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Thieves turn park into eyesore
Mobilehomes that have been stripped of their aluminum shell in Lazy Wheels mobilehome park is the newest visual headache for city officials. The good news is that the matter should be taken care of sooner than later.

The 52-unit park sits in the shadow of the Whitmore Avenue/Highway 99 overpass, which is slated to be widened soon. In order to do the project and reconfigure the entire Whitmore interchange, the state of California needs slivers of the park. Caltrans has been buying up trailers on the southern and western fringes of the park to be cleared. As of Thursday the state owned eight trailers and was negotiating the purchase of an additional five coaches.

When the occupants moved out, however, the older mobilehomes became targets for thieves who stripped off the aluminum to recycle for cash. In many cases, the trailers' batts of insulation, wires and wooden framing are exposed to the motoring public.

"Every night you'll see more and more pieces gone," observed Mike Martin, a resident of the park.

Residents have been calling the city to complain about the eyesore. A code enforcement officer posted signs declaring that the trailers are state property and to keep out. But the temptation to cash in a truckload of aluminum for $60 or so has been too tempting for some.

"I'll admit that it looks horrible but I can't do anything about it," said park manager Eugene Spahn. "I'm cleaning up what I can but they mess it up as fast as I clean it up."

Spahn was also told that he had no authority of the trailers since the state had bought them for removal. Nor can he watch for thieves since the thefts are taking place in early morning.

State officials told code enforcement officer Paula Redfern that the work to remove the trailers is to commence.

Police Chief Art deWerk called the trailer an "attractive nuisance" but said he doesn't have the manpower to patrol the park.

Meanwhile, the massive interchange project itself is slightly behind schedule once again. Interim City Engineer Mike Britton said the state had hoped to be out to bid by November but that has been set back pending negotiations on several required pieces of property.

The state still hopes to begin construction early next year.

The Whitmore project is intended to alleviate some of the worst bottlenecking of traffic in Ceres. The project calls for the widening of the Whitmore overpass at Highway 99 from two lanes to four lanes with sidewalks on both north and south sides. Local surface roads will be reconfigured at both ends of the overpass. A new northbound Highway 99 onramp will be created east of the freeway near Lazy Wheels. The project will do away with Herndon Road going underneath the overpass in lieu of a new connection to Herndon from Central Avenue.

The road system in front of Ceres High School will also change significantly.

The project will affect the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Whitmore. A reconfiguration of El Camino means the westside driveway into KFC will be eliminated but the parking lot will expand into what is now roadway.

Once completed, gone will be the days when westbound Whitmore Avenue drivers have to make that adreneline-pumping left turn through any hole in eastbound traffic speeding down the overpass incline; getting to the freeway will be safer as a new northbound onramp is created and accessible by a right turn off of Whitmore.

West of the freeway, the project is expected to wipe out the row of commercial buildings that runs parallel to Whitmore Avenue south of the Ceres Memorial Park. Plans call for Whitmore Avenue to be linked to Railroad Avenue through the industrial area so two buildings will have to go.

The project will cost an estimated $49.6 million with the state covering $46.3 million.