County, tribe reach accord on regulating dilapidated Oasis Mobile Home Park

The Board of Supervisors today approved a compact with a Coachella Valley Indian tribe that will allow Riverside County authorities to initiate enforcement measures intended to prevent the repopulation of a dilapidated mobile home park rife with hazards.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Supervisor Manuel Perez said. “This will help us with enforcement efforts at the mobile home park.”

Perez received the full board’s support for the memorandum of understanding with the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe in Thermal, which is situated within his Fourth District.

He referred to the MOU as a “momentous step forward” in resolving ongoing problems connected with the 60-acre Oasis Mobile Home Park, located at the 88-700 block of Avenue 70.

The site has been a fixture of controversy for years, most recently due to high levels of arsenic in drinking water, resulting in three emergency administrative orders issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency between 2019 and 2021, barring use of the underground reservoir there.

That led to ongoing relief operations to supply inhabitants with potable water via bottles and other imported means.

Under the MOU, county agencies will have authority to take regulatory action on so-called “fee lands” within the reservation, which are comprised of the park space. In 2021, the board approved a policy under which fee lands — typically parcels that tribes have sold off to private interests but often remain under tribal purview — can be serviced and regulated by county agencies.

The policy impacts the dozen tribal reservations within the county, including Torres-Martinez’s. The tribes must generally first consent to the county’s presence on sovereign land.

The new compact will enable county authorities to deter re-habitation of Oasis Mobile Home Park via the following measures: “Installation of physical k-rails, removal of trailers, demolishment of uninhabitable trailers, removal or disconnection of unauthorized or unlawful utilities, including umpermitted water connections, septic connections (and) electrical connections.”

Along with arsenic, the park has contended with trash overflows and infrastructure deficiencies that have raised health and safety concerns.

In 2019 and 2020, the county also trucked water to the park for months. The operations cost tens of thousands of dollars to maintain.

In 2020, the state allocated $30 million to cover relocation expenses of occupants. Another $6.25 million in federal grants was made available, as well as almost $8 million in state Project Homekey funding.

According to the county Housing Authority, Oasis occupants, mainly migrant agricultural workers, have been relocated to other mobile home parks over the last few years.

Perez noted in August that “even when we work hard to relocate folks, a week or two weeks later, somebody else moves into the park.”

County Housing & Workforce Solutions spokesman Greg Rodriguez told the board that the compact will strengthen the county’s hand by preventing “people from moving in.”

“It’s a historic agreement,” he said.

Rodriguez noted that 78 families have been relocated out of the park in the last three years.

“We are proactively engaging the community,” he told the board. “It’s a multi-pronged approach to resolving the issue.”

In the past, park owners have charged $600 to rent individual mobile homes, plus utilities, officials said. According to the county, as of last summer, 238 units were occupied or available.

The park has no state or federal business permits, although the US Bureau of Indian Affairs has reportedly attempted to enforce some authority over its operation in the last decade, without success.

The park bears similarities to the Desert Mobile Home Park, better known as “Duroville,” which was also on Torres-Martinez land.

That facility, which was at the time replete with electrical and water deficiencies, was the subject of federal civil action that concluded in 2009 and culminated in the park going into receivership, out of tribal control. Four years later, it was permanently shut down.

The BIA did obtain an injunction to prohibit new tenancy at Duroville.

Since November, the EPA has found water containing arsenic levels above federal legal limits in at least seven mobile home parks. In May, I-Team investigator Peter Daut took an in-depth look at the water issues in the east valley.

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