The bulge of asphalt that bisects a road inside the Friendly Village Mobile Home Park has a nickname: The Destroyer.
“It’s taken out all kinds of cars,” said Roger Lackey, a 14-year resident of the park. “I once saw a cop car get stuck.”
The sloped and cracked roads inside the park are among a litany of problems residents have complained about for years: Tangles of gas, electric and water lines float above ground alongside homes. The smell, and sometimes sight, of raw sewage wafts in backyards and along roads. Lakes of water form around sunken homes when it rains, and fire hydrants perch on pedestals 3 feet above where the ground should be.
The 182-unit park, situated in North Long Beach near the city’s border with Lakewood, was built on a now-closed municipal landfill that was not properly lined, state records show. As the garbage in the ground slowly decomposes, the land shifts and buckles, causing a raft of problems.
Three years ago residents sued the owner of the park and property management company, and the case is slated for a jury trial in Downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The trial is expected to last five weeks.
The residents say the owner has failed to make repairs and has ignored notices from the state to fix public health hazards, all the while raising monthly rents by about $400. Most worrisome, they say, are dangerous, and at times explosive, levels of methane gas seeping into the air from the landfill, which ceased operation in 1948, investigative reports from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department show.
“It’s terrible what they’re doing,” Milly Bejarano, 68, a 12-year resident of the park, said of the park owners.
Friendly Village was purchased in 2014 by Kort & Scott Financial Group, a firm that owns and manages dozens of mobile home parks across the state. Also named in the suit is Sierra Corporate Management, a division of Kort & Scott that runs the property.
The Costa Mesa attorney representing the owner and management, Phil Woog, did not return calls for comment, nor did Russell A. Rodriguez, president of Sierra Management.
In a cross-complaint filed in June 2017, Woog denied the company is responsible for the problems at the park, saying other parties—including several oil and petroleum companies that operated near the site—are either “directly or vicariously” responsible for the damages described in the complaint.
The city, which operated the dump for about six years in the 1940s, had also been named in the original lawsuit, but was dropped as a defendant in November.
The Department of Housing and Community Development has authority over mobile home parks in California. The state agency has inspected Friendly Village on several occasions over the last 20 years, including in 2016, a few days after Councilman Al Austin and Amy Bodek, former director of Development Services, penned letters requesting intervention.
The property just south of Davenport Park on Paramount Boulevard was purchased in 1970 and developed by Boise Cascade Development Company, which acknowledged in its purchase agreement that there is a potential for “differential and settlement” of the land. Any subsequent owners, the agreement said, would be responsible for the working order of vents designed to allow methane gas to safely escape from the ground, and it noted that the property would have to be periodically leveled and resurfaced.
In 2013, the county public health agency found methane levels near trash bins at the park were near “explosive levels.” The state later recommended in 2016 excavating the underground landfill to relieve pressure from the gas.
Documents show state inspectors in 2016 found a number of other significant health hazards that included exposure of utility lines and pooled water throughout the property. The report found that 174 of the 182 units in the park were not properly graded, leading to flooding and water pooling.
Bejarano said she has spent roughly $2,500 of her own money to level her mobile home three times over the 12 years she has lived there.
“I can’t afford any more,” said Bejarano, a retired Long Beach Unified school teacher.
The state granted Kort & Scott several extensions to submit a plan for repairs, documents show. A representative from the state said in an email that a corrective plan was submitted by Kort & Scott on Aug. 20 and is currently under review.
The attorney representing the homeowners—many of them retired—said he doesn’t have much hope that the property can be salvaged.
“We have reams of papers, documents, experts, engineers all saying this land is unstable in nature,” said Brian Kabateck, the Los Angeles attorney representing the residents. “They have rejected every possible repair method.”
He hopes the property owners will receive compensation for the loss of their property and punitive damages. The owners “need to be taught a lesson, that they can’t treat people like this,” Kabateck said.
Bejarano said she was told about the prior use of the land before she bought her home, but she didn’t realize the consequences.
Several properties throughout Long Beach sit on or near closed landfills, including vacant lots, industrial buildings, parking lots and the Belmont Shores Mobile Home Estates near Marina Pacifica. Most of these landfills were likewise in operation before more stringent environmental laws were enacted in the 1970s.
Former City Councilman Mike Donelon, who lives in the Belmont Shore park, said homes there occasionally have to be re-leveled due subsidence, but that management takes of it. The park is currently undergoing a $30 million infrastructure project to replace the sewer, water and electrical systems, among other work.
There are no longer any active landfills in Long Beach.
Lackey, the 14-year resident, is a retired plumber, and knows about utility lines. He worries so much about the problems at the park—especially the gas lines being exposed—that he said he had to get medical treatment for anxiety.
“The infrastructure here is shot,” he said. “I’d wake up at 1 a.m. worrying about an earthquake.”
Depending on the size of the lot and utilities, residents of Friendly Village pay roughly $1,100 a month for use of the land under their mobile homes and common areas (roughly the same as residents in the Belmont Shore park pay). They individually own their homes—though, residents note, the term “mobile” is a bit of a misnomer as it isn’t feasible to move most of them.
Some of the residents have already sold their homes and moved, Lackey said.
“I don’t blame them,” he said. “What are you going to do?”