Nearly half of the residents who call an RV park on the outskirts of Mendota home are being told to leave. This comes after a state inspection found 161 health and safety violations.
The California Housing and Community Development department inspected the property after being alerted to conditions there by GV Wire. The agency is in charge of inspecting mobile home and RV parks, like Jack’s Resort at 30440 W. Whitesbridge Road (Highway 180), less than three miles from the Mendota city limits.
At this point, it’s unknown where the residents will live. Or whether they will receive financial aid to obtain new housing if they have to move. Or if the property owner has an obligation to help them.
However, a state official said that the state is not ordering the residents to leave. And, in fact, the official said, the property owner is wrongly using the violations as a pretext to remove the renters.
Jack’s Resort is a triangle-shaped piece of land used for decades by recreational enthusiasts. The highway forms the southern border with the Fresno Slough to the west and a railroad track to the north.
GV Wire discovered the appalling conditions at the park while reporting another story about life in Mendota. Trash around unkempt trailers was observed. Nothing separated the live-in trailers from the railroad tracks, the road, or the empty trailers stored on the property.
HCD inspected the property March 29 and April 5, finding 161 violations. Among them: illegal expansion of the park, accumulation of trash and waste material, and substandard sewage holding tanks.
The inspection report states that the “park shall remove all illegal structures and utilities as well as spaces as identified … beyond what has been approved by the Permit to Operate.”
The Jack’s Resort property manager told GV Wire that the park issued 23 notices to vacate to residents.
Dangerous Living Conditions
For Phyllis Marin and her children, Jack’s Resort was the last resort. Renting a space for her trailer was all she could afford at $400 a month.
Knowing that eviction could be a consequence, she showed GV Wire her living conditions anyway.
“It’s like little Tijuana,” she said.
She battled the property manager over making the place livable. She had no hot water. Electricity was intermittent. And the grounds weren’t properly lit.
This reporter observed the park after a rainy day. Big puddles remained on the largely unpaved property. The dumpster was overfilled. Marin also expressed concern about an RV storage area across the alley from where most of the live-in RVs were stationed. She worried about children playing in and around the stationary vehicles. There were exposed wires on power poles.
Other residents who spoke on background confirmed Marin’s account of unreliable water and electricity.
But some residents said they were happy with their living conditions. However, almost all of those residents live in the part of the park that didn’t receive notices to vacate.
On Sunday (April 22), residents discovered this notice on their RVs ordering them to leave: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the state of California Housing and Community Development (HCD) has determined to close the property. You are hereby given a thirty (30) day notice to vacate the property.”
The notices do not have contact information.
The permit for Jack’s Resort allows 20 spaces. But Jack’s rented out 43. Thus 23 families — mostly on the eastern, less developed side of the RV Park — were told to move out by noon May 22. Seven spaces are vacant.
The notice also warned residents that the state might turn off utilities like power, water and sewage before May 22. If residents do not vacate by then, the notice warned, the state could tow RVs at the residents’ expense.
Not true, said Richard Weinert, the HCD’s deputy director of division codes and standards.
“That’s almost laughable,” Weinert said in an email. “None of the statements in the notice are true.”
He explained that the conditions were under the owner’s control: “(He) allowed the unpermitted expansion and violation of the use permit and permit to operate an RV park/campground.”
Weinert took umbrage that the notice insinuated HCD ordered the property’s closure. “The inspection notice issued to the owner by HCD provided the options for the owners to correct and bring into compliance,” Weinert said. “HCD does not have a right or authority to turn off utility services without due process.”
Because his agency doesn’t deal with civil code infractions, “any ‘failure to evacuate’ will not cause HCD to tow, or charge residents for relocation or removal. Civil code violations must be heard and decided in a court of appropriate jurisdiction,” Weinert said.
What Inspectors Found
The report surmised that parts of the RV park are unlivable.
“That’s almost laughable. None of the statements in the notice are true.” — Richard Weinert, HCD’s deputy director of division codes and standards / HCD handout
“The condition of the park both observed and through resident interviews, included substandard living conditions, allowing residents to construct without permits and the park adding lots and performing construction without permits,” the report said.
The state Permit to Operate allowed only 20 units and it expired in August 2017. Inspectors found 50 RV, camp and storage units.
They also found violations with the water, electrical and sewer hook-ups on the property.
“The serious nature of the substandard conditions was reported to the owner and manager and that they would need to deal with the illegal spaces immediately,” the report states. “Until the park is able to acquire necessary local and state approvals, the park shall consider all spaces beyond the original 20 not approved for use nor offered for rent.”
The agency ordered the owners to make all permits current, remove illegal structures and utilities, and no longer collect rent until the property is brought up to code.
For now, the owner faces a $280 penalty for not having his park permit up to date.
Park Owner also Operates Supermarkets
Saeed Mohamed and his family have owned Jack’s Resort for more than 10 years. The family also owns supermarkets around the Valley, including the Mendota Food Market and the Ventura Supermarket in Fresno.
“I have clean water. Why didn’t they call me? I never heard anything.” — Jack’s Resort owner Saeed Mohamed / Jahz Tello GV Wire
“I don’t know,” Mohamed said when asked by GV Wire about the 161 violations. He said he would work with the Fresno County Public Works department to fix the violations.
He directed all other questions to his attorney. His attorney did not respond to GV Wire’s request for comment.
Mohamed also spoke with GV Wire before the inspection report became public. He refuted the complaints made by Marin and others regarding water and sewer.
“We fix things. I’ve never heard any other complaints (other than Marin’s),” Mohamed said.
Regarding the sewer lines, Mohamed said that he pumped them at least once a week. That contradicted what residents said. They said the lines were pumped every two or three weeks.
The water complaints?
“I have clean water,” Mohamed said. “Why didn’t they call me? I never heard anything.”
Mohamad said the garbage was picked up twice a week. Residents said it was once a week. A GV Wire reporter and two videographers observed the dumpster piled high one day before the scheduled pickup.
Tenants Advocate Attorney Responds
Marcos Segura, an attorney with Central California Legal Services, said inspection violations usually mean a property owner needs to comply, but not necessarily remove tenants.
Speaking generally because he has not studied all the facts of the case, Segura said in an email, “When the condition of the property creates a substantial threat to the health and/or safety of the residents, it is typically the public agency, not the landlord, that asks residents to vacate their homes through an official order to vacate. That doesn’t seem to be what happened here.”
Weinert said the HCD’s authority deals with structures in a mobile home or RV park, likening it to a building inspection department.
“The county or city that a park is located pre-approves the land for such use: land use, conditional use (family, senior, etc.), zoning, density, perimeter walls, street frontage, signs, access, parking and sometimes locals have jurisdiction for fire standards within a mobile home park,” Weinert said.
Supervisor Brian Pacheco, whose district includes Jack’s Resort, said he has been talking with the county Public Works department about the problems there. Pacheco said they were awaiting a copy of the HCD report to figure out their next steps.
Weinert also noted that civil code items, such as rental issues, are outside his agency’s authority.
Jahz Tello and Jamie Ouverson contributed to this report.