I am writing in response to [the Dec. 9 article, “Kissel says no contest”]. You chose to quote Mr. Goldingay and Ms. Kraft quite liberally and, although no one asked, in the interests of objective reporting felt you should be aware of the position of The Kissel Company, Inc. (“Kissel”).
To begin with, I would like to correct and clarify some of the statements offered in your article. There were actually 46 counts with total maximum fines of $301,050. There were no overflows into the children’s playground. Children were not required to go through sewage to get to the playground.
It is inconceivable that people would pay between $100,000 and $625,000 for mobilehomes in a park which resembles “Third World conditions.” Keep in mind this price is paid for the right to rent land from Kissel on a month to month rental agreement.
The preventative maintenance program to be implemented is essentially that which has been in effect for many years. The effectiveness of this program is evidenced by the fact that although there are 32 separate septic systems ranging in age from 28 to 40 years old within the mobilehome park, there has been only one overflow in the last six months. This was the result of a jammed toilet which has repeatedly caused overflows over the last several years and which the resident refuses to repair.
Prior to Kissel even beginning its defense case Judge Mira acquitted it of eight charges. Judge Mira also dismissed an additional 24 counts. This reduced the potential maximum fine to $37,800. Given the inordinate cost of putting on a defense where the process and expense truly are the punishment, it was far more sensible to accept settlement of the remaining charges. Kissel could have chosen to simply plead No Contest, pay a fine and walk away. This, however, would not have solved the septic problem at Paradise Cove. Judge Mira, having labored so diligently to promote a settlement before trial, was pleased that a settlement was still reached for it was a permanent solution which he was seeking. He specifically stated: “I’m interested in solving this problem if it can be done.”
Consequently, Judge Mira offered an alternative to paying a fine to the County of Los Angeles which would benefit no one at Paradise Cove. In lieu of this Kissel was offered the alternative of accepting 36 months probation and a stay or suspension of any fine. During this time Kissel is required to take appropriate steps to prevent accidental overflows and to retain a consultant or outside expert to report to the court the steps being taken to prevent future overflows.
In addition, Kissel is to explore the installation of a new septic system for the mobilehome park. The responsibility of payment for this new system remains with the residents as required by The City of Malibu Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Kissel is not required to pay for the installation of this system which is clearly a Capital Improvement. In this regard, before commencement of the trial a meeting was held with the tenants and featured representatives of the manufacturer for a state of the art septic system. Pursuant to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance a ballot was then mailed to each resident to vote on whether or not to proceed with the installation of the new system at a monthly cost not to exceed $70.00 per space for fifteen years.
Unfortunately for the minority of residents who chose to vote there were some 170 spaces out of 257 which chose not to respond. Of those who responded, a clear majority were either in favor of the pass through or very interested but desirous of more information. The ordinance requires that 50 percent plus one of all spaces vote in favor of the project. One would expect that if the conditions in the park were as Mr. Goldingay portrays, there would be a significantly larger response.
In addition to avoiding the additional expense of attorney’s fees or fines, the settlement entered into eliminates the risk of any guilty findings. This is significant in light of the pending failure to maintain the case which was filed on behalf of approximately 50 spaces, or approximately 20 percent of the park. The goal of these few residents is to use the legal system to extract as much money as possible from Kissel. A guilty conviction would have aided them tremendously in their quest.
In summary, as part of settlement during a lengthy trial, Kissel plead No Contest because it was the most prudent business decision given the financial ramifications and other relevant considerations before it, and not as an admission of any perceived guilt on its part.
The Kissel Company, Inc.
Steven F. Dahlberg
chief financial officer
Ed. note: The Kissel Co. did not return telephone calls from The Malibu Times prior to the article’s publication deadline.