Feds file fresh lawsuit against landlord of migrant housing camp

Los Angeles, California (AP) 10-07

Federal officials filed a new lawsuit October 2nd against the owner of a mobile home park that shelters thousands of migrant workers, alleging that the encampment is a health and safety risk and should be shut down.

The park, owned by Harvey Duro Sr., sits on the Torres Martinez Reservation and is immune from local and state health and safety codes. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names Duro and Desert Mobile Home Park Inc. as defendants.

The filing comes after a federal judge declined two weeks ago to reopen a 2003 case against Duro and also refused to consider a contempt of court motion against him.

Scott Zundel, Duro’s attorney, did not immediately return a call after business hours October 2nd.

Alan Singer, Duro’s spokesman, has previously said that closing the park would be harmful to the community, which already struggles to find affordable housing for the thousands of migrant workers who flock to the area to harvest table grapes, dates, chili peppers and other crops.

The mobile home park sits in the fertile Coachella Valley, about 130 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and during peak harvest season houses as many as 4,000 migrant workers.

The conflict between Duro and the federal government began in the late 1990s, when local officials began cracking down on illegal trailer parks hidden away on Riverside County land.

Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, opened 40 acres of his land on the reservation to the migrant workers who were being displaced. With trailers in tow, the workers flocked to the new mobile home park.

In July, after a fire destroyed six trailers and displaced 120 residents, the Bureau of Indian Affairs paid for the two-day independent inspection that launched the government’s drive to shut the park down.

Independent inspectors found sewage wastewater several inches deep, dead rodents, swarms of flies and animal feces at the park during the spot check. They also found inadequate drinking water, a jerry-rigged electrical system, severe overcrowding and fire hazards, according to court papers.

Several months later, Duro filed a federal lawsuit against the BIA and James Fletcher, the agency’s Southern California superintendent, alleging that racial discrimination was behind the plan to shut down Desert Mobile Home Park.

The U.S. Attorney’s office filed papers with U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner a month ago asking the judge to reopen a case against Duro and hold a hearing to determine whether he should be held in contempt of court for failing to fulfill conditions of the earlier agreement.

Klausner, however, denied both motions in a short ruling that only said the government’s petition was “untimely.”