A lack of state oversight and enforcement is cited as the chief reason some Ventura County mobile home parks have fallen into such serious disrepair that one local official has compared them to "Third World conditions."
Twenty-five state inspectors, split between offices in Sacramento and Riverside, are responsible for answering complaints on the state's 5,657 mobile home parks.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 3, 2001 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Zones Desk 2 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Mobile homes--A story and two photos that ran on Feb. 18 about mobile-home parks that were given a substandard rating by Ventura County misrepresented conditions at Meiners Oaks Trailer Park. The park does not have sewage leaks, electrical hazards or trailers with major structural problems.
As a result, blatant violations can go unchecked for years. At some county parks, live electrical wires dangle a precious few feet from homes. The smell of human waste wafts through the air. Backed-up septic tank water gathers in pools on the ground.
"And every time you call the state to complain, you get the same old excuse," county Supervisor Frank Schillo said. "They say, 'Well, we haven't got enough inspectors to go around.' " At some point, that's just not acceptable anymore."
Officials with the state Department of Housing and Community Development defended their efforts and said they meet state requirements for inspecting 40% of California's parks every seven years.
"The other 60%, what's the likelihood they have any violation?" said Ron Javor, deputy director for the department. "The likelihood is very low. We are quite sure we will get to everyone as we look at that 40%."
But county officials cite places such as Country Sunshine, a tiny eight-unit park in the unincorporated streets outside Oxnard, as proof of the state's failure to crack down on owners of deteriorating parks.
Resident Esther Diaz pays $425 a month for the one-bedroom, 10-by-40-foot trailer she shares with her husband and five children.
Exposed electrical wires pulse just enough energy to power the television and lights. Garbage litters the ground. As she speaks, she keeps watch on her 2-year-old to make sure he doesn't splash through the sewer water puddles outside.
"Can you smell it?" she asks, referring to the stench from a busted septic tank that has seeped into her tiny living room.
"The conditions here are very bad," said Diaz, 36, a seasonal strawberry picker who has lived at the rented trailer for 3 1/2 years. "They say they are going to fix them, but they've been saying that for a long time."
State regulators inspected Country Sunshine in November after a resident called Supervisor John Flynn's office to complain about conditions. But after citing the owner, the inspector gave the site a thumbs-up, saying he has seen worse.
County officials interceded again, demanding a meeting and another inspection. The subsequent inspection resulted in 101 violations.
Owner Damaso Leanos has until March 27 to make improvements or face fines totaling $50,500.
"This is a mess," Leanos conceded last week as he hauled away a battered trailer surrounded by garbage. He said he didn't realize the property was in such bad shape.
"I wasn't paying that much attention, I guess," said Leanos, who has owned the property since 1980. "But we're working on it. I'm not just sitting around."
Leanos has replaced a crumbling wood fence, plans to patch up the park's septic system this week, and today he is meeting with tenants to discuss repairs that are the responsibility of residents.
State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mobile and Manufactured Housing, said the state is doing a terrible job with oversight and that is the reason why parks such as Country Sunshine flourish.
"The state of affairs is, at best, dismal," said Dunn, who held a hearing on park conditions late last year. "Many of these parks will go seven or eight years without an inspector passing through. There are heart-wrenching examples throughout the state of terrible conditions at these parks."
Dunn plans to file legislation that could increase the number of state inspectors and funding for a state mobile home park ombudsman. It also could funnel money into a low-interest loan program for park owners.
A recent Ventura County study found 10 of 21 parks surveyed were in substandard condition and in some cases posed health risks to residents. Upset by the findings, supervisors last week approved their own plan to force park owners to take action.
"I have some mobile home parks in my district and they are in absolutely Third World conditions," Flynn said. "You walk in there and you'd say, 'I can't believe I'm in the United States of America.' It's immoral."
Under the county plan, officials would apply for federal grant money that could be made available to property owners through low-interest loans. If repairs are not made, local officials would contact state inspectors and request an on-site visit. State officials could then refer uncorrected violations to local law enforcement for prosecution.
It's a good idea, many park residents say, but years of unresponsive landowners and bureaucracy have taught them to be skeptical about real change.