December 25, 2008
Teriton tenants win battle to stay in historic apartment complex
Tenants have also received monetary restitution from Or Khaim Hashalom, negotiated individually and confidentially. Additionally, the nonprofit must adopt a comprehensive, written fair-housing policy and provide training for property managers. In addition, its IRS status, donations and applications and rental agreements must be monitored for three years by the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office.
"This is really a wonderful outcome," said Dan Zaidman, whose mother, Nathalie, 93, has lived in the complex for 40 years and has become both physically and mentally impaired. "To move her right now would have been very traumatic."
Approximately 10 of the tenants affected by the ruling, including Zaidman, are currently living at the Teriton. Another, Kaveh Zal, has returned to the building.
The controversy began in November 2005, when owners Rouhollah Esmailzadeh and others, who had purchased the building in April 2005 for an estimated $10.5 million, obtained a demolition permit. The action triggered a routine review by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission of the three-story garden apartment building designed by architect Sanford Kent in 1949, which sits on almost an acre at 130-142 San Vicente Blvd.
The following April, in a scheme Santa Monica Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades described as "odd, complicated and, hopefully, one of a kind," tenants received notice that religious nonprofit Or Khaim Hashalom, which had incorporated only three months earlier, had purchased the building.
The organization, under spiritual head Rabbi Hertzl Illulian, sought to evict the tenants, demolish the building and build up to 40 luxury condominiums, as well as provide housing for Jewish refugees from the Middle East.
Multiple hearings and lawsuits ensued, with the tenants claiming that the mission of the nonprofit violated their civil rights according to 42:405 of the Fair Housing Act. They were represented by attorney Christopher Brainard.
The Santa Monica city attorney's consumer protection unit concurrently filed a lawsuit against Or Khaim Hashalom; its legal representative, attorney Rosario Perry; and others for alleged discriminatory practices, including "terminating their tenancies because of their race, religion and national origin."
Meanwhile, the Teriton was unanimously declared a historic landmark by the Landmarks Commission on Nov. 13, 2006. That decision was upheld by the Santa Monica City Council on June 12, 2007, when the council rejected an appeal by Or Khaim Hashalom, claiming it was exempt from landmarking under California Government Code Section 3736(c), which allows an organization to alter or destroy historical buildings under certain conditions, including economic hardship or hindrance of religious mission.
Eventually, after Or Khaim Hashalom failed to have the discrimination lawsuits dismissed, a series of negotiations with parties from both cases followed, with retired Judge Robert Altman mediating.
Separately, Or Khaim Hashalom filed suit against the city of Santa Monica, challenging the City Council's designation of the Teriton Apartments as a historic landmark. On Oct. 15, 2008, Judge James C. Chalfont denied that claim.
Or Khaim Hashalom has appealed the judgment, with a ruling expected in about a year, according to the group's legal representative, Perry, who also serves as secretary of its board of directors. Tenants' attorney Brainard believes the designation will not be overturned.
The building was put up for sale on Nov. 15, 2008, at an undisclosed price. Any potential buyer would be obligated to honor the terms of the settlement, according to Brainard.
Or Khaim Hashalom's Rabbi Illulian remains optimistic. "We lost a lot of money, a lot of time, energy and hopes, but we don't give up," he said.
For previous stories on the Teriton: