Tension rises as Westview management drags feet on improvement

Friday, January 18, 2019
This trailer, burned by a fire back in December 2017, still sits empty and unoccupied. / Photo by Dana Larsen

After recent minimal improvements at Westview Trailer Park, tension is rising with the City of Alta on the best approach to encourage further compliance of their Canadian landlord and local management.

Streetlights were installed in December, and sewers were partially flushed in late October, according to resident Tom Lane.

He said they did just two out of nine sewage lines in the park.

“One line up front, it was bubbling up,” Lane said. “They never got that fixed because they never capped it off.”

He told the Pilot-Tribune the lines should be flushed once a year, but couldn’t even remember the last time they had been flushed before October.

“It’s been a long time. A very long time,” he said.

Residents and the city say there’s still a long way to go before the neighborhood will be up to par. Lane said common lots still need to be cleaned up.

After code enforcement officer Matt Hess approached the situation gently with management, working slowly but steadily to attempt to make progress, the Alta City Council directed him to take stronger, quicker steps to resolve the longstanding city code violations.

Hess told the Pilot-Tribune that written warnings have been sent to landlord Roy Worbetts, a veterinarian from British Columbia.

“We figured out a route to get the documents where they need to be,” Hess said, after previous issues considered during council meetings about how to get certified mail delivered north of the border.

City Council also directed Hess in stronger terms to put two-week expirations on the code violation warnings issued for junked appliances, junked vehicles and dilapidated buildings, among other nuisances remaining on common lots.

Hess told the Pilot-Tribune the fines for those violations could start at about $185 if not resolved. Those fines can be compounded, with a new one issued for each day the violation continues to exist.

“The city wants to see more improvements at a quicker rate,” he said after a reportedly tense meeting with the council for an employee performance evaluation.

Hess requested to be evaluated in a session open to the public, a deviation from the default closed session courtesy that public employees are afforded during their performance assessments.

“I’ve always taken the approach to try to work with people. I just know I don’t have the money to make changes that fast to any of my property,” he said, explaining his mindset in taking a different approach to code enforcement.

“I took the job because I wanted to help people and work with the public,” Hess said. “I didn’t want to cause issues.”

Asked about the relationship between tenants and management, Lane laughed at the question, settling on the response, “not very good.”

The long-time resident said that Westview residents are more at ease with the City of Alta, but still left in the dark on when more of the desperately needed changes will happen.

The Westview Revitalization Plan, presented in April 2018, organized a coalition between residents and union organizer Jesse Case at Teamsters Community Action Network. It drew out specific goals for each party to accomplish on a timeline satisfactory to the city.

Though residents kept their end of the bargain, updates as early as May indicated that the landlord and management were not interested in going along with it.

“[Warrant Incorporated] chose to not participate in the TeamCAN Revitalization Plan, they would prefer to go their own route,” Mayor Al Clark reported in May. Clark promised the city would continue to work with cooperative residents and organizers in good faith to accomplish goals, going after management separately.

“Don’t get discouraged on that aspect,” he said. “We’re going to work with you guys if you work with us. We’re just going to have to take a different approach.”

Regular Westview updates to City Council meetings from Lane were eventually phased out towards the end of the year, as residents had completed their duties under the plan to the city’s satisfaction, even as landlord and management responsibilities went neglected.

Owner responsibilities included removal of the burned out trailer left by a Dec. 2017 fire, clean-up of common areas and empty lots and creation an action plan for vacant trailers by June 1. An empty lot for the playground and garden was to be dedicated by April 6, the sewer system was to be flushed by April 15 and street lights should have been fixed by May 1.

The owner’s list also included arrangement of leaf debris removal, provision of four dumpsters for resident clean up, tear down of a storage shed and creation of a storage space in the back of the park.

Rent increase attempts added insult to injury after management chose not to take advantage of garbage collection offered by the City of Alta earlier in the year. The landlord’s alternative raised housing costs 17.5 percent, according to Pastor Denise Parillo’s open forum address to City Council in May, advocating for some of the residents.

It’s unclear what part organizer Jesse Case played in spurring recent progress. Case did not return calls requesting comment.

About a quarter of Westview’s residents have lived there for over 10 years. The community in Alta is also home to about 78 children.

“This ain’t just something that happened overnight,” Lane said in a September 2018 interview, months after the management and landlord showed clear disinterest in following the accord reached between the city and residents. “It goes back to the old management that didn’t do jack squat. They just took the rent and let it fall apart.”