Waiting game for Bell Garden residents in North Auburn

Placer County has removal plans for residents in advance of demolition of World War II buildings
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
AUBURN CA - Attorneys representing low-income residents of the Placer County-owned Bell Garden Apartments are studying possible ways to help ease the financial burden of renters who are being forced to move. Lawyers with the Legal Services of Northern California’s Auburn office questioned the Bell Gardens relocation plan at a Board of Supervisors meeting a month ago and were able to delay consideration until at least Feb. 28. Managing Attorney Herb Whitaker said Monday that staff met with many of the Bell Gardens tenants Jan. 21 on the proposed relocation plan. “We’ll be talking with the county but continuing to seek information,” Whitaker said. One of the questions that needs to be answered is why a 2003 relocation plan to assist with tenants who lived in other buildings torn down was apparently more generous than the current plan, Whitaker said. The county plan is to tear down the two remaining Bell Garden apartment buildings. The brick buildings were built in 1943 as part of the construction of DeWitt Army Hospital and originally used to house officers and medical staff. The county leases the buildings to A&G Development Co., which rents out the apartments. But Facility Services Department Director Jim Durfee reported to the Board of Supervisors in early January that the company may want to terminate its lease before all tenants have left, because of the buildings’ age and condition. If that occurs, the department has made plans to bring in another business, Overland, Pacific & Cutler, to complete property management of the apartments until they are vacated, Durfee said. In all, the buildings now are home to 70 people, including 21 children. “We don’t think the county wants to contribute to the homeless population by evicting some of its most-low-income residents,” Whitaker said. Of the 25 families now renting at Bell Garden, 11 have annual incomes of less than $15,800, he said. Eighty percent of the Bell Gardens residents are Hispanic, with most of them monolingual, Whitaker said. Durfee said that the county’s decision to remove the buildings was based on their condition and age, not on any plan to replace them with another structure at this time. “The buildings have reached the end of their useful lives,” Durfee said. Rob Sandman, deputy county counsel, said Monday that the county doesn’t agree with Legal Services of Northern California contentions on whether it has additional legal responsibilities. Legal Services, which provides aid for low-income area residents, contends that the payment of up to $50,000 for Overland, Pacific & Cutler to relocate residents is inadequate. Low-income persons displaced by demolition of buildings that utilize federal block-grant funding are entitled to replacement housing compensation for a five-year period after displacement, Legal Services stated in a letter to the board last month. The Legal Services stance is that the county satisfied its obligations in 2003 by providing full relocation assistance to tenants in 13 Bell Garden units torn down at that time and that it is required to do the same again with the 25 remaining units.