Tenants at-Risk to COVID-19 in Aftermath of a Gas Explosion
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LANCASTER — Easter Sunday marks the start of what will be the fourth week with no natural gas for an estimated 300 residents of Terra Nova Mobile Home Park.
The park, at 1617 East Ave. I, has been without natural gas since a mobile home exploded on March 22. The explosion blew a giant hole in the side of the mint green mobile home, injuring three people including two children. The City of Lancaster red-tagged the home as unfit for human occupation the same day.
“So bad. Everything is together with no work, no service in the house,” resident Yuliana Franco said. “With the problem with the COVID, I don’t know what to say.”
Terra Nova’s gas problems started toward the end of February. A resident called SoCalGas to complain about the gas leak. The gas was turned off for about five days for maintenance. It was turned off again on March 21.
“When you think about it you’ve got basic human rights that are being disregarded. People are suffering at a time when you are supposed to stay in your house. When you have that situation it’s a very big problem.” Attorney Bradley Gage said.
Gage joined residents at the park Friday afternoon for a press conference organized by Agents of Change. Residents wearing masks milled about near the destroyed green mobile home.
Several residents who did not pay their space rent for April received eviction notices. That appears to be violation of protections put in place by the state, Los Angeles County, and the City of Lancaster for renters who are at risk of being evicted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Park management did not immediately return a message left Friday during business hours.
“We have a problem that they were aware of; that problem wasn’t corrected,” Gage said. “It’s getting worse. And now that people are learning about it, it appears that rather than fixing the problem retaliation is taking place. So that is a very big problem.”
Basta, Inc., a tenant rights organization with an office in Lancaster, funded 17 hotel rooms for the park’s most vulnerable and sick residents the week after the explosion. But that was short-term relief through April 3.
Park residents have no heat, no hot water and no way to cook food without natural gas. The park provided space heaters and hot plates for cooking. But residents say the appliances cannot be used at the same time because it will overload the system and knock out the power.
To add to the residents’ woes, Southern California Edison is scheduled to shut off electricity to the park from 8 p.m. Monday to 4 a.m. Tuesday for maintenance work. That will leave residents in the dark with no way to warm their homes or cook food, regardless of whether they have a space heater or hot plate. The residents have been included in the Project Door Drop food delivery program, however.
“The park has a history of neglect,” resident Antonio Ramirez said.
A couple of years ago Ramirez requested the park trim a tree near his home. The tree wasn’t trimmed and a branch fell on Ramirez’s car, he said.
“Anytime you bring up the livability of the park, we get increased scrutiny,” Ramirez said. “They do random inspections to see if you have anything wrong.”
The park has five community showers is supposed to be the office available for residents. Hot water is available via an electric water heater. The show stalls look like something found at a campground.
Sarahi Hernandez said the hot water lasts about five minutes. Hernandez doesn’t use the showers.
“I have to drive to Palmdale to shower at my mom’s,” Hernandez said. “I have a one-year-old baby; I’m not going to bring her in here and then take her out in the cold.”
Residents also said they are charged different amounts to replace damaged waste carts.
The City of Lancaster sent out a release Friday saying officials are doing everything within their power to resolve the issue in an efficient and timely manner. On March 26 the City issued a notice of violation, giving the park owner five days to begin working toward a solution. The park owner submitted plans for a temporary gas line to the City for approval before the deadline, according to the City. However, a temporary gas line would not be the most cost-effective or sufficient solution to address the issue long-term, the release said.
On Monday the City issued a notice of intent to suspend, which gives the park owner 30 days to complete the gas line work, or park operations will be suspended until it is complete.
Mobile home parks fall under the purview of the State Department of Housing and Community Development. The City’s legal team advised the park owner to contact the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Department of Financial Assistance and apply for Mobile Home Park Resident Program funds to help alleviate the financial burden of repairing the gas line.
“We are doing everything in the City’s power to make sure the residents of the Park are getting the services they need,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said in a statement. “We have worked with the State inspectors to force compliance, enforced the City’s municipal code violations and contacted the State Senator’s office to get funding for assistance. The safety of the residents is our highest priority, and we will continue to see this through until the gas line gets fixed.”
This is an article by the Antelope Valley Press