|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Tuesday, March 2, 2004
Orange County Register 3-2-04
UCI's trailer dwellers protest
IRVINE – A group of students living in a trailer park in the heart of UCI stormed a vice chancellor's office Monday in the first of what's expected to be numerous protests against plans to evict them and put in a parking lot.
The 100 students living in the trailer park - a throwback to the 1970s with its paisley- and tie-dye-painted trailers - are scrambling to block the university and preserve their cheap housing. They pay just $130 a month for their spaces plus whatever they might owe on their trailers. None of them comes close to paying the $800 a month that is typical for student housing. "Let's face it. We're poor, and this is the only affordable housing around," said Barbara Seoane, 56, who's lived in the trailer park for a year.
In the last few weeks, University of California, Irvine, officials started to notify the students about alternate housing options and have pressured many to move out prior to the planned July 31 demolition. UCI wants to create about 500 parking spaces on the four-acre site to accommodate three new campus buildings.
"These are their homes. They are the only homes that have any character in Irvine," said Matthew Cardinale, a graduate student leading the effort to save the park – even though he doesn't live there. "To pave over the only affordable campus housing for a sliver of parking is unconscionable."
While acknowledging the character of the 78-space community - which boasts gardens, picnic areas and a community center - Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez told the students that the trailers have to go.
"We are lucky to have it exist as long as it did," Gomez told the students after they marched into his office Monday carrying picket signs and chanting.
"Housing is a human right, let the chancellor see the light!" yelled Cardinale as he led more than a dozen students a half-mile across campus from the trailers to the administration building.
Monday's rally was sparked when residents learned last week that the university was sending crews to the trailer park today to drill for soil samples. The residents, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, accused the administration of violating their legal rights by having work done at the park prior to July 31.
Gomez agreed Monday to postpone the drilling, and said he would set up a forum later this month between residents and UCI officials to discuss the housing situation. However, he was stern about the park's future.
"The inevitable closing of Irvine Meadows West will take place," he said.
Students - most of whom were not around in 1999 when park residents and UCI signed an agreement for the July 31 demolition - contend that the university has not followed through with its promise to explore relocating the 30-year-old trailers or finding residents comparable housing options.
"That has not happened," said Amber Rinderknecht, a three-year-resident of the park who has two dogs that can't be relocated to student housing.
Like other residents, Rinderknecht has been offered university housing at about $800 a month, which nearly doubles what she pays to live in her 1975 Terry trailer.
Campus housing officials are telling residents to sign new leases now or face dropping to the bottom of housing-priority lists, she said.
"This forces us not only to move out of our beloved community months before the proposed closure date but to pay a much higher rent months before we were expecting," said Rinderknecht, 30-year-old graduate student.
The residents said they plan to seek legal options to keep the trailer park, which was born from a similar battle.
In the 1970s, a small group of UCI students protested the lack of affordable campus housing by dragging a bunch of trailers onto campus near where the Bren Events Center exists today.
The squatters were given permanent status in 1979 when the university forked over about $300,000 to establish running water, sewage and electrical lines, said Toby Buchanan, the park manager since 1997.
The park eventually was moved to its current location, where it has become a funky enclave where residents have painted psychedelic murals on trailers and added lean-tos. Many residents have dogs, vegetable and flower gardens, and spacious back yards for intimate parties.
"This was like a sanctuary, and it still serves that purpose," said Buchanan, who first moved to the park as student in 1985. "But just look at it. The eclectic nature is a draw for some, but it repels others."
In 1999, UCI officials notified residents that the trailer park would close in summer 2004. Gomez said the $800-a-month rate UCI is offering students is "substantially below market rates in our area." The average monthly rent in Irvine runs $1,514 a month, according to RealFacts, a market research firm. The university is not required to offer the students affordable housing at all, he said.
"$130 a month. Nobody's going to get that," said Gomez. "It's always been an interim facility, and now its time has come."
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