RV Park Must Add New Flood Warning System

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The owner of the Ventura Beach RV Resort must install a new flood warning system to keep the recreational vehicle park open because county officials will stop providing flood warnings to the park after Sept. 24.

The park, which sits at the mouth of the Ventura River, was flooded in February, 1992, and dozens of recreational vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Park owner Nancy Hubbard has maintained that the county failed to notify her staff in time to evacuate the park before the flood.

In the wake of the storms, Hubbard and county officials negotiated a flood warning agreement under which she promised to pay the county Flood Control District $5,000 for installing a rain and stream gauge along the river, and to pay $1,800 for new topographic maps of the area. During the rainy season, which runs from November through April, Hubbard would pay an additional $500 a month for operating costs.

The 19-acre park at 800 W. Main St. is popular because of its location on the coast. On average, the 144-space park contains about 80 vehicles a day and is packed on summer weekends.

Hubbard has a permit with the city of Ventura requiring that the park have a flood warning system in place at all times.

Ventura City Atty. Peter Bulens said if Hubbard does not have an alternate system ready when her agreement with the county ends, she would be in violation of her operating permit.

"If they don't have any flood warning system, we would have to commence revocation proceedings," Bulens said. "We never said it had to be something with the county; we just said it has to be reliable."

According to the agreement with Hubbard, county flood experts would telephone the park periodically during major storms to give reports about the level of the river so park operators could decide whether to evacuate.

Last month, only five months after the agreement was signed, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, citing liability concerns, decided to give Hubbard a 90-day notice that her contract with the county Flood Control District would end.

Hubbard said she is consulting private meteorologists to figure out what to do. She said she expects to be able to continue operating year-round, but that it will be more expensive to contract with a private firm for a flood warning system.

"We'll have to come up with an alternate system, but we've got most of it lined up," she said, adding that she is confident she will have something in place when the agreement ends Sept. 24.

Hubbard said she has three sirens at the park and an evacuation plan. Under her city permit, she must find someone who can give park operators constant weather forecasts during the rainy season, and someone who can watch how fast the water level in the Ventura River is rising.

There are some private meteorologists who could do it, but Hubbard said county flood control already has the needed equipment and are the best people for the job. She said she is furious that officials have terminated the agreement.

"I am feeling really harassed," Hubbard said. "To me, it's an action to close a business."

But Art Goulet, the county's director of public works who recommended ending the agreement, disagrees with Hubbard's contention that the county is trying to shut her down.

"That is not our goal," Goulet said. "If she can find another service, more power to her. We are probably the best for the money, but there are other people capable of doing it."

Goulet said county officials decided to end the agreement because Hubbard in March filed a lawsuit against the county that alleged negligent maintenance of the Ventura River bed, which reportedly contributed to the flooding.

Hubbard dropped the lawsuit the week before the supervisors voted on the issue, but Goulet said he recommended ending the agreement anyway because of future potential lawsuits.

"We do not believe the Flood Control District has the responsibility to maintain the riverbed, nor do we want to take on the responsibility," he said.

Goulet said it was unfortunate that no one had thought of the Ventura River bed maintenance issue before the agreement was signed, but Hubbard's lawsuit made county officials change their minds about providing flood warning services to the park.

Hubbard, however, said a clause in the agreement absolves the county of any blame, and that her $2-million insurance policy would cover potential liabilities. In any case, the issue of who is responsible for maintaining the riverbed is separate from whether county flood experts should provide warnings to the park, she said.

She said Goulet and other groups from the environmental community want to close the park, which county flood experts had argued should never have been built in a flood plain.

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