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Fixing Crystal Cove, or Coddling Residents?

[Letters to the Los Angeles Times 1-13-2002]

Re "A Solution for Crystal Cove," Commentary, Jan. 6:

Assemblyman John Campbell's proposal to "save" Crystal Cove by allowing mobile home residents to stay in El Morro is based on flawed reasoning and, worse, a disturbing disregard for the rights of Californians to have full access to their beaches. Crystal Cove and El Morro are state parks, and thus belong to all of the people, not just a privileged few who have managed to monopolize these areas and limit public access over the years.

Just as the state Parks Department found it was going against the will of the people in its plan to lease Crystal Cove to a developer, Campbell is trying to thwart the public by extending private leases at El Morro. This is not a "solution" for Crystal Cove, as he claims, but a coddling of special interests. I don't blame the renters for wanting to stay, but it's time for them to say thank you and move on. Crystal Cove, in fact, has already been preserved, thanks to the efforts of local activists. There will be no resort. And even though the cottages have been declared a historic district (a designation sought by the residents in order to stay their eviction), this does not mean that all 46 cottages must be kept. Most of them are so ramshackle that they should be torn down.

I hope the department can find enough money to restore a few for administration and education, returning the rest of the beach to its natural form. As for El Morro, the trailer occupants should be required to leave by 2004 as the present contract requires.

Bette Anderson
Laguna Beach

I too have walked and run the beach at Crystal Cove for years, most recently with a group from the Sierra Club on a beach stroll. The fact Campbell cites, that "cottages ... have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979," is the cause of all this trouble. The solution: reverse the historic listing and get out of the $250,000-to-$400,000-per-cottage restoration cost. Sentimental values don't cut it here; the state doesn't have the funds.

As for the proposed hotel, the allowance of which was simply a vehicle to get more money to support this ill-conceived cottage restoration project, I'm especially glad that idea was thrown out the window. Only the wealthy could have afforded to stay in one of the hotel rooms for $400-plus per night. Alternatively, staying in a restored cottage would lose its luster after the guest learns there is no room service, or worse, the bar is too far for walking. And do not forget beach concessions with exclusive roped areas for hotel guests while humble citizens are relegated to the less attractive, less accessible areas (trash barrels and portable toilets provided, of course).

Further, the citizens of El Morro mobile home park should not live under the threat of increased rent as a source of restoration money. To destroy the active and pleasant community of El Morro, only to be replaced with a campground for itinerant citizens, is one of the cruelest proposals ever made.

Peri Tooker

For years, past residents and other supporters of Crystal Cove have suggested the idea of having the revenue of Crystal Cove State Park be used directly for its upkeep. Unfortunately, state politics and bureaucracy have created a massive "black hole" for those revenues known as the California State General Fund.

Between El Morro and Crystal Cove resident lease revenue, there always has been surplus to provide for restoration and improvement. Unfortunately, the Parks Department has not acted responsibly, and now they've kicked out one sure revenue source (the past residents) and have even less to fall back on. To me, it sounds as though the state's plan for restoration is a pipe dream.

May I suggest an addendum to Campbell's plan? Allow some residents back into the cottages for now (say 30 of the 46 cottages). These residents could be new or previous inhabitants. Charge a fair rate for their occupancy. Use the rental increases from El Morro and additional income from the 30 cottages and start the renovation now. When the first phase of cottages is done, focus on another set, but work it to keep some residents there to help pay for the costs and keep up what is already there.

Bob Von Der Ahe
Newport Beach

Campbell's idea to extend the leases at the El Morro mobile home park is not a good one and is terribly unfair to the vast majority of his constituents as well as the public of California.

We taxpayers paid the Irvine Co. $32.5 million for Crystal Cove State Park in 1978. At that time the people in the mobile homes were given very generous 20-year leases to adjust to the idea of having to leave. In 1999 they were given a five-year lease and now, as the time approaches for them to leave, they are using every means possible to stay on indefinitely, including disseminating misinformation and hiring a lobbyist and public relations firm.

A public campground and use of that wonderful beach with parking and picnic facilities for the use of the people of California are planned for this part of the park. In an area that is lacking in recreational facilities, this need is great.

Our hope is that Campbell will rethink his plan and allow the campground and beach conversion to begin promptly in 2004. The state parks officials say they will have the necessary funds to proceed. After 25 years it is time for the California public to have a chance to enjoy this lovely spot.

Fern Pirkle
Friends of the Irvine Coast
Corona del Mar

Campbell proposes extending the leases on the El Morro trailer park for 10 years past their expiration date of 2004. We have urged him not to do this for the following reasons:

Crystal Cove State Park was acquired in 1979 with state open space bond funds; at $32.5 million, it was the most expensive purchase in the history of the state parks system. At the time, residents of the El Morro trailer park were given 20-year, supposedly final leases.

But in 1998 the trailer park leases were quietly extended five years, to 2004, without any public review of the terms, and consequently, without any concessions toward better public access. Even the line of trailers right on El Morro beach was allowed to stay.

Laguna Greenbelt Inc. supports full public access to Crystal Cove State Park and the provision of overnight accommodations, including campgrounds, for the public. Currently, only a few hike-in campsites exist in the park. Although public access is not perceived as a traditional environmental issue, it is an issue for our organization because of the modest amount of land open for public recreation in Orange County, and especially along the Southern California coast.

Campbell's ostensible reason for sponsoring lease extensions is to raise money from trailer rents for the rehabilitation of the Crystal Cove historic cottages in the face of a state deficit. Using the cottages as an excuse for prolonging the trailer park leases beyond 2004 is a red herring. Deficits come and go. The state budget is up one year and down the next; what counts is commitment. The state Parks Department has demonstrated unwavering support for the preservation of the cottages and their rehabilitation for public use since 1982.

The department staff is now well-embarked on public planning processes for both the historic district and the El Morro cove. We support that process fully as the best way to bring about timely, full public access to the park.

Even with no further lease extension, it will be more than a quarter of a century from initial purchase until there are significant overnight opportunities for the public in Crystal Cove State Park. This beautiful wilderness park belongs to all Californians. They've waited long enough to fully enjoy their park.

Elisabeth M. Brown
Laguna Greenbelt Inc.

In a Nov. 11 letter, Val Carson seems to overlook the fact that public funds were paid in 1979 to buy the historic district cottages and beach for the use of all Californians. Public funds will also be used to restore the cottages.

It has been 22 years since the public purchase of Crystal Cove, and it is about time that the people of California are permitted to enjoy overnight stays at the cove in a natural setting. There are sufficient art galleries, museums, stores and cafes available in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach so that such facilities are not necessary in the beautiful setting of this cove.

California families should be permitted to experience the same beauty of the cove that the former tenants enjoyed and monopolized for years. Let's not again reserve this publicly owned treasure for a privileged few.

Mildred Urling
Costa Mesa


[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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