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Residents Living in Fear Over Water Lines

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite court orders dating back more than a year, several mobile homes remain illegally placed over dangerous high-pressure water lines while legal wrangling continues.

Frustrated officials at the Calleguas Municipal Water District say the delays put residents of the Susana Woods Mobile Home Park at risk.

And residents, some of whom say they are living over a time bomb, are scared, angry and exasperated, feeling they are little more than pawns in a game they never wanted to play.

“I’m getting sick of not knowing whether we’re coming or going,” said resident Mollie Resnick. “I’m tired of this whole ludicrous situation and I want someone to take care of it.”

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The mobile homes in question were illegally placed 18 years ago on a 35-foot strip of land south of Katherine Road belonging to Calleguas--an easement upon which building is forbidden for reasons of safety and access. The violation was discovered during routine survey work in 1996.

On Tuesday, a day before a court deadline, attorneys representing the park’s owners appealed a judge’s decision that required them to move the nine homes at their own expense, compensate the displaced residents and reimburse the Calleguas Municipal Water District for legal fees.

The move sidelined Calleguas’ plans to remove the homes from the easement. Officials had planned to begin removing them by mid-April if the owners had refused to comply with the court’s order.

“They had an obligation and again they’ve dodged it,” said John Slezak, an attorney representing Calleguas. “I don’t know why they did it. It came as a complete surprise to me.”

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At a board meeting Wednesday night, Calleguas officials expressed frustration at not being able to solve a situation they believe is compromising the safety of the park’s residents, most of whom are seniors.

“The easement is there for one simple reason--safety,” Calleguas General Manager Donald Kendall said. “To drag this process on any longer is ridiculous. . . . It needs to be taken care of.”

The owners of the mobile home park refused to answer questions regarding Wednesday’s appeal, but past documents filed by their attorneys assert that because the homes have been located over the water mains for more than 18 years, Calleguas’ demand that they be moved is going too far.

“The mobile homes and other buildings in question have been situated over the subject easement for in excess of 17 years,” lawyers wrote last year. “They have remained in their present location during all these years (as well as the Northridge earthquake) without incident. The remedy sought by the plaintiff in this case is extreme.”

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Representatives of the park’s homeowners association, some of whom are employed by the park’s owners, said the owners have met with residents and have drawn up plans to move the homes.

However, they said those plans stopped after residents balked at the owners’ offer of compensation for displacement, which amounted to a $100-a-day allowance per home, and included the cost of relocation.

Resnick, who along with her family lives in one of the affected mobile homes, called the offer a “pittance” and said the owners don’t have any interest in paying for their mistake.

“One hundred dollars a day--that’s not enough for someone like me who has four people living with them to pay for food and a place to live,” she said. “It’s just one big farce and we’re the ones who are caught in the middle.”

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While water main breaks are not common, Kendall fears that with an aging infrastructure and the city’s location in an earthquake-prone area, the potential exists for a massive rupture.

He cites a break that occurred a year ago on Madera Road after a power outage. The break flooded the area, sending chunks of asphalt flying through the air. It left a 30-by-12-foot crater that took crews more than two weeks to repair.

If one of the pipes below the 139-unit park were to rupture, Kendall said, the result could be a soggy catastrophe.

Under the jarring strain of an earthquake or another power outage, he said, those mains could blow and send a 45-foot geyser shooting out of the ground at a rate of 32,000 gallons an hour.

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The water, which would be flowing with the force of 16,000 pounds of pressure, would most certainly destroy any home over the break and possibly harm or kill anyone who was over it.

“It’s a public safety issue, so bottom line, these people have to be moved,” Kendall said. “I don’t want to think about what would happen if one of those mains blew.”

Both Kendall and Slezak said they haven’t made a decision on Calleguas’ next course of action and will most likely wait to see if the appeal is upheld in court.


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