Greenhouses, agricultural properties and homes are all mixed together in the unincorporated North County community of Royal Oaks. County officials say they discovered an illegal convergence of these things on the 1100 block of San Miguel Canyon Road, at Ruvalcaba Nursery, where they found 62 small, makeshift dwellings inside of two buildings, one of which is a greenhouse. More than 200 people, including children, were living there.
“The unpermitted housing has serious implications for life, health and safety, and we are working with the property owner to address these concerns,” reads a statement from the Monterey County administrative office. County spokesperson Nick Pasculli says they received complaints about the issues there, triggering a multi-agency investigation. Code enforcement officials issued a red tag on May 3, prompting an evacuation of the dwellings, and a citation was issued on May 10, with orders to apply for a permit to demolish the structures.
Investigating agencies include the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Department of Labor. “The Sheriff’s Office is collaborating with its county partners on this humanitarian situation,” says Undersheriff Keith Boyd.
Officials are fuzzy on details since the investigation is ongoing, but say more than 200 residents were impacted. Most are Spanish or Mexican Indigenous language speakers, county officials say, and most work in agriculture. (It’s unclear whether they worked at Ruvalcaba Nursery or at other locations.) Tenants told authorities they paid up to $2,000 in monthly rent.
Authorities say there was little ventilation, lack of operable windows and no proper plumbing, bathrooms or kitchens, nor heat or smoke detectors. One of the buildings has only one exit, though the required minimum is two. “There’s a tremendous amount of dampness throughout” Pasculli adds, noting a problem with mold.
The county is fining the property owners, Nicolas and Ana Ruvalcaba, $59,600 per day as long as violations continue, and to pay relocation assistance to displaced tenants – two months of market-rate rent. “It’s not a suggestion. It’s an order,” Pasculli says.
(Representatives of Ruvalcaba Nursery declined to comment.)
County officials are also offering assistance to the tenants. As to where they will go next, the North Monterey County Unified School District’s Family Resource Center and Coalition of Homeless Service Providers are providing assistance.
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