No walk in the park

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(No walk in the park)

The age of mobile home parks themselves not management causing negative quality of life issues.

It would be bad enough if it was the first time…but it’s happened before. “Residents asked us to come out and cover this story because they’ve been without power before.” said Eddie George of Hemet Eye News.

Residents of the Desert Palms Mobile Home Park (MHP) have been through this before: they dutifully called property management on Friday, November 29 at approximately 2:30 in the morning, at the first sign of service interruption, just as they had done before. The response was also the same as before. “I called the property management, and they tried to tell me that it was So-Cal Edison’s problem, but I had been on their website and they showed no power outages in Hemet. Then, as usual, they asked if I contacted the manager. Of course I contacted the manager. Unresponsive as usual,” said AJ Marsh, Desert Palms resident.

In the park management’s defense, things were not as simple as the residents’ believed. “I understand that people like to complain, but if it was that bad here, why have they been here, in some cases, for years and years?” said Desert Palms Community Manager Aracelly Saenz, adding, “We had a problem, and we dealt with it.” Saenz says that the residents were not ignored, and that she was dealing with the problem when the residents decided to call Hemet Eye News. “We knew very well that there was a problem. When we were notified, we notified Southern California Edison, and they took care of their part of the problem. The problem was in the transformers. Unfortunately, when they left, they locked the gate, so our workers couldn’t get back in to fix our portion. We had to wait for Edison to come back. Once we got in, the problem was corrected as soon as possible. Yes, we’ve had power outages in the past, but unlike the previous management, we do things by the book. We did what we could do with this power outage.” 

Saenz says that it wasn’t just the park’s service that was out: many residents were without service. Her comments are supported by Southern California Edison (SCE). Robert Villegas, spokesperson for SCE says that many residents were affected. “At 2:49 am on November 29, SCE was notified of a “lights out” situation. A circuit had turned itself off, or “locked up, which affected approximately 1,600 residents. Our troubleshooter reported that, at “1097 N. State Street, something “got across” the customer’s service.” That “something,” says Villegas, could have been a critter, or a fallen limb…or something undefined in the troubleshooter’s report. “In a master-meter situation, the park has one meter for the entire park and not individual meters for each mobile home, and that’s what we had here,” said Villegas, adding, “we disconnect service to the entire customer’s side of service, isolate the problem, and restore the rest of the customers back to service. In this case that service was back on from our side at 5:19am on the 29th.” 

By 3am Saturday, which is when Desert Palms restored service to their “side,” residents had had enough. One of those residents who had had enough and decided to speak out to Hemet Eye News and the HSJ Chronicle was AJ Marsh. “We have two people in this house alone who need to use CPAP machines. The management has a third party which comes out and reads the meters: it’s not So-Cal Edison…we believe that people are being overcharged. They (park management) never say anything about that. That third party also has to work on our side of the electric service. My family is cold, my pets are freezing…and I have had enough. I sent three texts to property management who never responded. I sent four emails to corporate and they still haven’t responded. When we first called the emergency number, they told my wife that it was an Edison issue. Edison had come out and fixed their portion, and I knew it.”

Marsh believes, but can never get confirmation from park management, that the issue stems from the installation of solar panels in the park: when the breakers get flooded during periods of heavy rain, the breakers “trip,” and this starts a cascade of problems.

“You see, there’s two portions to this park: that portion over there, where all the lights are still on? That portion has no problem, so they have all the power and warmth they need. Also they have a nice big clubhouse over there. Why didn’t they tell everyone to go over there and put down cots or whatever to keep us warm?? They could’ve at least had charging stations over there, so people could keep in touch with loved ones. We told them, “We’re in our cars over here, running in and out every so often to try and keep warm.” This has happened ever since they installed the solar panels. When they hooked up the breaker box, there’s one for the front portion of the mobile home park and one for the back side.”

“What happens is, Edison flips on the power, and it works for the backside, but for the front side, they have to have that third party, flip that switch. The park doesn’t want to fix it properly, and Edison says, “Hey, since you won’t correct this, you’re going to have pay.” They won’t pay Edison to flip that switch, so we have to wait for this third party to come from Los Angeles. They pay somebody out in Los Angeles. At 6 o’clock that evening, after I called out management and told them that Edison had already done their part, they told me that they were getting someone else out there but that they had to come from Los Angeles. Los Angeles??”

Several residents said they feared reprisal from the park. They spoke to us only on condition of anonymity. “I’ve been here about 16 years. This has happened time and time again. The people here (management) don’t care. The last time I had to throw out a lot of food,” said one resident who wished to remain anonymous.

And spoiled food, bills and money-or the shortage of money-was also on AJ Marsh’s mind. 

“How many people, like me…had to throw out food? I’m the sole supporter for seven people. It’s bad enough being overcharged for my mortgage…but wasting money like this? Ridiculous.”

Marsh says that he was out of town last February when snow hit the grounds of Hemet, but his family had to endure more than 30 hours of a power outage. “I was not here to help my family because I was out of town. So they were messaging me saying, “we still have no power.” They (park management) will put every guy they’ve got to work fixing or putting up a new trailer so they can make money, but help out existing renters? They’ll shut power off without giving us legal notification, just so they can do whatever work they need to do. Many times we try to flush the toilet and we realize we can’t, and it’s because the water is broken and they never notified us. I’m spending almost $600 a month just on a lot that they won’t service at all. I can’t leave here now if I wanted to. I can’t save any money: they keep raising my rent. I’ve got to pay for new food, I’ve got to try and save up money for new heaters, I’ve got to try and get more blankets and boots just to keep my family warm…inside my own home. Inside my own home.”

Marsh’s wife, at first reluctant to speak, said she’s been physically hampered by these issues. “I have a lot of injuries that I deal with and when it’s cold like this, I just hurt so bad. And we have many neighbors who feel the same way as we do. The problem is, they’re afraid to speak up because they’re afraid they’ll get kicked out. It has gone down and down since the old manager disappeared…but the last manager disappeared because she was stealing. There’s about 200, maybe 200-plus people here that are out of power and you’re gonna tell me with all the money they’re making, they can’t fix the problem that’s been ongoing for 2, 2-plus years?”

SCE’s Villegas couldn’t comment on most of AJ Marsh’s comments except to say that, “This equipment is mechanical. Mechanical things of course, break down over time, and need to be replaced. From everything in this report, it doesn’t look like this was anything other an unforeseen problem. When we have something “behind the meter” meaning we have limited visibility to our customer’s (in this case meaning Desert Palms MHP) service, we always make sure that we tell “master meter” customers to hire Master Electricians, especially as a safety measure.” Desert Palms Manager Saenz says that this is the “third party” AJ Marsh speaks of.

Desert Palms residents say that the problem stems from the park’s refusal to upgrade their electric and is in no way the fault of Southern California Edison. Desert Palms says that they did all they were supposed to do. SCE certainly did all it was supposed to do.

It seems that the age of our parks, and the equipment used therein, is the cause of the ongoing quality-of-life issues for our residents. And chronic power-outages, and ongoing problems aren’t just to be found at Desert Palms.  

“We, all of us here, have to remain anonymous. They’ve had so many problems here, but we can’t afford to leave.” Where is “here”? Royal Holiday Mobile Home Park.

“Last year when the gas went out, some people were without service for weeks and weeks. Some were without service for only five or six days…but it affects everybody,” said one anonymous source from the park.

“Last week, approximately 60 people were without gas for three days. Then it happened again last night (Sunday): right now it’s affecting half of the park and that’s not even counting the fact that the water service goes out every other week,” the anonymous source said. 

“What people don’t realize is that when the service goes out, people have to use those small electric heaters and the bill goes up by an incredible amount. We have several people here who only live on $800 dollars a month, so do the math: if rent here is $600 a month, that only leaves $200 dollars a month to live on. If you get a $200 dollar electric bill, how are you supposed to live? All we keep getting told is that the water mains are old and that the gas lines are old…but that excuse itself, has gotten old: very old,” said another anonymous source.

“And what happens to us? We just sit here and suffer…but not in silence: not anymore. We’re fed up with this. Someone’s got to do something, and do it soon,” said the anonymous source, who has lived at Royal Holiday for many years. 

The HSJ Chronicle spoke to Teri Apodaca, co-manager along with husband Steve, at both Fairview MHP and Linda Vista MHP. (Editor’s note: I am a resident of Fairview MHP which is remarkably clean and well-run). “There are many problems one encounters in managing a mobile home park here in Hemet. First, we’re dealing with a depressed economy. We have to deal with people, some of whom can’t pay their rent. We’re trying to do the right thing, and allow them to keep a roof over their heads. That isn’t easy when money is tight in an economically depressed area such as Hemet. As a manager, we have to stretch that money as far as homeowners do. Then too, people will just abandon their homes, and the management is left to pay attorney’s fees, legal costs…in some cases, back taxes. This is what happens when someone is elderly and either passes away, or abandons a property. These parks are 50, 60 years old, and we managers do the best we can in extremely tight financial situations. Of course we feel bad when old systems need repair…but would the residents like it if we shut off all service at once? Obviously we can’t do that, so you repair and replace things as needed, as they come up. We’re all trying to do the best we can with what we’re facing at the time.”

Editor’s note: at the time of publication, we reached out to several sources: Aracelly Saenz at Desert Palms MHP was the only one kind enough to speak to us. In fact, Ms. Saenz spoke to us several times and never hesitated to return our calls. All three management personnel at Royal Holiday declined to speak to us and the corporate offices for both Desert Palms and Royal Holiday ignored our calls.  Special thanks to Eddie George and Mario Sevilla of Hemet Eye News, without whose input and photographs, this story would not have been possible.

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