Fort Ord California used to be an US army post in Monterey Calfornia. Established in 1917 some structures have since been torn down and the areas planned for future renovations. Old Military buildings and infrastructure remain abandoned while Cal State Monterey Bay, Fort Dunes Park, Transition Center, Strip Mall, and Military facilities occupy the area today.
After serving tours in Kosovo and Iraq, flying a helicopter into combat to rescue wounded troops, the last thing Marine Maj. Daniel Smith Sr. thought he would have to worry about was how military housing would affect his family’s health while he was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Smith, who is facing a scheduled return to Iraq, will leave behind two children who must receive daily treatments for asthma brought on by exposure to toxic black mold in their house at La Mesa Village, according to a lawsuit filed against the Parks at Monterey Bay, which includes La Mesa Village, and the military’s property manager, Pinnacle Realty Co. of Seattle.
Smith, 32, is stationed in Virginia. He and his wife, Jody Smith, will return to the Monterey Peninsula for a June trial, in which they are expected to testify about indifference and disrespect they say they experienced at the hands of the companies after Jodi discovered black mold growing on a wall behind an armoire in their bedroom in January 2005.
According to Daniel Smith, he and his family were forced to move twice after air samples showed “extremely elevated” levels of toxic mold in their Revere Road home, even after workers tried to solve the problem by bleaching the wall.
One air sampling showed 31,900 penicillium/aspergillus spores per cubic meter in the master bedroom of the house, and 27,800 spores per cubic meter in the children’s bedroom. Both readings are well above the outdoor count of 213 spores.
According to a report by Aero-Environmental Consulting, which conducted the testing, the typical source of indoor spores is the outdoor environment and indoor counts are usually lower.
“Based on the extremely elevated mold spore concentrations inside the residence,” the report reads, “Aero-Environmental recommends for the occupants to relocate until all mold spore levels are within normal parameters.”
Substantial scientific research, including a 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, has linked mold and damp conditions to health effects such as asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Smith’s attorney, Charles Warner of Monterey, said both of Smith’s children now receive three respiratory treatments a day to deal with the effects of the mold. The block of buildings that included the Smiths’ Revere Street home has now been demolished, he said.
Discovery of mold|
Kurt Jacobson, a spokesman for Pinnacle, said all non-historical homes in La Mesa Village and Fort Ord are slated to be demolished by 2013 so that modern homes can be built. He said he was unable to discuss the lawsuit because he was not familiar with its details and because of the company’s policy not to discuss residents.
The company’s attorney, Robert Schnack of Sacramento, did not return repeated phone calls this week.
According to the lawsuit, Jody discovered black mold on Jan. 24, 2005. Smith immediately reported the problem to Pinnacle management at the Parks at Monterey Bay, the suit states. Three days later, the company sent a crew to investigate.
Workers cleaned the mold with bleach and cut a hole in the wall to check for moisture. According to a letter written by Daniel Smith, they declared the wall moisture free, but offered no explanation as to why it was “‘sweating,’ damp to the touch and growing mold.”
Subsequent inspection by Aero-Environmental found elevated moisture levels in the wall and recommended part of the wall, as well as all carpet in the house, be removed.
Son starts coughing|
Within hours of the initial crew cutting into the wall, Smith wrote, his 3-year-old son was coughing and vomiting uncontrollably.
After two trips to the emergency room at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula during that weekend, Daniel Smith Jr. was seen by his pediatrician, who said the likely cause of his illness was mold exposure, Smith claims. The doctor wrote a letter saying the boy needed to be removed from the mold-infested house.
When Smith went to the Parks at Monterey Bay to request housing relocation, he alleges, the manager told him, “If your son has a problem with mold, then you need to see your lieutenant colonel and get orders off the Monterey Peninsula.”
Smith, a Naval Academy graduate, was assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School to obtain a master’s degree in management after a tour of duty in Iraq.
Smith said his wife contacted an Army official who instructed Pinnacle to move the family.
The family was moved into a new home, but Pinnacle sent their furniture with them. When air samplings showed alarming results at the Revere Road home, the Smiths were notified that their furniture would have to be “remediated” and they were moved into the Navy Lodge. After two weeks, they were moved into a mold-free house.
Eventually, the Smiths claim, $30,000 worth of personal property was destroyed or kept by Pinnacle and the Parks at Monterey Bay because it couldn’t be sufficiently cleaned.
Smith says a pediatric pulmonologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford diagnosed both of his children with asthma attributed to mold exposure. The children require daily treatments. When they catch a cold, it takes three to four weeks, rather than three to four days, before they get well.
Claims of negligent housing|
Among other things, the family’s lawsuit alleges Pinnacle negligently maintained its housing. It asks for general and punitive damages for personal injury, infliction of emotional distress, conversion of personal property and for failing to provide safe housing or disclose to the Smiths the condition of the property.
Warner said Smith is pursuing the lawsuit because he wants to protect others in the military and to press for better management from the firms contracted as part of the 1996 Military Housing Privatization Act.
“In all the times he’s been here,” Warner said, “he’s never asked ‘What will I get out of this?'”
For his part, Warner said, he is motivated by a sense of fairness to the country’s military personnel.
“No matter how you feel about the war in Iraq, if we’re going to send these young men and women overseas to fight and risk death, when they come back here with their families neither they nor families should be at risk in military housing,” he said. “They’re getting it from both ways.”
Ann Johnson, chief of public affairs for the Presidio of Monterey, said local military officials were unaware of the lawsuit and do not comment on pending litigation.
Pinnacle has taken over operations of more than 15,000 military housing units in the United States as part of the Army’s Residential Communities Initiative, according to its Web site. Pinnacle, one the world’s largest property management firms, manages 132,000 multi-family units, including 30,000 public-housing units, in the United States.
It has been the focus of several high-profile lawsuits.
In one, a St. Louis jury awarded $18 million to a woman whose 4-year-old son fell to his death from the window of their 11th story apartment. According to testimony, the mother had repeatedly asked Pinnacle managers to put window guards on the apartment to avert such a disaster.
In another, Pinnacle settled a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of an Arkansas man who died of rabies contracted from bats in his apartment building. Before doctors learned the cause of the man’s death, they donated his organs to four other people, three of whom died of rabies.
In his letter, Smith said property management firms such as Pinnacle that have taken over military housing are concerned with “the bottom line: money,” not the comfort and health of its occupants.
“The Parks at Monterey Bay has treated us with little to no respect and absolutely no concern for our well-being,” he wrote.