ESCONDIDO — Tenants facing eviction from a West El Norte Parkway property are appealing a lawsuit filed by the City of Escondido accusing them of turning the site into a “public nuisance.”
The lawsuit was filed in April after the city issued several code violation citations regarding large amounts of “trash, junk, debris, inoperable vehicles” as well as tenants living in RVs connected to public utilities at 2130 W El Norte Pkwy.
Several people who live on the property, some for more than a year while others only a few months, dispute the claims levied against them in the complaint.
Steve Wood said much of the “junk” on the property is recycled material that he uses to create teardrop camper trailers and rebuild larger trailer coaches. Wood, an Escondido native, has lived there for about three years.
“We’re not squatters,” he said.
While some neighbors have complained about the property, others have come to know some of its residents, like Wood. He works on one of the neighbor’s cars occasionally and another neighbor has provided him lumber to craft his trailers.
According to the city’s lawsuit, city code prohibits residents from using, allowing, maintaining or depositing construction materials such as lumber, wood, scrap metal, concrete and asphalt on their properties.
While the lawsuit alleges the residents haven’t corrected their violations, the residents say that they have been trying to get rid of everything for some time now. The lawsuit also notes that code enforcement witnessed a “noticeable amount” of the property’s debris had been removed at one point, but some still remained.
The residents recently held a yard sale as a fundraiser to rent a dumpster, but they were put on a long waitlist and decided the money would be better used elsewhere.
A hearing was scheduled for June 10, but the residents could be out of a home by then. In early May, a county judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in an unlawful detainer case, which gave the agency permission to evict the residents from the property.
HUD has owned the property since it fell into foreclosure in September. The property’s previous owner, Robert E. Donelson, died in 2019, and his stepdaughter, Terry Bearer, still lives in the house.
Richard Zindler, another resident on the property, said Bearer was never given an opportunity to try to buy the property. The residents were working together to save enough money to buy it.
More recently, the water was turned off at the property as well. Several of the residents are elderly and disabled and require water for their daily health routines. Though they pooled together enough money to pay the bill, the Vista Irrigation District won’t turn it back on without a deed to the property or HUD’s permission to turn it back on.
The city has ordered the residents to vacate the premises if they cannot turn the water back on by June 10.
Juliana Musheyev, an organizer in a local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, has been trying to get in contact with HUD for the residents.
Musheyev and another organizer, Kwame X., have been bringing water for the residents to use a few times a week since the water was shut off last month. They also set up a fundraiser to help raise money for the residents as they face eviction.
The organizers heard about what was happening to the residents through recent media coverage. Feeling there was more to the story, they reached out to help.
“Housing is a human right,” Musheyev said.
Residents are hoping to buy some time so that they can better prepare for the move, which will likely send several of them back into homelessness.
According to Mike Thorne, communications officer for the city, multiple outreach teams including Interfaith Community Services and the county have visited the property since April to help the residents at risk of becoming homeless once they are evicted.
“The outreach teams have been visiting the property two to three times a week to assist these occupants in getting connected to benefits, housing, and programs that offer a higher level of care,” Thorne said in an email.
Musheyev, who has frequently visited the property for the last month, said that wasn’t true.
Recently things have been tense for the property’s residents, who have bonded as a family looking after each other. For now, they hope to have some more time to stay on the property together and get things in order before they face the uncertain future.