Topanga Ranch Motel tenants want $$ before eviction

A trial is set for Jan. 11 to decide if the tenants deserve money, even though they moved into the Topanga property after State Parks purchased it.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

A Los Angeles resident and a Marina Del Rey attorney are trying to get 17 tenants compensated before they are evicted by the California Department of Parks and Recreation from the Topanga Ranch Motel.

State Parks officials contend they do not owe the tenants any money because they moved in after a previous group of residents were evicted following State Parks’ purchase of the land in 2001. A trial is set for Jan. 11 at the Santa Monica branch of the Los Angeles Superior Court to decide the manner.

State Parks purchased the motel land in August 2001 from the Los Angeles Athletic Club as part of its plan to buy most of the land in Lower Topanga to turn it into a nature preserve. Shortly thereafter, State Parks paid the motel tenants relocation fees and they vacated their residences. The only holdout was Aneta Siegel, a resident of more than 50 years who died in June this year, having never accepted the state’s monetary offer.

Since the previous residents left the motel, a new batch of people have moved in, even though State Parks officials said they told motel owner Ray Craig not to allow that and that he, too, should vacate the property while accepting the state’s monetary compensation. Craig said in an interview on Tuesday that State Parks never told him not to take in new tenants. In June of this year, State Parks told the new tenants to leave the motel without compensation. They did not move out, and the state has sued.

“They [State Parks] are trying to power play these people [the tenants] who really need assistance,” said Howard Berger of Concerned Citizens of Los Angeles, who issued a press release in defense of the tenants. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt the state to give them some kind of compensation.”

Roy Stearns, spokesperson for State Parks, said the state is not obligated to compensate the new wave of tenants because they moved in after the state purchased the land. Stearns said State Parks was under no obligation to notify the new tenants of the situation, and that the blame should be placed on Craig.

“We have told him [Craig] verbally that he should not have any more people move in, but it is not up to us to notify those tenants,” Stearns said. “He, the motel operator, is [supposed to tell the tenants]. Maybe they should ask Mr. Craig if he will compensate them.”

The attorney for the tenants, Alice Graham, said her clients have no problem with Craig. She said the law does not require that he notify the tenants of the state ownership and that they would eventually be evicted, while the law requires the state to do so. Stearns said that law was eliminated from the books in the 1980s. Graham said her clients deserve compensation because they were never properly informed about the situation. She said if they do not get any money, many of them would have a tough time paying for the move and finding new homes.

“These are people, many of whom are lower income and can’t find moving expenses and a comfortable place to live nearby,” Graham said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan will decide that on Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, State Parks also has the issue of getting motel owner Craig to leave his motel operation and accept state compensation before it can go ahead with its plan for the nature preserve. Craig said he has met with State Parks several times, but before any contracts are signed, the deal always falls through. He said he believes State Parks cannot do anything until all the motel tenants have left. When asked why he didn’t then stop taking in new tenants, he said he has a business to run.

Stearns said Craig has made the process difficult, “balking at signing an agreement” several times. But he said the plan is that Craig will be asked to vacate the motel once all the tenants have left. Craig did agree that would be the plan, saying he believed the matter would be settled within the next few months.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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