Frequent flooding, an alleged sewage leak and traffic issues that could lead to car accidents – these are some of the conditions seniors living at the Driftwood Mobile Home Park in Westminster say they have struggled with in recent years.
Mary Barez said she moved into the Driftwood senior mobile home park two days before Christmas 2020, and five days later the streets around her home flooded.
“The house was an island in the middle of the water,” she said.
It’s an issue Barez said wasn’t disclosed to her when she moved into the park, adding that the flooding happens often, damaging the outside of seniors’ mobile homes and their crawlspaces.
Residents of the park – which is right next to the 405 freeway – faced floods again last December.
On Thanksgiving 2019, some residents also found their homes surrounded in water after the streets in the park flooded and some pointed to the construction work on the 405 as the root of the problem.
Now more than two years later, residents say they are shocked to learn the park is being sued after thousands of gallons of sewage and contaminated wastewater allegedly flowed into the area next door where construction is taking place on the 405 freeway days after the 2019 flood.
The lawsuit is creating new hurdles for residents trying to tackle safety concerns around the two entrances in the park as they try to work with park representatives and officials from the Orange County Transportation Authority for a solution.
Joy Nagel, regional property manager for the park, said she has gone to meetings regarding the safety concern when she can to support residents.
“But due to the lawsuit pending, I have been asked not to participate in part of the meetings,” she said in a Wednesday phone interview.
Two 405 construction companies are suing the park owners, claiming their negligence led to raw sewage flooding into the jobsite.
OC 405 Partners, a joint venture between two construction companies – OHL USA, Inc. and Astaldi Construction Corporation – was hired by the Orange County Transportation Authority to make improvements to the 405.
“Defendants … did not exercise reasonable care in the disposal of its wastewater and sewage so as to not damage the adjacent construction project site,” the complaint reads.
In December 2019 – less than two weeks after the flood – the companies discovered contaminated wastewater flowing into holes in the freeway sound wall area, which separated the mobile homes and the project.
Judging by the sight and smell, they determined it wasn’t ordinary rainwater runoff and had the water tested, according to the complaint.
Laboratory-tested samples of the contaminated water reported the presence of various bacteria from human sewage, including total Coliform, E. Coli, and Enterococcus, according to the official complaint filed in OC Superior Court last July.
Following the lab results, the construction companies disposed of the alleged sewage and wastewater properly – an endeavor they say was costly and time consuming.
The plaintiff’s are seeking $492,953.08 to address the costs of cleaning up the alleged sewage, plus interest.
The jury trial for this case is slated to begin in July 2023.
Park owners deny OC 405 Partners’ allegations and park owners instead have filed a claim against the city of Westminster for allegedly failing to upgrade the drainage system.
“City is responsible for the damages alleged by OC405 for discharge of contaminated runoff, which was discharged by City. City is responsible for flooding and alleged contaminated [sic] and Park seeks indemnity from City,” reads the park’s claim against the city.
Park officials also deny it was a sewage spill or contaminated water.
Read Driftwood’s response to the complaint filed by OC 405.
Some park residents filed their own claims against OC 405 following the floods in 2019 – most of which have been resolved through settlements, residents said.
Residents Left in the Dark
Meanwhile, residents say they were never informed about the alleged sewage contamination from the park owners until they recently discovered the lawsuit.
Instead they found out about the issue from resident Richard Toro.
And Toro said he only recently learned about the alleged contamination while trying to address access issues and safety concerns around the park’s driveways that have seen car accidents.
Toro said Orange County Transportation Authority officials wouldn’t meet with residents to discuss those safety concerns if a park representative was present because of a lawsuit.
This led Toro to do research and find out what the lawsuit was about.
“When we read the main allegation, it was alarming, because basically the OC 405 is saying that they found thousands of gallons of contaminated water in the wall and they claimed that contaminated water came from the park property,” he said.
Eric Carpenter, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“We don’t want to compromise OCTA’s position or complicate any issues that may be in dispute by publicly discussing details,” he said in a Wednesday email.
Toro said when he asked a park representative why residents were not informed, he was told they were simply allegations of contamination.
This is despite the park owners filing their own claims against the city and some residents reporting funny smells around the park.
Nagel said the park’s attorneys advised them not to disclose anything to residents.
“The case was submitted to the law practice that is representing the park and at that point we were not advised to disclose anything,” she said.
She declined to comment further on the contamination allegations and the flooding because of the lawsuit.
Since the lawsuit has made the contamination claims public knowledge, Nagel said the information has since been provided to the park’s homeowner association by the park’s lawyer.
Toro said people living close to the parts of the park that are prone to flooding are concerned after finding out about the alleged contamination.
“There is a foul odor in places close to where the alleged spill occurred. We request a soil sampling to be done – but unless we pay for it, it won’t be done,” he said.
Some of the residents grow plants and when it floods they have walked through the water too.
Other residents say OC 405’s lawsuit against the park owners is frivolous and retribution for the claims filed against the group after the 2019 flood.
“The people that are doing the highway work, are saying that that’s the case, because the best defense is a good offense,” Barez said regarding the contamination allegations.
Toro said whether the lawsuit is frivolous or not – transparency on the issue from both the park owners and OC 405 need to improve.
Car Accidents and Close Calls
Residents say they struggle to safely get into the mobile home park ever since the widening of the 405 and nearby road marking changes.
Many of the residents Voice of OC spoke to this week recounted their own stories of near collisions or car wrecks trying to drive in and out of the park.
When entering and exiting the two driveways on McFadden Avenue and Beach Boulevard, residents say they’ve been forced to make dangerous maneuvers, causing various collisions and near accidents.
There used to be a center lane on McFadden Avenue to turn left into the park, but now residents have to do u-turns or cross over into oncoming traffic to enter their neighborhood.
Thinh Nguyen, a park resident of nine years, said the residents of the park were never told of the changes.
“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “I feel like the seniors here are getting abused big time.”
“My main concern is that the left hand lane was here for 70 years. Without letting us know, they just redrew it the way they want at their convenience. What about us? We live here.”
Westminster city officials have said there is not much they can do to help address the problem because the land that makes up McFadden Avenue is owned by Westminster and the County of Orange, so city officials do not have authority to make the necessary changes independently.
It’s an issue that residents have been working with the Orange County Transportation Authority to have fixed, but say conditions haven’t improved since the Voice of OC first reported on the matter.
Toro said it took a lot of effort on the residents’ part to open up discussions with the Orange County Transportation Authority.
They had to call on elected officials including state Senator Tom Umberg and his staff, as well as city staff, to help coordinate communication between OCTA and the residents, he said.
Carpenter said the changes made to McFadden were included in the environmental impacts report to accommodate a wider bridge over the 405.
“OCTA has met with residents of Driftwood multiple times and will continue to communicate with them,” Carpenter said in an email Wednesday. “The current striping of the street was determined to be the most appropriate engineering option.”
Toro also said residents are disappointed Andrew Do, the OC supervisor who represents their district and sits on the transportation agency’s board of directors, has ignored their requests to speak to him on the matter.
Do didn’t respond for comment.
Residents have provided the Orange County Transportation Authority with proposals to address the entrance ways that include adding a U-turn feature at the Sugar Street and McFadden traffic light, installing a stop sign and even moving the entrance around.
“We are aware of the residents’ concerns and suggestions about possible changes to entrance and exit points to the mobile home park. We continue to work in collaboration with the city of Westminster and additional stakeholders to analyze whether any changes are warranted and feasible. We are committed to continuing to work toward a resolution,” Carpenter said.
But the process is slow, said Toro, who was in an accident recently.
“We appreciate their help but we feel like there’s no movement,” he said about OCTA. “I was myself in an accident, it was almost catastrophic.”
Meanwhile, residents are stressing over the driveways.
“It’s extremely dangerous,” Barez said. “Some of these people are really old and it’s not safe. It is not safe at all. Neither entrance is safe.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.