Crawford Avenue residents are confused and concerned about plans to move them out before construction begins on MonteCedro
by Laura Monteros
“It’s tough for them. They know it’s coming but when it comes, it’s equally hard for them.”
--Martha Tamburrano, President & CEO of Episcopal Community Services
“Everyone knew it was going to happen, but nonetheless, when it arrives, it’s somewhat of a shock.”
Chris Zarow, Crawford Avenue resident
Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Or fail to say it. Over on Crawford Avenue, which lies between the old Scripps property and Lake Avenue, there seems to be a good deal of confusion and concern about what was said to whom by Episcopal Community Services (ECS) and their agent, Riegel Property Management, Inc.
Several years ago, ECS purchased the Scripps property on El Molino and Calaveras with the intention of building MonteCedro, a new retirement community. Scripps already owned some of the houses on the west side of Crawford, and by 2006, ECS had purchased all 14 residences on the west side and rented them out until they would be demolished to make way for villas.
The Scripps Home buildings were demolished, but the Crawford Avenue residences remained intact and occupied. With construction on MonteCedro projected to begin in summer of 2013 and residents to begin moving in the summer of 2015, now is the time for the tenants to pack up, according to Martha Tamburrano, President & CEO of Episcopal Community Services.
The exact timeline for tenants to move out and construction to begin is dependent on sales for the retirement facility reaching 70 percent, Tamburrano said. “The magic number is 130, and we are now at 88. What is heartening is that the numbers of sales have been building each month.”
Different tenants, different stories
It’s how that information is being communicated that is at the heart of the concerns of the tenants on the west side of the street, who will move out -- and the homeowners on the east side, who will stay as the neighborhood changes.
Tenants expressed frustration at the way property manager Richard Riegel has been handling the situation and concern that ECS has not directly contacted them. Chris Zarow and her partner Connie Majeau, residents for 29 years, sold their home to ECS four years ago but have continued to live in it as renters. They refused to work with Riegel Property Management, and deal directly with ECS through Jim Doyle, but the remaining 13 tenants go through Riegel.
“Jim Doyle came to us in June and asked, ‘What can we do to help those neighbors?’” Zarow said. “Jim said in June the time is coming,” and discussed a move-out date of Jan. 1, 2013. “We said, the sooner people know, the better.” She believes the intent of ECS was to give the tenants several months’ notice.
In late July, a reader emailed Altadenablog to allege that Riegel had met with an unidentified neighbor and offered $500 for them to move out by December. Zarow also stated that Riegel had met with some of the neighbors. “He gave different dates, different amounts to different people,” she said. She informed Doyle of what was happening.
Holiday move-out date?
“I told Jim, once people get a number in their head, that’s fixed,” she said, and alleged that some renters were offered $500, some $1,000. She says she also told him that Jan. 1, being right after Christmas, was not a good move-out date.
“I told Jim, nobody is going to start work on Jan.1,” Zarow said, noting that the school semester ends at the end of January, and suggested that the date be extended to mid-January. (The PUSD calendar shows a first-semester end date of Jan. 18, 2013.)
Gina Cansino, a homeowner on the east side of Crawford, also expressed concerns about poor communication from ECS and how her neighbors across the street are being treated.
“I haven’t spoken to the administration yet and I plan to. I’m not trying to be combative at this point, but I have heard the situation the renters are in and I haven’t heard from them and I want to know why,” she told us.
“There was a pattern of good communication at the beginning, but not now. It is not the right way to conduct a project like this,” she said.
On Sept. 7, all but two neighbors sat down with attorney Gabrielle Woods to discuss their options, Zarow said. Woods told them the only legal obligation ECS has is to give 60 days’ notice. “At the meeting with the attorney, one person asked if we could jump over Riegel and meet directly with the Scripps folks. She said absolutely.”
We asked Tamburrano if ECS had authorized Riegel to state eviction dates and remuneration amounts. She said, “You know, Richard is the property manager that Scripps first hired, and he’s continued to play that role for us. So I don’t know all the communications that have happened…. But Rich has been in communication with us.”
She acknowledged the need for clearer communication, and has set a meeting with the tenants for next week. The residents have not yet been given eviction notices, she said, and emphasized that details would be given at the meeting.
“They’ll know dates, they’ll know process, they’ll know money,” Tamburrano said. “There was a misunderstanding. A miscommunication,” she said. “They will all be treated the same.”
Dates and promises
Asked if she had been taken by surprise by Riegel’s communication with the tenants, she said, “Well, a little, but I don’t want to demonize anyone…. I think he had good intentions.
“I will be leading the meeting so they will hear it right from my mouth. We’ll have all in writing so there won’t be any miscommunication. We want everybody to know: What we’re going to do for one, we’re going to do for everybody,” she affirmed.
The lack of accurate communication was not the only issue raised, however. According to both Zarow and Cansino, the residents on Crawford had been promised that the street would not be used for a staging area. Tamburrano and Doyle said that no such promise had been made.
“It will be on the west of Crawford,” Tamburrano stated, but she insisted that the area would be fenced off. She has worked with the contractor before, and said he will control the dust and noise. There will also be a security guard on duty around the clock.
Homes to act as buffer
Zarow had a different understanding. “Originally, the general understanding was that the homes we are now in were going to remain while the major structure was under construction,” she said. “Now, we are being asked to move so our homes can be demolished and become a staging area for the construction of the main buildings.” The homes would have acted as a buffer for east-side residents, she said.
Cansino stated “Originally, they (ECS) were very conscientious in contacting people. We could voice concerns.” One of the concerns was construction noise, and she believes residents were told Crawford was not going be the staging area. “I would like to know impact, plan, logistics, where trucks will be parked, how long it will take, if there are other options, why they changed their mind, what the consensus is,” she said.
Doyle responded, “I have no recollection of that, but I’d be happy to hear someone say ‘this was said on a certain date, or written.’”
Cansino is concerned about property values during construction as well. “I will have to wait it out, I can’t turn around and sell my house in the near future.”
Park or no park?
Just what will eventually be built on the west side is of concern to residents on the east side. While the original plans are subject to change depending on the economy, Tamburrano said that at present the original plan for a row of three-story, 12-unit villas is still in place for the west side of the street.
Zarow told us that she had been told that there would be a park on the site of her property. Cansino said that in past meetings with residents on both sides of the streets, ECS said they were planning on “building large townhomes on Crawford with four units of four, and a pocket park.”
Tamburrano sounded a bit confused when asked about a park. “There is—I think the plans show in Phase 2—an area where the little Gloria Cottage was supposed to be located . There will be landscaping around that. Some of that is still subject to working out with county approvals.” (Gloria Cottage is a historic bungalow and the only Scripps building that remains.)
Asked if there will be a public pocket park, Tamburrano responded, “No, no, it is private property and ultimately will be developed for senior living.” Doyle echoed that, saying “Relative to a pocket park—the only thing I can think of is our commitment to restore Gloria Cottage.”
Renters to meet
Last week, ECS sent tenants a letter informing them of the upcoming meeting. The meeting is for renters only and will not be open to residents on the east side nor to the general public due to the business relationship ECS has with their tenants. “We have contracts with each one of these people. It isn’t an open forum,” Tamburrano stated.
“We have been doing regular meetings at the Town Council for the general public. We wanted this to be a private meeting between the renters, so we limited it to the 14 parties on the west side.”
Expanded meetings will occur when construction starts, she said, but for now she feels the obligation to inform the tenants of the timeline and settlement first.
She said that the settlement will be “Very generous. We are required to give 60 days; it’s much more generous than that.” There will also be a moving agreement and financial considerations. “It’s tough for them, she said. “We don’t want to leave anyone out there who doesn’t have money to move.
“I think when they come to the meeting, they will be very surprised and pleased by how it all is going to unfold.”