A screenshot from a streamed meeting of the April 4, 2023, Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting showing the supervisors on the dais and a few people in the crowd.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors heard from more than two dozen rancho owners and supporters Tuesday calling on the county to create a new ordinance that would allow them to continue to operate. (Source: Riverside County/Screenshot)

More than two dozen rancho owners and supporters spoke out against noise violation fines given to property owners during Tuesday’s meeting of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

“I’m here to respectfully urge the county to stop enforcing predatory, excessive noise tickets against ranchers in the unincorporated area of Riverside County where historically there has been a culture of family gatherings, access to outdoor nature and animals and social recreation,” Lorena Ruiz said. “The recent wave of tickets and enforcement have felt like an attack on our community, and it’s an attack on our community in a way to shut down the livelihood of our ranches, of our cultures, of what we stand for in the community of Hispanics.”

The meeting happened less than a week after it was announced that the Riverside County Planning Department, at the direction of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez, was working to create a new county ordinance that would establish a new land-use category for ranchos in the Coachella Valley. In the release, ranchos are defined as “large agricultural properties, date palm ranches, which include a primary residence.”

According to the release, Perez met with the rancho community, vendors and residents in August 2021 to discuss the possibility of creating a new ordinance specifically for ranchos. During that meeting, it was decided that code enforcement would not be citing rancho properties for land-use violations during the development of a new ordinance. However, they could still be cited for violating noise, parking and construction regulations.

“I’m here because two years ago I stood here and asked for an ordinance to be created and Supervisor [V. Manuel] Perez and [Planning Director John] Hilderbrand and code enforcement had a meeting for all the ranchos and promised us an ordinance,” Claudia Lua Alvarado, a rancho owner, said. “But what I need is for it to be created. We hope that it can be created quick and soon. 

“You sent a press release, and it says that in two months you’re going to have the draft ready for us to look at,” she continued. “The problem is that between that time and now, other ranchos are receiving fines, and we were promised no fines.”

Many who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting talked about how continued fines for noise ordinance violations were putting both families and small businesses in a tight spot.

“There’s a lot of families and businesses that are going to be affected if they continue to give out these unreasonable fines,” Alan Silva said. “Ranchos are going to have to shut down, a lot of small businesses are going to shut down, and we’re going to start losing these traditions that we have in regard to weddings, quinceañeras in the ranchos in the open air.”

One of the biggest problems with the current ordinance, speakers said, is that when code enforcement is called out for a noise complaint, the officers drive around the property, and if they hear a noise 200 feet away from the property, they issue a citation to the property owner.

“When we had a code enforcement officer come up to our house, he said if [he] lived here, he too would want to sit in the backyard, listen to music and have a beer,” Laura Wright said. “He too would get cited under this ordinance, so now this ordinance not only takes away the rights of anyone trying to run a business, it takes away the rights of any property owner.”

And those who tried to appeal the citation felt they were not given a fair hearing.

“I myself tried to file an appeal, and I will tell you, it was not a fair appeal,” Ruiz said. “You cannot be told you’re getting a fair appeal when it’s a person that is paid by the county. There is no system in place that’ll give us guidance. How can you be enforcing these tickets without a structure?”

And while the specific impact of the current ordinance were slightly different for each speaker, the ask was the same across the board: Adopt specific, measurable and enforceable guidelines that rancho owners can follow.

“We’re good people that want to help our community succeed,” Alvarado said. “But we really need your help.”

Since the item was not on the agenda, the supervisors could not discuss it, though Supervisor V. Manuel Perez told the crowd that his goal was to have a draft ready for rancho owners to see in the coming weeks.

“We have been working on an ordinance, and my goal is to try to review that ordinance with you all, if not by the end of next week, within two weeks, that is a goal,” he said. “My other goal is to do everything possible to have you all permitted. So you can continue to operate.”

Missed Tuesday’s meeting? You can watch a full recording here, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter where we include a listing of public meetings throughout the county and how you can get involved in your community.

Become a supporter today!

TN News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet providing Riverside County with high-quality journalism free of charge. We’re able to do this because of the generous donations of supporters like you!

If you found this story useful or interesting (hopefully both!), we kindly ask that you show your support with a monthly or annual donation.

Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.