COUNTY TARGETS TRAILERS; ILLEGAL HOUSING IN DESERT AREAS SPURS CRACKDOWN.
After years of turning a blind eye, Los Angeles County officials are trying to oust hundreds of families living in travel trailers illegally dotting a 26-square-mile area of the eastern Antelope Valley.
Where Los Angeles and other cities are combating garages converted into rental apartments, the targets in Pearblossom are trailers and campers set up off dirt roads in the creosote bush-covered desert - often without running water or modern sanitation, with hand-dug pits functioning as septic tanks.
``Children were becoming ill from polluted water sitting near gasoline cans, and experiencing severe diarrhea because of dumped sewage,'' said Morris Litwack, acting section head of the county's Office of Regional Planning Zoning Enforcement.
``It's a big hazard,'' he added. ``It's really unfortunate for them to be out there. It really puts them at risk.''
Though some of the trailers have been inhabited for years, county officials in September 1997 created an anti-trailer task force under prodding from other area residents. The targets are travel trailers, mobile homes and other substandard housing spread across the desert from Pearblossom to Lake Los Angeles to the San Bernardino County line.
County officials said they received numerous complaints from people who built conventional homes and didn't want their view across the desert to include a truck camper surrounded by rusting auto carcasses.
The homeowners complained that the trailers lowered property values and also avoided the safety, zoning and building requirements they were held to in building their houses, officials said.
Frequently, county officials say, the travel trailers are rentals owned by the landowner, and the residents say they can pay $400 a month, enough for a decent apartment in Palmdale.
Many speak only Spanish, Litwack said, and were encouraged to move there by the property owner, without knowledge that travel trailers are illegal as permanent homes.
``These are good, hard-working people,'' Litwack said. ``They are paying amazingly high prices to get a piece of America.''
But trailer dwellers say they are entitled to their piece of America as much as any tract-house owner, and they prefer the quiet and isolation of the desert to the city.
``We aren't hurting anything, because we're so isolated. We're not talking about jammed up housing tracts,'' said Joanne, a senior citizen trailer dweller who asked that her last name not be used for fear that county officials would order her to move.
``It's a very poor area,'' she added. ``Sometimes a travel trailer is the only place people can afford.''
Joanne has paid $395 a month since 1989 for a travel trailer on a friend's property. After a fire damaged the main house on the property, the friend asked her to move in and keep away drug-lab operators, she said.
``They say trailer people brought down their property values, but it's because of the economy,'' Joanne said. ``We were here long before they came.''
County officials said they have sent 30-day notices to residents of about 300 trailers, and about 60 have moved or fixed up their homes to meet county requirements.
Of the others, some say they are trying to sell or otherwise comply, but some have given no response. New notices will go out to the ones who haven't responded, county officials said.
The county will give anyone who asks a 90-day extension, provided they agree to an inspection looking for immediate health or safety problems. If anyone applies for a government-subsidized rental housing program, they get an extension for the duration of the application process, officials said.
The trailer dwellers may find an ally in San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services, a public-service legal firm. The agency is not yet representing any of the residents, but it is looking into their situation.
``It seems that people are being told to leave within a very short period of time,'' said attorney Mona Tawatao. ``We're looking into whatever we can do. . . . We're concerned about safety and health, but we want to make sure that people aren't being kicked out.''
While county officials say they tell the trailer dwellers about government programs to get them into better homes or apartments, Tawatao said the information hasn't gotten to everybody.
``Some people are given a hard time,'' she said.
PHOTO (Color) (Ran in AV Edition only) Bill Johnson, who has been told to move or fix up his home by the county, stands near a camper on his property.
Bhavna Mistry/Daily News
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 7, 1998|
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