'We will be adrift again': War veterans, refugees face uncertain future with sale of their Little Saigon mobile home park

Mai Luu left the tenant meeting in tears, a neighbor holding her hand.

At 80, the Westminster resident said, “I thought I would stay the rest of my years in one last place. Now I start over…. To even think of a place to move to … how do you begin?"

A short drive from Little Saigon’s bustling shopping district lies a haven for many veterans of the Vietnam War — Green Lantern Village & Mobile Homes.

Residents of the park said the property owner, Walsh Properties LLC, informed them a week ago of plans to apply to the city for a different land-use permit that would allow for development.

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Walsh officials invited residents to a meeting Saturday to hear more about plans for the property.

On Saturday morning, nearly 100 people filled the park’s clubhouse, where residents were stunned to learn that the Beach Boulevard property was already in escrow in preparation for its sale. Tenants may be forced to move out by early 2018 once the owner complies with local and state regulations that require that it hold a public hearing and provide relocation services to residents.

Staff from Overland, Pacific & Cutler Inc., an Irvine relocation specialist, will interview each family to document their moving needs before submitting a report to the city.

“I feel frozen. I can’t think,” said Luu, a former lieutenant colonel in the South Vietnamese Army whose mobile home is filled with old photographs, coupons and Costco brochures. She moved to Green Lantern in 1989, when rent was $400 a month, compared with her current bill of $900.

It’s the only home she has known since immigrating to the U.S., after suffering for more than 10 years in a Communist reeducation camp, she said.

“We were refugees,” she said. “We will be adrift again.”

Vietnamese Americans now occupy about 80% of the park’s 130 units. Residents said they would be priced out of Orange County’s exploding housing market if they had to look elsewhere.

During Saturday’s meeting, a Vietnamese interpreter helped explain the views of Ross Bartlett, a member of the park owner’s family. Bartlett said his family has been considering selling the property for the past decade.

He said his grandfather bought the property at the end of World War II. In order to continue to operate, he said, they would have to rip up roads inside the park and lay new electrical, water and sewer lines on the property at an estimated cost of $3 million, which the family cannot afford.

He declined to disclose any details about the sale of the property for confidentiality reasons. But he said selling to another mobile home park operator wouldn’t have made sense.

“They would also require repairs before purchase,” he said.

Resident David Griffin 51, a six-year resident of the park, said the tenants should have been given notice sooner of the family’s plans.

“I feel betrayed,” he said. “They intended to sell the whole time — so why bother to have us together today? If they don’t give me fair market value for what I have, I don’t know what I will do.”

Nghia Bui, 79, a retired army captain, said he plans to stage a protest as the permit process winds it way though City Hall. Before Sunday, he circulated a flier advising immigrants what to say — “We are old; we are poor,” and, “Changing the land is changing my living. Please don’t.”

“No one wants to leave here,” said Son Do, 66, a former second lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army. “New people moved in just months ago, others just a few years ago. What choices do they have? How does anyone find a safe and affordable place in Orange County?”

Bertha Day, 93, lived at Green Lantern for 35 years until dementia led her to transfer to a nursing home in 2016. Her son, Richard Day, now takes care of his mother’s property. He just spent $1,300 on patio and exterior repairs, in hopes of selling. “Now what?” he asked. “So many questions, so much confusion.”

Luu, still reeling, faces more sleepless nights.

“It’s not only her who cannot sleep. We can’t sleep, either,” said Nhi Tran, 29, who lives near Luu. She said either she or her husband visits Luu daily, helping her with errands. The couple and their daughter moved to the mobile home park from Las Vegas two years earlier.

“In my mind, I’m thinking: ‘What about my job? What about finding a new school?’ ” said the nurse. “But we are young — we worry for the older people. They have no place to go, no one to turn to.”

anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

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