Poverty creeping into S. Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Poverty creeping into S. Lake Tahoe

Sarah Gonser

Poverty took the back door into South Lake Tahoe, creeping along silently through the years, head held low, so as not to attract attention.

It’s the same in other towns, really. Except most towns aren’t world-renowned for their deep clear lake and the stunning beauty of their snow-capped mountains.

South Lake Tahoe hides its pockets of poverty well.

Tucked behind tall evergreen trees and small family businesses, ugly, crowded, broken-down mobile home parks house hundreds of South Shore families.

Associate Planner Ivonne Hoffman says city hands are tied because the state of California has assumed almost complete responsibility for the health and safety standards of its mobile home parks – that includes South Lake Tahoe’s 19 parks.

Today, many of them have become dilapidated slums, with broken windows, rusty abandoned cars parked in muddy yards and doors falling off their hinges.

“None of the parks meet city codes in terms of density, parking and landscaping,” Hoffman said. “They were legal when they came into being, before South Lake Tahoe became incorporated as a city in 1965, so the city chose to accept the parks as legal, non-conforming units.”

That means that although the parks don’t conform to city codes, and probably never will, they are still considered legal and can therefore not be torn down. Only one mobile home park, Tahoe Verde on Julie Lane, the city’s largest, meets current codes.

But the city is not entirely to blame, the state mobile homes act mandates that the California Housing and Community Development Department oversee all upkeep, as well as the health and safety standards of mobile home parks. The city’s role is extremely limited.

“We have gotten involved in a couple of cases, mainly when things were visible from the street – nuisance abatement mostly – trash removal or abandoned cars,” Hoffman said. “But we can’t get involved in the state of the homes themselves, the state has an inspector who does that. The problem is local jurisdiction has no purview except over what can be seen from the outside, so if a park has a fence around it, we can’t touch it. We’re pretty much stuck.”

As far as the state of California is concerned, the visual appeal of mobile home parks doesn’t fall under Housing and Community Development responsibilities.

“Our job is to eliminate sub-standard conditions. Although a park may be a blight and something the community is not pleased with, our concerns lie only with maintaining health and safety standards,” said Chris Anderson, mobile home parks program manager for the Department of Housing and Community Development. “We conduct maintenance inspections in the parks and investigate complaints based on health and safety standards.”

The last time South Lake Tahoe mobile home parks were thoroughly inspected by the state was four to five years ago, said Dan O’Donnell, lead inspector for Northern California.

“Back before 1972, when the state had lots of money, we inspected parks every two years,” O’Donnell said. “After that, it was only done on a complaint basis. Some of them were a lot worse at that time than what you’re seeing now.”

The mobile homes act expires in 2000. A new assembly bill is currently before the legislature that would limit inspections to once every seven years, according to O’Donnell.

If the bill passes, that would mean that safety problems plaguing the parks today – such as residents parking their cars in emergency access lanes – would only get worse.

“I’ve never been completely satisfied that the state is able to adequately inspect these mobile home parks,” said Mike Chandler, South Lake Tahoe fire department division chief. “We have very few things that we are allowed to do. I wish there was more we could do.”

Along with responding to complaints whenever they come up, the fire department inspects public buildings in the parks once a year, Chandler said.

Currently, although no plans are being pursued by the city to eliminate, or even alleviate the dilapidated state of South Lake Tahoe’s mobile home parks, Hoffman said a solution must be found soon, as efforts by the state of California are clearly lacking.

“I think the fact that the state has jurisdiction is clearly not an ideal situation,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s effective, or efficient.”

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