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Placer County’s Bell Garden plans in limbo

Seventy people would be displaced as county moves to close North Auburn apartment building
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Both sides are still apart but discussing what steps to take as Placer County moves to tear down North Auburn apartment buildings now housing about 70 low-income residents. Bell Gardens Apartments on A Avenue are considered by the county Facility Services Department to have outlived their useful life. Consisting of 27 units, the two Bell Garden buildings would join four adjoining World War II-era apartments that have already been leveled by the county. But Legal Services of Northern California has slowed initial county plans to have the buildings emptied as early as April by questioning whether enough is being done to aid relocation efforts and assist Bell Garden tenants facing potentially higher rents. Legal Services, which provides legal aid to the poor, temporarily stopped the Board of Supervisors last Jan. 12 from adopting a relocation plan that would have provided up to $50,000 for moving expenses and hardship assistance. Supervisors instead asked staff to look into the legal service’s concerns and its contention that federal laws require renters to be provided with rent subsidies for up to five years. Another group, the Latino Leadership Council, protested that many of the Spanish-speaking Bell Garden residents didn’t receive adequate notice on relocation plans in their own language. According to a study conducted by Sacramento’s Overland, Pacific & Cutter – which is being paid up to $50,000 for relocation work – 18 of 25 households identified Spanish as their primary language. In total, the county has planned to spend a total of up to $50,000 for the Overland, Pacific & Cutter contract and assisting the departure of tenants. That figure could move higher, if it has to compensate former tenants for increases in rent at their new homes. For tenants, more county assistance could mean the difference between having a home or living on the streets, Legal Services attorneys told supervisors last month. Overland, Pacific & Cutter also stated that all 25 households had income levels of 30 percent or more below the area’s median. Facility Services will be asking supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting for an opportunity to continue discussions and delay any board action to March 27. “County staff has been responding to the issues that were raised by both organizations,” Facility Services Director James Durfee and deputy director Mark Rideout said in a short report. “In particular, County Counsel and staff have been discussing the needs of the residents with Legal Services in order to develop an agreement defining the level of relocation assistance from tenants.” Herb Whitaker, Legal Services managing attorney, said Monday that he would decline to comment at this time because the sides were in the middle of negotiations. Rideout also declined to comment for the same reason. Rideout said no demolition contract had been programmed as part of relocation plan. Approval of the plan would trigger a 90-day period for assisting tenants with moves to other locations. The Overland, Pacific & Cutter survey stated that the average monthly rent at Bell Garden for one-bedroom units was $491. Twenty-one of the 25 units now occupied are one-bedroom apartments. The median rent for other one-bedroom apartments in the area is $695 a month. Placer County Board of Supervisors What: Request to put off Bell Garden Apartment discussion until March 27 When: 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 Where: County Administrative Center, 175 Fulweiler Ave., Auburn