Photographers' Blog

Trailer park worth $30 million

July 18, 2012

By Lucy Nicholson

Too often in America, being old means being lonely, isolated and depressed.

At Village Trailer Park, a leafy oasis surrounded by busy commercial streets about two miles from Santa Monica’s famous beach, elderly residents are fighting to preserve a different way of life.

GALLERY: LIFE IN A TRAILER PARK

Owner Marc Luzzatto wants to relocate around 50 residents from the quirky trailer park to make way for nearly 500 residences, office space, stores, cafes and yoga studios, close to where a light rail line is being built to connect downtown Los Angeles to the ocean.

Village Trailer Park was built in 1951, and 90 percent of its residents are elderly, disabled or both, according to the Legal Aid Society. Many have lived there for decades in vintage mobile homes they bought.

The nearly 4-acre site is valued at as much as $30 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. Buildings that have grown up in the neighborhood in recent decades now feature offices of media empires such as Yahoo! and MTV Networks. Santa Monica once had nearly a dozen trailer parks and now has just two.

As I walked around the park, trees swayed in the breeze, birds sang, and residents emerged from their homes to greet me. When I explained I was shooting a photo story, they reeled off names of neighbors I should visit. Everybody knows everybody, and each has a story to tell.

I asked what the loss of this community would mean to them.

MARY HERRING, 78 (resident for 20 years)
“This place means to me an awful lot because I’ve been here since 1992. I don’t like change. I thought I would be dying here.

It’s beautiful here. We have large trees and jacaranda with the purple blooms. There are a lot of seniors here and most of us know each other. I felt very depressed when I first got the eviction notice. We got six of them, one month apart.

I’m not very easily frightened, but right now I’m trying to make my decision where to go (if the City Council votes in favor of the developer), and that frightens me because I don’t have a place where I want to move. I know almost everyone in the park, and we help one another, and try to boost each other up if something happens health-wise.”

VERNON VAN WIE, 91 (resident for 20 years)
“I’m used to this place. I’m partially blind. My girlfriend lives nearby and takes care of me. I’m a veteran of the Santa Monica fire department and a World War II veteran.”

GAYLE COOPER, 66 (resident for 16 years)
“This is my 22 x 34 ft Eden. If you live in an apartment, you don’t have outdoor space like this.”

BILL NIEDERBERGER, 81 (resident for over 30 years)
“It’s nice and quiet. It’s my tranquil place.”

GERI MEEKS, 78 (resident for 15 years)
“This home means everything to me. We love the community. Our doctors are close by, my children and grandchildren are close by, which means a lot, and my sister lives next door.

I was shocked and upset (when she received the eviction notices). We were concerned where we would go at this stage in our lives. I’ve had a heart problem, so it was very difficult and frightening. At this age, it’s not easy to just pick up and go.

My husband was a Santa Monica police office for 37 years, and he served and protected everybody, and now he’s got to go? It’s upsetting, because we’ll lose friends and people we’re close to, and we’ve helped each other here.”

RUTH LEWIS, 84 (resident for 15 years)
“My daughter lives across the street, and my sister (Geri Meeks) lives next door. The climate is ideal. I’ve been in this area all my life. My lung collapsed, and so I’m on oxygen.”

JUNE MANNING, 84 (resident for 18 years)
“I have privacy. It’s about the quietest place I’ve lived, and my neighbors are friendly. You can ask a neighbor for a lift. I like the community feeling. I could knock on anyone’s door and say ‘I need help’. I hope the park stays open, for everybody. Just let us be.”

PETER NORTON, 63 (home in family since 1986)
“It’s a secluded oasis, which is a non-urban environment, right in the middle of the urban environment.

I’m a professional land use planner. Preserving this community is vital, to show that this city belongs to all kinds of people, whatever their income group.”

Comments
7 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The last thing Santa Monica needs is more condos, yoga studios, and retail. Just another example of the vanillafication of the city; pretty soon, it’ll look just like Orange County.

Posted by stevelyon | Report as abusive
 

4 beautiful acres for 50 people versus 4 bulldozed acres for 500 people plus offices and shopping. I’m sure the city will opt for the more lucrative choice. If they’re going to displace these residents they should really consider making the area a park rather than extending the concrete jungle.

Posted by BrendaD | Report as abusive
 

These good people have more than earned the right to live there. They have given much over the years and now the land owner has $ signs in his eyes. Evict them… No! Let them live in peace right where they are.

Posted by dGeezer51 | Report as abusive
 

Free market in action — throwing elderly and disabled people out of their homes. Nice, huh? Government, in this case the Santa Monica City Council, should get some gumption and give the little guy some support. I’m a lawyer so I’ll suggest that there are various options to consider that would be reasonable (emphasis on reasonable) to both tenant and developer. Not everything should be based on financial free market math, even with private property; policy, meaning public/societal/community benefit should be part of the equation and forced into the equation if reasonable developer minds can’t meet. Technology, design and creative policy/regulation can work wonders. Santa Monica (one of my childhood homes): stick up for principle and do the right thing here. California, the greatest state in our land, let’s show the world that even if the USA can’t get it together, we can lead to positive outcomes that blend societal, financial return, architectural/landscape aesthetic, and history to benefit the community soul. If not, let’s ship the developer to Texas where he’ll be much more appreciated.

Posted by NeoDemo | Report as abusive
 

NeoDem and any other CA lawyers out there who may be interested: We are a group of 10-20 (depending on the week) residents of Village Trailer Park who saw the handwriting on the wall two years ago and started preparing a legal case against this done deal. We now have 46 separate legal bases for overturning this Development Agreement. These range from the fact that it violates CEQA by having been approved four years before the EIR was prepared, to a RICO cause of action, both criminal and civil, and everything in between. The City acted really sloppily, since they thought the danger of litigation was solely from the developer. This is, as you say, not just us the City Council is corruptly hurting. The entire poorest side of the City is targeted for outrageous overbuilding. We, however, are the only homeowners on the chopping block, so we had the most incentive to get the case prepared. Besides the professional land use planner in the photo (who has a Masters in land use planning from Cambridge in England and won a worldwide competition to advise the Kingdom of Norway on preserving village culture while drilling for North Sea oil), we also have a practicing lawyer (but in probate), a paralegal (in real estate) and a retired SM attorney who practiced for 20 years on both landlord and tenant sides of rent control law in SM. We also have a UCLA philosophy prof and several other professionals who have contributed to the preparation, and lately a non-resident UCLA historian has joined with us to try to find out who the original architect of this iconic mid-Century property was, since the City claims to have lost the original building permit (although I saw a complete file for a house built in 1909, not 1950, so I feel sure the architect was someone famous, and that is why the file was “lost”). We need to assemble a committee of lawyers to help us with the writ of mandate case and with the federal case. Please contact us at http://www.occupysm.com or me at brenda@flashbyte.us if you will discuss helping us. We will have some money to pay as we go along, but we are–as you would expect–not people who maximized income or assets, so we will probably not make any lawyers rich except in the knowledge you stopped a travesty.

Posted by dhsbrenda | Report as abusive
 

By the way, NeoDem, you won’t be surprised to know the developer is from Texas. lol

Posted by dhsbrenda | Report as abusive
 

Great Article! thanks for sharing the information.

thanks

Posted by isaacoomber | Report as abusive
 

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