High-Speed Rail

Fresno Inn tenants upset over short-notice eviction

Residents of a rundown central Fresno motel are upset over three-day eviction notices that blame Caltrans construction for the order to get out immediately.

On Wednesday, some renters at the Fresno Inn on Parkway Drive near Clinton Avenue were joined by tenant advocates to demand that the out-of-town landlords not only retract the notices that they say are illegal, but also fix conditions that they say make many of the units unsafe and unlivable.

They also want answers from the California Department of Transportation about its plans for the property, which are related to the state's controversial high-speed rail project.

Caltrans, however, appears to be a scapegoat for the motel owners. The eviction notices issued Aug. 8 say the move is "do (sic) to Cal-Trans demalition (sic)" starting Sept. 1.

Tenants Together, a renter-advocacy group, accused landlords of "trying to empty the building rather than make legally required repairs" in units used by about 55 renters.

Caltrans will eventually rebuild the nearby Clinton/Highway 99 interchange as part of a highway relocation project tied to high-speed train plans, said spokesman Jose Camarena. But that work probably won't happen until mid- to late 2014 -- and certainly not next month -- he said, because Caltrans has not even started buying property for the project. The motel is within the "footprint" of the planned interchange reconstruction.

"Caltrans is not involved with the notices sent to the residents," Camarena said. "When we do any kind of relocation, as a state agency, we cannot give someone only a three-day notice. We have relocation assistance programs and procedures that we follow when we acquire property or use eminent domain."

He said the situation "is strictly between the landlord and the residents. We do get fingers pointed at us now and then, and we hope to have a chance to explain our process."

The Fresno Inn is owned by a Silicon Valley company, Casa de Campo LLC of Saratoga. According to county property tax records, the company has owned the motel since 2001. The motel was built in 1961.

George S. Lee, listed on public records as a member of Casa de Campo LLC, could not be reached for comment. A message on his telephone said he is unavailable until Sept. 2.

Tenant John Laranjo showed off a 60-day eviction notice dated June 24, but Laranjo said the manager tried to retrieve those letters that same day.

"These tenants are in shock and scared," said Omé Quetzal Lopez, a regional organizer for Tenants Together. "They've paid their rent, but are being kicked out with virtually no notice. There are families with kids, disabled folks, elderly and low-income tenants who have lived here a long time. This landlord needs to stop these evictions now."

Rather than evict the tenants, "the landlord should do its job and bring the property up to code so that residents have a safe place to live," Quetzal Lopez added.

Two wings that represent more than half of the rooms on the 2.8-acre property are boarded up or closed off; several more among the 50 remaining rooms are posted with red "unsafe to occupy" notices issued last week by the Fresno city building department.

Tenants at the motel said they pay $550 a month for their cramped rooms. Many of the units are in dismal shape -- soiled walls and carpets, air conditioners/heaters that don't work, and insect infestations.

The room Efrain Rubio shares with his girlfriend Amber Temple and their 2-week-old son Zayne is in better shape than most of his neighbors'. In the three months that they've lived there, tileworker/painter Rubio has put his own time and money into repairing and repainting the room.

But that's left him without money to comply with the eviction notice and find another place to live. "We have no place to go," he said. "We don't have the funds to do it."

Quetzal Lopez said the owners have not responded to tenant demands.

The eventual highway work will shove Highway 99's traffic lanes about 100 feet to the west between Ashlan and Clinton Avenues to make room for high-speed rail tracks. Caltrans will do the work under an agreement with the state High-Speed Rail Authority.