Association and Owners Battle Over Easement

I noticed this article in a local paper. Casa Gateway had been a client several years ago. Does not appear that they are working with an attorney. Not often that such a dispute ends up in the newspaper. David Swedelson

Casa Gateway Residents Organize to Halt Sale of Valuable Easement
February 09, 2006
Some residents of Casa Gateway at the base of the Palisades Highlands are circulating a petition this week to stop a ballot measure initiated by the board of directors of Casa Gateway Homeowners Association in January.

The petition is a demand that the association immediately stop spending any more time or money on the ballot, which could potentially grant an easement to a Palisades developer. Apparently, the petition arose from a raucous meeting last Saturday when a straw vote overwhelmingly opposed granting the easement to Kaya Tuncer, who owns the land on the hillside above the affordable housing complex.

While those in favor of the plan saw it as a ‘win-win’ situation for the homeowners, who stand to gain financially from the deal (a minimum of $350,000 to the association), those opposed argued that no amount of money could compensate for the potential fallout from such an agreement. They worry about the liability (‘Who’s responsible if there’s a landslide?’) to the eventual possible threat to Casa Gateway’s low-cost housing status.

The straw vote came after considerable disagreement over exactly what was being asked on the ballot, which was sent to all 100 Casa Gateway residents and is due tomorrow. To pass, the ballot requires 51 percent of the vote.

‘It is not clear whether we are being asked to actually grant the easement or whether we are being asked to simply enter into negotiations to grant the easement,’ complained one resident who contacted the Palisadian-Post last week. ‘Also, the attorney’s letter we received with the ballot refers to Tuncer ‘purchasing’ the easement, which is quite different from us simply ‘granting’ him access.’

The January 20 letter also states that the board of directors has the right to accept Tuncer’s proposal without the membership’s approval, which is apparently not the case, according to the association’s CC&R’s (4.2).

‘The reason the board is coming to us now is because they don’t want the liability down the road,’ the disgruntled resident continued. ‘I do believe that if we agree to this easement, it will affect our affordable housing status. Once we give up our right to part of that land, what’s next? The attorney said he has the city’s verbal permission to grant this easement, but we haven’t seen anything in writing.’

Casa Gateway, located at the corner of Palisades Drive and Sunset, was built in 1987 as HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) low-cost housing.

While there are 100 units in the complex, 68 are reserved exclusively for seniors (62 and older). These senior apartments’all one-bedroom, one-bath in approximately 500 sq. ft.’rarely come on the market. When they do, they are often sold through word-of-mouth to family and/or friends of existing owners. The remaining 32 units are reserved for families who qualify for affordable housing. The three-bedroom, two-bath condos sell for approximately $200,000 to qualified buyers’well below market value for comparable condos in the Palisades. All sales are subject to approval by the Los Angeles Housing Department.

Residents at Casa Gateway, which has several landscaped common areas for recreation and socializing, pay a monthly fee of $215 to the CGHA to cover dues and general maintenance.

Tuncer has been negotiating with the association on-and-off for the last five years to allow access to his property. In a meeting with residents last year, the developer indicated that he intended to built either two large single-family homes on his property, or if he can get the land re-zoned, he would build up to 30 multi-family units. While Tuncer had originally offered to buy the easement, but the association’s CC&R’s prohibit such a sale.

What Tuncer is now asking for is an easement ‘in perpetuity’ which would give him permission to build a roadway in an approximately 8,000 sq. ft. rectangular plot of land between Casa Gateway and Calvary Church. The easement would not only provide vehicle access to his property but would also allow for the installation of any utilities. What the residents would get in return would be an initial $350,000 payment, plus more if the multi-family units are built. The residents are also being promised indemnity from any ensuing litigation.

The board of directors, made up of six residents, initiated the ballot measure in January to finally prompt some action on the Tuncer proposal. Whether the funds would go to the individual homeowners or into the association’s general fund is not clear.

The developer has let it be known that if the association does not allow the easement, he will develop Via Lucia in Paseo Miramar, currently an abandoned city road to the west of the rectangular area, which he said would provide the access he needs (but with greater topography challenges).

How much such a road would cost to develop is not known.

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