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Glen Oaks, troubled Auburn mobile home park, turns new leaf

Tenant who blew whistle on problems is new manager
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s Note: The Journal first reported on poor living conditions at Glen Oaks Mobile Home Park in Auburn and has since followed the progress of inspections and eventual new ownership of the park.

 

Dave Freeman worked hard to expose some of the abhorrent conditions at the mobile home park in Auburn where he has lived for the past eight years.

When new ownership took over after months of Freeman’s whistle blowing, he took a seat at a table in front of his fifth-wheel trailer, under his umbrella, sipping a soda or coffee – but he wasn’t just relaxing and taking in the sights.

He was at work again, carefully watching every move the new owners made.

Before, he had been ostracized by the old management and ownership, typecast as a “troublemaker,” he said. The new owners embraced his desire to make things right at Glen Oaks Mobile Home Park and made him the new onsite manager – just one sign of change in a place that has seen a lot of it lately.

“I got the cold shoulder in the beginning. It was like, ‘Who is this guy,’ because I was labeled a troublemaker from the old owner and management,” Freeman said. “And it turned out that only after a month, month and a half, they came down and started talking to me.”

In July, Paul Howard and Chris Boley purchased Glen Oaks in its dilapidated state with a vision to transform it into a safe, healthy, family friendly atmosphere.

“We’ve come a long ways so far, but we have a long, long ways to go to where we want to be,” Boley said.

First, they had to fix the 19 code violations revealed by a State Department of Housing and Community Development inspection after tenants filed complaints with the Placer County Department of Environmental Health.

So far, new ownership has spent more than $200,000 renovating and cleaning up the park, and more than 90 percent of the violations have been fixed, Boley said.  Rent has not been increased, he said.

They have until Dec. 9 to bring the park into compliance, a deadline that had been extended after an October inspection revealed significant progress in correcting the problems, according to Colin Parent, spokesperson for the State Department of Community Development.

Signs of their work can be seen by looking at the cabins, marked by new white-framed windows, some of which have refurbished interiors. Clothes-dryer exhaust can be seen steaming out of a vent from the laundry room, which features new machines and a fresh paint job, after it had been inactive for more than a year, Freeman said.

 “There were a hundred other things that we’ve seen that weren’t on the list of violations that we knew it would be the right thing to address, so we’ve done that,” said Boley, who said they’re about halfway through the renovation process. “We represent a long-term thing here, and we’re going an extra mile to see that’s what we have in the park.”

 

Taking out the garbage

The new ownership’s first priority was to address any health and safety issues. They spent more than $10,000 in working toward fixing the water that had previously been discolored and bordered on unhealthy, Boley said.

One of the first cabins they addressed was that of a woman and her son where mold had caused them to get sick, according to the complaint they filed. Other complaints tenants filed to the county included exposed sewer lines and electrical boxes, inaccurate electrical bills and large piles of trash and debris.

“The main thing,” Boley said, “was getting the garbage out.”

More than 20 40-yard Dumpsters have been filled with trash to be taken away, and multiple tenants who had been using and distributing drugs have been removed, Boley said.

Freeman said tenants in eight spaces were bought out by ownership.

“That’s gone. We don’t have that problem,” said Freeman, who said the main drug abuse centered around methamphetamine. “Officers come in, they can’t believe how much we’ve gotten it to change.”

The reduction in police activity there has been “pretty substantial,” said Dena Erwin, Placer County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.

Through June this year, Placer County Sheriff’s deputies visited Glen Oaks 40 times, 14 of those responding to citizen requests and 26 officer-initiated visits that consist of extra patrol requests, follow-up investigations and searches, Erwin said.

In the 4 1/2 months since the new ownership took over in July, deputies visited the park 16 times, five initiated by officers and 11 by citizens, she said.

“I do know there have been a lot of drug-related calls there in the past,” Erwin said. “There seem to be less now.”

Ed Saunders, a 74-year-old who has lived at the park for three years, said nearly all of the “riff raff” has been removed from the park.

Improvements around his trailer include the burying of sewer lines that previously lay above ground and the removal of a trash heap accumulated by his previous neighbor who “scrounged every piece of junk in existence around here,” Saunders said.

It took two 40-foot Dumpsters to remove the garbage left from by Saunders’ previous neighbor, Freeman said, and a new modular unit has been placed there.

Saunders still has concerns about dead limbs of an oak tree that hang over his unit that need trimming, but overall he has noticed “considerable improvements.”

“They’ve still got a little ways to go,” Saunders said, “but they got the worst stuff out of the way.”

Barbara Maxwell said she is happy to see the rats gone.

The 71-year-old has been living at Glen Oaks for the past 20 years and said the improving conditions have lifted a cloud that loomed over the community.

“There’s no cars without a license here. There’s no animals running around that don’t belong here. There’s no sheriff coming in to find people,” said Maxwell, whose cabin has received new windows and has had work done on her porch. “All that’s gone, and people are happy.”

 

‘It’s overwhelming sometimes’

Five months after the ownership change, Freeman sat in his newly constructed modest office off the side of his trailer on a rainy Tuesday in November, leaning back in his chair next to the warm glow of a kerosene heater, gazing out the glass sliding door.

“Things are changing,” Freeman said. “It’s slow. A lot of the stuff that was never addressed is being addressed finally. It’s overwhelming sometimes. When I go to sleep, I usually don’t dream – I try not to – but I have dreams on how to fix certain things.”

Sometimes he’ll wake up and scribble down the ideas. He has two binders filled with plans to better the park, he said.

Freeman, 54, grew up in San Francisco is a former tradesman who has experience in building inspection, heating and air, roofing and other trades, he said. His wife, Dale, does the record keeping, data entry and collects rent. They have three children who are in their 20s and 30s.

He moved with his family to Pilot Hill in 1994 but lost his house in 2000 due to economic reasons, Freeman said.

“Then we were homeless,” he said. “So we lived in a 16-foot Aristocrat trailer from the 60s. We did what we had to do – survived in that.”

Eventually they moved into a hotel where he found work in Auburn. The trailer he now lives in at Glen Oaks came from a woman who did not have money to pay him for painting a barn.

As someone who knows what it’s like to be down and out, Freeman has worked with ownership to help others secure housing at the park when they would otherwise be homeless.

“We’ve taken some decent people that have been on the street in Auburn, worked with their financial situation a little bit and given them a place to stay and a roof over their head,” Boley said. “Especially going into a cold winter.”

Freeman said that has been his “greatest satisfaction.”

“I’m just happy that the conditions for the other tenants are better,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. I didn’t think it would ever turn into a position for me or my wife. I never expected it to. But I look at it now, it’s great that it turned into a position because now I can make sure that everybody doesn’t get screwed. That’s what I’m happy about.”

The new ownership replaced previous manager Mary Carlson with Freeman about a month after they took over.

“I looked at it from a person that understands management and felt like she wasn’t doing the best job for the residents for a number of ways,” Boley said.

Carlson still lives at the park and said she “really can’t blame the owners because I had to work with what I had.”

“The new owners are trying their damnedest to clean this place up,” she said. “They’re trying real hard. They got started late in the season, but they’ve cleaned up a lot of the trailers and things beautifully inside.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews