At the Sylmar home that its owner turned her backyard into a makeshift RV park, a white fence has been erected along the front of the property to prevent onlookers from peeking inside. However, one can see that the RVs have been moved from the backyard to the front.
This is after the owner, Cruz Godoy, had been ordered to vacate her property, remove the RVs and clean up the property. But for neighbors, the so-called “cleanup” has brought new concerns.
Neighbors have noticed chemicals being sprayed, either to disinfect the property or mask the smell of the waste. The chemicals were brought to the attention of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council on July 27 during a meeting, when representatives for Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez and Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath were also present.
“Chemicals were being sprayed all throughout the property, [but] they don’t know what the chemicals are, and [the neighbors said] it’s causing nausea, headaches and dizziness,” Kurt Cabrera-Miller, president of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council recounted. “Neighbors wanted the city or the state to go in and find out what is being sprayed. … [The representatives] took notes and were going to report back to their offices [and said] they were going to follow up on that.”
Cabrera-Miller said the council has not received any follow up from Rodriguez’s office. He added that staff from Horvath’s office got in touch with the neighbors who complained about the chemicals and contacted the Health Department, who were dispatched to the scene. He doesn’t know if they were able to go inside or what they found.
Neighbors are concerned that there may not be proper oversight of the cleanup.
In a July 26 hearing, which was unexpectedly moved up from its original Aug. 3 date, Godoy pleaded no contest to one count of unlawfully erecting a structure without a permit. She was sentenced to 12 months of probation and told to bring the property into compliance with LA city laws. Godoy must remove all the RVs and keep the property free of trash, debris and waste.
Godoy’s next scheduled court date is Sept. 7.
The property has been the source of much discomfort and controversy for neighbors, who have been concerned with the impact on their health. They’ve been dealing with the smell of human waste that’s been spilling from the RVs onto the sidewalks and streets for months and have complained and attempted to get help for years.
Several neighbors went to both the City of San Fernando, the City of LA and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez for help, but they maintain nothing was being done until the media coverage began. During a media interview, Rodriguez has claimed the pandemic impacted the ability to respond.
Action was finally taken July 18, when the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) cut off power to the property due to several fire hazards found during a site inspection. The next day, a judge ordered that all residents vacate the property due to health and safety concerns.
Despite a July 23 deadline, some residents — including Godoy — have refused to leave. Nancy Caino, who lives right next to the property, estimates that there are at least 20 people still living on the property. A generator has been running on the property 24/7 ever since the power has been cut, though the sound hasn’t been as loud as it was previously.
And from what neighbors have been told, there are some tenants who are afraid they may be deported and may be fearful of utilizing an emergency shelter.
“I have spoken with a couple people that were living there who have left. They said they were fearful that immigration was going to come get them, which is a lie,” neighbor Hector Rivera said. “Hopefully, they’ll [those remaining on the property] be moved out safely and this will come to a good resolution.”
Rivera doesn’t know who was telling the tenants this misinformation, whether it’s another tenant or Godoy herself. Additionally, there are reports that former tenants who returned to the property to collect the rest of their belongings were not being allowed to go inside.
Cabrera-Miller, who is also the board chairperson of Community House Sylmar, said that the only recourse people have in that situation is to call the police, which may not be considered a safe option for any former tenant who may be undocumented and may fear they could be deported.
“Nobody wants to go to the police if they are fearful … or have any kind of trauma in their past for any myriad of reasons,” Cabrera-Miller said. “They will typically avoid any kind of police or court system.”
However, neighbors have noticed an almost daily police presence in front of the property. Cabrera-Miller said that Community House Sylmar is still reaching out to tenants to help them get housing or transport them to family members, or referring them to LA Family Housing or the Housing Authority of the City of LA based on each individual’s needs.
Maria Luisa Torres and Diana Martinez contributed to this article.