Time may have officially run out for Harvey Duro, owner of a sprawling, run-down trailer park that houses over 4,000 farmworkers on the Torres Martinez Reservation in southern Riverside County.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs said Monday that because of health and safety threats posed by the 40-acre park, the agency would not give Duro another chance to make repairs and would instead take him to federal court in Riverside next month.
"More than likely we will ask that it be closed," said Jim Fletcher, superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Southern California agency. "Our lawyers are very concerned that someone will be hurt or killed in the park."
Fletcher planned to meet with Riverside County officials this week to discuss the implications of closing the park, especially how to handle thousands of people, among the poorest in the county, suddenly made homeless. He says a closure would probably happen gradually.
An inspection of the park last month, following a fire in May that burned six trailers, found that Duro had not made repairs ordered by the bureau in 2004. The bureau found that trailers were too close together, no emergency escape plan existed, the park was overcrowded, and sewage water had collected in pools.
Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez tribe and its tribal council, has criticized the bureau for failing to hand over written copies of the recent inspection report. He also accused the bureau of racism because most of the tenants are Latino.
"If Mr. Fletcher is so concerned about the safety of these people, why is he waiting a month to go to court?" Duro's spokesman, Alan Singer, said. "I don't think Riverside County can handle the influx of thousands of people being kicked out of their homes. I wonder how many Anglos in Indian Wells would put up with people telling them you can't live here or there."
Desert Mobile Home Park, often referred to as Duroville, began taking shape in 1998-1999 when Riverside County started cracking down on hundreds of illegal trailer parks in the Coachella Valley. Many tenants pulled their trailers onto Indian land where county building and safety standards didn't apply.
Although Duroville is the largest and has garnered the most attention, inspectors from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Housing and Community Development will examine the other parks next week for health and safety violations.
Jack Gradias, park manager at Duroville, said as of Monday he still had not seen the inspection report.
"We haven't gotten a thing from BIA yet," he said. "The [residents] are really scared and I don't blame them. I am asked daily if it is true what they say about the park being closed. It's a scary thing to not know your future."