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Left in cold and dark

DJ Becker/The Madera Tribune Displaced tenants, Janie Hernandez, left and Courtney Ferretti speak to television crews about being without heat and power for days after a vehicle took out the apartment power supply meters, in front of their management company Tuesday afternoon.


Crash takes out apartment building’s power

The tenants of 12 apartments in the 300 block of South I Street are still looking for places to live after a car crashed into the wall of their building on I Street, took out all the PG&E electric meters and damaged a transformer, according to the Madera Police Department.

The crash effectively cut off heat and power to the apartments.

Tenants said they were startled by a loud bang Sunday night about midnight and were then left in the dark for several days to try and figure out their housing options.

The vehicle that hit the wall had been backed out and driven away before police arrived, according to the residents. Police located the pair who had been in the car and determined whoever was driving had driven into back wall of the same apartment they were staying in and then left the scene. The incident remains under investigation and names and any potential charges were not being released at this time.

The tenants, lacking rental insurance, said they had initially been notified they would have to vacate their apartments by the Madera Management Company due to the lack of power and the extensive structural repairs and electrical repair work that had been made necessary by the crash.

George Harper president of Madera Management Company said his agency had already contacted the building’s owners and insurance company, but repairing structural damage of this nature could typically take 1 to 2 months because of the many steps, multiple agencies and inspections involved.

“It’s a terrible situation and time of year for this to happen, but we did not create this problem.” Harper said. “We are trying to help and have relocated two families. There is a shortage of available rentals. We will refund rents for the days the power has been off, and refund deposits asap (after necessary inspections) to anyone that wants to leave. Maybe social services ... can help,” he said.

A press conference held by California Rural Legal Assistance Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the Madera Management Company sidewalk brought all parties together to air the issues and share information on potential housing resources.

Under California law, landlords are not responsible for rehousing tenants displaced by unforeseen events such as this, although most do rehouse tenants if they have any vacancies available. Faced with potentially not having the power restored to the building anytime soon, the tenants were given a 72-hour notice by Madera Code Enforcement to vacate the premises, as required by law.

Tenants, many with young children, were angry when faced with their bleak options. Most said they did not want to leave and had no resources to transition to another apartment, if they could even find a vacant one. They described using candles for light, watching the food in their refrigerators go bad and layering on clothing and blankets to try and stay warm.

Tenant Courtney Ferretti, a widow whose husband was killed by gunfire five years ago, said “I have been here 11 years. The (management company) hasn’t helped us with anything. Didn’t offer us a hotel room or anything. Now to be told to pack up and go ... I work, (but) some of us have babies, now to have to find someplace (else) to go...? This is not right at all. We can’t prepare a meal. No heat or hot water since Sunday night. We are asking for any resources from the community available. Anything ... point us in the right direction to get some help? Please? This could happen to anybody ... It’s the holidays and they are putting us out,” Ferretti said.

Madera Chief of Police Dino Lawson said he thought the best option would be to try and keep the tenants in their building, if the power could be restored within a shorter time period, and his code enforcement officers were already working on the situation.

”I’ve gotten a letter on Thursday stating they now expect the repair work to take approximately two weeks. The director of the City of Madera Building Department, Steve Woodworth rushed the application and has already approved the permit and expedited the process so the repair work can be started immediately. With everyone coming together it should allow these repairs to proceed a lot quicker,” Lawson said.

Lawson said he hoped most of the repairs to the wall and the electrical panels could be completed by next week allowing the tenants’ belongings to remain in their apartments so they wouldn’t have to move out, and then hopefully have their power restored before Christmas.

“There are a lot of good people in this city.” Lawson said. “We’ll try and get donations. The Housing Authority will help. This city always comes together to help one another, and they will do it again. Anyone that wants to help (these families) should call the police department at 675-4220.” Lawson said.

A generous city official, who wishes to remain anonymous has already provided three days of hotel stay at the Holiday Inn Express at his own expense for all seven of the displaced families, so they could have power, heat, hot showers and a few days to help sort out their housing options.

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