From MyDesert.com, Marcel Honoré, 29 May 2011.
One of the eastern Coachella Valley’s oldest and largest migrant farmworker communities, notorious in local circles for its persistent health and safety hazards, could be on the verge of a major makeover.
The Riverside County Planning Commission voted last Wednesday to grant a permit to St. Anthony’s mobile home park in Mecca for renovations.
It allows residents and management to move forward with a vision to fix the 96-unit park after years of neglect by previous owners, replacing St. Anthony’s crumbling trailers with new ones on lots created around the existing park perimeter.
The plan also calls for 44 additional trailer spaces, a community and childcare center, a grass park and a retention basin to help curb the frequent flooding after rain. At least 650 people are believed to live at St. Anthony’s.
“This is going to serve as a model to renovate many other mobile home parks,” said Sergio Carranza, executive director of the Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation. The nonprofit group assumed management of the park in early 2010 after its former owner, St. Anthony Fish Farm Inc., lost it to foreclosure in fall 2009.
“The community has been asking for this kind of help. We’re going to help them build their own future,” Carranza said.
The county’s approvals will help the park secure the estimated $6.5 million in public and private grants expected to pay for the improvements, he said.
Residents intend to apply for a county assistance program to trade in their old trailers for new ones, Carranza said.
In recent years, several hundred nonpermitted mobile home parks have sprung up in the east valley because of the lack of affordable housing, according to county officials.
The residents there, mostly migrant workers, endure such problems as open sewage, faulty electrical wiring, overcrowding, fire hazards and bad drinking water.
The conditions at larger mobile home parks such as St. Anthony’s and the nearby Desert Mobile Home Park, known as Duroville, have helped raise awareness about the problem in the valley and beyond.
“We need it. We’re 1,000 workers. We want a dignified place for our children and grandchildren,” St. Anthony’s resident Ana Sanchez said in Spanish of the park’s proposed improvements.
Sanchez has lived there nearly 30 years and especially worries about the naturally occurring arsenic found in the park’s on-site well. A central filter was installed at the park well last year so residents can retrieve clean drinking water there.
Conditions at the park got so bad that its residents and the county in 2008 obtained a court-ordered injunction for the previous owner to fix the problems there.
St. Anthony’s has seen its overtaxed electrical grid repaired, and it’s solving the arsenic issue. But its hydrants don’t provide standard sufficient fire protection, and its sewage drains into a neighboring lagoon.
As part of the permit’s conditions, Pueblo Unido will have to provide new on-site wells for better fire protection and connect the park to nearby Coachella Valley Water District sewer lines.
If the funding comes through, the renovation project could start by the end of 2011, Carranza said.
Marcel Honoré is a reporter for The Desert Sun. Reach him at (760) 778-4649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.