Planned demolition of trailer park stirs residents’ fears


June Manning has multiple forms of arthritis, and at 84, just mopping the floor is a challenge.

So she said the idea of moving out of her spacious, well-kept trailer home is giving her nightmares.

After a six-year battle with a local developer, Manning and her neighbors at Santa Monica’s Village Trailer Park must prepare for eviction.

“I’m so stressed out,” she said softly. “I’m scared, because I have no place to go.”

Manning is one of several park residents who are elderly, have health problems or both. They could be uprooted as early as next summer if everything goes according to the developer’s plan.

The Santa Monica City Council gave its green light to the evictions earlier this month, voting 4 to 2 to approve an agreement that will allow the owner of the property to demolish the trailer park and build a ritzy complex of apartments and storefronts in its place.

Park residents say their assets are being torn away, their friendships destroyed and their peace of mind shaken. Some question the legality of the process. Others say they are more worried about the precedent the decision sets for other low-income residents of the beach city.

Supporters of the project counter that Marc Luzzatto, principal of Village Trailer Park LLC, has already done more than the law requires to ease the tenants’ transition.

Not only has Luzzatto’s company given residents several years’ warning of its plans, it responded to concerns raised at a public hearing in July by reducing the size of the planned development by 8% and pledging to retain 10 mobile-home spaces on the site.

The spaces are expected to house some of the 36 residents remaining in the park — about half the number who owned trailers in 2006 when the developer took over. Some tenants have died and others have moved. Many worked out agreements before relocating.

Those remaining have been given the option of moving into a new trailer purchased by the developer a few blocks away at Mountain View Trailer Park, or moving to an affordable rental unit and accepting a payment of about $20,000.

Luzzatto’s 377-unit development also includes plans for 16 low-income units.

“I agreed to keep this park open for all these years so that people wouldn’t have to leave,” Luzzatto said. “I tried to do it the right way. I tried to be sensitive to the people who were there, notwithstanding the legal rights that we had.”

Some former tenants agree, and testified on Luzzatto’s behalf at a contentious eight-hour council meeting earlier this month.

But other residents say he hasn’t done enough. They seek higher payouts, more affordable units in the planned development and more city oversight of the proceedings.

A group of neighbors also opposes the planned development. They worry about traffic and dismiss advocates’ argument that the project dovetails with the planned 2016 opening of the Expo Line light rail in Santa Monica.

Towering Yahoo and MTV buildings already stand near the trailer park and the city is already too congested, said Tricia Crane, chairwoman of Northeast Neighbors.

“We can’t get into our city, we can’t get out of our city. We can’t get anywhere,” Crane said. “This promise that more density will give us more mobility — where is the proof of that?”

But the fate of the tenants fueled much of the council debate. City Councilman Kevin McKeown said he was concerned about the message the council’s vote sent. Displacing low-income residents when “something new and shiny comes along” signals a troubling trend that is simply “not the Santa Monica way,” he told The Times.

McKeown voted against the agreement and said that if the council approves the project on second reading this week, it will mark the first time in 50 years that the city has demolished a neighborhood in favor of development.

Some of the trailer park residents have pledged not to move. Others, like Manning, have lived comfortably in trailers for years and aren’t sure where they’ll go next.

To adapt to her limited mobility, Manning has customized her trailer to fit her needs. She’s grateful for her stacked Whirlpool washer and dryer, a rare amenity in a trailer. The appliances stand just steps from her bedroom and save her trips to an outdoor laundry facility.

“Where am I going to go that will give me these?” she asked, as she rocked in her armchair, bundled in a nightgown. “If you find a good apartment, let me know.”