By Cassandra Garibay | Source |
The city of Fresno is working on a “rapid transition” to take over code enforcement at mobile home parks within the city, following a second destructive fire at the Trails End Mobile Home Park on Wednesday.
“We all have a responsibility to be accountable to our citizens to make sure they live safely, and that hasn’t been happening for some time,” Councilmember Garry Bredefeld said Thursday of the mobile home park within his district, which is currently overseen by a state agency.
“What happened yesterday, what happened six weeks ago is completely unacceptable,” he added. “The responses to those problems have been unacceptable.”
Wednesday’s fire sent one person to the hospital for smoke inhalation, destroyed three homes and damaged one. It took place only six weeks after a deadly fire killed 56-year-old Ronald Richardson and destroyed two mobile homes at the same park located on Sierra Avenue east of Blackstone Avenue.
“This location is a problem for our city,” said Fire Chief Kerri Donis. “The fire department has been there 10 times in the past year.”
The Trails End Mobile Home Park, which is under the enforcement jurisdiction of the California Department of Housing and Community Development and owned by Joan Kevorkian, has been under scrutiny for more than a year.
The park’s permit to operate was suspended in January 2021, following months of not correcting habitability concerns. Due to lack of communication from the state agency and Fresno County, the city was not aware that the park’s permit was suspended until the April 29 fire.
The cause of the deadly fire on April 29 was unrelated to habitability concerns previously identified by the state agency, according to Kyle Krause, the state HCD’s deputy director of Codes and Standards. He said the first fire was sparked by someone filling a generator with gasoline while it was running.
California Rural Legal Services attorney Mariah Thompson, who is representing some residents of the park, said the generator was being used because there was no electricity at the mobile home where a person was squatting.
“The fact that the fire was related to the generator is directly attributable to the owners failure to maintain the park,” Thompson wrote in a message to The Bee.
Mayor Jerry Dyer and Bredefeld co-sponsored an ordinance to have the city of Fresno take over enforcement of mobile home parks within the city for better communication and safety of residents. The ordinance was approved unanimously by the City Council on Thursday and is awaiting the state to sign off control.
“The serious problems, code violations and uninhabitable conditions at Trails End that the state was supposed to have rectified by now but didn’t is completely unacceptable,” Bredefeld told The Bee in an emailed statement. “I want every resident to know that help is on the way!”
Kevorkian’s voicemail did not allow for messages, and she could not be reached for comment. Kevorkian had not responded to past requests for comment.
ELECTRICAL HAZARDS SAID TO BE ADDRESSED WEEK BEFORE FIRE
Donis said the cause of Wednesday’s fire is still under investigation but that investigators are “leaning toward an electrical cause.” Arson has been ruled out.
According to Krause of the HCD, the state agency issued an emergency permit only a week ago to repair electrical hazards discovered behind the mobile homes which were destroyed in Wednesday’s fire.
Krause said PG&E had disconnected six electrical meters and repairs were made during the week of May 31 before reenergizing the meters behind the mobile homes, some of which burned down.
Donis said the fire department has responded to two fires and eight medical calls at the mobile home park in the past year and is happy the city is now taking action, before any more incidents occur.
“Some of the other concerns related to the fire department at this location is egress and ingress; it is blocking fire hydrants, and it is a large amount of combustibles that are piling up in this area that makes it a fire load problem and also an access problem,” Donis said of Trails End.
CITY ORDINANCE PASSES, BUT NOW WHAT?
The Mobile Home Park Act ordinance — sponsored by Dyer and Bredefeld to bring code enforcement at Fresno’s 26 mobile home parks under city control — passed unanimously Thursday; however, it may be another three weeks before the city gets the authority to inspect any mobile homes.
“The citizens of Fresno, specifically the residents of the mobile home park, can rest assured that we are going to take immediate action once that authority is given to us,” Dyer said. “But in the meantime, I also want folks to know that we will be working closely with HCD.”
Krause said HCD has seen a preliminary draft of the city’s ordinance and expects a quick transition to give Fresno authority over local mobile home parks by the end of June.
“Upon the approval by the state agency, we can immediately assume responsibility of code enforcement actions at the mobile home parks, not just at this one, but all those in the city of Fresno,” Deputy City Attorney Erica Camarena said.
Dyer said the city is set to receive some funding from the state to ensure it has the capacity to inspect mobile home parks.
“The funding will likely not be as much this year as it will be in the years to come,” Dyer said. “But there will be some corresponding funding.”
Dyer also said he expects Bredefeld to highlight the need for funding more code enforcement officers during budget hearings next week.
WHAT’S NEXT AT TRAILS END?
According to Krause, HCD issued a final notice and order to abate violations at Trails End on June 10, which gives the park owner until June 26 to resolve all health and safety violations.
“If all the violations aren’t resolved by that date, then we will work with the city and support the city in nuisance abatement action,” Krause said.
According to Dyer, Bredefeld and Camarena, the city is already developing a plan for when Fresno Code Enforcement can assume responsibility for action at the park.
“Once we get the authorization, there will be an army of inspectors, code enforcement officers going in that mobile home trailer park, ensuring that it’s safe, that the place is healthy,” Bredefeld said. “Help is on the way.”
Dyer said all mobile homes will be inspected thoroughly and violations will be addressed. He said residents should expect to be displaced if code enforcement deems the park uninhabitable.
“I would anticipate that some of those mobile homes are going to be, at least, according to code enforcement standards, not inhabitable,” Dyer said. “We do know that there could be a certain amount of displacement but we are prepared.”
The city is developing a relocation plan for potential displacement of residents, Camarena said.
RESIDENTS RETAIN LEGAL COUNSEL
While the park was not forced to close when the permit was suspended in January, the property owner is not allowed to collect rent or payments because the operating permit is suspended. However, Krause said Thursday that several residents at Trails End told him that the property owner has been collecting payment since January.
Though the property owner’s action is illegal, neither the state agency nor the city can interfere in what is considered a landlord versus tenant dispute, Krause said.
“Unfortunately that is a civil matter,” Krause said. “ It would require somebody (a park resident) to initiate civil action to challenge that unlawful collection of rent during the period while the permit is suspended.”
According to Thompson, the Trails End United for Change community group which makes up “not an insignificant number of families” in the park has retained CRLA for legal services.
Thompson said CRLA has been in communication with Kevorkian’s lawyers who say that the landlord has not been collecting rent, but that some tenants have continued to occasionally send payments.
CRLA has demanded that the city take action to abate the nuances as quickly as possible, according to Thompson, because under Health and Safety Code 18402, the city does not have to wait for HCD’s approval on legal action.
“(The city) currently have the authority,” Thompson said. “The fact that there was another fire (Wednesday) night shows this is an absolute emergency.”
Camarena said the City Attorney’s Office plans on “putting our legal team on the case so that if we need to petition the court for receiverships, or abatement warrants or inspection warrants, things of that nature.”
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to include more information obtained following initial publication about the cause of the fire on April 29.