Years of uncertainty over the future of Orange County's most historic coastal community is likely to be partially resolved today as members of the California Coastal Conservancy meet to discuss the fate of the cottages at Crystal Cove.
At issue: whether the state will provide $2 million to buy out a would-be developer, thereby stopping a luxury resort at the site.
"This is such a positive thing that I don't see why anyone would vote against it," said Sara Wan, chairwoman of the California Coastal Commission and a member of the Coastal Conservancy's board. "I think it's great."
Wan was among the group of dignitaries that took a last-minute tour of the community--halfway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach--on the eve of today's meeting of the Coastal Conservancy at Laguna Beach City Hall. Also present was Joan Irvine Smith, granddaughter of James Irvine, whose Irvine Ranch once included Crystal Cove among its 120,000 acres.
Smith, an outspoken opponent of the resort, later hosted a reception at the Irvine Museum attended by about 100 dignitaries, state officials and environmentalists. "This is marvelous," she said, clearly anticipating that the state will buy out the developer. "It will really be the beginning of a new era for the park."
In the early 1900s, the beach, then owned by the Irvine Co., became a favorite stamping ground for Irvine family guests, who would take buckboards down the dirt road that is now MacArthur Boulevard to spend an afternoon at the water's edge.
During the 1920s and '30s, the company rented some of the land to vacationers, who built cottages on it. A Hollywood producer, after leasing the cove for a series of South Seas-themed movies, left several sets that were later turned into homes. Eventually, there were 46 beach houses in all on land leased from the Irvine Co. by the month or the year.
In 1979, the company sold the land to the state, which promptly made it part of Crystal Cove State Park and issued eviction notices to the residents. After decades of legal battles and delays, those residents have finally agreed to leave their cottages by July 8.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as "the last intact example of vernacular beach architecture" that once dotted the California coast, the cove had been slated to become the site of a luxury resort built by a company called Crystal Cove Preservation Partners. But local environmentalists, including Smith, objected strongly to the plan, prompting Gov. Gray Davis to announce that the state would try to buy out the developer's contract.
"This truly is a triple win," Davis said in announcing the plan last month. "It is responsive to the local community, expands environmental protection and reimburses the developer for costs incurred up to now."
Coastal Conservancy board member Paul Morabito said an additional $10 million would be needed for repairs of aging septic tanks and other infrastructure. Eventually, he said, a series of public hearings will be held to determine the future use of the site, which has been discussed as a potential training center for enforcement officers in environmental law, a center for working artists, a community of inexpensive hostels or an ecological research center run by UC Irvine.
"The public can now have a fair and balanced discussion as to what the future use will be, knowing that commercial development is permanently off the table," Morabito said.
[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]
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