The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is slated to formally approve a compact with a Coachella Valley Indian tribe Tuesday that would permit county authorities to initiate enforcement measures intended to prevent the repopulation of a dilapidated mobile home park rife with hazards.
Supervisor Manuel Perez is seeking full board approval of the proposed memorandum of understanding with the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe in Thermal.
Perez referred to the proposal as a “momentous step forward” in resolving ongoing problems connected with the 60-acre Oasis Mobile Home Park, located in the 88-700 block of Avenue 70.
The site has been a fixture of controversy for years, most recently due to high levels of arsenic in drinking water, resulting in three emergency administrative orders issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 2019 and 2021, barring use of the underground reservoir there.
That led to relief operations last year — and continuing — to supply inhabitants with potable water via bottles and other imported means.
Under the proposed MOU, county agencies would be granted full authority to take regulatory action on so-called “fee lands” within the reservation, which are composed of the park space. In 2021, the board approved a policy under which fee lands — typically parcels that tribes have sold off to private interests but which often remain under tribal purview — can be serviced and regulated by county agencies.
The policy impacts the dozen tribal reservations within the county, including Torres-Martinez’s. But the tribes must generally first consent to the county’s presence on sovereign land.
The proposed compact on the board’s agenda Tuesday would enable county authorities to deter re-habitation of Oasis Mobile Home Park via the following measures: “Installation of physical k-rails, removal of trailers, demolishment of uninhabitable trailers, removal or disconnection of unauthorized or unlawful utilities, including umpermitted water connections, septic connections (and) electrical connections.”
Along with arsenic, the park has contended with trash overflows and infrastructure deficiencies that have raised health and safety concerns.
In 2019 and 2020, the county also trucked water to the park for months. The operations cost tens of thousands of dollars to maintain.
In 2020, the state allocated $30 million to cover relocation expenses of occupants. 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, Oasis occupants, mainly migrant agricultural workers, have been relocated to other mobile home parks over the last few years.
Perez noted in August 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 in 2021 called the conundrum a never-ending “merry-go-round,” leaving the county with few choices because of jurisdictional complications.
The park owners have charged $600 to rent individual mobile homes, plus utilities, officials said. It’s unknown how many are undocumented immigrants. According to the county, 238 units are occupied or available.
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 replete 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 obtained an injunction to prohibit new tenancy at Duroville.