The Los Angeles Superior Court denied the application of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association to enjoin eviction of the approximately 40 tenants remaining in the 38-acre Venice apartment complex at a court hearing on August 16, 2006. Eviction notices could be served as soon as September 1 by property owner AIMCO, which seeks to redevelop the property as a higher-density condominium development.
The Association and tenant Ingrid Mueller filed a court action on June 6 to compel the City of Los Angeles, in which the apartments are located, to enforce certain tenant protections that were adopted as “mitigation measures” under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the City approved a vesting tentative tract map for the project in 2002. Tenants’ lawyer John B. Murdock argued that those tenant protections preclude the threatened evictions.
That tract map was never recorded, and the Los Angeles City Council on May 30, 2006 voted down a motion by Councilman Bill Rosendahl that the City proceed to record it. AIMCO lawyer Greg Ozhekim argued that, without regard to the tract map, the company has the right to proceed with eviction of the remaining tenants under California’s Ellis Act, which permits a landlord to terminate all rental agreements if it is going out of the residential rental business.
Judge David P. Yaffe, in denying the relief sought by the tenants on August 16, did not directly address what might have been a showdown between provisions of CEQA and the Ellis Act. Instead, he ordered, “None of the relief requested by petitioners [in effect, an injunction against evictions by AIMCO, but technically an order mandating the City to block evictions] is necessary” inasmuch as the tenants/petitioners had “an adequate remedy at law,” that is, they could assert their anti-eviction protections as a defense to unlawful detainer actions that AIMCO would bring to enforce the anticipated evictions against the remaining tenants.
The judge ruled that an earlier Court of Appeal decision last summer, requiring AIMCO to comply with the tract map protections “as a precondition of demolition,” only applied to demolitions and not to evictions, even though the evictions might be done in contemplation of demolition.
Tenants’ lawyer Murdock argued that eviction courts had told other Lincoln Place tenants in earlier proceedings that such courts were not the proper forum for raising CEQA issues, and so the August 16 ruling left the remaining tenants without a court in which to press their argument on the merits. The judge pointed out that the tenants had appealed the rulings in those eviction cases, and said that their redress rested in those appeals.
On Monday, August 21, the tenants filed their appeal from Judge Yaffe’s August 16 ruling, placing the issues in front of the same court – the Court of Appeal – if not in the same case. On Tuesday, August 22, the tenants filed an application for a writ of supersedeas in the appellate court, in effect asking that court to put the threatened evictions on hold until the pending legal issues can be resolved.