The state's restoration of 1920s-era cottages at Crystal Cove State Park has become a "money pit," according to an Orange County state senator who wants to turn the ambitious repair project over to a nonprofit organization that would rent the bungalows to beachgoers.
Sen. John Campbell (R-Irvine) said he also would ask his colleagues to reject a request by the state Department of Parks and Recreation to spend an additional $2 million on the refurbishment project, which has already cost $12 million.
"Next week, they'll have spent all the money, taken apart a bunch of cottages, and they haven't restored a single one," Campbell said of the four-year effort to upgrade water, electric and sewage systems, and eventually rehabilitate the 46 cottages, most of which were built in the 1920s and 1930s.
"Either they've misled us or mismanaged it or both," Campbell said of the cost overruns. "I think this is headed for disaster."
Campbell's proposal escalates a war of words between parks officials and area Republican lawmakers unhappy with progress on Crystal Cove State Park and a companion project to remove about 300 mobile homes at adjacent El Morro. The trailers would be replaced by recreational vehicle hookups for beachfront camping.
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), citing delays in the restoration, said the parks department was incapable of handling the project.
Lacking political support, DeVore last month dropped two bills aimed at helping residents at El Morro Village Mobile Home Park stave off eviction and stay for another 10 to 30 years while paying higher rents.
Parks officials said Friday that they would evaluate Campbell's proposal, which they had not seen, and send a recommendation to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office.
It would be a mistake to take the restoration project away from the state, said Roy Stearns, deputy parks director, because crews are finally making progress. They were stymied by three times the area's average rainfall this winter, he said.
"It's quite typical of historic restoration projects to have cost increases of 150% to 200%," Stearns said. "In 2001, we forecast that it could take up to $25 million to do the entire project. I think we're proceeding quite well, given how tough it is."
Parks officials late last month asked for an immediate $1.5 million in additional funding and an additional $567,000 for the coming fiscal year to finish restoring 22 of the 46 cottages. They hope to have them open for rentals around Labor Day.
Campbell said the project has lingered for three years and the state doesn't have $13 million to complete it.
The cottages -- their roofs, floors and windows removed -- are draped in plastic.
"They'll sit there unfinished until we bring in private money or some other source of money," Campbell said. "A nonprofit could hopefully bring more local control to manage this asset."
Stearns said some of what Campbell proposed is already being done.
The nonprofit Crystal Cove Alliance has raised about $600,000 to complete the final 24 cottages, he said, and it intends to be among bidders to manage the finished cottages.
"The community wants Crystal Cove as a historic overnight facility, and we're getting closer and closer to that," he said.
The state parks department bought Crystal Cove in 1979 for $32 million. The park includes 3.2 miles of coastline and 2,400 acres of inland property. The restoration project has been funded so far by more than $9 million in state park bond funds and nearly $3 million from the state Coastal Commission.
Campbell said he had no desire to change the plan for Crystal Cove, which is to offer the historic bungalows for overnight stays at $80 to $150 a night. Coastal Commission money is earmarked to refurbish three large cottages as a youth hostel, where dorm-style beds would rent for $20 to $30 a night.
But he opposes the state's plans for El Morro, saying that disturbing the coastal area with recreational vehicles is a bad idea.
DeVore said the Department of Parks and Recreation was facing a $900-million maintenance backlog and should be more realistic about what it can do. The freshman assemblyman was criticized by opponents for accepting $66,000 in campaign donations and loans from mobile home park residents, as well as from a businessman who holds the trailer park lease and from the businessman's relatives.
[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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