Friday, December 1, 2023

Nearly Two Weeks After a Sinkhole Cut Off Access to Willits RV Park, Landlord Refuses to Pay for Repairs

A vehicle swallowed by sinkhole north of Willits [Picture by MCSO Captain Greg Van Patton]

On December 30, 2022, a sinkhole grew into a full-blown washout of the road to the Creekside Cabins and RV Park, a small community north of Willits with upwards of fifty residents. 

Since then, food, water, and sundries have been supplied via a footpath for tenants that call the property their home. The question remains: who is going to fix the road so tenants can come and go once again?

A press release issued by the County of Mendocino points squarely at one person: Teresa Thurman, the owner of the property.

On New Year’s Eve Day, Mendocino County’s Office of Emergency Services was told by Caltrans that the repair was Thurman’s responsibility. 

The county provided Thurman with several contractors that could address both temporary access and permanent repairs. She made an agreement with one of those contractors who met with Caltrans to start work.

The County of Mendocino asserts that despite these initial steps to rectify the damaged roadway, “[T]he property owner declined to engage their chosen contractor.” 

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Since declining the contractor’s services, Thurman has “not communicated any plan or intent to repair the encroachment and has made recent statements suggesting an unwillingness to perform the work.”

At this point, the County’s Code Enforcement Department, California’s HUD licensing authority, and Caltrans have been contacted for “appropriate enforcement action.” Social Services are working with tenants in need and county staff is considering whether the health and safety needs of the residents call for expedited enforcement and abatement.

The vehicle toppled into the running water after the road gave way

Ultimately, the County’s position is it “does not have the legal authority to gift a private business with resources to meet the landlord’s obligations.” The landlord, they say, is responsible to fix the access.

So, who is the landlord, Teresa Thurman?

We reached out to her two days after the road washed out. Thurman said she was not ready to go on the record, but, when the time was right, she would tell us the “whole story.”

That never happened. She called us. We called back. Some vague text messages were exchanged. Finally, yesterday, when the County of Mendocino published its press release, we sent it to her offering her the opportunity to make a statement. She did not reply in time for our publication.

So, here’s what we know:

An article from January 2006 in MetroSilicon Valley by Patricia Lynn Henley explored Thurman’s purchase of Sonoma Grove, an RV park in Rohnert Park. Henley’s findings characterized Houser Holdings LLC, Thurman’s company, as “absentee ownership.” 

At that time, Rohnert Park had put into place mobile home rent control to provide low-income residents access to housing. Thurman hired attorneys to contest these rules arguing for her ability to raise the rents of the limited-income tenants.

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In 2010, Thurman got into a tug-of-war with the Lake County Board of Supervisors appealing the county’s claims that RVs parked at U Wanna Camp in Lakeport were there for months at a time. The property’s land use permit was specifically for transient residents and these long-term residents violated the permit’s stipulations.

In addition to the above, there are multiple lawsuits involving Thurman. Her ex-husband sued her after loaning his ex-wife $400,000 for repairs on the Creekside Cabins which she never paid back. A former tenant sued her and other parties for housing discrimination. A search of the Mendocino County Superior Court Portal shows she has been taken to small claims court on two occasions and sued for failure to pay back a loan under $10,000.

Janet Hagins and her husband are tenants of the Creekside Cabins and RV Park. They are on a fixed and limited income. Haggis’s husband has medical problems and she cares for him night and day. 

Since the road has washed out, the park’s garbage is piling up. It cannot be collected nor hauled across the precarious footpath that tenants have used to haul supplies into the community. Hagins expressed gratitude towards Danilla Sands and the United Disaster Relief of Northern California for bringing supplies to the tenants.

However, she is concerned about sewage. The property’s septic systems are backed up. They cannot be accessed and emptied. After nearly two weeks of waste building up, Hagins fears it could become a health hazard. 

California Civil Code 1941 requires landlords to repair property when a property is deemed “uninhabitable”. Some relevant criteria for “habitable” properties include “plumbing facilities in working order,” clean and sanitary buildings “free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents, and vermin,” and “safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway.”

Hagins and the other 50 or so residents say they need help, whether their landlord ponies up the dough or Uncle Sam.

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  1. Just make a new driveway off the property somewhere else on the property. Fill that whole with loads of rocks and dirt. Very simple. Make a even dirt road off the property somewhere else cheaper than fixing that whole

    • Taxpayers collectively cover the cost of maintaining roads on a public easement or right of way. The road in question is a privately owned driveway into a trailer park. The responsibility for maintenance costs is squarely on the landowner.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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