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.