Yosemite leaders earn bad look with heavy-handed ultimatum on trailer park homeowners

CRAIG KOHLRUSS/ckohlruss@fresnobee.com
·3 min read

Imagine growing up at Yosemite National Park and enjoying its amazing scenery year-round. Then picture getting to work there most of your adult life.

That is what Gilbert Domingues has enjoyed. But living the dream is about to end for the longtime park employee, as he has received tough news from the Park Service. He has just a few months to vacate his home at the El Portal Trailer Park just outside Yosemite’s western entrance.

“I love these mountains, and the (Merced) river,” Domingues told Fresno Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss. “And now I have to leave. I’m going to miss it, that’s for sure.”

With a note of resignation, Domingues said “There is not much I can do, other than pack up and go. The government wins again.”

The El Portal Trailer Park has operated since the 1950s. Some of the trailers there are that old; others were placed in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Right before Christmas Yosemite officials told Domingues and other residents of the trailer park that they had to get out. If they were renters, the deadline was 60 days; homeowners get 90.

Opinion

The number of people affected is small; Yosemite officials believe about a dozen people live in the trailer park, while one resident estimates about 20. Many of those affected are older people.

The trailer park is on Yosemite land, but the Park Service does not own the homes. Suffice to say that paying for moving the mobile homes out of the trailer park will be a major expense for the residents, if moving can even be done. Many of the homes have been added onto over the years. The roads are narrow in both directions from the trailer park, so it may not even be physically possible to engineer a relocation.

Compounding matters, Yosemite officials have yet to meet in person with the trailer park residents, which is hard to understand.

A drastic ultimatum, no help with moving or compensation for their homes, no meeting with residents. Put it together, this is a bad look for Yosemite National Park’s management.

Leaving El Portal

The stated reason for the ultimatum is the decrepit condition of the electrical system that powers the trailer park.

An assessment by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. found that the trailer park has an “incredibly deteriorated electrical distribution system to the point of we were concerned that the place could burn down or (have) great risk of electrical shock,” Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon told a recent online meeting of area business and tourism representatives.

One could ask why Yosemite allowed that system to fall into such disrepair.

Muldoon told the online group that Yosemite has long planned to close down the trailer park, and has been letting attrition occur to reduce how many residents might be affected. “We didn’t reach this decision lightly ... The hardship that comes with finding new housing, particularly in this area, is not to be taken lightly in any way.”

But she did not disclose that Yosemite wants to use the trailer park property this year for construction staging for various projects. Then, in 2024, it is to be made into a campground for recreational vehicles and some administrative use.

Show residents respect

One elected official, Assemblymember Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, wants the Park Service to extend how long residents have to vacate — especially in light of the ongoing COVID pandemic and tight regional housing market. His request makes sense.

One resident says he was told by a Muldoon assistant that “she won’t meet with you guys at all.” That’s just wrong. The least Muldoon can do is gather personally with the residents and let them express their concerns.

It is common practice for public agencies to relocate residents when a project needs their property, such as in downtown redevelopment. Legally, the Park Service owns the land and so, in this case, it is not under a legal requirement to compensate or help the trailer park residents.

But ethically, some form of assistance would be called for. Most taxpayers would agree that would be the decent thing to do.

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