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U.S. may close dilapidated trailer park in Thermal

August 01, 2007|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

The Bureau of Indian Affairs said Tuesday that Desert Mobile Home Park in Thermal, a dense warren of trailers housing thousands of farmworkers, had failed to make necessary repairs and the bureau would decide next week whether to try to shut it down or give the owner another chance.

"Based on what we have seen it is unlikely we will give them another chance," said James Fletcher, superintendent for the Southern California Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Last month, the BIA inspected the 40-acre park, which is on the Torres Martinez reservation and is often known as Duroville, after a fire in May destroyed six trailers and left eight families homeless. The report concluded that numerous repairs ordered by the BIA in 2004 had never been made.

"The conditions are pretty bad out there," Fletcher said. "A number of units have wastewater on the grounds, there are electrical hazards, the park is overcrowded, and there are issues of mosquitoes breeding in standing water."

If agency officials decide the park should be shut down, they will ask a federal judge to close the facility.

Park owner Harvey Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, would not comment, but manager Jack Gradias expressed frustration with the BIA.

"If we had a copy of the report we'd happily comment," he said. "We have been asking for it for three weeks. Once we have it we will address it."

Duroville, about two miles west of California 86, is the largest of five major trailer parks on the reservation. They expanded rapidly in the late 1990s when Riverside County began vigorously enforcing health and safety codes at hundreds of off-reservation illegal trailer parks dotting the Coachella Valley. Fearing eviction, thousands of residents fled to the reservation where county building, health and safety standards don't apply.

The other four parks will be inspected this month by the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the BIA.

A major problem with closing Duroville is what to do with the estimated 4,000 low-wage farmworkers living there.

Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson, who represents the area, said he met with Fletcher on Tuesday to discuss the situation. He believes Duro will be allowed time to make repairs.

Arturo Rodriguez, a lawyer with California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. in Coachella, said he would like to see Duroville close but not if it created more hardship.

"Unless the closure is done over a long period of time and there is federal assistance for the residents, most will be in conditions as bad or worse than they are now," he said.

david.kelly@latimes.com

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