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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Life Without a Hitch

May 28, 1999|STEVE CHAWKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

James Carville had it all wrong.

The other day, I dragged a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park and nothing happened. Not a single floozy dashed from her double-wide to accuse the president.

OK, maybe at that very moment she was dashing from canasta to shuffleboard and didn't have time to be accusing presidents.

And OK, maybe it wasn't a "trailer park," Bubba, but Lemon Wood, an east Ventura mobile home park for seniors that was recently picked as the West's Community of the Year by a national trade group.

The distinction between trailer parks and mobile home parks can be an elusive one. Experts explain it with solemn references to a federal housing act passed in 1976, but the rule of thumb is this: If you're living there, it's a mobile home park. The place down the road is a trailer park.

In any event, Lemon Wood can't be the place Carville had in mind. It's built around ponds and brooks. Streets are named for British poets--Keats, Shelley, Chaucer.

The grounds are loaded with ducks and Canada geese, and management has applied to the Audubon Society for the park's designation as a sanctuary. Residents troubled by illness or exasperated by Social Security have access to an on-call social worker. Residents down on their luck can apply for the park's own version of rent control.

On Wednesday afternoon, about 50 neighbors ate cake and lifted glasses of champagne from a tray balanced by social worker John Paine. They heard a speech by Ventura Councilman Ray Di Guilio, who managed to use the phrase "an infrastructure that cares." They applauded an executive of Vedder Community Managemenmt, the company that owns Lemon Wood, when he said he'd set aside some cake for Juan, Gerardo and Ramon, the men who tend the grounds.

At the front table, a few residents hefted the mobile home business' equivalent of the Oscar--a chunk of green marble shaped like an obelisk.

Why isn't it shaped like a trailer? I asked Kami Watson of the Manufactured Housing Institute.

"Because it's well, it's an award," she explained. "You know, the pinnacle of achievement. It's a really big deal. We bring these people up as examples of what's being done right in the industry."

What's being done right has nothing to do with the wisecrack from James Carville, which still rankles mobile home folks.

"I ain't met a crabby person here or anyone who gets under your skin," said Joe Marnick, who has lived at Lemon Wood for two years with his wife, Prina. "We've got pool tables, a big-screen TV, lots of activities. If one of us kicks the bucket, the other won't be alone in a house on a block somewhere where nobody talks to each other."

Two-thirds of Lemon Wood's 387 residents are widows living alone.

Doris and Bud Dimock aren't planning on going anywhere soon. They love their home. Bud does his woodwork there, and Doris keeps a sharp eye on the geese and ducks.

They don't miss a garden-variety neighborhood, with the sound of kids playing and basketballs thumping the backboard.

"Been there, done that," Doris said. "Now it's time for us."

The couple picked out their spot 26 years ago, when Lemon Wood was still a lemon orchard and neither was quite 50 years old.

Since then, Lemon Wood decided to accept people only "age 55 and better," as its brochure states.

"I guess we grew into it," Bud said.

Steve Chawkins is a Times staff writer. His e-mail address is steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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