Around 30 Fresno firefighters, code enforcement inspectors and police were at the Trails End Mobile Home Park on Monday morning to begin inspecting the park where two recent fires destroyed five homes, killed one person and hospitalized two others.
The severe health and safety violations at Trails End, located on Sierra Avenue east of Blackstone Avenue, include mounds of trash towering high in several areas, puddles of water throughout the cracked streets and now, several burned homes.
“This mobile home park is an absolute disgrace for the city of Fresno,” Mayor Jerry Dyer said Monday morning. “There is feces scattered throughout the property, we have shanties that have been built, we have homeless squatters that are living on the property and we have conditions that are very similar to what you would see in a third world country. These issues have been unaddressed.”
The deadly fire on April 29, which killed Ron Richardson, prompted the city to take control of code enforcement activity at all 27 mobile home parks in Fresno. Last week, the California Department of Housing and Community Development — which was previously in charge of enforcement — approved the transition of code enforcement activity to the local agency. However, the city is still waiting for an official transition.
While the city is waiting for code enforcement to be granted permission to take abatement action, Fresno Fire and Police have begun assessing the area.
“It’s unfortunate that we got to this point,” Dyer said.
District 6 City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who represents the district where Trails End is located, said, “help starts today.” Bredefeld and Dyer cosponsored the Mobile Home Parks Act that allowed the city to take control from the state.
According to Dyer, the city plans on taking abatement action at the park as soon as code enforcement is able to do so. Mariah Thompson, an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance who was retained to represent about a dozen households within the mobile home park, said abatement will require a civil suit against the property owner.
“They (the city) can’t simply go into the park and start taking things out,” Thompson said. “They are required by law to bring civil action against the owner so we are hoping the city will move forward with that. That is what our clients have been asking (for). It is our position that the city is obligated under the law to do so.”
Bredefeld said if the property owner does not work to correct the issues, the city will file for a receivership. Dyer said it may be determined that some residents will not be allowed to continue to live in uninhabitable conditions.
“The absolute last resort is for us to do anything that is going to displace people from their residence, but we do recognize there is always a potential that there are going to be conditions that exist within a particular home that causes it to be unsafe for them,” Dyer said.
“We would be negligent as a city to allow those people to remain,” he added, changing his tone from a previous news conference where he said residents could expect to be displaced.
Residents’ top concerns: fires, trash, safety
Thompson told The Bee that there are many problems at Trails End that have been neglected for far too long, however she has heard from residents that they are concerned with common areas, such as streets, and the two recently burned areas.
“The owner has failed to abate any of the hazardous conditions resulting from the burnt down mobile homes,” Thompson said. “That is very critical because mobile homes of this age are frequently constructed of materials such as asbestos and formaldehyde that, when burned, can pose a very serious health hazard.”
She also said water flooded the cracked streets for weeks after the fires because water lines had been broken during the fire and no one was sent to repair them.
One homeowner at the park, who requested anonymity, is being represented by Thompson and has lived at Trails End for nearly 25 years. Her home is adjacent to the two homes that were burned April 29, only a block away from where three homes burned June 9, and directly in front of an area that burned prior to the April 29 fire.
She said the fires have made it challenging to sleep and feel comfortable in her home.
“Every time I close my eyes, I see flames,” the woman said. “Just think, you’re asleep and then knock, knock, knock, ‘Grab your things.’ Then a month or so later, knock, knock, knock, ‘Mother, grab your things.’ It just kept going.”
She said when she first moved to the area the mobile home park was “old and quaint, but it was quiet and things were attended to.” However in the past five years, “things got progressively worse.”
Trash began to pile up, homeless encampments sprang up and there were constant loud noises.
She said in the past month and a half, there has been more trash cleanup from the property manager and less noise.
She pointed to the heap of trash in two large dumpsters and said, “That’s nothing compared to what it usually is. It came clear to my fence, over my fence, terrible.” She hopes that improvements will continue as the city becomes more involved.
“It’s so nice to hear the birds,” she said. “There’s so much noise I thought they’d all flown away, I know that sounds silly but that’s how I know, ‘Gee, things are calming down some.’”
Another woman, a mother of four who requested anonymity, lives on the opposite end of the park but shared similar concerns.
She moved into her home, which she owns, about 10 years ago and said she has steadily seen an increase in problems that have gone unaddressed.
“We call the owner and he doesn’t answer,” she said in Spanish. “There is no one to ask questions of, no one to fix things, we feel we are alone and we are afraid.”
She said her biggest concerns are for her children’s safety and the water that constantly pools outside her front yard from neighbors’ trailers because the drain in front of her steps is broken.
“Water fills in our front area and we have to wait for it to dry,” she said. “It attracts mosquitoes and my daughter has severe reactions to them.”
The woman said she and her husband placed a brick by her front steps so that they can hop over the water because there are days where they have been unable to leave their house without stepping into the pooled water.
She also said the constant noise — loud music, construction sounds, illegal fireworks and yelling — have put a strain on her children.
“In the night, (the neighbors) are cutting iron, they are doing mechanic work, they are hitting, constructing, there is no rest,” she said. “My daughter wouldn’t stop crying because she was so frustrated. Because of the pandemic she had to take classes from home and the music was shaking our house.”
She said her family is considering moving out of the park if there is no resolution to the many issues.
Another long-term resident, Patsy Rajspuk, who moved into Trails End in 1990, said the recent fires have made her and other residents “kind of jittery.”
“Truthfully I’m getting paranoid because of the fires, I’m only one trailer away and I saw how (the fire) jumped,” Rajspuk said.
Like her neighbors who spoke with The Bee, she said she was grateful that the city was there and hopes to see change.
“All I want is to get back like it was in 1990,” Rajspuk said. “Clean, respectable, rules were enforced.”
Thompson said she believes it is necessary for the city to take civil action against the property owner if they wish to meet residents’ needs and concerns.
“Right now is a really good opportunity for the city and the state to work together to make sure that this park is brought under compliance,” Thompson said. “I do not think that the owner is going to do anything voluntarily, in our conversations with the owner they have continued to deny responsibility and misrepresent the conditions in the park.”