Homeowners being forced out by Yosemite are seeking help. ‘We don’t know what to do’
One Yosemite area homeowner recently mailed a handwritten letter stained with tears to Yosemite National Park, asking for more time to leave her longtime home. She hasn’t received a response yet.
“Imagine losing your home after 40 years,” said the woman’s son, Luke Harbin, for a Fresno Bee story that published this weekend about residents of the El Portal Trailer Park near Yosemite being told for the first time, the week before Christmas, that they have to remove or surrender their homes in early 2022. The National Park Service has other plans for the site and is concerned about power lines there.
Many people who learned of their plight have expressed interest in helping the residents, but those affected are still working out what to do next. Several homeowners said they are looking to hire an attorney to help them but haven’t found one yet.
For now, some residents said those wanting to help could start by sending complaints to Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon.
Their main concerns: Limited time to leave and receiving no compensation, including for the mobile homes they own.
Some of the homes have been there since the 1950s and can hardly be considered mobile anymore. There are now also some narrow, one-lane roads past the trailer park in either direction.
“We’re just kind of blown away and staring at a wall. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to go. I’ve never faced homelessness before in my life,” said one soon-to-be displaced homeowner on Monday, who asked not to be identified in the story out of fear of losing employment in Yosemite.
“They are just being inhumane at this point ... no compassion at all.”
Yosemite has jurisdiction over land in El Portal but doesn’t own many of the homes that sit upon that land, located about a five-minute drive from Yosemite’s west entrance along Highway 140.
A Yosemite spokesperson estimated there are about 12 residents, “plus or minus,” remaining in the El Portal Trailer Park. Many of the homes are owned by individuals who have to work in Yosemite to live there. One homeowner estimated there are at least over 20 residents there who are working for Yosemite.
For years, trailer park lease agreements said the closure of the trailer park would “continue to be implemented through attrition,” but residents said they were not given a deadline to leave or an estimate about when the trailer park might be closed until last month, aside from NPS previously rescinding a decision to close the park in 2000.
Letters sent in December to homeowners, signed by Muldoon, said leases for the mobile home spaces are terminated, and residents there have to leave within 90 days. Unauthorized tenants, including renters who aren’t supposed to be there, have less time to leave, 60 days.
Gilbert Domingues is one of the renters. The landscaper previously worked for Yosemite as a firefighter and base camp manager. He was born in Yosemite and grew up in the park’s last Native American village before it was destroyed by the Park Service.
“Now I’m leaving for good, I guess,” said Domingues, who is planning to live with his son in Oregon.
He worries about the future of the area, an archaeological site with ancient mortar holes on boulders – circular depressions created by Native Americans while grinding food. Yosemite said it plans to use the trailer park site this year as a construction equipment staging area for various park projects.
Some trailer park homeowners who called numbers on a Park Service letter that included a few resources where residents might be able to get help finding new housing said they were connected to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office in one instance, not housing help. Several trailer park residents said they have been unsuccessful in securing new housing in Yosemite Valley or rural Mariposa, located about 40 minutes from El Portal.
Some hope politicians will help get them more time.
There’s still a lot of unknowns and heartbreak in the trailer park, but Harbin said he knows this: “We still have our rights and benefits as displaced people, and they’re violating those rights.”