The ongoing situation between neighbors in the City of San Fernando and property in Sylmar that turned its backyard lot into a makeshift RV park has been brewing for years.
For those who live close by, having to deal with the stench of human waste leaking from the property onto the sidewalks and streets is harrowing. Now that tenants who were living in the RVs are being told to move out, there is some relief for the neighbors who have been dealing with the foul smell for so long.
According to Nancy Caino and her family, who live in a home on Hubbard Street next door to the makeshift RV park, the property has been a problematic eyesore for them and many other neighbors for at least four years, with issues ranging from everyday nuisances, such as loud music and noises at all hours, to suspected illegal activity, such as drug dealing on the street outside the property.
In addition, RV residents routinely took up street parking and blocked neighbors’ driveways while fixing vehicles, and emergency vehicles were often dispatched to the property, which Caino claims has more far more than the 20-plus RVs being reported by other media outlets.
Caino said the number is closer to 30, adding that she has first-hand knowledge because at one time she was friendly with Godoy and she visited her home several times.
Worst of all have been the safety and health hazards, explained Caino, especially the raw sewage from the RVs that have sometimes spilled out onto the street right next to her house. Depending on the time of day, she said that the accompanying foul odors from the human waste have often been unbearable – and remain so, especially in the afternoons – forcing her and her husband, Alberto Caino, and their daughter to remain indoors to try to escape the penetrating stench.
Living next door she also witnessed some of the activity that took place, including large blue barrels being buried underground that she believes were used to capture the human waste from the people who lived in the RVs. She presumes those barrels overflowed and its contents seeped into the ground and eventually made its way onto the streets – overflow which she saw (and smelled) firsthand on the street right outside her house.
“It was just so completely disgusting,” she said.
According to Caino, the sewage and other health hazards have been making some of her neighbors sick, and she believes residents on the property were likely being affected as well.
“Ambulances would show up all the time and take people away,” explained Caino.
Caino said she often lived in fear of catastrophe, especially because of the propane tanks used for the RVs all over the property. For example, on the evening of the Fourth of July, she couldn’t sleep all night, because she kept expecting a spark from random nearby fireworks to hit a propane tank or faulty electrical wiring and ignite a fire or even an explosion.
“I was awake all night that night; I couldn’t sleep at all because I was really afraid there would be an explosion,” she recalled.
Despite regularly contacting and complaining to local authorities, Caino and other neighbors were regularly told there was nothing that could be done about the situation. She believes the years of inaction may have been partly due to the fact that the property essentially borders two cities – Los Angeles and San Fernando – and she thinks neither one wanted to take on the responsibility of rectifying the increasingly bad situation.
“We complained and complained and nobody was really paying attention to us,” she said. “Finally [my neighbor] contacted the media, and I think someone there reported it to another newspaper, and then the story got out and started to spread, and finally more people started noticing what was happening.”
Now that the court order has been imposed and residents have started to leave the property, Caino is feeling cautiously optimistic. She said she’s glad that people are finally listening to them and taking action, but emphasized, “I know this is just the first step – it’s only the beginning.”
“In my opinion, it [the situation] is moving as quickly as it can right now,” Hector Rivera, a neighbor, said. “I would say from my point of view, … around 80 percent of people [inside] have left.
Rivera has been one of the most vocal in the neighborhood about the RVs and the impact they are having in the area, where he has lived for over 20 years. He said he first noticed the stench years ago, thinking it may have been a dead animal. He recalled that there would be flies around the outside of his house, describing it as something out of “The Exorcist.”
While he and neighbors have been complaining loudly about how the waste problem has been affecting them, Rivera expressed sympathy towards the tenants who have been living inside, particularly the children.
“There’s still a child there. I saw a little boy there this [Wednesday] morning,” he said. “They need to get out of that situation. … I would like everybody to be removed from the property safely and unharmed, and then [have the court] address the issues, which are the RVs and the biohazard — the waste and the sewage — and have it tested and cleaned up so the community here can be safe.”
The situation has developed quickly since last week, when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) cut off power to the property on July 18, and a judge ruled that everyone living there, including owner Cruz Florian Godoy, must move out by Sunday, July 23.
However, though the deadline has passed, Rivera pointed out that there are still people living there and nothing is being done about it.
“They have a generator going 24/7,” Rivera said. “I live six houses away. You can hear the generators going [at night]. We called the LAPD Mission Hills division, but they said there’s nothing they can do about it.”
Phyllis Bazzini doesn’t live as close to the property as others who have been vocal about the issue, but she said that she noticed the smell when she would go shopping at a little strip mall near the property. However, she didn’t know the source of the stench until she attended a neighborhood watch meeting.
“We were all just in shock,” Bazzini said. “Nobody knew what was happening and the lengths that this area has gone through for over three years in trying to stop it and get it addressed.
“The city of [LA] dropped the ball. [Councilwoman] Monica Rodriguez has dropped this ball so bad that it’s going to take a lot to correct. It’s going to take a hazmat team to go in and get all of this [mess] out.”
She also brought up the generator that has been running on the property after the power was cut, expressing her concern if the generator caught fire near the dead vegetation and propane tanks. She recalled the Sayre fire in 2008, when 500 mobile homes were destroyed in Sylmar, and how disastrous a fire on this property could be.
“Do you know what could happen if there was a fire and these propane tanks start blowing up? They travel like missiles,” Bazzini said. “Propane tanks, balls of fire, were flying over my house. That’s what happens when a propane tank gets ignited. It’s extremely dangerous.”
Like Rivera, Bazzini expressed her frustration over the fact that people are still on the property after the vacate deadline and how Godoy seems to have, so far, avoided any real consequences.
“Obviously, the law does not pertain to her,” Bazzini said. “If I was ordered by a judge to do something, I would be in jail if I didn’t do it. But evidently, the law doesn’t pertain to her because she hasn’t left and they’re still running generators.”