Community in Crisis
Disabled residents of Rippling River fight Housing Authority to preserve their homes.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Chris Sauer, a tiny blond woman whose friends call her Chrissy, sits in a wheelchair and begs Housing Authority staff to let her stay in her home at Rippling River. She’s severely disabled and she can’t read her own words to the standing-room-only crowd at the Carmel Valley facility, so her assistant, Phil Seymour, helps.
“For the past 29 years, Rippling River has been my home,” Seymour says, reading Sauer’s written statement. “I want it to be my home for the next 29 years…I swear on a mountain of Bibles I will be taken away in handcuffs before I am moved.”
Sauer, along with dozens of other senior and disabled residents who live in the low-income housing facility at 53 E. Carmel Valley Rd., pleaded with county and federal government officials at a town-hall meeting on Aug. 9, asking them to fix the existing apartments and allow the inhabitants to keep their community and their homes.
The Aug. 9 meeting was the latest chapter in the Rippling River controversy that escalated late last month, when the Monterey County Housing Authority—a quasi-governmental agency that receives money from county, state and federal sources—announced that its insurance carrier would no longer cover liability at the 79-unit facility because of structural problems.
According to Executive Director Jim Nakashima, notices of eviction could be sent out as early as this week.
For years, local Housing Authority officials have wanted to demolish the residential care home and relocate its residents. They’ve repeatedly said remodeling the old apartments is impossible, and would cost $9.7 million, despite contrary opinions from county officials.
Supervisor Dave Potter, who owns a construction company, and Scott Hennessy, who heads the county’s planning and building department, have said that the facility could be rehabilitated on site, building by building, if necessary.
Potter, and many other local contractors, also say the Housing Authority grossly inflated the $9.7 million cost estimate, and that Rippling River’s plumbing, electrical and dry rot problems are simply “deferred maintenance” and “demolition by neglect.”
Last week, the county’s chief building inspector again examined the housing complex and concluded just one building needs major work.
Many viewed Nakashima’s announcement about impending insurance coverage cancellation as one step towards razing the old buildings.
“When they said the underwriters would not insure Ripping River, all we thought was, ‘they have finally found a way to do it,’” says resident Julayne Marquette, “because they have been trying to close us down for years.”
On Aug. 3, Marquette and about a dozen other residents asked County Supervisors to step in and stop the eviction.
“You’re going to rip my heart out,” she said. “I’ve almost given up hope. I hate to hear myself say that.”
After listening to the residents, many in wheelchairs, the Board of Supervisors agreed to intervene.
Supervisors Edith Johnsen and Dave Potter attended the meeting at Rippling River on Aug. 9, along with Rosie Hernandez (Supervisor Butch Lindley’s chief aide), County Counsel Charles McKee, building officials, and the Department of Social Services’ Maria Giuriato.
US Rep. Sam Farr and US Department of Housing and Urban Development regional director Eileen Rogers were also present.
“Nobody I know on either side of this issue is desirous of destroying this community,” Potter told the huge crowd.
Potter said that the Supervisors would revisit the Rippling River issue at their meeting on Aug. 17.
The County plans to form a subcommittee of the Board of Supervisors to find a solution, and will hold joint meetings with the Housing Authority commissioners.
Additionally, county officials and HUD have asked the Army Corp of Engineers to survey Rippling River to determine if the facility can be rehabilitated.
“The level of risk out here is not actually known,” said Potter, on Aug. 9. “The insurance company has not said what needs to be fixed.”
Nakashima would not promise that the Housing Authority would further delay the eviction notices, “But the bottom line is, what matters is the Rippling River residents,” he said at the meeting.
Nakashima did not return numerous phone calls from the Weekly. A Housing Authority representative referred the Weekly to Housing Authority commissioners.
Commissioner John Delassio said the commission will meet on Aug.16 “to decide on the cooperative effort with the County.”
“I want a subcommittee formed of the Housing Authority Commissioners to look into the whole insurance question,” he said. “I hope my fellow commissioners agree.”
According to Delassio, who has read the insurance policy, the Housing Authority is “quasi-self-insured” by a consortium of housing authorities, and the insurer has no right to cancel Rippling River.”
He says the company would have to cancel the insurance policy of the Housing Authority, which covers all of its properties in Monterey County.
“I’m concerned that this is a self-induced wound or crisis,” Delassio said.