Five months ago, LaRoy Hansen, 47, and his wife, Pat, 40, sold their $125,000 Simi Valley house and most of their worldly possessions and, for about $80,000, bought a luxurious trailer and pickup truck and began living the good life of travel and recreation.
Almost two years ago, Ken Steely, 24, found himself divorced, out of an apartment and craving change. So the Ukiah, Calif., man headed south to a new job and a new city, only to find that Los Angeles apartment living is too costly and that home for him would have to be a camper.
Seven days ago, Dorothy Lewis and her husband, Clarence, backed their trailer into a space alongside dozens of other trailers for a Los Angeles vacation. The retired couple from Paso Robles prefer their trailer over a motel because, Dorothy Lewis said, "I can fix little pot roasts and gravies on the stove and we can keep the dog with us."
These people represent part of the hodgepodge of life styles teeming behind the walls of a somewhat isolated, fenced community on the fringes of Sylmar.
The campground on the corner of Olden Street and San Fernando Road, tucked between industrial buildings and backed by fields, is the only recreational vehicle park in the City of Los Angeles.
Here, the rich and the poor, the young and retired, those enjoying the best of times and those in the midst of the worst, share the same ground. Sprawling, plush motor homes are situated near old, cramped trailers. Some people live at the site for years; others stay for days. What brings them together is their need for a slab of concrete upon which to park.
"People think that there are only campers, you know, families on vacation, at a campground like this," said Steely. "I didn't know it until I got here, but all kinds of people stay here. Working people, people on vacation, people who just got knocked down and this is their way of getting back up."
Everard Lunde, who owns and operates the 113-space campground, said he operates at full capacity year-round. The site is part of a franchised campground chain called Kampgrounds of America Inc., based in Billings, Mont.
Lunde, who operated a motel in Sepulveda for 40 years, opened the Sylmar campground in 1976. He said he knew there was a market for a recreational vehicle campground because he was regularly asked by people traveling in recreational vehicles if they could park for a fee in his motel lot.
"I started doing layman's research and found out that there weren't too many places around to legally park a motor home," Lunde said. "I found that gas stations had problems with people dumping sewage in their lots. Trailers were parking in supermarket lots. I figured that a campground with water, sewer and electrical hookups would do well so close to Los Angeles."
Other than Lunde's KOA campground, the closest recreational vehicle parks are two that are in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The demand for a $13.50-a-night space is so great that short-term travelers usually end up renting a space without a sewer hookup along the perimeter wall of the 18-acre site. The longer a trailer has been on the grounds, it seems, the closer it is parked to the bathroom and shower facilities.
"There is a two-week waiting list to get a space near the bathroom," said Steely. "Most of the permanents want to live near the phones and the bathroom."
Although state campgrounds limit the number of days a camper can stay to between 10 and 30, depending upon the park's popularity, privately owned sites set their own time limits, said Travis Pitts, deputy chief of codes and standards for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, the regulatory agency for recreational vehicle parks.
If campers are paying, Lunde allows them to stay as long as they want. The monthly parking charge is $320 and the weekly fee is $83.50, he said.
"Our prices are high, but then we are the only ones around here," Lunde said.
But for many of the so-called "permanents," life in a trailer for $320, utilities included, is their alternative to apartment and house rents.
"We just couldn't bring ourselves to pay $600 a month for an apartment. I don't even know if we could afford it," said Dawn Cox, 21, a drugstore clerk who has lived in a 16-foot trailer with her boyfriend at the park for nine months.
When she opened the door, three big, black and barking Labrador retrievers and a basset hound bounded out of the rickety trailer.
"You want to know why we don't live in an apartment? Truthfully, they don't allow pets. We didn't want to get rid of the dogs," Cox said. "My mom thinks I'm a bum for living like this. But I love it. I'm close to the bathrooms and the washing machines, I don't have to worry about bills. I figure I can do this for 10 years."