LAKE VIEW TERRACE – Amid the ashen dust and
gnarled metal that used to be her Sky Terrace mobile home, Darlene
Westman, 69, said she feels forgotten.
She and others who lived in the 43 mobile homes destroyed
in October’s Marek Fire say their plight has been overshadowed by a
larger tragedy a month later – the obliteration of nearly 500 homes in
the more upscale Oakridge Mobile Home Park just five miles away.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency quickly stepped in
with grants and assistance for the Oakridge victims, while Westman and
residents of Sky Terrace have been left with little attention, no money
and no permanent homes.
The disparity reveals a hole in services for the poorest victims of smaller disaster.
(The rest of the story, click here)FORGOTTEN FIRE VICTIMS
North Valley Reporter
California, Sky Terrace Mobile Home Park residents in Lakeview Terrace, most who are elderly and
disabled, do not have funds to remove the charred remains of their homes from
spaces their homes once occupied.
Some are still sifting through the rubble for
items that may not have been burned in hopes of recovering valuables.
At a meeting of the Oakridge Mobile Home Park fire victims last month at Mission College, Councilman Richard Alarcon proposed using the $100,000 from the Lopez Canyon fund to aid the victims of the Sylmar tragedy but not victims of Sky Terrace who should also have benefited from that assistance.
Glenn Bell, President of Neighborhood Friends- an advocacy group that champions the rights for mobile home park owners, said all victims deserve help and the two parks should be given equal funding.. “The Governor brought FEMA into the Oak Ridge Fire, where at least 85% of the victims were insured, leaving those in Sky Terrace to fend for themselves.”
After hearing pleas from Sky Terrace residents for aid, Alarcon said
that Sky Terrace was not in his jurisdiction even though money he would
donate came from the existence of the Lopez Canyon Landfill and its
acceptance of fetid garbage over the years that severely impacted the
COMMUNITY consisting of half of Lake View Terrace, all of Kagel Canyon
(in LA County), and a small part of Pacoima and not just Council
District 7 that is represented by Alarcon. Sky Terrace is the closest
park to the landfill and should qualify as a part of the mitigation
funds earmarked by then-Councilman Ernani Bernardi for communities in
the sphere of influence of the dump.
Darlene Westman, a retired 25 year resident of Sky Terrace, said, “We
were told at a meeting at Mission College that we were not entitled to
FEMA assistance because our fire wasn’t big enough. It’s a slap in the
face to us because we have seen dozens of charity events for the Oak
Ridge Park residents. I got $180.00 from Red Cross and $500.00 from a
Buddhist organization. I did qualify for Section 8 housing but
transferring paperwork to the City of Los Angeles from the County will
delay my moving into an apartment indefinitely. My home and all its
contents are totally gone.”
Her home was one of many not insured. Westman says that many elderly
people did not have insurance because they could not afford to pay for
it and their lot rent of $700.00 per month.
Isabel Araiza, Section 8 Manager IV Special Programs Operations (SPO),
said, “We’ve been in contact with Housing Authority (HACoLA- County)
regarding the Sky Terrace Fire Victims who have received a HACoLA
voucher and who have located housing within HACLA’s (City)
jurisdiction. HACoLA processes the portability paperwork and faxes
them to HACLA so that through our Portability process, issue them our
own Section 8 Voucher. There is no waitlist on portability. The only
waiting time is the time it takes to verify income and run the criminal
background checks. That could take up to a month.”
The fact is that for the few who actually qualified for subsidized rent
will have to wait beyond that month seeking shelter in their cars and
trucks. Others are relying on family and friends. Many still have
simply “the clothes on their back”.
Paul Novak, Planning Deputy to Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said,
“County staff did work to place two tenants at Union Rescue Mission’s
Hope Gardens complex in Lopez Canyon, and we put at least one family in
touch with LAHSA (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) to
assist with ‘short-term’ housing needs.”
Novak also reports that 18 families have been given rent vouchers that are subsidized by federal funds.
Pam Marchese knows, first hand, how devastating fires can be.
The Merek fire that destroyed her home in Sky Terrace was the second
home for her, lost to a fire. Two years ago, Marchese spent a month at
Grossman Burn Center recovering from third degree burns she suffered
when her first home burned to the ground. Marchese lives in her small
camper and is trying to get her feet on the ground.” Her insurance did
not pay what she read on her policy.
The uncertainty of the Park’s future has left many without any idea as
to whether or not they should buy a new home and place it in the park.
The cost to purchase a new home and the exorbitant cost to move it
again less than two years later has never been explained to them.
Reports indicate that to move a mobile home the cost could exceed
A letter from the Parks Management informed them, “HCD requires that
you file a re-installation permit application including a Lot Plan and
obtain approval for each. Each of these application forms must be
approved by the Park management prior to filing with HCD.”
But considering the fact that mobile home parks do not allow used
mobile homes because of liabilities, getting prior permission from the
management may be an uphill battle that residents feel they will lose.
Wanda Whelan, a resident of the Park, writes, ” My home was a total
loss. I am still displaced and removing debris from my space at Sky
Terrace. The Sky Terrace management team is expecting us to start
paying space rent for the debris on our spaces starting December. Sky
Terrace is planning to evict us within the next two years if we move
At the Mission College meeting, Whelan passed out copies of her letter
to anyone in a position to help her and fellow residents of Sky
Terrace. No one did.
Residents of the Park are being allowed to move back to remaining homes at their own risk.
In their Nov. 21 letter to residents, park owners warned, ” While HCD
has approved park re-occupancy, because not all resident owned debris
has been removed, there may still be health risks associated with
returning. We are asking tenants to work, diligently, to remove their
debris. You are advised to return at your own risk after careful
consideration of these hazards.”
No one knows what health hazards remain in the Park. Directly adjacent
to their Park, an area of 2-3 acres had become a dumping ground for
used tires over the span of many years. There were, literally,
thousands of old tires that burned down to the steel belts. Improperly
stored used tires frequently become a breeding ground for mosquitoes,
that carry West Nile Disease, and other vermin that may pose hazards to
humans. The strong potential for hazardous waste exists since the fire.
Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz, Professor of Environmental Science Policy,
University of California (Davis), and author of the Report, Domestic
Markets for California’s Used and Waste Tires, said, “Toxic chemicals
released by burning tires become part of the food chain, entering
water, soil, plants, livestock, dairy products, and wild life. Studies
are finding that indirect exposure to toxins through the food chain
presents serious health risks to humans, even more serious than
When Novak was asked, “ARE MOBILE HOME PARKS ALLOWED IN HAZARDOUS WASTE ZONES?”
His reply was, “[This] question presumes the presence of Hazardous
Waste and, to date, [you] presented no evidence that hazardous waste
exists on the property. To the best of my knowledge, “hazardous waste”
is not a land-use (like residential, commercial, etc.). There are many
businesses that have hazardous waste–spray paint, gasoline, asbestos,
and other items routinely found in many locations–can all be
considered hazardous waste.”
Public Resources Code Section 42961.5 requires the California
Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) to enforce regulations
relating to the storage of waste and used tires and cleanup, abatement,
or other remedial action on waste tire stockpiles throughout the state.
Jim Lee, Manager of Tire Enforcement Branch for CIWMB, reported, “We
got rumors back in January about an illegal dump site in Lopez Canyon.
We attempted to drive the area and could not find the location. We
received a more specific call from someone in the Park right after the
tires burned and were able to find the location. There is an active
investigation that determined the hauler who was responsible for
dumping the tires. Additional enforcement against that hauler is under
consideration. We have also made reference to Certified Unified Program
Agency (CUPA), the local enforcement arm of the Department of Toxic
Substances Control, because there is a strong potential that the burned
tires have created a hazardous waste situation the company needs to be
Unanswered questions also remain over the fire hydrants in both parks.
Herb Coleman, a retired resident of the park said, “A Fireman who
fought the battle at my house said the he was sorry he couldn’t save my
house but the water was off and the pumps were dry.”
Bell remarked, “Neither Sky Terrace or Oakridge park owners were
required to maintain adequate fire suppression equipment. The County
does have the responsibility for inspecting this equipment but
apparently failed to do so as both parks had inadequate fire fighting
resources.” One has to wonder if homes that were destroyed could have
been saved. Those answers will not be forthcoming from anyone.
John Tripp, Deputy Fire Chief- North Operations Bureau, did not respond
to a request for interview relative to the operations of fire hydrants
in the Park.
The plight for the elderly, disabled, and working poor of Sky Terrace
will be an arduous, uphill battle to regain some small sense of
FEMA, State and Local Officials failed these people, continue to put
them at risk, and still, no one has offered them any assistance or