Hoping to head off possible closure, representatives of the troubled Desert Mobile Home Park on Thursday accused the Bureau of Indian Affairs of racism and failing to provide them with detailed reports that criticize the park as a health hazard.
“If the park shuts down it will be a disaster for Riverside County,” said Alan Singer, who was recently hired by park owner Harvey Duro as his spokesman. “Before the mobile home park, people were living under trees, in cars. They were mugged, they were shot. Don’t they have a right to have a roof over their head?”
Singer, along with park manager Jack Gradias, held a news conference at Larson Justice Center in Indio where they criticized the BIA for speaking to journalists about a park inspection before sharing it with park officials.
Last month, the BIA inspected the 40-acre facility on the Torres Martinez Reservation near Highway 86 in Thermal. James Fletcher, who heads the Southern California Agency of the BIA, said this week that standing sewage, dangerous electrical wiring and trailers packed together made the place a hazard. A fire in May burned six trailers and left eight families homeless.
The BIA ordered Duro to make repairs in 2004 that the agency said were not done. Agency officials will decide next week whether to give him one more chance or ask a court to shut the park down.
The park has been cited numerous times over the years for clean-water violations, open sewage, illegal dumping and insufficient space between its estimated 350 trailers. Because the park is on Indian land, it is not subject to county building and safety codes.
Gradias said tenants were now worried about being evicted, and some had withheld rent payments. He also suggested that the BIA was motivated by racism because nearly every park tenant is Latino.
“Open your eyes,” he said. “Illegal immigration is in the news now.”
Fletcher said, if anything, he was acting out of concern for the tenants. “I don’t think Mr. Duro understands that there is more to running a park than saying ‘Here’s where you hook up your trailer,’ ” he said.
Gradias pointed out that the recent fire wasn’t caused by faulty wiring but by arson. Asked if it was made worse by the warren of trailers, he said couldn’t comment because he hadn’t seen the report.
[Editors Note: AR News first covered Duroville here.]
The Bureau of Indian Affairs said Tuesday that Desert Mobile Home Park in Thermal, a dense warren of trailers housing thousands of farmworkers, had failed to make necessary repairs and the bureau would decide next week whether to try to shut it down or give the owner another chance.
“Based on what we have seen it is unlikely we will give them another chance,” said James Fletcher, superintendent for the Southern California Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Last month, the BIA inspected the 40-acre park, which is on the Torres Martinez reservation and is often known as Duroville, after a fire in May destroyed six trailers and left eight families homeless. The report concluded that numerous repairs ordered by the BIA in 2004 had never been made.
“The conditions are pretty bad out there,” Fletcher said. “A number of units have wastewater on the grounds, there are electrical hazards, the park is overcrowded, and there are issues of mosquitoes breeding in standing water, which is a way to spread disease.”
Park owner Harvey Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, would not comment, but manager Jack Gradias expressed frustration with the BIA.
Duroville, about two miles west of California 86, is the largest of five major trailer parks on the reservation. They expanded rapidly in the late 1990s when Riverside County began vigorously enforcing health and safety codes at hundreds of off-reservation illegal trailer parks dotting the Coachella Valley. Fearing eviction, thousands of residents fled to the reservation where county building, health and safety standards don’t apply.
The other four parks will be inspected this month by the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the BIA.
“That’s always been the problem with Duroville. No one likes the place; it’s terrible. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. But if they are serious about closing it they need to come up with a plan to house these people.”