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'Compromise' Revises Westlake Rent Control

September 04, 1987|CLAUDIA PUIG | Times Staff Writer

Despite several hours of impassioned testimony by elderly tenants of Oak Forest Mobile Estates, the Westlake Village City Council early Thursday unanimously approved settlement of a lawsuit that raises rents but will allow tenants to purchase property.

Owners of the mobile-home park filed the $1-million suit in U. S. District Court in Los Angeles in 1985, alleging that the city's rent-control ordinance was unconstitutional.

The agreement includes approval of a new rent-control ordinance allowing a 10% increase in rents effective July 1, 1988. The ordinance specifies that rents can increase 12.5% the following year and 15% the year after that, said George Kimball, attorney for Oak Forest Mobile Estates' owners.

The settlement also calls for a year's refund of rental payments as a relocation benefit to tenants who choose to move out of the 162-unit park.

The decision was termed a compromise by council members and Oak Forest owners, but many residents of the only rental property in the city left the six-hour meeting disappointed.

"The conversion sounds pretty good, but it may not go the way they say. And it may take two or three years," said resident Martin Stallone, 73.

Lots probably will be available for purchase in November, 1988, said Jim Campbell, spokesman for Marathon Communications, the public-relations firm representing the owners.

The city's rent-control ordinance was suspended in late June because of a referendum drive. Organizers of the effort obtained enough signatures to put the matter on the Nov. 3 ballot, but the compromise made a vote unnecessary.

Rent increases were allowed in the old city ordinance, but the lawsuit argued that, in practice, rents for the mobile homes were frozen at May, 1978, levels.

Some residents were optimistic about the settlement, but they worried that no specific land prices were mentioned by the owners. City Council members suggested that prices be determined by averaging estimates of independent and city-appointed appraisers.

Describing the mobile-home park's owners and tenants as "two scorpions in a bottle fighting it out, but doomed to coexist," Kimball said, "The proposal is a compromise. If nobody's altogether happy with it, chances are it's a fair one."

City Council members, who reached a decision about 1:45 a.m., showed emotion over the issue.

"I have to say it's been one of the hardest decisions I've had to make on the council," said Councilwoman Bonnie Klove, who lived in the mobile-home park nine years. "It would be foolish to say I'm not emotionally involved with Oak Forest, but I think this is the best deal we can possibly get. It's vitally important that we settle this lawsuit."

Said Councilman Franklin Pelletier: "I know there's some pain and some upset in the minds and hearts of people here, but I can't think how we can do any better than what's come out of this evening."

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