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Mobile home parks offer refuge from California’s housing squeeze. Who’s watching them?

Bobby Riley moved to Stockton Park Village to live out his days in peace.

In 2018, the 87-year-old retired construction worker tucked his used camper trailer into the farthest lot of the horseshoe-shaped mobile home court off a tree-lined street in the outskirts of Stockton. The community’s handyman, Buzz, helped him build a porch and a patio to ground his trailer and enclosed it with a white wooden fence. He set up a swingset on the grassy common area across the way for when his granddaughter, Brooke, came to visit.

But the little piece of heaven he sought soon became a living hell.

Park owners Howard and Anne Fairbanks appear to have abandoned the property in early 2020 and later that year manager Maria Mendoza died, opening it up to squatters and illegal dumping, according to interviews with the state housing department and court records from a nuisance lawsuit filed by the county of San Joaquin against the Fairbankses. The once-green common area soon filled with wood pallets, dirty mattresses, broken-down cars, discarded washing machines and heaps of gleaming black garbage bags teeming with rats, cockroaches and flies, photos and written reports from state and county inspectors show.

The worst for residents were the pools of putrid brown liquid they have had to wade through, on and off, for nearly four years. County officials first observed surfacing sewage across the park in early November, 2020, according to Zoey Merrill, deputy counsel for San Joaquin County. By February 2021, the problems had gotten worse. A month later, Roto-Rooter came out to fix the problem at the county’s behest but was only partially successful and said the only permanent solution would be to replace the sewer lines at an estimated cost of $100,000. Throughout 2021 and 2022, Roto-Rooter periodically affected minor, temporary solutions, but nobody has replaced the sewer lines yet.

That tracks with what Riley told CalMatters: He had to live with the stench, which seeped into his trailer’s thin walls, for “several months.” His neighbors say it still stinks when it rains.



The environmental justice logic behind Cori Bush’s fight for the eviction moratorium

“Courtney McKinney, director of communications at the nonprofit Western Center on Law and Poverty, says the U.S. should create a system that permanently limits the prevalence of evictions. The center is working on building state-based legal assistance funds, dubbed “homelessness prevention funds.” Across the country, just 10 percent of renters who go through an eviction process have legal representation, compared to 90 percent of landlords. ”

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Racism fuels wildfire 

California is burning out of control, in part, because of racism toward indigenous people and practices. We can’t afford to continue this way. 

At the beginning of the month, the Trump Administration issued a memo to stop diversity training for federal agencies; the Administration called lessons about America’s history of racism “anti-American propaganda.” This week, the president came to California, where millions of acres burn out of control, in part, due to a legacy of racism.

It’s hard to hear bad things about the country you love — it’s hard to learn about all of the times this country betrayed itself to uphold systems and philosophies founded on white supremacy. It’s frustrating to learn, if you didn’t already know, that racist practices shaped this country. It’s more frustrating to see the results play out in the form of uncontrolled burning land and stifling, apocalyptic skies.

Climate change is undoubtedly playing a role in the increasing intensity of fire season, but wildfires were a part of the California landscape before our human consumption footprint got so out of control. The path away from a dystopian America is to look ourselves in the eye, see who we really are, and move forward.

The United States, California, and every other state in this country was founded via the violent removal of people who lived here first — people who held and hold the wisdom we need to survive, live, and thrive here now. For California, the first step toward healing – for the land, for our communities, and for our people — is to resurrect practices from the land’s native ancestors, those who knew that survival requires balance, communion, and stewardship.

According to reporting by the New York Times, “In recent years, momentum has built for purposefully setting fires in certain areas to help thin vegetation and restore ecosystems that would naturally burn more frequently, if not for California’s policy of more than a century requiring that all fires be put out. Before Euro-American settlement in California in the 1800s, about 1.5 million acres of forest burned each year… roughly the same amount that has burned so far this year. That aggressive fire-suppression policy came at the expense of Native American tribes, who had for thousands of years harnessed fire to help ensure that the forests where they lived were healthy — that the plants that fed them were able to flourish, that fires didn’t burn too hot and destructively.”

Both the state and federal government “historically banned tribal burning;” for more than a century California has denied native tribes the right to practice traditional controlled burn techniques, while forcibly displacing them.

We can’t afford to continue with the paradigm of constant expansion and displacement rooted in “Manifest Destiny,” a European-colonial philosophy that ignores, disrespects, and neglects centuries of learned knowledge by native people. That fatal disconnect is illustrated by communities that overturn prescriptions for controlled burns over concerns of inconvenience, only to burn from uncontrolled wildfire years later. Or continuing to build in high risk areas, and spending millions to protect homes in those places, when it would be best for the collective if the land was allowed to burn.

Instead of outrage-laced videos taking vague, unproductive jabs at climate deniers, Governor Newsom could instead take dramatic action to reprioritize indigenous people and wisdom on this land with the full weight (and resources) of the 5th largest economy in the world. He could also stop signing fracking permits and allowing the continued pollution of low-income communities across California.

Americans as a whole do not understand that racism is an insidious illness that plagues ALL of us. Though we have the most diverse country on the planet, we cling to a system founded by men who came from Europe, who did not have generations of learned wisdom about this land. Now that centuries have passed, we don’t have time for it anymore — it’s not working, and we’re choking.

In California, to move in a healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path forward, we should start with controlled burns led by native people.