Power was shut off to homes near Yosemite National Park on Tuesday, the latest blow to a group of homeowners who were told in December by Yosemite that they’d have to remove or surrender the mobile homes they own without compensation by March 13.
“There’s no words to describe how messed up this is,” Luke Harbin said Tuesday.
His mother, a longtime Yosemite worker, is among the affected homeowners in the El Portal Trailer Park, where she has lived for 38 years.
“This is so wrong,” Harbin continued, “and the fact that our government is allowing this, it breaks my heart and makes me ashamed of our political and legal system.”
Yosemite leaders are concerned about the safety of power lines there that Yosemite owns and have other plans for the site.
Sunday was the last day residents were allowed to live in the El Portal Trailer Park, also known as the trailer court or trailer village.
Many El Portal residents own their homes but lease the land beneath them from Yosemite, even though El Portal is outside the national park. El Portal residents have to work for Yosemite or its park partners to live in the community.
Also on Tuesday, a locked metal gate was installed at the entrance to the trailer park for added security.
“Funny they can spend thousands of dollars on labor and equipment to block off the trailer court,” longtime resident Nancy Dawson said. No financial compensation or moving help was provided to those forced to leave their homes.
Some homeowners who received 30-day extensions to remove their personal property will continue to have access to the trailer park during the day, but not to live there. It will be closed to the general public.
One resident who was expecting a package from FedEx left a note for the delivery person to leave it on a car parked outside the locked gate.
NPS spokespeople said Yosemite had housing agreements with 12 individuals in the trailer park.
The leases for their mobile home pads were terminated at 11:59 p.m. Sunday. Approaching that deadline, there was still no locked gate for security as promised to residents, just a “road closed” sign.
What’s happening with power in the mobile home park
El Portal Trailer Park residents paid Yosemite National Park for electricity.
Several residents told The Bee on Tuesday that power in their homes there was no longer on. Harbin said all the residents he spoke with lost power except for one person on a separate power line at the far end of the trailer park.
National Park Service workers were in the trailer park on Tuesday apparently working on de-energizing the lines, what NPS spokespeople previously said was coming.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said NPS officials were working to respond to questions from The Bee on Tuesday about the situation.
Affected residents said they had not been served with official eviction paperwork as of Tuesday, just the letters in December that notified them that their lease agreements would be terminated in 90 days.
Robert Cortez, supervising attorney of nonprofit Central California Legal Services’ housing team, said it appears Yosemite, by shutting off their power now, has committed an act of constructive eviction without due process of law.
“Removing tenants can only be legally done pursuant to due process of law,” Cortez added.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company has worked with Yosemite on projects in the past, including in the trailer park, based on some PG&E markers on the outside of electrical infrastructure and power poles there.
PG&E spokesperson Denny Boyles said he wasn’t aware of PG&E doing any work in the trailer park on Tuesday, and “at this point,” anything being done is at the request of Yosemite, so questions should be referred to them.
The Great American Outdoors Act recently funded a major new power line from El Portal to Yosemite Valley, but that work didn’t include the trailer park. Yosemite said that major power line was replaced with PG&E.
Who is responsible for what in El Portal near Yosemite?
El Portal is unusual in that Congress designated it an administrative site for the national park in 1958. It was created so “utilities, facilities, and services” required to run Yosemite could be located outside the national park.
The rural community beside the Merced River in Mariposa County along Highway 140 is also home to many Yosemite workers, including in the adjacent hamlets of Old El Portal, Abbieville and Rancheria Flat, where electricity isn’t slated to be turned off.
Greg Magruder, a resident of Old El Portal and a member of the El Portal Planning Advisory Committee, part of the Mariposa County Planning Department, is among some neighbors standing with the trailer park residents.
Magruder is trying to sort out who has authority over what in El Portal, and said it’s not as clear as the federal government exclusively being in charge of everything there.
For example, Magruder said, to do house repairs, he’d need to send in plans to the Park Service for approval, “but then it goes to the county, and you pay your fees to the county, and they come up and inspect it.”
But federal projects in El Portal don’t require that same county approval, Magruder said.
Harbin also noted how his mom pays property taxes for her home in El Portal. A bill for this fiscal year, ending in June 2022, from the Mariposa County Tax Collector says she was billed for “land” and “structural” charges.
Magruder also confirmed that the trailer park homeowners pay property taxes to the county. And yet the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors says nothing can be done about the closure of the trailer park because it’s on NPS land, Magruder said.
“Taxation without representation,” Magruder added. “Didn’t we fight a war over this?”
He said it’s “jurisdictional BS” in El Portal and called Yosemite National Park administration “the puzzle palace.”
“You don’t know who’s making the decisions. You don’t know what the goal is. What’s the ultimate goal? This is a good example,” Magruder said of what’s now happening to the trailer park.
Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon has stressed that electrical concerns in the trailer park are the “sole driver for taking this action,” but also said Yosemite plans to turn trailer park into a public and administrative-use campground for recreational vehicles, with campground construction slated to begin in 2024.
In December, NPS also said the site would be used as a construction staging area for many major Yosemite projects in 2022 and beyond. This month, that changed to, “Currently, there is no alternative use planned for the trailer court area in 2022.”
Whatever the reasons, what’s happening now to residents in the trailer park has been hard for many to accept.
“Anyone with a heart knows this is wrong, but it seems like no one cares,” Harbin said. “Just born on the wrong side of the river I guess, and there’s nothing we can do to change that.”