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Trailer Park Owner Drops Plan to Close, Sell Property

July 02, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Citing economic factors, the owner of Amberlight Mobilehome Park in Hawthorne has withdrawn his request to shut down, but tenants are reluctant to claim victory.

"What he says and what he does are two different things," said Bette Jenner, a 19-year resident of the park, referring to owner Louis Simpson, who had planned to close the park and sell the land for commercial development. "It would be wonderful if we could believe it," said Erlinda Ortega, an eight-year resident.

Neither said they had heard of the withdrawal, possibly because the residents' attorney, Bernida Reagan, is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Simpson declined to discuss his change of plans, and his attorney, Jim P. Mahacek of Santa Ana, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Statement Released

However, in a four-paragraph press release, Mahacek said that "economic factors have persuaded (Simpson) to allow the park to remain open at this time."

"It is Mr. Simpson's intention to continue to work with the residents of the park to both facilitate their life style and to improve the property and the city's tax base."

A spokesman for the city Planning Department said a letter from Simpson was received Monday saying he is withdrawing his plans to close the park at 14131 Cordary Ave.

Speculation among some of the tenants is that their lawsuit against Simpson, and the Planning Commission's decision in May to impose conditions that added $300,000 to the cost of closing the park contributed to Simpson's change of plans.

In a separate dispute, residents filed a $5-million suit on Sept. 16 against Simpson, claiming that he broke an agreement with them to provide an on-site manager, one-year leases and various improvements in exchange for rent increases. The suit has not yet been heard. Residents last year had agreed to an increase from $155 to $185 beginning March 1, 1986, and to $235 on Sept. 1, 1986, if the conditions were met.

Eviction Notices Served

Simpson did not meet the conditions, residents claim in the pending suit, and they did not pay the increase to $235. Simpson, who denied that there was ever such an agreement, immediately served residents with eviction notices. However, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the evictions until the suit is tried. The court also ordered tenants to pay Simpson $155 a month in rent and place the disputed $80 monthly difference in trust until the matter is resolved.

Mahacek said in his press release that "evidence being developed shows that the allegations are either totally without foundation or the conditions of which they now complain were conditions which began prior to Mr. Simpson's purchase of the park." Simpson bought the three-acre park in 1985.

Mahacek said Simpson's change of plans and the new evidence should persuade the residents to drop their lawsuit and "work with him to improve their Hawthorne community."

The statement made no mention of the Planning Commission requirements. Simpson's appeal of the commission's decision to the City Council was scheduled to be heard July 13 but a spokeswoman for the city clerk's office said the appeal was withdrawn Monday.

The commission had ruled that to close the park, Simpson would have to buy the coaches from residents who could not find another site. Simpson was also required to pay "on-site" value--what the homes are worth located in the park--an average of about $16,000 for each of the 20 trailers still there. A few homes had been moved in anticipation of the park's closure.

Simpson wanted to pay "off-site" value--what the homes are worth on a used-trailer lot, for example--or about $500 to $1,500.

The higher price per trailer would have increased Simpson's relocation costs by about $300,000.

According to state officials, park owners have usually been required to pay no more than $2,500 in relocation costs per tenant.

City Councilman Steve Andersen, a real estate attorney who has been involved in the closing of mobile-home parks in other cities, said he was surprised that Simpson changed his plans.

Andersen said the commission's decision may have gone beyond a state requirement that owners pay "reasonable" costs of relocating displaced tenants. He said he favors a city ordinance that presets the amount a displaced mobile-home owner would get in the event the tenant could not find a new park.

"I would like to see the whole area of land-use regulation clarified," Andersen said. "As it is now, everyone has a different interpretation."

Meanwhile, despite the apparent good news, some of the tenants remain suspicious.

"I think he's only doing this so we'll drop the lawsuit," said Jenner.

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