U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, has called for an investigation of the Southern California Bureau of Indian Affairs’ handling of longtime problems that have affected residents of the Thermal-based Oasis Mobile Home Park.
He specifically cites issues with the mobile home park’s contaminated water system and the failure of BIA monitors to quickly do something about an illegal waste collection business that operated for several years nearby and is believed responsible for health concerns that forced some local schools to temporarily close.
In an April 1 letter to BIA Director Darryl LaCounte and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Ruiz outlines a litany of concerns and requests a “full accounting of the BIA’s interactions and oversight of the Oasis Mobile Home Park, located on Tribal land in Thermal …”
“For the past year and a half, my office and I have been working with local BIA officials in Riverside County to remedy two public health threats to my constituents,” Ruiz wrote. “The circumstances leading up to these incidents and the response of local officials has been unacceptable, and I am gravely concerned about their ability to protect my constituents and the people living on Tribal lands in my district going forward.”
He said he believes the BIA may have allowed the mobile home park to operate without a proper lease for at least 15 years, subjecting residents to unsafe living conditions.
In Aug. 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency filed an emergency order against the Oasis Mobile Home Park after arsenic levels in its drinking water registered nine-times the legal state limit, Ruiz said.
The order requires the park’s owner, Scott Lawson, to provide one gallon of water per resident per day at no cost to the residents. For the past year, according to Ruiz, the Oasis Mobile Home Park has faced repeated EPA violations for high levels of arsenic in drinking water.
Ruiz said a month after the EPA’s order, his office also found that the local BIA “had been aware of an unpermitted waste facility (the Sun Valley Recycling Center) located on Tribal land for nearly five years and had failed to take appropriate steps to stop the trespassing business.”
Repeated fires at the park, Ruiz added, sickened nearby children and teachers and forced the cancellation of classes at schools in the Coachella Valley Unified School District for more than a week.
Eventually, after numerous requests from his office, Ruiz said, the BIA shut down the business and continues to clean its former site.
“It should not have taken a crisis for the law to be enforced,” Ruiz said in his April 1 letter.
Ruiz also points to an issue that occurred during an Oct. 2019 meeting he had with BIA officials, the EPA, and Riverside County.
The congressman said BIA representatives told him they did not have jurisdiction to protect Oasis Mobile Home Park residents from unsafe living conditions. However, he added, the same representatives recently indicated that they have worked with the mobile home park going as far back as 2007.
In his letter, Ruiz added, “it is clear that the information provided that day was false, or misleading at best.”
“This series of events, coupled with the inaction that led to the SVRC fires, leads me to question what other potential hazards under the BIA’s jurisdiction remain within my district,” Ruiz wrote.
He asks for written responses to his concerns by April 21.
A representative with the BIA could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Eliana Perez covers the eastern Coachella Valley, including the cities of Coachella and Indio. Reach her at [email protected]