The owner of a recreational vehicle park in the Ventura River bed has filed a $700,000 claim against Ventura County, alleging that public works officials failed to clear debris out of the river and adequately warn park managers of flooding during last February's rains.
The claim was filed a year after five inches of rain saturated the Ojai Valley within five hours, prompting the Ventura River to jump its banks and swamp the Ventura Beach RV Resort. Dozens of trailers were destroyed and one was swept out to sea.
"The purpose of flood control is to maintain the flood channels within the county, and obviously they have not done that," said Nancy Hubbard, owner of the park. "We have a letter from the county that says during heavy rains, we would have 24 to 48 hours warning . . . that did not happen."
Government officials have scoffed at Hubbard's claim, saying the county was not formally obligated to provide the park with flood warnings. They also denied responsibility for clearing out the river channels.
"They build the RV park in the flood plain and then they complain about the flood," said Alex Sheydayi, deputy director of public works. "Everyone in this country is lawsuit-happy. Why not one more?"
County litigation coordinator Frank Sieh added:
"We are not liable or responsible. . . . We'll defend it vigorously."
But Hubbard said she should be compensated for the damage that the park suffered during the Feb. 12, 1992, deluge. In addition to destroying nearly 40 recreational vehicles, a wall of mud and water cascaded into the park's clubhouse, ruining appliances, office equipment and furniture.
"I hope I can get some relief from the money we had to spend to repair the property," Hubbard said. "I also hope that they will conduct some maintenance of the channels so we are not in the same position again."
So far, the park has been sued by five owners of destroyed recreational vehicles, Hubbard said. The damage suits, which have been handled by Hubbard's insurance company, total about $400,000, she said.
As a basis for her claim against the county, Hubbard said that in 1985 park officials entered into an agreement with the Ventura County Flood Control District to provide funds for the flood monitoring equipment.
In exchange, Hubbard said, the park was to be included in the county's flood warning system and receive reasonable advance notice of impending danger. As part of the deal, the park provided the county with $2,800 for a rain monitoring gauge.
"We had an agreement in place," she said.
Sheydayi, however, said the terms of the accord were very unclear.
"There really was not formal agreement," Sheydayi said. "All there was was a letter saying we would provide them with flood warning. There was no procedure established on how or when we would do it."
Sheydayi said county flood district officials warned the park of the impending flood about an hour before it happened.
"When we determined that things were getting kind of hot, we called them," Sheydayi said. "Their manager decided he was going to go out and look for himself. And presumably, from what I gather, he walked from RV to RV. By the time he got around to doing some of that, the park was flooded."
The ambiguity of the 1985 agreement has led to a recent decision by the county Board of Supervisors to formalize a deal with Hubbard.
As part of a resolution adopted by the board on Jan. 26, county flood experts will telephone the park periodically during major storms to give reports about the level of the river so park operators can decide whether to evacuate.
However, according to last month's agreement, the county is not liable for the warnings' timeliness and accuracy.
County officials continue to maintain that they are not required to clear the channels.
"There is no need for it," Sheydayi said. "The only hazard the Ventura River presented was mitigated by the levee that was built in the 1950s. Anything that happens within the confines of the river is really of no consequence."