Bad Water

A law-defying landlord leaves his mobile home tenants thirsting for justice



A little pumphouse, cloud-colored with dark gray trim, stands in a corner of the dandelion-stuffed former horse pasture next to the Arbor Glen Mobile Home Park in Del Norte County. Behind the pumphouse and a wooden electrical pole shivers a patch of the dark forest -- alders, redwoods -- that defines this sun-and-fog land. And beyond the trees, U.S. Highway 101: From this point, for northbound travelers, await the touristy goofballs Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox at Trees of Mystery, the wave-splashed beauty of False Klamath Cove, trailheads to grand tree- and fern-choked places with names like Damnation Creek, and, 17 miles away, the practical next pitstop and home of Pelican Bay Penitentiary, Crescent City. For southbound travelers, just a mile and a half lands them in the little townsite of Klamath, a blip of houses, gas station convenience, smoked salmon shops and Yurok tribal offices. Then the Klamath River, floating dreamily under the bridge guarded by golden bears, and yet more forested, ocean-fringed beauty before reaching Arcata, 57 miles from the pumphouse.

Last Wednesday, around about 5 p.m., Fred Stockett -- owner of the pumphouse, the well inside it, the mobile home park nearby and the rest of this 125-acre parcel encased in wild, northwest wonderland -- was standing next to his truck parked by the pumphouse when the law arrived to arrest him. Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander, dressed in his official black DA's jacket -- and with a holstered personal gun on his right hip, a brace on his right leg (which he'd injured in a July 4 dunk tank incident at a school-sports fundraiser), and a crutch under his left arm -- showed Stockett the warrant. Yurok Tribe Police Sgt. Thorin McCovey, faintly goateed just like the DA but younger, showed him the handcuffs. Stockett submitted without incident. In a photo capturing the moment, the big, blocky man looks bewildered -- a worried crinkle in his forehead, a pulled tension to his mouth. His red T-shirt, bulging over a 60-year-old chest and belly, and baggy dark sweatpants suggest he'd spent the day doing grubby work, or intending to.

As the landlord was driven away in custody, reported the DA with satisfaction the next day over the phone, the 20 or so Arbor Glen residents who had gathered outside their mobile homes were cheering.

Fred Stockett's troubles had just deepened. But the residents' troubles -- at least the ones they say he was the cause of -- might be easing.

Maybe they'd be able to flush their toilets again.

Maybe they'd have potable, running water someday.

Maybe there'd be official trash pickup once more, instead of that open-aired trailer Stockett had put out that the bears kept getting into, scattering garbage and crapping big, steaming fly-cakes and scaring the bejeesus out of everyone.

Maybe some other stuff would get fixed.



For years, some Arbor Glen residents claim -- in interviews, in small-claims lawsuits filed in Del Norte County Superior Court and in a class-action suit filed in Yurok Tribal Court -- they had battled with their landlords, Fred Stockett and his wife, Lorna Livingtree, to fix this and that. But since late June -- and some say even earlier -- all of the residents had been hostage to the weird water machinations of the financially troubled, ornery Stockett and, toward the end, the tangled bureaucracy of the state. Their rent went up -- to cover higher water and other bills, they said the landlord told them. Then their water was turned off. Then it was turned back on -- and came out stinky, different and murky. They got sick, they claimed, from that new water, which they learned came from the well in the field pumphouse, not the local municipal system the park had long been hooked up to.

They complained to the landlords, to the county, to the state regulators. They filed lawsuits. The state stepped in -- and eventually the tribal cop and the DA, who arrested Stockett on suspicion of defrauding his tenants and allowing conditions to get so bad they constituted elder abuse.

What happened?

The story begins at the Redwood Park Community Services District, a public utility that serves a 35-home subdivision a half mile north of Arbor Glen. Since the early 1980s, it also has provided water service to Arbor Glen -- based on a handshake agreement between the district and the park's owners at the time, says the district's chairperson, Robert Nulph (who also is the superintendent of the Yurok Tribe's public utility district).

When Stockett bought Arbor Glen about nine years ago, Nulph says, the district decided to formalized the park's connection and asked Stockett to sign a water user agreement that would be renewed every five years. He refused.

"We let him stay hooked up," Nulph said. "We didn't want to cut him off, because he was paying the bill."

In 2009, the district raised its rates and introduced a new structure that Stockett said was unfair. He sued, and lost. Meanwhile, Nulph said, the half-mile water line between the district's well and Arbor Glen appeared to be leaking, putting usage at Stockett's 40-unit park at more than double the nearby 35-home subdivision. Stockett owns that water line and is responsible for maintaining it, Nulph says.

In May, Stockett stopped paying his water bill, which was averaging $2,800 a month. On June 28, when Stockett was behind $9,032, the district shut off Arbor Glen's connection. Stockett, meanwhile, had had workers digging trenches, disconnecting pipes and laying new pipes in anticipation of the cutoff. The park was dry two days -- residents we interviewed said they sort of went with the flow, because this had happened in years past on occasion.

On June 30, Stockett turned on the new water system, connected to the well in the field next to his park. When dirty, stinky water came out of the taps and some residents started getting sick, someone complained to the Del Norte County Health Department and the state department of public health. Stockett was ordered to send water samples to a lab in Arcata, and the results came back positive for coliform bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains and urinary tract infections.

On July 4 notices went up telling residents to boil their water. Then another state department stepped in: the department of housing and community development, the building and codes enforcer for mobile home parks in many municipalities, including all of them in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. That department notified Stockett on July 6 that he was violating state health and safety code by providing nonpotable water through an unpermitted water system. He was ordered to provide five gallons of water per person per day until he had brought the system up to state standards -- tested, inspected and permitted. He would be charged double fees for this work.

Stockett wrote his own letter to residents on July 6. He apologized for the water problems, said that tests had found coliforms and he was working on a remedy. "We just had to get away from Redwood Park Water District," he wrote, adding that the water bill under the new set up was only going to cost him $300 a month. In the meantime, he said he would pass out six gallons of drinking water to each household. People could call him if they needed more.

On July 26, the department of housing and community development issued an ultimatum: Fix the system and permit it by Sept. 1, or Stockett's license to operate the park would be suspended. The department of public health sent him a notice on Aug. 6 ordering him to turn off the unpermitted, unsafe water system. It hinted at the possibility of a daily $25,000 fine for continued violation.

Later, the target shutoff order was eased over concerns that residents shouldn't be left without any water for fire protection or toilet flushing, but Stockett said he hadn't heard about that change. On Aug. 16 he shut off the water and sent everyone in the park a 60-day eviction notice. On Aug. 21, the state ordered Stockett to turn the water back on within 24 hours. When he did not, the state suspended his permit to operate the park, and the DA and the tribal cop swooped in.


Sonnyman Downs thunked another bottle of scummy water onto the edge of his fishing boat, drydocked in the dirt beside the mobile he's shared with his wife, Linda Wilson, and their two kids, ages 10 and 8, since 2002. He scowled at the lineup of mismatched bottles, all shapes and sizes. He had more like that stowed away.

"Every day since the water changed, I take a sample of the water out of my tap," he said, taking a sip from a can of Pepsi.

It was midday on Monday, Aug. 20 -- the day before the state would order Stockett to turn the well back on, two days before he would be arrested, four days since he'd turned the well off, and 54 days since the Redwood Park Community Services District shut Arbor Glen's water off and Stockett switched the park over to the well in the field.

Though they'd noticed a change back then -- the water was dark, and low pressure -- and people were getting sick, nobody knew just what had happened, Downs said, until days later when the landlord issued a notice urging them to boil their water and apologizing for the inconvenience.

"I got sick," Downs said. "I was pretty messed up for about five days -- diarrhea and vomiting. I'm only 49, though, and I'm one of those nutheads who wait it out."

There were elders in the park who'd been really sick, he said, and babies. Some went to the doctor, although nobody has medical documents identifying water contamination as the cause of their discomforts.

By August, with the water problem still not fixed, Downs and some others had quit paying rent altogether.

About 15 people, including kids and babies, and an assortment of frolicking dogs had gathered in the dirt clearing by the boat now. Everyone started talking. Downs' sister, Veronica Downs, walked up and set another big bottle on the boat. A billowy yellow substance jiggled in the bottom of it.

"A bunch of pillow-top," she said.

Dusty Davidson, a fidgety, anxious 38-year-old, said he and his mom, Sharon, who's disabled, can't move out -- they don't have a security deposit to reclaim. They moved into their two-bedroom mobile three years ago rent free because Davidson took care of Stockett's livestock in a field behind the park. That deal ended, though, and Stockett got rid of the livestock. Now they're paying $700 a month. "We don't know what's going to happen," Dusty said, starting to cry. "I asked welfare. I asked Del Norte human services -- no help. Because I'm not a woman with kids. It's just me and my mom."

Two girls, Ashley Turner and Jasmine Pacheco, listened seriously. They're best friends.

"We've both lived here two years," said Pacheco. "This is where our friendship started."

Turner said her family -- her mom and dad, she and her two siblings, and her uncle -- have resorted to using paper plates and cups. Her dad bought a five-gallon solar camping shower from Wal-Mart which they fill from a white water tank donated by the Yurok Tribe for temporary use. They park the camping shower in the sun for several hours and then use it in their mobile's bathroom, plugging the tub to catch the water which they then use to fill the toilet tanks.

"I think he just wants us to ditch this place," Pacheco said about the landlord.

Nearby, Charlotte Bernier's front door was open, a huge Christmas cactus guarding it. She was sitting on the couch inside, next to a chair draped in a colorful wool blanket with the words "Honored Yurok Elder" embroidered on it. Bernier, who's lived here 14 years and owns her mobile, said she's been filling water bottles at the tank provided by the tribe.

"I'm 73 years old and going and getting water is just ridiculous," she said. "I have arthritis. It's putting me out. Washing clothes -- I don't know. I'm going to have to take them someplace. Maybe to my daughter's in Crescent City."

Bernier is the lead plaintiff in a complaint by 18 residents against Stockett and Livingtree, filed July 19 in Yurok Tribal Court. Bernier and her sister, and about half the other tenants at Arbor Glen, she said, are Yurok Tribal members. The park isn't on Yurok land, and the landlords aren't Yurok. But, the complaint notes, the landlords live in a "large yellow house" on the reservation. Besides detailed allegations, the suit notes some of Stockett's personal affairs: his arrest in January on suspicion of "lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14" (that case is pending); the suspension of his teaching license after that (he taught at Folsom High School for 11 years); and his trip to Hawaii this year. The plaintiffs claim that, because of the water problems, the defendants have defied the Yurok Constitution by denying adequate housing, violating their human dignity, and insulting them.

"In Yurok culture," reads the complaint, "if one person insulted another person, the first person had to pay the second person to cure the injury of being insulted, and put the incident behind them both."

They're asking for $1 million for the alleged insult, and $500,000 for the alleged injury to human dignity.

Several other tenants have filed at least two small-claims suits against Stockett, Livingtree and their company, Star Properties, in Del Norte County. And a bunch of them sent a proposal to Redwood Park Community Services District: If they put their withheld rents toward paying off the parks' water bill, would the district hook them back up?

Arbor Glen is a stark, but tidy, park, with grass that's heat-beaten and a lot of empty rentals. Some homes have decorations outside. A few are flanked by junk, trash or wood piles. Others have ranks of kids' bikes stacked against them. Darrelen and Juan Romero's place stands out: Large, flowering bushes line the walkway between their place and Bernier's. Mature, pretty potted plants cluster on the wood deck.

Juan Romero, who had just pulled up in his pickup truck with several huge, blue containers in the back, said he'd been down to Requa, six miles away at the mouth of the Klamath River. He had showered at the Yurok Tribe's facility for fishermen there and filled the containers at his brother-in-law's.

Romero, 59, has been a cheese maker at Rumiano Cheese, in Crescent City, for 34 years. Normally he'd be at work on a Monday -- he works full-time, six days a week, and on Sundays he and Darrelen go into Crescent City to the All Tribes Foursquare Church, where Darrelen is the pastor. He'd taken today off, however, to get the water, shower and take his wife to a doctor's appointment in Klamath.

Inside the mobile -- a crowded but clean space with family photos and memorabilia packing the walls and houseplants catching light in the busy kitchen -- Darrelen sat in a chair with a large green blanket draped over her lap. She's nearing 70 and has needed a wheelchair ever since a car crossed the center line on 101 one day, eight years ago, and smashed into her car.

The Romeros moved their mobile home to Arbor Glen from Crescent City 20 years ago. They paid $150 for the space rent. A couple years after Stockett bought the park, said Juan, he raised their rent to $350, which includes water. Recently he raised it again, supposedly to cover higher water, electricity and garbage bills.

"We've never, never, never not paid our rent," said Darrelen. "And we pay our own electricity!"

The law-enforcement scanner crackled from the shelf behind her chair.

"I don't even know how to put into words how stressful it is," Darrelen said. "Juan has to work all day. I'm here alone. We're down to paper plates. I'm incontinent -- my clothes get wet and have to be washed. ... I've got to keep my spirit sweet. I can't be angry and mean and not love. But this man is really stretching it."

Outside, Sonnyman Downs was tinkering on a friend's busted boat engine now and drinking a Rockstar. He said he could be fishing -- the commercial salmon season had opened the day before. He could be working in his scrap metal business. But he had the blues. "I don't have the feeling to do nothing," he said. "Why does the state take so long to take care of business? How can a man do this to people? The elders and the infants and everybody in between -- he screwed them all over."


When Fred Stockett answered his cell phone last Wednesday he sounded out of breath. It was a few minutes before 4 p.m., and he said he was at the pumphouse in the field next to Arbor Glen, getting ready to turn the well back on. He was wary about talking to a reporter, but he wanted to tell his side of the story. Because, it isn't easy being a landlord.

Stockett and his wife own about 10 pieces of property in Del Norte County, consisting of 57 parcels -- most of them mobile home spaces. There are 40 spaces at Arbor Glen -- seven occupied by tenant-owned homes, and the rest by mobile home rentals and at least one RV. More than 60 people have lived there in the past. Now only about 20 or 25 people live there, he said -- occupancy's been dropping, anyway, and since this water fiasco began, he's moved some families over to another of his properties, Village Mobile Home Park in Klamath.

But long before he fell in arrears on his water bill -- whether through orneriness about paying the new rates, or lack of money, or both -- Stockett's money troubles were mounting.

"We were losing $10,000 a month at the mobile home parks," he said. "We were bringing in rents, but we were about 25 percent vacant. We had more bills than income -- $800 and something for a yearly permit to operate. Taxes on every mobile home you own. We owe a lot of money. Between $250,000 and $300,000 needs to be paid today. Mortgages, trash people, water people, taxes -- it's all past due. And at most of our other properties, we're at least two payments behind. We've been losing money for two years, and it just became overwhelming lately."

When Recology's rates went up, Stockett said, he fell behind in payments by about $6,000. That service ended, and he started bringing a rail-sided truck-pulled trailer out to the site where the Recology bins used to go and directing tenants to dump their trash there. (By Aug. 20, the trailer was gone and trash was piled on the ground and scattered into the weeds.)

And then there are bad tenants.

"Since we've been here," he said, "the amount renters have cheated us out of is over three-quarter million dollars," he said. That was at his two mobile home parks -- Arbor Glen and Village -- and six houses, also in Klamath. "It's mostly the renters in the mobile home parks -- they don't pay their rent, they tear the place up. I could tell you stories that curl your toes."

Here's one: The last renter that moved out of the Village park, her son broke out 19 panes of glass in one unit, he said. And Stockett doesn't have the money to replace them.

Last year alone, he said, about 60-some renters moved out, and another 37 were evicted. Stockett even started charging an eviction deposit, it got so bad, he said.

"I have two or three people and all they do is maintenance," he said. "Do we always do everything in a nice, punctual manner? No. It's overwhelming."

Now Arbor Glen is down to a 50 percent occupancy rate -- and many of those folks are withholding their rent. Stockett faces fines from the state over the water situation. Because his permit to operate the park is suspended, he can't collect rent. He's still expected to fix the water problem, though. To bring the current system up to grade -- from an agricultural well to a municipal well -- and get it permitted, he'd have to drill a new well and put in a 100,000-gallon tank at about a $100,000 cost, he said. To hook back up to Redwood would, of course, require paying the $9,000-some past due and reinstalling the pipe connections he ripped out when he switched to the well in the pasture.

Stockett has more troubles than landlord-tenant messes. In January, he was arrested and slapped with lewdness charges. He's out on bail and it's still just an accusation. But Stockett said the charges have tainted his and his wife's lives in their rural Del Norte community, which they moved to from the Sacramento area about nine years ago.

"I'm totally shocked at what one accusation will do," he said. "In Klamath, everyone thinks me guilty, and so they consider me fair game. In the last 45 days, they broke a window out of my truck and stole $500 worth of supplies. They broke into my wife's car. They stole $10,000 worth of stuff out of a cabinet at my shop and ... somebody stole my wife's laptop. And they say to my face, 'We're going to drive you off the reservation.' Three people have said that to me, to my face. Lorna, she's a very sweet person, and it's difficult for her to deal with all the mean people around her."

At about 4:35 p.m., Stockett said he had to get off the phone. "I have to go. I have to turn on the water at Arbor Glen."


Two and a half hours after Stockett's arrest last Wednesday,a park handyman got the well in the field switched back on. At 10:30 p.m., Stockett posted his $25,000 bail, according to Del Norte County Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Wagner. He's set to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 2 on charges of grand theft fraud (for charging rent but not providing the water or garbage removal included in it), elder abuse and committing a felony while out on bail on another felony (the January lewdness charge). That last one could garner him two extra years in state prison, if he's convicted and sentenced on the other charges, said DA Alexander.

Though he can no longer collect rent, Stockett is still obligated to bring his water system into compliance by Sept. 1. But, by his own account, he doesn't have the money to do that. Last week, he couldn't say what his intentions were toward Arbor Glen, except that he had "lots of different plans."

The residents' fates remain in limbo. The Yurok Tribe is still filling their drinking water tank. They can flush their toilets without hauling water. But if they have to move out, many don't have the means to -- although, the state's suspension notice to Stockett said he might have to help them with relocation costs.

Colin Parent, director of external affairs for the state department of Housing and Community Development, said residents of mobile home parks "oftentimes are people with limited means, and they have limited alternatives."

That's why the Mobile Home Parks Act lays out a number of special protections for such folks, Parent said. Most of the time, park owners comply with the rules. Typically, they fix their violations.

"Arbor Glen is not typical," Parent said. "The complete gutting of the water system in a park, that's an unusual thing."

But with Stockett's permit suspended, Arbor Glen is no longer officially an operating mobile home park, and so the state housing department no longer has jurisdiction over it. It's in the county's hands now.

Nobody in Del Norte County can yet say what is going to happen with Arbor Glen. "We'll take whatever actions we can do legally to deal with the situation," said county administrative officer Jay Sarina last week.

The outcome of the residents' lawsuits also is uncertain. Stockett, over the phone last week as he stood by his truck in the field by the pumphouse, said he didn't think the tribal court suit was valid because the incident took place off the reservation.

Even DA Alexander's future is uncertain -- he's facing possible disbarment, over several professional conduct-related allegations unrelated to this water case, at a trial in front of the state bar in San Francisco on Oct. 15.

One thing is certain: It could be some time before happy days return again to the little mobile home park in the woods.

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