Federal authorities are sending inspectors into the sprawling Duroville mobile home park Thursday and Friday hoping to document what they called widespread health and safety problems at the site, which is on the Torres Martinez reservation in Thermal.
"Right now we think the park poses an imminent safety risk," said James Fletcher, superintendent of the Southern California Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
He said park owner Harvey Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, was told Monday of the inspections and will be given 30 days to make whatever changes are required. If not, the BIA says, it will go to court and ask that the park be closed.
Duro, who rarely speaks to the media, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"I don't think he will pass the inspections," said Fletcher, who added that it would take at least three months to shut the park down.
Duroville is the common name for the Desert Mobile Home Park, about 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs, just off Highway 86. It sits beside what a state agency has called California's biggest illegal dump, now closed, and is home to 4,000 mostly low-wage farm workers.
The park has been cited for clean water violations. In 2003 it was ordered to upgrade and repair its electrical and plumbing systems, which it didn't do, according to the BIA. The Environmental Protection Agency has found high levels of cancer-causing dioxin in the park.
Many residents moved to Duroville in the late 1990s to flee a county crackdown on hundreds of illegal trailer parks scattered throughout the Coachella Valley.
Since it is on tribal land, Duroville is not required to adhere to Riverside County building, safety and hygiene codes. And the Torres Martinez tribe has been reluctant to enforce its own ordinances against Duro and other park owners on the reservation.
In May, a fire swept through a section of the park, destroying six trailers and leaving eight families homeless. About 120 trailers were evacuated. Firefighters contained the blaze before it spread to the other closely packed mobile homes.
Fletcher said the fire helped spur the latest crackdown.
The BIA said Duro had ignored requests to develop an emergency evacuation plan for the park.
Inspectors will examine the electrical system, plumbing, escape routes, water flow and separation between trailers. The homes should be as much as 10 feet apart but are often side by side, Fletcher said.
"When you cover more than 75% of a lot, you are getting into an area where fire is a major issue," said Chris Anderson, a field operations manager for the state Department of Housing and Community Development. "You get flames rolling from one structure to the next. A lot of these parks are 80% to 90% covered."
At the end of July, the department, the BIA and the EPA will inspect the other four major parks on the reservation, focusing mainly on sewer, water and fire risks.
"Our primary concern is the safety of the residents," Anderson said. "We are working with the tribe to try and establish minimum health and safety standards."