A multi-party effort to shut down a hazard-plagued 60-acre mobile home park in Oasis is advancing, with agreements toward a unified resolution in the works, Riverside County Supervisor Manuel Perez said Wednesday.
“The parties — Riverside County, Torres Martinez Tribe and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs — collectively have agreed that the goal for the Oasis Mobile Home Park is closure due to unresolvable health and safety issues that continue to cause exceptional hardship to residents,” said Perez, whose Fourth District includes the location.
“We are currently working on the development of memoranda of understanding between the parties to authorize cooperative actions and intergovernmental measures to reduce the tenants in the park.”
On Aug. 2, the Board of Supervisors directed the Executive Office to coordinate with other agencies in accelerating efforts to relocate residents of the dilapidated site, which is under the domain of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, situated in the 88-700 block of Avenue 70 in Thermal.
On July 1, because of contaminants found in the park’s water, residents were advised to stop using it and instead retrieve water from a nearby corner market. The county has since begun supplying water to the park.
Oasis has been cited multiple times by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for high levels of arsenic in water supplies. The park has also contended with trash overflows and infrastructure deficiencies that have raised health and safety concerns.
Perez said that the tentative acknowledgements by the tribe and federal government, which stemmed from meetings involving “working groups,” are based on a likely five-year timeline for closure of the facility.
“We will continue to work with residents on relocation as quickly as possible,” he said. “This effort will take community support, and we appreciate any assistance that can be provided.”
Last year, the state allocated $30 million to cover relocation expenses. Another $6.25 million in federal grants was made available, as well as almost $8 million in state Project Homekey funding.
According to the county Housing Authority, in the last year, 40 families have been relocated from the park to other facilities, primarily the Mountain View Estates Mobile Home Park in Thermal.
Officials said 830 affordable housing units will become available in the eastern county area over the next four years, potentially solving the placement problem. However, Perez noted previously that “even when we work hard to relocate folks, a week or two weeks later, somebody else moves into the park.”
Former Chief County Counsel Greg Priamos last year called the conundrum a never-ending “merry-go-round,” leaving the county with few choices because of jurisdictional complications, as tribal land is regulated by the federal government.
The park owners are charging $600 to rent individual mobile homes, plus utilities, officials said. Most of the residents are agricultural workers and their families. It’s unknown how many are immigrants living in the United States without legal permission.
Perez said during the Aug. 2 board meeting that it has reached a point of the county needing “to put pressure on the feds” to find a workable solution to prevent the re-leasing of vacated residences at the park, where 238 units are occupied or available.
County CEO Jeff Van Wagenen told the board that Office of County Counsel attorneys and other staff are “having conversations internally” about how to proceed with possibly obtaining injunctions or resorting to other measures to reach a resolution.
The park has no state or federal business permits, although the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs has reportedly attempted to enforce some authority over its operation in the last decade or so, without success.
The park bears similarities to the Desert Mobile Home Park, better known as “Duroville,” that was also on Torres-Martinez land.
That facility, which was at the time rife with electrical and water deficiencies, was the subject of federal civil action that concluded in 2009 and culminated in the park going into receivership, out of tribal control. Four years later, it was permanently shut down.
The BIA did obtain an injunction to prohibit new tenancy at Duroville.