TRACY - Angry residents of Cedar Lane Trailer Park in Tracy, which is owned by the Meadow Ridge Development Company, demonstrated at the Tracy Municipal Building on Thursday after the water was shut off Wednesday afternoon.
The owner of Meadow Ridge, Gene Stierns of Mora, is currently almost $10,000 in arrears on the park's water bill.
About a dozen of the Hmong residents of Tracy, accompanied by representatives of the Hmong community from Walnut Grove, leveled charges of discrimination against the city. The trailer park has about 12 Hmong families out of 17 to 18 families, according to park resident Dean Kaeiser.
Photo by Steve Browne
Angry residents of the Cedar Lane Trailer Park in Tracy protest the city shutting off the water to the park on Thursday afternoon. The owner of the park, Meadow Ridge Development Company of Mora, owes the city nearly $10,000 on the park’s water bill. The park has only one meter; water, sewage, and garbage are included in the lot rent.
"There are senior citizens and young kids here, and it's a real hardship on them," Kaeiser said. "Rent on the lots is $240 a month, including sewer, water and garbage."
Demonstrators carried signs asking the city not to punish the residents for the fault of the landlord.
"If we had more diversity over there, more Caucasians, they wouldn't shut the water down," said park resident Kongmong Lor. "I was telling my concerns about senior citizens and children and he took it as a joke. He doesn't take our concerns seriously."
However, after speaking with Tracy City Administrator Roger Gorius again, some of the Hmong leaders appeared to be less inclined to blame the city.
According to Gorius, Stierns has been delinquent on his bills since Gorius assumed office.
"What we have is an ongoing situation with Mr. Stierns, who is currently $9,000 and some change in arrears on his water bill," Gorius said. "The residents pay bills directly to him, and there is only one meter for the park. Since I came here last August, I've contacted him at least 15 or 20 times. His choice is to not pay. Registered letters have been sent to him and returned unclaimed. Cell phone messages go right to a pager because the mailbox is full."
According to Gorius, the city has been left no alternative by law other than to shut off the water. He also said the original shutoff notice was given in April, but the city found ways to delay shutting off the water until now.
"Right now I don't know how much he owes or how long, but the landlord owes it and I think the city would take that into consideration," local resident Khang Yang said.
Gorius offered residents the use of the bathroom and shower facilities in the gymnasium located in the municipal building and water from its supply, but some residents took it as an insult.
Mrs. Kar Hang, a leader of the Hmong community from Walnut Grove, said Gorius joked about their situation to his staff.
"He said they could come to the office to use the water," Hang said. "When I told him there were old people and children who could get sick, he said the ambulances were ready."
Gorius emphatically denied making light of the situation and said he meant that the city ambulance service was ready to meet the needs of all the people in the community.
"I want you to make it clear to the people who don't speak English very well they can come down here, fill water containers and use the showers," Gorius said. "I understand you're honest people, but you're being represented by a person who isn't honest."
The Tracy Municipal Building is about five blocks from the trailer park.
Gorius said Stierns was supposed to come to Tracy today and promised the assembled residents that if he did, Gorius and the Tracy Police would take him to the trailer park to meet the people and "do his due diligence." However, he said he had little faith Stierns would show up, after having promised to many times before.
"He contacted us 7:30 a.m. on Monday and said he'd be here today, and he didn't show," Gorius said.
According to Gorius, residents have asked if they could pay their water bills directly to the city, or get individual water meters.
"I had to tell them as a public entity we can't do that," Gorius said. "And we can't enter the property to do infrastructure work."
Nor is there a remedy through foreclosure yet, as Stierns is not delinquent on his property taxes.
"Property tax is the only thing he has paid," Kaeiser said. "The contracting company won't remove snow since he stiffed them out of some money, too."
Aside from the water situation, there are problems with maintenance issues as well, according to Kaeiser.
Kaeiser pointed to an abandoned and wrecked trailer.
"I've told him a dozen times, get a dumpster out here and give me a reasonable wage and I'll tear it down," Kaeiser said. "My wife and I have lived here about 13 years, through five different owners. All the previous owners have managed to keep it up reasonably well."
There are also concerns about the park's mail service.
"There's been some concerns about the mailboxes," said Tracy Postmaster Mike Ruppert. "The posts aren't really sturdy and some of the lids don't open well."
Ruppert said notice to repair the mailboxes had been sent to Stierns by registered letter but returned unclaimed.
"I'll be happy to get it resolved before we have to hold the mail and ask residents to come in to the office to claim it." Ruppert said.
A representative of the Mora Chamber of Commerce confirmed that Meadow Ridge Development Company owns some properties in Mora, but is not a member of the Chamber.
Attempts to contact Stierns at his cell phone number and the business office number of Meadow Ridge Development Company were answered by a message saying the mailbox was full and directed to a pager. Calls had not been returned as of press time.