|Judge Blocks New Rentals at Embattled Mobile Home Park
By JULIA GLICK
Monday, September 8, 2008
RIVERSIDE - A federal judge Monday ordered a crowded trailer park that houses thousands of Riverside County's poorest residents to stop new people from renting space there.
Judge Stephen G. Larsen also ordered owners of several businesses operating at the Desert Mobile Home Park in the eastern Coachella Valley -- including a welding shop, used-car lots, repair shops and a clothing store -- to appear in court next month and show cause why they should not be shut down for violating land-use regulations and signing illegal leases.
The order came hours after a federal court hearing was held in downtown Riverside to evaluate the progress of a court-ordered cleanup of the park, also known as "Duroville" for owner Harvey Duro Sr.
At the hearing, the park's attorneys said they have been promised a $3 million bank loan to correct health and safety violations. But federal attorneys at the hearing continued to push for Duroville's closure, questioning whether the money is enough to repair snarls of electrical lines, dripping sewage, substandard housing and other risks at the park.
Duroville sits on Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian land, and its population grows to as many as 6,000 residents during harvest season. Most residents are migrant farmworkers.
The federal government sued in 2007 to close down Duroville if it could not be made safe. The suit alleged that Duro had failed to comply with a 2004 agreement promising improvements.
The park was placed in receivership until April, when Larson instituted a 90-day plan for the parties to begin extensive repairs so the residents would not lose their homes.
Lawyer Mark Adams, whom Larson had appointed as provisional receiver, told Larson at the hearing that he and the new property manager, Tom Flynn, have not been renting to new tenants. They planned to shut down all businesses there but a coin laundry and a general store, he added.
The judge's order also exempts those two businesses from having to appear at the next hearing, set for Oct. 6.
Flynn said it could be difficult to prevent residents from subletting space to migrant workers, and in the past, park residents have been known to rent even space in their yards.
"I don't know how you prevent individual migrants from paying $30 for a place to lay down on a cardboard strip," he said.
Clearinghouse CDFI, a consortium of banks, has agreed to provide a 10-year, $3 million loan for repairs to the park on several conditions.
"We have done a number of things to protect the people who live in the park and to make it a safer place, even without the money," Adams said.
Both Adams and Flynn described Duroville's current cash flow as bleak. The park has received shut-off notices from utility providers for bill nonpayment and rents have fallen off as residents have migrated north, Flynn wrote in new court documents, adding that he was still owed fees for his services.
The park spent $30,000 on weed removal and dredging in its 11 acres of overgrown and ill-maintained open sewage ponds after vector-control officials said they posed risks for mosquito-borne illnesses, Flynn said.
A jury-rigged electrical transformer blew out last month, knocking out power to a segment of the park and necessitating the temporary relocation of more than a dozen families, Adams said.
The federal attorneys and James Fletcher, superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Southern California agency, said the incidents raise concerns for residents' safety if improvements do not come soon.
"Duroville remains a dangerous place for its residents, and while there has been a lot of talk about making improvements, there has been little action," said Thom Mrozek, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman.
Reach Julia Glick at 951-368-9442
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