Owner of condemned mobile home vows to fight
Uncertain future for units affected by collapsed creek bank at Sahara Mobile Village
"It's just been a damn mess," said Bob Burnham, an eight-year resident of Sahara Mobile Village whose home is uninhabitable since his backyard was swept away by heavy rains and the rushing current of Stevens Creek on March 20.
Residents and management at the mobile home park expressed relief, resignation, anger and frustration — in some cases all at once — at the damage caused by last month's days-long deluge that eroded the cliff along the creek's banks.
"We weren't affected, fortunately," said Daniel Gomez-Martinez. His backyard was spared, but just barely. Three of his neighbors weren't so lucky.
The cliff that gave way borders Stevens Creek and runs behind several homes along Stevens Creek Drive, a street within Sahara Mobile Village.
Gomez-Martinez said he will be allowed to remain in his home.
Burnham, a 77-year-old retiree, was home when the cliff collapsed, taking most of his backyard and the majority of a white picket fence with it.
Although he is glad that his unit has not been damaged and that his cat, Whiskers, was not harmed in the landslide, he is upset with how the incident has been handled by the mobile home park's management. Action should have been taken years ago to prevent it, he said.
"If they would have done something three years ago we wouldn't be in this mess," Burnham said. The owners of the park have known for years that the cliffs along the bank of the creek needed reinforcement, but did nothing, according to Burnham.
That's not entirely true, according to Maria Ahmad, general manager of Sahara Mobile Village. Ahmad said she has been working with the Santa Clara Valley Water District since she began her job in 2007 in an attempt to get financial assistance to build a levy or otherwise shore up the cliffs bordering the park.
The problem, Ahmad said, is that the water district won't provide financial assistance due to a law prohibiting the public agency from spending money on projects that would improve private land.
Because the Sahara Mobile Village's property line extends into the center of Stevens Creek, the water district can only provide advice to the owners, according to Chris Elias, lower Peninsula watershed manager for the district.
"We empathize with the impacts on the residents and the owners for their loss," Elias said. "Unfortunately, the law ties our hands as far as what we can do."
Ahmad, who said reinforcing the cliff could cost as much as $2 million, is continuing to work "amicably" with the water district, but does not understand why the agency is so unwilling to budge on the matter of financial support.
Both Ahmad and Elias have said that the water district would likely benefit from such a project.
Stevens Creek is a habitat for steelhead, Elias said. When large chunks of earth fall into the waterway, it disrupts that environment and the district has to send out cleanup crews to clear silt out of the stream.
Still, the law "is what it is," Elias said. Unless the law is changed, the district will not be able to provide financial support to owners and residents of the Sahara Mobile Village.
Meanwhile, Burnham remains in limbo. His unit, which he owns, has been condemned, he can't afford to start over somewhere new or move his unit to another park, and Sahara won't help him financially with such a move.
While the park paid to move one of the units to another space in the complex, that was a Sahara-owned unit. Ahmad said those who own their homes must foot the bill to move their structures.
Burnham thinks he is getting a raw deal from his landlords and plans on hiring a lawyer to seek damages for the pain and suffering he has endured since the cliff gave way.
"I can't eat, I can't sleep and my poor cat hasn't been the same," Burnham said. For the time being, he is complying with the state's order — staying out of his home and paying a friend $100 a week to rent a room — but ultimately he hopes his lawyer will be able to get him back in the place he calls home.
"I'm going to stay," he said. "I'm going to fight them."