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Oxnard Looks for a Developer to Resolve Teeming Inadequacies : Handling Trailer Park 'Fireball'

December 22, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

At the Oxnard Mobile Home Lodge, as many as 22 people live in a single trailer; children play in puddles beside dumpsters, and residents can barely squeeze through the dark spaces between coaches.

"Our biggest problem," resident Luis Terran said, "is that there are so many people."

A consultant's report released this week by Oxnard city officials agrees. It says 848 people are packed onto the south Oxnard park's 5.2 acres--an average of 28 mobile homes per acre. City zoning allows 6.5 coaches per acre, but the park was built before that provision took effect.

The solution, the report concludes, lies in finding a developer willing to buy the trailer park, on Commercial Avenue near Highway 1, close it down and build a new one elsewhere for the residents, who are mainly farm workers.

Search for Funds

City Council members Tuesday urged staff members to accelerate the search for state and federal funding that could be used by a private developer. They also asked the only developer who has expressed an interest--the nonprofit Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. of Saticoy--to submit a proposal for the project, which is expected to cost more than $8 million.

"We're living with a fireball," council member Dorothy S. Maron said.

The mobile home park has been the scene of two fires--one that destroyed three trailers in 1985 and another in 1987 that destroyed a metal shed being used as a bedroom.

During the first fire, the narrow dirt roads that weave through the park were so choked with parked cars that firefighters could not maneuver their trucks to the blaze.

'Serious Fire Hazard'

While strictly enforced parking regulations have now cleared fire lanes, the Oxnard Mobile Home Lodge continues to present "a serious fire hazard" because its aging coaches--actually travel trailers that were never meant as permanent residences--are hooked to electrical sources by inadequate wiring, says the report, which was prepared by Sanchez Talarico Associates of Newport Beach.

The park's owner, Richard Walbergh, and its manager, William Derrick, denied any negligence, pointing out that most of the violations involve the trailers, which are owned by the residents.

Derrick said the violations listed in the report are 2 years old and have been corrected. However, he acknowledged that some of them--such as badly rutted roads--are recurring problems in the 50-year-old park.

"It's an ongoing job," he said.

City and state officials said they are reluctant to push for the closure of the park, where spaces rent for $169, or the eviction of any residents who violate state mobile home codes.

With an average family income of $15,288, few of the 848 or more residents of the trailer park would be able to find housing elsewhere and may become homeless, officials said.

"This may be the difference between their having a roof or a bridge over their head," said Julie Stewart, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Housing.

Pedro Hernandez, 20, said his family would almost certainly be out on the street. A strawberry picker, he lives with 21 relatives in a rickety trailer with a 2-room addition.

Members of the group, which includes five families, looked into renting a house 3 years ago but gave up when they learned that they would have to pay $1,500 plus a deposit to rent a house large enough to accommodate them.

"On our salaries," Hernandez said, "we can't do it."

In addition to overcrowding, the report criticizes the park for:

- Dumpsters without lids, which can lead to the spread of vermin.

- Providing only half the parking spaces codes require.

- Coaches with combustible garbage stored around them.

- The lack of yard space and a play area for children, who make up nearly half the residents.

- Inadequate drainage that causes flooding of the park's dirt roads.

- Water heaters without proper relief valves or venting.

The park, the report concludes, is "poorly maintained" and in violation of a string of city and state housing codes.

Residents Blame Management

Residents of the Oxnard Mobile Home Lodge blame the park's management.

"They don't want to spend any money here," said Terran, 55, a disabled celery picker who has led a fight for improvements.

Derrick countered that he and Walbergh are not responsible for most of the violations. He said the dumpsters belong to the city, which should oversee their upkeep, and the condition of the trailers is the responsibility of their owners--the park's residents.

"We'd love to see the coaches upgraded, but the tenants just don't have the money," he said.

Still, the maintenance battle has been lost, according to Karen Flock, a project manager for Cabrillo Economic Development Corp. She said the park "is certainly one of the worst--it may be the very worst--in the county."

Another Permanent Home

If chosen for the project, Cabrillo would build another permanent home for the farm workers on Etting Road and Highway 1 in southeast Oxnard.

The nonprofit developer, which has built two other low-income housing projects in the county and is building two more, would provide new trailers for families eligible for public housing for $346 a month. For families earning more than $20,000, the group would build rental row houses.

In exchange, the developer, which would assemble funding from state and federal sources for farm workers and possibly city redevelopment funds, expects a break in developer's fees and special treatment in clearing permits rapidly. Cabrillo officials estimate that the project would still take 3 years to complete.

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