Three days have passed since the deadline to move out, and the 22 families remaining in the Cedarwood Apartments have yet to pack.
Represented by a few lawyers, supported by crowds of student and community activists and captured on a plethora of local media, the Cedarwood families, as they have been dubbed, have no plans to follow the eviction notices sent by their new landlord’s lawyer. They do have plans, however, to protest the new owner, send e-mails and letters to the new owner’s office, call the new owner’s number and take the new owner to court if need be.
But no one is exactly sure who the new owner is.
The eviction notices only have the name of Dennis P. Block – the new owner’s lawyer – on the letter. County officials concerned over the evictions have had no luck with their research in trying to find out who they should speak with. Even the deed to 6626 Picasso Rd., the address of Cedarwood Apartments, leaves little to go off on, as the owner is merely listed as 6626 Picasso, LLC.
“It’s unclear who the owner is,” said Kris Miller-Fisher, director of special projects to 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone.
Others in the county offices give the same response, as do two of the families’ lawyers, Jeff Wynton and Michael Rieselman from the Law Offices of Oscar B. Valencia. The most the two men could say about the owner is that it is an “unidentified LLC,” the acronym for limited liability company.
The tenants at Cedarwood and local protesters give a different response. They say they know exactly who the owner is, and exactly what they’re up to.
Making an Educated Guess
“Hey hey, ho ho, Conquest has got to go!”
With the sun already set, a few hundred protesters shouted their chant as they stood outside the Breakpointe Apartments on Abrego Road, a property managed by Conquest Student Housing.
A student organizer dialed the office number of Conquest Student Housing in Los Angeles, and left a message telling the company’s owners they should stop evicting families to replace them with students.
“Are we going to lose this fight?” yells Cervin Morris, former Associated Students president and one of the main organizers of the rally. “Are we going to show them we are a community?”
Morris, along with the other student and community organizers, maintain that the limited liability company who acquired the Picasso Road property is merely a cover for Conquest. Organizers collected 1,200 signatures from students promising not to rent from Conquest should the Cedarwood families be kicked out.
The families said their property manager told them that the new owner wants them out so they can put in students and charge higher rent.
“There’s no way you can find affordable housing in Santa Barbara for a few hundred people in a month,” Morris says as the rally continues.
External A.S. Vice President of Local Affairs Joel Rodriguez-Flores, who worked at the Isla Vista Tenants Union office this summer, said his calls to Conquest’s office in L.A. made him even more suspicious that it was the owner. He originally suspected Conquest due to similarities between its business practices in I.V. with those in the University of Southern California area, the only other area in which Conquest operates.
Conquest has not denied being the owner of the new property – nor has it claimed that it is. No one in the Conquest Student Housing office was willing to go on record yesterday after the Daily Nexus sought comment.
Dennis P. Block did not confirm or deny Conquest was the owner of the new property.
The manager at Breakpointe did not confirm or deny that Conquest was the owner, but said she did not know anything about the matter.
When reached on his personal cell phone, Alan Smolinisky, owner of Conquest, made no comment but said to call the Conquest office and leave a message, as he is currently on vacation.
Firestone said he has had “zero luck” talking to Conquest, “in spite of e-mail, letter and phone calls,” and said he does not know who the owner is.
With a limited paper trail, there’s not much an investigator can do but compare business proceedings and, as organizers have, make an educated guess.
All the Lonely People
In an Oct. 19, 2004 article of the USC Daily Trojan entitled “Conquest constructs new housing,” Smolinisky said Conquest Student Housing does not own any of the buildings around UCSB or USC, something people consistently confuse. He said the most recent property near USC that they manage, Tuscany at 3760 South Figueroa St., is owned by a Beverly Hills group that would prefer not to be named.
According to its website, Conquest provides housing to about six percent of USC students. Smolinisky is a graduate of USC.
According to the deed on the Tuscany property, an LLC called Good Times At Tuscany owns the property. Smolinisky’s business partner Brian C. Chen registered the LLC, and the billing goes to Conquest’s main office at 2343 Scarff St. Suite #A.
The billing for all 18 Conquest Student Housing-managed buildings go to that address, although the LLC differs for almost every property. For the Tropicana, 1256 West 29th St., it is the White Album Housing, LLC. At Abbey Road, 1352 West 29th St., it is Sgt. Pepper Housing, LLC, which is also the owner of the Pallazo (previously owned by the White Album Housing, LLC). The Carolina, 2652-2656 Ellendale Pl., has Magical Mystery Tour, LLC as its owner.
Breakpointe follows a similar pattern. In 2005, 6690 Abrego Rd., Inc. along with All You Need is Love, LLC and Alissa Properties, LLC were the grantors of the Breakpointe properties to Yellow Submarine, LLC – the current owner of Breakpointe.
On a deed of trust, Smolinisky was listed as the vice president and secretary of 6690 Abrego Road, Inc. while Chen was listed as the president and treasurer. Mario Smolinisky listed himself as a general partner of Alissa Properties, LLC on his federal election commission filings.
The billing address for 6626 Picasso, LLC goes to California Lender’s and Attorney’s Services located in Sacramento.
Because a representative from Conquest did not comment, the Daily Nexus was unable to further clarify the ownership of the Breakpointe Apartments before Yellow Submarine, LLC took over.
The Daily Nexus was also unable to clarify the ownership of a few Conquest-managed buildings in the USC area. According to deeds on several properties, before many of the current LLCs took over the properties, Brian C. Chen or the Brian C. Chen Trust was listed as the owner.
The Conquest of Isla Vista?
On its website, www.conquesthousing.com it says that “Breakpointe marks Conquest’s first of many new projects at the University of California at Santa Barbara.”
I.V. landlord Lou Ventura said he was approached by Smolinisky and Chen a few months ago about the possibility of selling a few of his properties. Ventura said Smolinisky also approached the owner of the properties at the top of the Embarcadero loop and showed a diagram of his plans for the area.
The plans had commercial spaces on the bottom floor and residential spaces on top, similar to the structure of Tuscany.
Ventura said Conquest could well be the owner of 6626 Picasso Rd., and if they are, he disapproves of their tactics.
“I just don’t think that you should kick out families,” he said. “I don’t think it should just be students [in Isla Vista].”
They Go, We Go
At a press conference on Monday, the tenants’ lawyers – who were retained with the financial help of many UCSB students – said they would not be able to find out more about the owner until discovery documents were sent out. They can begin sending the discoveries as soon as the “unidentified owner’s” lawyer sends an unlawful detainer to the tenants for not leaving the property.
“Some people have lived here for 17 years,” Loretta Diaz, one of the tenants, said a few weeks back during a strategy meeting. “Their kids have gone to I.V. Elementary. … then [Dos Pueblos] High School, then SBCC. Now they have nowhere to go. This is home.”
Whether the mysterious owner is in front of them or an entirely different entity, the tenants’ supporters say their strategy will be the same.
“If they have to go, then we’ll go too,” the ralliers chanted.