Lake Hemet Dam filled to capacity, the first time in many years. Photo by Tom Evans

Nearly one month after torrential rainfall caused major flooding and mud flow to areas of Lake Hemet Campground, RV campground site renters face uncertain futures. Additional rains could cause further flooding and campground renters’ rights may be limited.
Lake Hemet and the campground are owned by the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District headquartered in Hemet. The campground is managed by Basecamp Hospitality, formerly The California Parks Company.
On Thursday, Feb. 14, a levee breached causing water to rapidly rise to 3 or more feet around meadow-facing premium RV month-to-month rental campsites.
Some who were able to drive out on Valentine’s Day morning will not return. Patricia Blaine and partner Randy got out before noon, but in their hasty exit, their RV sustained damage when hitting a submerged rock. “We’re not going back because they haven’t corrected the problem,” said Blaine. “The breach has not been fixed and when rains come again, so will flooding. On the 14th, nobody [from campground management] came down to see us or help us. Had we not gotten out when we did, who knows what might have happened.”
Blaine provided a copy of her original contract with camp management which defined month-to-month renters as “campers not permanent residents.” (Blaine has lived at Lake Hemet Campground since October 2017.)
The contract’s “Acknowledgement of Risk and Waiver of Liability” seems to transfer risks, including during emergencies, to those who voluntarily enter onto the campground, thereby limiting campers’ expectations of assistance during emergencies, and rights of recovery for losses or injuries sustained.
A section of the contract reads as follows: “I [signing individual] am fully aware of the risks and hazards inherent in boating and camping and associated activities. I have decided to enter onto the property of the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District (“District”) and use District facilities knowing that such an act on my part may involve some danger to my person, to my property, or to the person or property of others. In addition, I understand that I am entering a campground as a camper, and not a permanent resident, in a relatively remote area and that availability of convenience and emergency services is limited or non-existent.”
Campers also sign a release from liability and agreement to indemnify both camp owner and management.
Another liability section speaks to acts of God limiting camper recovery rights. “Any person using these [campground] facilities will do so at their own risk. The management and staff assume no responsibility for fire, theft, accidents, vandalism, flooding, winds or any act of God, which may occur during the stay of the tenant/guest.
“Any violation of these rules shall be rounds for termination and/or non-renewal of any tenant’s Rental Agreement.”
Although Blaine left the campground and is not planning to return, other long-term campers with patio rooms and other attachments to their RVs find it more difficult to leave.
Previously interviewed Mary and Michael Murray love the peace and quiet of their premium site and have been, for the last month, repairing mud and water damage to their possessions. They are planning to stay but are apprehensive about further flooding. “Everything [power, water, sewage connections] is now working and the rain we’ve had since the 14th has not caused any more problems.”
Kelly Lam, marketing director of Basecamp Hospitality, responded to the Town Crier’s inquiry about conditions at the park and management’s plans to mitigate the damage at the campground and continued difficulties facing long-term renters.
He said, “Lake Hemet Campgrounds sympathizes with the plight of those camping along Hurkey Creek and understands the effect that flooding is causing to their personal property. This is an unprecedented, 100-year flood event.
“We have communicated to all campers that they may move their trailers and RVs to any open campsite away from the flooding.
“To assist with relocating trailers and RVs, the Idyllwild Garage has offered to stand by to tow trailers and RVs and will refer campers to other tow operators should they be unable to help.
“We have told affected campers that once this flooding has subsided, they may move their trailers and RVs back to the campsite they’ve been occupying, as long as it is still inhabitable.
“Like all campgrounds, Lake Hemet Campgrounds is intended to be occupied temporarily. At Lake Hemet, some campers stay month to month. Their campsite rental agreements specify that it is each camper’s responsibility to be prepared to move their trailer or RV should it be necessary.
“We have been in touch with disaster agencies to determine if assistance can be provided to those campers unable to afford to move their trailers and RVs, though so far, we’ve not found an agency able to provide such assistance.”
As a reference for readers, California Civil Code Sections 799.20 through 799.79 detail R.V. Park Rent Laws.
The code differentiates between long-term and short-term RV park renters. Code defines “occupant” as one who has occupied a lot for 30 days or less; a resident as one who had occupied a lot for nine months or more; and a tenant who has occupied a lot “for more than 30 consecutive days.”
Of interest is section 799.40 which states “The rights created by this chapter shall be cumulative and in addition to any other legal rights the management of a park may have against a defaulting occupant, tenant, or resident, or that an occupant, tenant, or resident may have against the management of a park.”
Also, Section 799.42 states, “No occupant registration agreement or tenant rental agreement shall contain a provision by which the occupant or tenant waives his or her rights under the provisions of this chapter, and any waiver of these rights shall be deemed contrary to public policy and void.”
The flooding, rain and heavy snow on the mountain before and after Feb. 14 have caused property damage and travel inconvenience to many Hill residents in addition to those at Lake Hemet Campground,
Because of current and prolonged closures of Idyllwild-access sections of highways 243 and 74, local businesses are hurting due to reduced tourist traffic. The county website, provides links for downloading forms that may provide disaster aid assistance: “Riverside County Operational Area Residential Damage Reporting Form,” and “Estimated Disaster Economic Injury Worksheet for Businesses.” Upon completion, forms can be submitted to [email protected] for possible financial reimbursement of funds from disaster declarations.
As of this writing, Tuesday morning, March 12, Idyllwild received 1 to 5 inches of snow with more at higher elevations. Rain was expected later Tuesday.