Judge OKs eviction of Topanga Ranch Motel residents

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The residents moved in after previous tenants were evicted and compensated with relocation funds by State Parks. The state is not required to pay relocation money to the newer tenants.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan ruled Jan. 11 that the California Department of Parks and Recreation does not have to compensate 17 tenants of Topanga Ranch Motel prior to evicting them.

The tenants in question moved into the motel after a previous group of tenants had been evicted and following State Parks’ purchase of the land in 2001. The previous tenants had received relocation funds. Karlan said the state could officially evict the tenants on March 1, giving time for an appeal, which the tenants’ attorney said they plan to file.

The tenants’ attorney, Alice Graham, said she was disappointed with the ruling, but was optimistic about an appeal. An appeal must be filed with the Superior Court’s Appellate Division by Feb. 10. Graham said the tenants need to raise the money in order to afford an appeal. Howard Berger, a Los Angeles resident, who issued a press release last month in support of the tenants, could not be reached to determine if he or somebody else would be helping the tenants.

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 last June, having never accepted the state’s monetary offer.

Since the previous residents left the motel, a new batch of people have moved in. Last June, State Parks told the new tenants to leave the motel without compensation. They did not move out, and the state sued.

The tenants and their supporters argued that when they moved in, they should have been made aware of State Parks’ purchase of the land. Graham said the motel owner, Ray Craig, never told them and neither did State Parks. She said Craig was dishonest by misrepresenting himself, but Graham said the fault was stronger with State Parks, whose spokesperson told The Malibu Times the state was not under any obligation to the tenants about the ownership, but rather Craig was.

“That was a self-serving statement,” Graham said. “Certainly, if the state was the owner of the property and not Craig, the state should have provided some sort of notice. The state could have easily done that by requiring Ray Craig to notify them.”

According to State Parks officials, after the final tenants have left the motel, ideally for the state shortly after March 1, Craig will follow. Craig will be compensated for the move, because he owned the motel prior to 2001. Craig said last month that 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.

State Parks spokesperson Roy Stearns said last month that Craig has made the process difficult, “balking at signing an agreement” several times.

Craig could not be reached for comment following the court ruling.