What's at stake?

The City of Fresno is contemplating an offer to buy the Trails' End mobile home park, which has faced several habitability issues and a fatal fire.

The city of Fresno may decide to take action to support Trails End Mobile Home Park residents in opposing the sale of the park to Harmony Communities, but it may be too late.

Fresno County Superior Court judge Kristie Culver Kapetan was set to announce a decision sometime Wednesday on whether the park would be sold to the mobile home park acquisition company, or if the community residents would be given time to explore co-op ownership. A hearing was held April 1 regarding the sale, but no decision was made then.

However, on Tuesday evening, City Council President Nelson Esparza called for a special closed session meeting on Thursday morning to “discuss the legal proceedings involving Trails End.”

The city’s special meeting could present a third option in which the city itself would purchase the park, according to a statement made during the April 1court hearing by Mariah Thompson, attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance. At that hearing, Christina Roberson, assistant city attorney, said that that the city holding a special meeting or considering purchasing the park was hearsay, and asked the court to strike Thompson’s statement from the record.

Thompson said that after the special city meeting was announced Tuesday, she filed a letter to the court on behalf of her clients, Trails End United, asking once again for a continuance until the city council has met. The city could not by itself ask for a continuance from the court because it would require a city council vote to do so, Thompson’s letter stated.

Culver Kapetan could still announce a decision Wednesday, but Thompson said her clients were hopeful the judge will either rule in favor of a co-op option or continue the hearing until after the meeting. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the court had not made any announcement.

“If the court were to release her order,” Thompson said, “then that decision is final as far as I know.”

How we got here

Trails End Mobile Home Park, located in Northeast Fresno, off of Sierra and Blackstone avenues, had a suspended permit and was the site of two destructive fires that claimed the life of one man and destroyed five homes nearly a year ago.

Since then, the city of Fresno has taken over code enforcement responsibilities from the state at all local mobile home parks, and a judge appointed the California Receivership Group as the park’s receiver. Manyof the health and safety violations have now been addressed.

In March, the receivership group contracted Harmony Communities to help bring the park up to code and arranged a potential sale to Harmony Communities, which owns and operates 55 other mobile home parks across three states.

However, many residents have been very vocal about their opposition to the sale of the park to Harmony Communities because of the company’s history of raising rents, implementing strict rules and suing or trying to work around rent control regulations.

Residents speak out against Harmony Communities

The latest opposition from residents came Tuesday afternoon when a group of 10 to 15 children who live at Trails End went to City Hall to speak with city leaders and deliver letters opposing the sale. The letters were accepted; however, neither the city council nor the mayor met with them.

Tuesday evening, shortly after the special meeting was called, District 2 Councilmember Mike Karbassi met with a group of roughly 50 residents to listen to their concerns.

Estela Arias Uriba shared her story in Spanish with the group, begging that the city stop Harmony Communities from taking her belongings. Arias Uriba told the group, through tears, that she was told to tear down an outdoor structure, covering her washing machine, because she doesn’t have permits for the structure.

“It is not my fault they (the park owner) sold me the trailer with that (structure),” Arias Uriba said in Spanish to the group.

Trails End resident Kim Sands, whose trailer has been without gas or hot water since last April when her neighbor’s trailer burned, told The Bee prior to the community meeting that contractors threw away several plants, wood pallets and gardening tools, claiming it was trash.

“I really don’t want Harmony because of the way they treated us in this cleanup,” Sand said, teary eyed. “The two things I’m happy about, cooking and gardening, are ruined.”

In court lastFriday, Thompson had told the judge that several residents claimed contractors working for Harmony Communities entered their yards and removed personal items, or have attempted to tear down sheds or fences.

Karbassi said he understood many of the residents’ concerns, particularly around the strict rules Harmony Communities has implemented elsewhere and have begun to implement at Trails End.

“I wanted to come out here to understand who we are talking about. I have a lot more to learn about (Trails End), and we will be discussing this issue, ongoing, no matter what happens,” Karbassi said. “I think we are not doing a very good job and we could do better. I can clearly see that right now.”

The Fresno Bee will continue to follow the story and update once a decision or continuance has been announced.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.