Anonymous Tip Shuts Down Ariz. Campground

A closed sign sits outside the La Siesta campground.

Controversies in the remote southern Arizona town of Arivaca usually involve the U.S.-Mexico border, located 11 miles away over mesquite-covered hills.

But recently, it’s been Pima County’s zoning ordinances — and an anonymous local tipster — that have upset a motley collection of birdwatchers, off-gridders, retired veterans, and aging draft dodgers, according to the Phoenix New Times.

Over the past two months, a local campground and the town’s recycling center shut down after anonymous complaints to the county revealed that they were operating outside the law. The impact might have been insignificant in a larger city like Tucson or Phoenix, but Arivaca doesn’t have that many businesses to begin with: just a small general store, an artists’ co-op, the Saturday farmer’s market, an RV park, a Mexican restaurant and bar, a ranch for troubled boys, and Gasdsen Coffee, where you can buy tie-dyed T-shirts and nag champa incense along with your soy latte.

The Arivaca Recycling Center was the first to close. Two years ago, Eli Buchanan, who grew up in town and now works for Arivaca’s nonprofit internet service provider, had gotten the idea of opening a recycling facility on land that his parents own. Previously, residents had to take their recyclables to Green Valley, which is more than 45 minutes away and involves traveling through a Border Patrol checkpoint and several low-lying washes that flood during the monsoon season. Often, that meant that rusted cans and old mechanical parts wound up in the town dump.

Buchanan created an online fundraiser that raised more than $1,400, and used the money to buy drop-off bins that he placed around town. Then, two months ago, his mother received a letter telling her that she was out of compliance with county zoning ordinances, since the property was intended for residential use only.

“As long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve been in touch with the county,” Buchanan said. “They basically told me as long as no one complains, it’s okay — do what you want.”

Steve Rendon, the manager of La Siesta Campgrounds, ran into a similar dilemma. Some 40 years ago, his father, Oscar Rendon, purchased 10 acres of land on Hardscrabble Road in Arivaca with the intention of eventually selling his home in Tucson and retiring there. But Oscar, a former electrical contractor and engineer, didn’t actually end up retiring until last year — he’s now 85 — and the land remained mostly empty.

In 2013, La Siesta Campgrounds opened. With no budget for marketing, he had to get creative.

“I went on Craiglist and announced the first annual vintage travel trailer show in Arivaca, Arizona,” he recalled. “And believe it or not, they came with their vintage cars and their trailers from all over.”

The campground quickly became popular with people who own retro vintage trailers, as well as hunters and the parents of kids at the nearby boys’ ranch. The Rendons frequently hosted retreats for combat-wounded veterans and the children of fallen soldiers, often charging next to nothing when nonprofit groups wanted to use the campground.

“It’s kind of got a hippie camp vibe to it,” said Julie Beck, who owns a 1965 Shasta compact trailer and made multiple trips to La Siesta for meetups hosted by Sisters on the Fly, a women’s outdoor adventure club. “It’s authentic and genuine. You meet people from all walks of life.”

Steve Rendon maintains that when he applied for a business license from the state, he’d asked if he needed to do anything else and was told that he was all set. He didn’t run into any problems until earlier this year, when someone filed an anonymous complaint with Pima County’s zoning office. Inspectors visited the site, and determined that he was operating a campground without the required permits.

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