of the last few weeks at Pepper Grove, the only trailer park in Glendale. "It was going downhill rapidly."
Despite those conditions, he said, he stayed until he received what he called a market-value purchase price for his trailer from O. Warren Hillgren, who with his brother and sister own the park. Once that was settled, Parsonson moved the last of his belongings to an apartment in Glendale.
The trailer and the surrounding debris await removal for the expansion of an adjacent moving and storage firm to which the Hillgrens are selling the property for a reported $1.2 million.
Right now, Pepper Grove, tucked into an industrial neighborhood at 4830 San Fernando Road, is a scraggly looking lot with weeds growing over the vacant cement trailer pads.
About the only noise now is the sound of trains chugging down the Southern Pacific railroad tracks across the street. Heated discussions about solidarity against the landlord are just memories.
Some Pepper Grove tenants moved quickly after Hillgren, a La Canada Flintridge councilman, served them 30-day eviction notices in December, 1983. Others stayed, forming a tenants' association pledged to fight the eviction in court.
In September, a jury ruled that Pepper Grove should be considered a mobile-home park and that tenants deserved 14 months' notice, not the 30 days required for a trailer and camper facility. But, by that time, only eight households remained.
A few more moved out after a judge ruled in October that a new trial should be held, partly because, the judge said, the tenants' attorney, Kenneth Carlson, had broken rules of courtroom conduct.
By Christmas, the last half-dozen residents began leaving, often after reaching financial settlements with Hillgren, according to Parsonson and Carlson.
"About two-thirds of the original tenants left in fear and got no money, but the ones who held out got paid as much as $3,000 to move," said Carlson.
The settlements do not mean an end to legal action, even though both sides say there is no need for a retrial on the legality of the eviction notice. Both sides expect continuing battles on Carlson's demand that the landlord should pay the tenants' legal fees for the eviction trial, which Carlson said total between $25,000 and $30,000.
Suits Filed by Tenants
In addition, Carlson has filed a $15-million class-action suit against the Hillgrens seeking compensation for former tenants for suffering through the allegedly wrongful eviction, selling many of the trailers at a loss and having to move to more expensive lodgings. Two other civil suits also have been brought by tenants against Hillgren.
Hillgren was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Hillgren's attorney, Robert Garcin, said he did not know the details of any settlements with tenants.
Asked if he were relieved that the trailer park was empty, Garcin, a former mayor of Glendale, said, "My client has sought for almost a year and a half to gain possession of his property and, through what I deemed an abuse of the legal system, has been denied that opportunity.
"It is, indeed, a relief to have finally gained control of what we already owned and opt to use in the American way without the continued harassment Mr. Carlson has heaped on this situation. We will, however, continue to aggressively resist Mr. Carlson in his other abusive legal tactics."
Carlson said the last settlements proved that the original eviction attempt was misguided and that all the controversy could have been avoided.
"It would have been so much cheaper for Mr. Hillgren if he had helped these people with what they wanted, which at the time was only a couple of months' notice and $1,000 in moving expenses."
Instead, Carlson asserted, Garcin's legal fees alone probably top what such a settlement would have cost. It was only later, when tenants realized how difficult it would be to find another trailer park, that they began to ask for $2,000 or $3,000 each, Carlson said.
Garcin disputes the amounts Carlson said were first requested by the tenants. And he said the biggest stumbling block was the demand that Hillgren pay Carlson's fees. He said the matter dragged on "only for Mr. Carlson's own personal benefit."
Meanwhile, for Parsonson, the worst part of the past 15 months was the waiting. "We never really knew when or how it would end. And so we couldn't really plan," he said.
Parsonson, a bachelor, moved to Pepper Grove 2 1/2 years ago because he wanted an inexpensive place to live while he saved money for a down payment on a house. Depending on the size of the trailers, space at Pepper Grove cost as little as $110 a month before the evictions began. By the end, the remaining tenants paid $225 a month.
Even after the trial, Parsonson had hoped to move the trailer to a park convenient to his job at Burrough's Corp. in Pasadena. But, like the other tenants, he found the only parks with openings were in outlying towns such as Palmdale, he said. So he decided to look for an apartment.
The other tenants--"mainly people of limited finances," Parsonson said--have scattered. Some sold their trailers to brokers; some moved their trailers to the Mojave desert or Orange County.
"A lot have disappeared to where we can't locate them," said Parsonson, who said he would remain active in the continuing court cases. "There were a few victory parties after the trial, but then people got so busy moving that there were no big farewells each time."
He said it didn't bother him much to be alone in the park for six weeks. What did bother him was that, after the landlord removed the garbage Dumpster, the grounds became a dump for the trash of departing tenants and outsiders. In addition, one trailer was towed out over water pipes, breaking them and temporarily cutting off Parsonson's water supply.
And, he said, his electricity went off several times. Attorney Garcin said he had no knowledge of power outages at Pepper Grove.
Parsonson said he is not bitter against Hillgren. "I think it's his property and he should do what he wants with it. But he owes some responsibility to the tenants. People are people, not machines and structures to throw away. I feel his approach was wrong.
"Maybe it wasn't his, but it was his lawyer's approach to play hardball, to try pure intimidation. I don't know. But if they gave us some equitable solution in the beginning, we never would have hired a lawyer in the first place."