| NEWS |
Los Angeles Times
December 24, 2002
Reprieve From Holiday Eviction
Caltrans delays a Christmas Eve deadline. Still, family vows to fight to stay.
By Hugo Martin and Cara Mia DiMassa, Times Staff Writers
A Christmas wreath hangs on the door and colored lights ring the Corrales family's Pasadena home in a warm glow.
But while other children tonight will be happily anticipating a visit from St. Nick, the California Department of Transportation -- the Corraleses' landlord -- wants the family to be thinking about packing up the wreath, taking down the lights and finding a new place to call home.
If they don't leave voluntarily, Caltrans warned in a letter last week, they will be removed by "whatever steps are necessary."
The Corrales home on Bellefontaine Street is one of nearly 600 properties managed by Caltrans along the proposed extension of the Long Beach Freeway. Caltrans has owned many of the homes since the 1950s, when construction of the extension seemed imminent. But opposition to the project has put it on hold for decades, forcing Caltrans to act as a residential landlord in Pasadena, South Pasadena and El Sereno.
In the case of the Corrales family, Caltrans officials admit they erred in letting the family move into the house last month before the rental application was approved. But now that the application has been rejected, Caltrans said the family needs to clear out -- soon.
But David Corrales said he is not going to leave without a fight. He said Caltrans gave him a key and a signed rental agreement, and he is not willing to move his wife, Gloria, and their children -- Anastasia, 5; Rachael, 3; and 11-month-old David Jr. -- out of the house.
"We plan to stay here unless they can prove legally that we don't have a right to be here," he said. "We've dug in the trenches."
Caltrans spokeswoman Debra Harris defended the agency, saying it is trying to be as flexible as possible with the family.
The Dec. 20 letter to the Corrales family instructed them to make plans by Christmas Eve to leave, but Harris said Monday that Caltrans will allow the family to stay until after the holidays. She also said Caltrans will reimburse the family for its moving expenses and will allow them to move back into a smaller Caltrans house that the family had previously rented.
Corrales, a teacher working for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, previously lived in the smaller Caltrans property on Jane Place for more than seven years, first as a bachelor and eventually with his wife and children. But over the last three years, the family ran into plumbing and asbestos problems at the house -- problems that always seemed to crop up around the holidays.
Two years ago, he said, when asbestos was found under the carpets, the family Christmas tree was moved to the front yard.
In May, Corrales said, Robert Richardson, a Caltrans right-of-way agent, notified him that a larger four-bedroom, three-bath Caltrans home on Bellefontaine Street was available for rent.
Corrales filled out the rental application and, by Nov. 1, Richardson gave the family the green light to move in. Corrales said he received a signed rental agreement and in return paid Caltrans more than $9,000 for the first and last month's rent and a deposit.
Corrales and his wife say they have endured the problems with Caltrans in the past partly because state law gives tenants the first option to buy their homes if the property is not needed for the Long Beach Freeway project.
But the couple's plans for the Bellefontaine Street home began to fall apart when they asked Caltrans to approve the installation of a phone line. They said Caltrans officials seemed surprised that the family had moved into the house and informed them that they had failed to qualify for the home.
On Saturday, a man appeared at he family's front door with the letter from a Caltrans property manager that states: "It is the department's position that you do not have any right to occupy the property ... and accordingly we ask that you take immediate steps to vacate the property and remove any and all personal belongings from the premises."
In the letter, Caltrans blames the Corraleses or "your misunderstanding regarding your rental application."
But in an interview, Harris conceded that it was Caltrans that made the mistake by giving the Corraleses the keys to the house before the application received final approval. She declined to say why the application was rejected. Corrales said he has submitted pay stubs to Caltrans to prove that he can afford the $3,300 monthly rent.
As for Richardson, the agent who gave the Corrales family the keys to the house, the Caltrans letter said "he is in the process of a temporary reassignment."
Richardson could not be reached for comment.
Corrales has already rejected Caltrans' suggestion that he move his family back to the smaller house on Jane Place.
"We are not moving out," he said, and promised to put up a Christmas tree.
"We should have one Christmas without a tree outside," he added.
Some Caltrans tenants say the notice to vacate is only the latest example of Grinch-like treatment they have endured at the hands of the state agency.
"There isn't a tenant in one of the houses who doesn't have a horror story about how they are treated by Caltrans," said Lynn Bryan, who has been renting from the agency for 15 years.
She said she sympathizes with the Corrales family. "This is a terrible thing to do to a family with little children," she said.
Harris said Caltrans is willing to listen and respond to tenant complaints. "Caltrans wants to manage the properties in the best way possible," she said.
From The Los Angels Times December 24, 2002.
Follow-up on the Corrales Family Situation. Letter from David Corrales to Caltrans.