AP NEWS

US agency closing California trailer park for fire victims

May 14, 2019
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In this May 10, 2019 photo, Pam Peavler works on vacating her FEMA trailer, right, and packing to leave the Sonoma County Fairgrounds RV Park in Santa Rosa, Calif. A trailer park that offered housing for displaced residents following the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County is closing down.(Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) — Federal authorities are almost done disbanding a makeshift neighborhood of trailers where Northern California wildfire victims have been living for 19 months.

The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported Tuesday that the last seven trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be removed by July 10.

Residents of 15 trailers turned in their keys Friday and FEMA is evicting residents of five others for violating regulations, FEMA spokesman David Passey said.

At its peak, 120 recreational vehicles parked at Sonoma County Fairground sheltered survivors of a 2017 wildfire that destroyed 5,300 homes in Sonoma County.

FEMA typically supplies temporary shelters for 18 months to people displaced by disasters. Authorities prevailed on FEMA to extend that deadline for several residents still searching for permanent housing.

Stacey Gonzales is one of the renters permitted to stay until July 10. At the moment, she says she doesn’t have a plan beyond taking personal belongings to storage. She says she will live in her car if she can’t find permanent housing.

Since losing her home in the fire, Gonzales says, her mother, daughter and sister-in-law died and she is now caring for her 6-year-old grandson as well as her teenage son with special needs.

“It’s just been bad luck all the way around for me,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Local officials said negotiations with FEMA over extending the deadline were sometimes rocky. FEMA felt officials weren’t doing enough to find housing for people living in the trailers, said Mike Gossman, the county’s director of recovery and resiliency.

In a tight housing market, Gossman said, officials did what they could, including distributing 48 vouchers for subsidized city housing to FEMA trailer residents before their accommodations were removed.

“We’ve been able to get a lot of people housed,” Gossman said. “To me, that’s a compelling argument for us to have a few more months.”

The FEMA trailers were parked in a fairgrounds RV park, which caters to tourists and typically prohibits stays longer than 28 days.

The newspaper reported that travelers staying in the park lodged noise complaints and other grievances about residents of the FEMA trailers.

Becky Bartling, the fairground’s chief executive, said a “good handful of folks” living in FEMA trailers violated park rules against after-hours noise and late-night visitors and attracted police attention.

“The question is, what happens if they just don’t leave?” Bartling said of the remaining FEMA trailer residents. “We certainly want to help the folks that have been good (residents) during this timeframe.”

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This story has been updated with the correct name of the newspaper as The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, not The Santa Rosa Democrat.

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Information from: The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, http://www.pressdemocrat.com