Tenants fearful they will be ousted in sale

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The prospect of a large state park running down to the ocean may excite park enthusiasts, but the 50-plus tenants living in the lower Topanga region are fearful that they will be displaced by ambitious plans for the area.

“We don’t want to be bulldozed and evicted before the new landlord takes over,” said tenants who have a lot vested in the properties they have rented over the years. “We want them to consider a plan that leaves the structures standing.”

Referring to difficulties in trying to make a large acquisition for a state park, Roy Sterns, deputy director of State Parks for Communication, said: “The bond act restricts our ability to buy land with improvements. We are trying real hard to make parks and open space for people, but somebody is always unhappy.”

The task of handling those potentially unhappy people falls to the owners, the Los Angeles Athletic Club Organization (LAACO).

“We expect LAACO will proceed in a kindly fashion to relocating people,” said Sterns. “Until successful, we are not interested in buying the property.

“We are going to continue to sit on the side lines, waiting for the property owner, the American Land Conservancy (ALC) and the renters, possibly, to come to some sort of agreement that would open the door for us to purchase.”

Recently, on Aug. 11, 2000, Fred Zepeda, vice president of LAACO, sent a letter to the 50 or so tenants advising them of the ALC’s option to buy the property in question, but making it clear that it is far from a done deal. He attempted to reassure tenants that if dispossessed, “There are policies, procedures and formulas that must be followed when tenants are relocated by a public agency. You will be provided compensation by these laws.”

He said, “The ALC has many issues, some large and complex that must be resolved before they can exercise their option,” and reminded them that once before, in 1990, the property had been optioned and the deal ultimately fell through. Renters are almost all now on a month-to-month tenancy basis, and want to stay, but the value of the property, currently being assessed, will differ greatly if it can handle a hotel and condos rather than relatively low cost housing, which currently exists.

Joe Edmiston, Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said the ALC is a “fine organization,” but some of the tenants believe there is more to the arrangement than meets the eye. They say the ALC, aside from designating land for open space, has been known to purchase property and redevelop some of the acquired land for profit. Several were fearful that meant the ALC wants them out.

Residents of the area feel they are currently paying rent at rates well below the market value for properties near the ocean. They are concerned that relocation in a similar setting would be impossible.

Many have resided in Topanga for decades. They fear that moving will eliminate the caring community environment that has been created over the years.

The area would lose one of the last communities with a more traditional character in exchange for sterile development that may add traffic and people to the region, said tenants.