They came up with the idea, and now they're getting the boot.
That's what the owners of the original cabins-for-rent at Cachuma Lake will be proclaimed today during a 1 p.m. press conference, when Ernie and Shirley Del Rio explained how they believe the County of Santa Barbara's Parks Department — which operates the recreation area under a contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the lake's owner — is unfairly evicting them.
They claim that their contract for the cabins — which they had proposed at Cachuma, Jalama, and elsewhere in 2004 — dates back to March 2006, and was supposed to last 10 years. But that was thwarted when the Del Rios were forced to re-bid on their contract as part of the county's ongoing negotiations with the bureau over an eight-years-in-the-making long-term management plan. The Del Rios' bid was rejected because County Parks estimated that they could be making $14,000 more per year if they simply used the cabin locations as full recreational vehicle hook-ups. So Central Coast Cabins, which is the name of the Del Rios' company, was told to take down their cabins and leave, just a few months after the county installed their own cabins at both Cachuma and Jalama.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought that this kind of thing would happen to me,” said Ernie Del Rio, the former superintendent of San Luis Obispo County's parks department who set up his cabins with county approval back in 2006. “My wife and I have prided ourselves on the fact that we treat people fairly, and we expect to be treated the same way. To have this happen goes against all of our morals and scruples. I just don't know how people live with themselves when they make those types of decisions.”
But Brian Roney, who's been the head of County Parks for nearly a year, says the decision came down to basic economics and that the Del Rios were extended every opportunity to come back with a better offer. “We were in negotiations with Mr. Del Rio, and we encouraged him to make a counter-offer, which he declined to do,” said Roney. “He basically ended negotiations by saying, 'I won't pay you any more money.'” He also explained that the county had approached Del Rio with an offer to run the new cabins, but that was declined. “We were perfectly willing to continue doing business with him, if we could reach an equitable rental agreement,” said Roney. “That didn't happen.”
The Bureau of Reclamation's Shirley Carter understands the Del Rios' dismay, but said that the bid process was required as part of the county's new contract with the bureau, which she hopes will be finally signed in January 2012. “The original agreement we entered into with Santa Barbara County Parks was back in the '50s and it finally expired,” said Carter, noting that it ended in January 2003 and that the new contract has been in the works since then. “They are supposed to abide by any new federal laws since the 1950s, which have been a lot.” One of those is opening concessions up to other bids, or requests for proposals (RFPs), which is why the county went down that road with the Del Rios.
Although they were the only ones to submit a bid, which offered a 12 percent share of earnings to the county, County Parks determined that the $14,000 gap was too much to stomach, especially in hard times. And that was fine with the bureau. “That's their prerogative....Our involvement is only to make sure that our managing partner is doing their concession and RFPs consistent with the policies and guidelines and consistent with our public law,” said Carter. “We have been able to determine that they have....They are there to do the best things for the public for the park.”
But for the Del Rios, whose livelihood is tied to the cabins, it's still too much to stomach, and something just doesn't smell right. They say that the $14,000 is in possible income, and that the place is only 50 percent full on average even in the high season. “They put in cabins of their own and they want to eliminate the competition,” said Del Rio, who said that the $14,000 is a small amount to save when the lawsuit that he is considering against the county will amount to much more.
“The damage has been done to me. I would hope that the county would see the errors in their ways and know what we need to settle,” said Del Rio. “If that doesn't happen, like any other prudent individual would do, I have to do what I have to do to protect my interest.”