LOS BANOS, Calif. (KGPE) – CBS47 investigates in part three of our station’s investigation into a vacant city Los Banos housing dozens of unhoused individuals.
The lot is right next to a mobile home park in Los Banos. Fires, trespassing, theft, and thousands of dollars in damage are just some of the reasons for dozens of 911 calls to the police and fire departments.
Tenants said they feel abandoned by the city and fear that their lives are at stake.
“I see fibers flying with fires,” said Rancho Mobile Home Park tenant Claudia Nunez. “If those things land on the mobile homes, it is going up and a lot of us are going up with is.”
Nunez watches fires burn in the vacant city lot as she stands on her porch. The fires burning in the city’s largest community of unhoused individuals.
Nunez worked her whole life for what is inside her trailer. Now, she has nightmares of her home going up in flames from the fires that are started next door.
Several times, Nunez and Assistant Park Manager Chandra Lewis have asked the Los Banos City council for help during the city council meeting, but each time they say they leave feeling stressed and abandoned.
“I feel like I have no value to Los Banos,” said Lewis during the meeting. “I have no value to you as a person. We as residents have no value to you.”
CBS47 investigated and found at least 7 theft reports to the police department and over 70 incidents reported to the fire department since 2020 regarding the unhoused community on the back lot.
Despite the taxing of resources and the pleas for help, city officials said they can’t kick the individuals off the property. They also state that under California law warming fires are legal.
“Under no circumstances can homelessness be declared a crime,” said Interim Los Banos City Manager Greg Wellman.
Legal analyst David Mudridge said back in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in the Martin v. Boise case that cities could not move unhoused individuals off of city property unless there were enough shelter beds for all of the unhoused individuals in the city.
“You cannot throw them off the public grounds even if it is a real pain in the neck,” said Mugridge. “Even if they are throwing trash everywhere and causing a nuisance, as long as you are not providing them with a place to go.”
The city of Los Banos does not have a homeless shelter and only 25 motel rooms are available for temporary housing.
City officials could build a tiny home community, or purchase more motel rooms but it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. The money is hard to come by because the city has to compete against larger valley cities like Merced and Fresno for grant funding.
“It is kinda an uphill battle for us,” said Commander Ray Reyna.
Reyna said the city has explored moving the unhoused individuals to a handful of city properties by the airport but said the properties are unfit.
“We are trying to improve the situation but it is a very difficult situation,” said Reyna.
While the city continues to explore a permanent solution, Los Banos Interim City Manager Greg Wellman said the city is exploring adding staff to address the issue, using American Rescue funds to add a security guard at the site at night, and adding a camera and light for police to monitor activity at the park.
Nunez and other mobile home tenants said they won’t be happy until the community is gone.
“I am not going to shut up until you guys do something about this mess,” said Nunez. “Cause if it was your grandmother, your mother, your father that was living, you would have moved so fast you wouldn’t have seen it.”
In the last year, the city’s mayor quit months before his term was up and then the city council fired the city manager, meaning right now the two top official positions in Los Banos are vacant.
The city council will be voting on an item on November 16th on whether or not to add two non-sworn positions to address this issue.