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End of redevelopment agencies could stall change at trailer park

The completion of a new mobile home park to replace Riverside County's once-squalid Duroville is in question because of the end of county redevelopment agencies.

May 28, 2012|By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times
  • Under the shade of an awning, Martha Carrillo baby-sits children of farmworkers in Duroville, the Riverside County trailer park that became infamous for its squalid conditions. A new low-income housing option is being built but could be held up by the dissolution of county redevelopment agencies.
Under the shade of an awning, Martha Carrillo baby-sits children of farmworkers… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

OASIS, Calif. — Past the new clubhouse and neat landscaping at the Mountain View Estates mobile home park, rows of dusty lots sit vacant, waiting for new units.

This is to be the new home for residents of Duroville, the infamous Riverside County trailer park that houses farmworkers in conditions that until recently resembled a Third World slum. But the move to Mountain View has been thrown into question by the recent demise of California's redevelopment agencies.

"It's conceivable all of this will be mothballed," Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit said, glancing toward the first of 181 brand-new mobile homes that the county plans to install here.

The California Department of Finance last month rejected the county's request for $12.1 million of redevelopment funds to buy the new homes, citing last year's state law that disbanded local redevelopment agencies and barred them from signing any new contracts. Previously, the agencies used a portion of property taxes to partner with private developers to build affordable housing to help eradicate blight.

County officials are pressing the state to reconsider its decision, and a lawyer for Duroville residents said that she is hopeful the state will relent. "We're confident that the state will see this funding was promised years ago and it's imperative to the well-being of the community," said attorney Megan Beaman of California Rural Legal Assistance.

Until the issue is resolved, the long campaign to empty Duroville for good is in limbo.

Duroville took shape more than a decade ago when Riverside County began cracking down on hundreds of illegal trailer parks dotting the Coachella Valley.

Harvey Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez tribe, invited farmworkers to move their trailers onto 40 acres of his land. Because it was Native American land, state and local regulations did not apply.

At its worst, Duroville was a tightly packed warren of more than 300 battered trailers with dangling electrical wires and leaking sewer pipes. Some 4,000 people lived there, mostly immigrant farm laborers who picked grapes and dug onions and potatoes in the hot Coachella Valley fields. Hundreds of feral dogs roamed the 40-acre park, and rotting garbage was piled in its dirt streets.

Conditions improved after a federal judge ordered a cleanup and placed Duroville in receivership in 2008. But more than 1,500 people still live in dilapidated trailers patched with plywood and sheet metal. And raw sewage is still dumped into an open pond, treated only by the desert sun.

County officials say 122 Duroville families are willing to move to Mountain View, which is a few miles away but a world apart. Wrought iron fencing separates the new lots. The prefab homes, in muted desert colors, would be placed on permanent foundations. Next to the Spanish-style clubhouse is a lawn and playground. Colorful desert plants line the entrance.

Monthly rent for the new units would be $425, plus water and electricity. In Duroville, residents pay $375 plus electricity.

Duroville's replacement has not come cheaply. Mountain View's full price tag is $28.5 million.

The bulk of the money comes from Riverside County redevelopment funds, including the $12.1 million the state is now refusing to release. The mobile home park's private owner is contributing $4 million, and theU.S. Department of Agricultureis spending $6 million on a new water and sewer system.

Despite Mountain View's obvious attractions, not everyone is eager to move there.

"For my people, they view Duroville as a little Michoacan, Mexico," said Merejildo Ortiz, a local leader of the Purepecha people, who over the years have made Duroville a de facto village, replete with festivals and the traditions of their indigenous culture.

Many in Duroville are undocumented and worry that at Mountain View, they would be asked about taxes and papers. They are concerned that the rules would be stricter at the shiny new park, that there would be limits on the number of people who can reside with them or the length of visitor stays.

Still, Beaman said, "most people have gotten the message and understand [Duroville] will close whether they want it to or not."

She warned that the shortage of affordable rural housing that helped give rise to Duroville in the first place will grow more acute with the abolition of redevelopment agencies and the shift of their funds to other state and local coffers.

"Those redevelopment funds have been the only source of money for development of low-income housing," Beaman said. "With that gone away, we are looking at a bleak future."

bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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