HAWTHORNE — While one group of mobile home residents won another round in a fight to save their park, a second group of residents in a similar battle were dealt a serious blow.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack M. Newman on Monday issued a preliminary injunction barring the owner of the Amberlight Mobilehome Park in the 14000 block of Cordary Avenue from evicting residents and ordering him to maintain the park's grounds.
Bernida M. Reagan, attorney for the residents, said the order will stand at least until their suit against the park owner over rent increases goes to trial, which she said would be in about a year.
Meanwhile, at Maury's
Meanwhile, residents of Maury's Trailer Park in the 3500 block of West Rosecrans Avenue have nearly exhausted efforts to save their park. In the first test of an ordinance enacted last year, the Planning Commission last week certified the park owner's plans to relocate the nearly 60 residents in the park's 22 spaces and gave approval for its closure.
The residents' attorney, Mary M. Lee of the Western Center for Law and Poverty, said she will appeal the decision to the City Council. She said that if the council upholds the commission, she will consider filing suit against the city for allowing housing units to be lost in violation of the city's general plan.
In the relocation plan approved by the Planning Commission, the park's longtime owners, Ben and Estelle Strauss of Huntington Beach, agreed to provide security deposits and first and last month's rents for apartments, or to pay the cost of moving residents' coaches within a 60-mile radius of Hawthorne. The owners said they would pay up to $2,500 for the coaches if residents are unable to move them, or provide an equal amount per tenant for them to buy a site for another park with help from a state fund.
'Sound Legal Decision'
James F. Keleher, an attorney representing the Strausses, said the commission's approval of the plan was a "sound legal decision." He added that the owners are also assisting in trying to find another park that would accept the residents.
Lee, who acknowledged that the Strausses have been cooperative and said she sympathizes with their desire to sell the property and retire, said the problem is that residents have nowhere else to go.
"I believe that there is not a single resident who would take a certain amount of money rather than to be able to move their coaches elsewhere," Lee said. "The analogy to relocating tenants in an apartment building is wrong. People have devoted their lives to their coaches. These are homeowners who are renting spaces."
Problem Not Unique
Lee said the plight of mobile home owners is not unique to Hawthorne, which has about 400 spaces. She said mobile home parks in urban areas throughout the state are closing because of rising land values. She said mobile home owners, many elderly and of low to moderate income, often would have trouble withstanding a move even even if they could find space.
The fight between residents of the Amberlight park and its owner has been harsher than that at Maury's Trailer Park.
Residents filed suit Sept. 16 against Simpson, claiming he broke an agreement with them to provide an on-site manager, one-year leases and various improvements in exchange for rent increases. Residents agreed to an increase from $155 to $185 beginning March 1, and to $235 beginning Sept. 1 if the conditions were met.
Rent Hike Withheld
Simpson did not meet the condition, residents claim, and they did not pay the additional $50. Simpson immediately served residents with eviction notices.
Monday's court order, however, set aside the eviction notices until a trial is held. The court also ordered residents to pay Simpson $155 a month in rent and place the disputed $80 monthly balance in a trust account until the matter is resolved.
The court did not prohibit Simpson from selling the site but said he must notify potential buyers of the pending litigation. Simpson wants to sell the land, which is in a redevelopment area, for commercial use.
Simpson's attorney, Steven C. Kirby of Hermosa Beach, who claims that the tenants are trying to force Simpson into selling the park to them, said the park will eventually close despite the preliminary injunction.
'Ignoring the Reality'
The tenants' "mental process is that they think they are going to stay, but the legal reality is that they are going to have to move," Kirby said. "They have to understand that the economic reality is that that property is not going to remain a trailer park. They are ignoring the reality of the situation and it is making dealing with them on a practical manner impossible."
Kirby said Simpson has offered to help tenants move and has had a relocation assistance plan required by the city on file since April. The plan, however, is incomplete because appraisals for the coaches have not been completed. Kirby said he expects to complete the file within the next few months.
"None of these people have made any attempt to find another place to live," Kirby said. "If they had found a place and had they come to us for relocation assistance, we would have given it to them.
"Complaints that there is not space available is incorrect. They may have to move to another city, but I don't know of any requirement that allows (tenants) to choose what city they want to live in."
Reagan, the attorney the tenants acquired through Public Counsel, a public-interest law office of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar associations, acknowledged that residents are interested in buying the park. The residents offered $500,000 for the site--which Reagan said the tenants would raise with assistance from a state program, but Simpson has not budged from his asking price of $660,000.
Reagan denied that the tenants' suit is an attempt to force Simpson to sell only to them.
"There is no way to force anyone to sell them anything," she said.