Racheting up the stakes in ongoing criminal and civil disputes, the Los Angeles County District Attorney last week filed a second environmental complaint against Paradise Cove mobilehome park owner The Kissel Co., and Kissel recently filed a lawsuit against the city of Malibu over its refusal to grant the company a rent increase. The park’s 255 homeowners were notified of the developments last Thursday, said new Paradise Cove Homeowners Association President Steve Kunes.
Just two days before the parties were to meet in court to set a trial date in the first case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed a second criminal complaint against Kissel, adding 20 counts of environmental code violations to the 25 cited in January. The two complaints allege that the Kissel Co. caused or permitted discharge of sewage and the effluent of treated sewage into the waters of the state at or near the trailer park on 21 different dates from January 1997 through Oct. 14, 1998.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Miller, who filed the misdemeanor cases, said the sewage spills from the park’s septic tanks typically flow down the hilly streets of the park and expose residents to raw sewage.
A new hearing date of Dec. 4 is scheduled, Miller added. At that hearing, Kissel will be arraigned on the 20 new counts, the judge will be asked to consolidate the two criminal cases and a trial date will be set.
The maximum fine on the first complaint is $82,000, and the maximum fine on the second complaint is $20,000, said Miller.
The new suit came after agreement on a widely anticipated plea bargain could not be reached, said Kunes. Under terms of the plea bargain, Kissel had to break ground on repairs by Sept. 11 and would be given probation in lieu of paying fines, Kunes said.
When asked about the status of the plea bargain, Miller said, “We are in a trial mode.”
In a related lawsuit, nearly 80 residents of the mobilehome park have filed a suit against Kissel for failure to properly maintain the park. Kissel attorney in the criminal case, Richard Regnier, who did not respond to The Malibu Times’ call for comment on the new criminal action, was quoted two months ago as saying the civil action should resolve everything in the criminal case.
Meanwhile, Kunes said, city officials assured him that the new Kissel complaint against the city is another frivolous attempt to avoid compliance with the law.
Kissel has been trying to raise rents ever since the city adopted a rent control ordinance seven years ago. A federal court overturned that ordinance. The Malibu Mobilehome Park Rent Stabilization Commission decided in March to deny Kissel a rent increase, after homeowners said the services and amenities were not the same as in other upscale mobilehome parks, such as those in Laguna and Newport Beach, and also noted the criminal complaint for the sewage spills. At the hearing, Kissel attorney Garret Hanken said that if residents wanted to upgrade the septic system, they would have to pay higher rent.