Unhappy Campers

Lighting is one issue at Saddle Mountain that falls under county jurisdiction. An adviser to State Sen. John Laird told CVA members their office would work with County Supervisor Mary Adams.

For several years, residents along Schulte Road in Carmel Valley have lodged complaints to the Monterey County Resource Management Agency (RMA) about Saddle Mountain Ranch over lights and noise, along with fears that campground owner Howie Hugo is expanding campground spaces beyond permits. Hugo denies they are doing anything wrong and contends the park provides families an affordable place to stay while visiting Monterey County.

The friction surfaced during the March 28 Carmel Valley Association virtual meeting featuring State Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, and Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams, after a Saddle Mountain neighbor asked for their help. “It’s been a real thorn because when we’ve attempted to go up and get some activity going, we’ve been told it isn’t the county’s responsibility, but I don’t feel comfortable with that response,” Adams said. CVA President Pris Walton says it appears both the state and county have jurisdiction, “and it’s not clear to me who has the greater control over it.”

As it turns out, much of what goes on a Saddle Mountain is under state control, but there is overlap. Since it’s classified as an RV park and campground, it falls under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

In October, the county RMA issued an administrative citation alleging the park was out of compliance on several issues. That prompted an inspection by HCD, which found the park was in compliance with state regulations. In an email obtained by the Weekly via a Public Records Act request, HCD Parks Program Manager Jamie Candelaria wrote to Hugo on Feb. 23 that a few of the issues in the RMA citation could fall under county jurisdiction, including lighting and special events. Hugo says one issue noted by the county – renovating the pool house as a short-term rental – has merit and he’s waiting to hear from RMA if he should apply for a permit.

RMA’s chief of building, Josh Bowling, says other issues need to be addressed, like acquiring a planning permit for gazebos. Fines of up to $500 a day have been accumulating since Jan. 4, but Bowling says Hugo remains cooperative, and if he complies with fixes he likely will not have to pay the fines.

In the 10 years his business has owned the park, Hugo says they’ve undergone inquiries from various agencies due to neighbor complaints. In one example, the Monterey Bay Air Resources Board and Cal Fire looked into a complaint about campfires, but found the park is compliant and uses only propane or pressed logs.

In 2014, Hugo brought in 400-square-foot mini-cabins on wheels, which RMA officials insisted weren’t allowed. “The county went nuts,” Hugo says – until the state stepped in and said the units were permissible. “It’s difficult because I’m in the middle. It’s like two parents who are divorced, mom says I can and dad says I can’t,” he says. “At this point the analogy breaks down, because the state has the authority.”

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