Trashed by Big Business, Watts Group Says

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Watts neighborhood group claims in court that Veolia Transportation used it to gain a foothold in the Los Angeles market, then trashed and abandoned a rental building, leaving it “habitable to only pigeons and rodents.”
     The Watts Labor Community Action Committee sued Veolia Transportation Services and Connex Transit, in Superior Court.
     The committee claims that Veolia proposed a partnership with it in 2005 “to improve its chances of obtaining contracts in the Los Angeles region.”
     The agreement called for Veolia to lease commercial space from the committee to use as a maintenance depot.
     Los Angeles Unified School District had been renting the building to run a trade school. Veolia evicted LAUSD “so that it could show municipalities that it had facilities that were ready to service their transportation needs,” according to the complaint.
     “In the end, Veolia’s ‘partnership’ with WLCAC resulted in several million dollars’ worth of transportation contracts,” the complaint states. “Through its partnership with WLCAC, Veolia obtained various shuttle contracts throughout the Los Angeles region, many of which it continues to operate today. As but one example, Veolia won the contract to operate the downtown DASH bus system in 2008. Veolia was able to leverage its successes with WLCAC by leveraging its newfound presence in Los Angeles. Veolia went on to operate taxis, buses and airport shuttles. Veolia also operates the MetroLink rail service in Los Angeles.”
     But the committee claims that once Veolia got a foothold in the L.A. public transit market, it abandoned the WCLAC and left the building uninhabitable – apparently never intending to use the space in the first place.
     “Veolia took possession of the building in March 2006 and promptly evicted LAUSD, on the theory that its marketing pitch would be stronger if it could show it had a commercial space ready to serve as a transportation maintenance depot,” the complaint states. “Thereafter, the building sat vacant, unused and unprotected. In addition, as a result of evicting LAUSD, the building lost its tax-exempt status with the County of Los Angeles, thereby causing WLCAC to incur property tax charges of approximately $48,000 annually. Veolia has not reimbursed WLCAC for the property taxes although the lease required it. While Veolia obtained substantial local transportation contracts as a result of its partnership with WLCAC, it apparently never had the need to develop the building. As a result, Veolia moved on to greener pastures and the building sat vacant.”
     The nonprofit plaintiff claims that when the 5-year lease ended in 2011, Veolia left the building “in shambles.”
     “Every conceivable fixture – air conditioning units and ducting, plumbing, wiring, electrical panels, sinks, toilets etc. – had been removed. Just about every window had been broken out. What had been a bustling office and classroom space had largely been demolished – at Veolia’s specific direction. The building has no power, no plumbing, no air-conditioning and no heat. It is habitable to only pigeons and rodents. In spite of WLCAC’s best efforts, the building is unmarketable in its present condition and WLCAC does not have the funds to return the building to the condition it was in before Veolia took possession. As a result, the building continues to sit vacant and instead of generating income for WLCAC and jobs for South Los Angeles residents, the building has now become a drain on WLCAC’s already limited resources. Further, as a result of Veolia leaving the building vacant, WLCAC’s insurers declined to cover the damage,” according to the complaint.
     WLCAC seeks damages for Veolia’s breach of contract: leaving the building “in a substantially destroyed, uninhabitable and unmarketable condition.”
     The labor committee is represented by Brandon Fernald and Rachel Stanger of Fernald Law Group in Los Angeles.

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