What kind of amenities should be in a park? That was the issue at a contentious Jan. 18 state parks public information meeting on the future of the Crystal Cove cottages.
There are lots of models for parks. Here we tend to see people and nature as opposing influences--wilderness here, town there. In Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, for example, the works of man do not dominate, people are day visitors and natural processes prevail.
But in France, where the first Regional National Parks were established thousands of years after the country was settled, they encompass whole country villages.
In California, where the raw material for our parks is usually wilderness instead of farmland, historic preservation sits uneasily within the framework of conservation. In fact, the historic designation of the 40-odd cottages emerged as the prime obstacle to a balanced and rational plan for the cove.
There's another consideration, of course, that of scale. A park that encloses a village is going to be much larger than Crystal Cove State Park. Even Yosemite National Park, referred to in the slick presentation as an example for the proposed resort, is much larger than the entire Laguna Greenbelt, let alone Crystal Cove State Park.
With large-scale development occurring just across PCH, the park flanking the cove seems reduced to a narrow coastal strip of land.
California's state parks were established to preserve examples of our natural habitats, but in their charter they also are supposed to preserve cultural and historic resources. Thus, the old mining town of Bodie is preserved in the hills north of Mono Lake.
The contingent from Sacramento included state Parks Director Rusty Areias, who clearly thought it was stuck between a rock and a hard place, with the resort being the only way out. But many people in the audience preferred to see the cottages disappear and the cove restored to beach and bluff. Others wanted to preserve the funky little enclave. Still others envisioned an artists' retreat, or interpretive center.
What stands in the way is the historic district designation of the cottage zone, sought and received by then-tenants in 1979. At first glance it seems to be an impenetrable barrier to doing what the community wants, which is, clearly, less than is being proposed.
But maybe there is a solution. Few laws are so draconian or absolute that there is only one possible interpretation. None of the cottages is of official historic significance, just the district itself. Granting a historic preservation designation allows for structures to be remodeled or even demolished.
It's not hard to imagine that we could meet in the middle, preserving a few cottages in a state of arrested decay, as in Bodie, or rehabilitated for interpretive use, while restoring the rest of the cove to its presettlement condition. That way, we could preserve some of the ambience without all of the structures‹the sizzle without the steak.
Elisabeth Brown lives in Laguna Beach and is president of the Laguna Greenbelt Inc.
[Clips from original newspaper articles appear here for educational purposes and purposes of comment, rather than commercial purposes. They are reprinted under the fair use doctrine of international copyright law. Copyright Los Angeles Times]
Back to top