Contractors working for Tuolumne County began demolishing mobile homes in Jamestown on Wednesday due to substandard living conditions.
Over the next several days, the county will take down three mobile homes owned by Stewart Hatler, who has fought the county for years over his Ninth Avenue properties. Two condemned structures are on Ninth Avenue; one has a 10th Avenue address.
Hatler's mobile homes have been flagged for lack of adequate water and sewer services, holes in siding, additions and installations without permits, substandard electrical wiring, and other fire and health code violations.
The county served Hatler with multiple notices that he would need to fix the homes or have them torn down.
But he didn't heed the warnings, and new tenants moved into the homes unaware they were condemned, said Tuolumne County Chief Building Official Doug Oliver.
Hatler appealed abatement orders for two of the properties, which are a few blocks away from Jamestown Elementary School. Tuolumne County's Board of Supervisors denied the request.
Hatler could not be reached for comment Wednesday. In the past, he's said that his properties aren't subject to local codes because of an obscure state housing law.
"There's a lot that has been neglected in the county, and if we get enough complaints, we have to do something about it," Oliver said. "If the owner doesn't clean up, we must."
The cost of abatement for all three of the condemned mobile homes will be charged to Hatler. He must also pay $15,000 in fines for each home, Oliver said.
Heavy equipment was crunching through a Hatler-owned mobile home Wednesday morning. A Ninth Avenue mobile home slated for demolition had apparently been vandalized, with some of its siding ripped off.
The building was surrounded by heaps of trash, including dirty mattresses and several old TV sets. Tenants occupying the third condemned home were still moving out.
Families in the unsafe homes have been offered assistance from the nonprofit Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency's housing resources program.
Beetle Barbour, the program's director, says it's helped several of Hatler's former tenants find better housing within the past year. She pointed out that Hatler provides housing to people who otherwise have difficulty obtaining it.
One former Hatler tenant chose to camp in an RV. Another was turned away by a landlord the moment she said she'd lived on Ninth Avenue, Barbour said.
"They have so little options when this happens to them," she said. "People think they can just go get a rental somewhere else, and they can't."
Hoping to replace Hatler's mobile homes with safe, affordable housing, Barbour has even sought funding for a Ninth Avenue building project from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
So far she's been unsuccessful in getting the cash, but she's not giving up - even though Hatler hasn't yet agreed to sell his property.
"It's a dream," Barbour said.
Meanwhile, Oliver said several other mobile homes owned by Hatler are at the risk of being demolished in the near future if he doesn't fix code violations. Many more have been flagged for violations and are awaiting repairs.
Janice Cortez, who occupies another Jamestown mobile home owned by Hatler, said she's been without running water and that she lives in fear of having her home torn down.
"It's so scary, knowing this could happen," she said.
Hatler owes a "substantial" amount of money to the Jamestown Sanitary District, said Patti Ingalls, the district's financial officer.
Two of the homes being destroyed this week were slated to have their sewer service disconnected, but the county proceeded with demolition first.
"This is the bitter conclusion," Oliver said.