By Cindy Frazier
Updated: Thursday, July 3, 2008 10:12 PM PDT
The next phase for El Moro Canyon -- where trailers and mobile homes stood since the 1950s -- is set to begin soon.
Construction of the long-awaited El Moro Campground at Crystal Cove State Park is expected to begin after the July 4 weekend, Crystal Cove State Park Supt. Ken Kramer said Monday.
State Parks officials recently awarded a $12 million public works project contract to Los Angeles Engineering, Inc. for the conversion of the former El Morro Village trailer park site to a state park campground, beach, and picnic area.
The project is set to begin in mid-July and is expected to be open to the public by early 2010.
Parks officials are anticipating that the 60 overnight campsites and 200 day use parking spaces will attract more than 100,000 visitors on weekends.
Parks supporters are thrilled that the long-delayed project is going forward, but others are wary of an influx of visitors to the area.
"The foundation is thrilled about the enhanced recreational opportunities to the public," said Karl Warkomski, newly appointed executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. "It will be an affordable opportunity for people to stay overnight near the coast."
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who fought the park project and championed the fight of El Morro Village trailer park residents to keep their leased spots on the coast, said the project is a boondoggle for taxpayers.
"I'm glad to see work finally commencing on the new parking lot for Crystal Cove," DeVore said in a written statement released to the press.
"It is over budget and behind schedule though, as has been the other projects at this state park, costing state taxpayers millions of dollars in overruns during this time of huge deficits," DeVore said. "We must do a better job of managing state assets. Lastly, I am concerned that the current plan shortchanges public safety. Hundreds of visitors a day crossing Pacific Coast Highway at that location to get to the beach is an accident waiting to happen."
A pedestrian crossing with signals was eliminated from the plan, but the existing underpass will continue to link the inland and beach facilities, Kramer said.
"No pedestrians will be allowed to cross the highway," Kramer said. Volunteer "hosts" will be at the campsite at all times to greet visitors and provide security, he said.
Influx concerns some
Laguna Beach businessman Richard Holmes said he doesn't believe the influx of new visitors will help the local economy, and questioned whether the area can handle that much extra traffic.
"Every weekend, 100,000 folks visiting, that is four times our [Laguna Beach] population," Holmes said. "We don't have the infrastructure for 100,000 visitors.
"Parks visitors don't buy things in Laguna Beach, they bring everything with them," he added.
Warkomski believes the new park visitors won't overburden local streets and highways.
"The park has been sized accordingly," Warkomski said. "That site will not have as many units as can fit there. It will not be an inordinate impact or cause a traffic issue. The size of the park won't hurt the area."
School close to camp
The overnight campground will be near El Morro Elementary School, and school officials have worked with the parks department on issues such as safety and access, said Laguna Beach School District Supt. Robert Fraisse. The district first heard the project was approved one month ago, but has known of the state's plans for years, he said.
"We think it has the potential to be a very smooth procedure," Fraisse said. "We're going to be involved with ongoing discussions with the key state folks."
Kramer said an eight-foot berm will screen the campground from the playground. The original trailer park was located closer to the school property than the campground will be, he added. A 100-150 foot buffer zone will separate the two.
Park bond funds used
The project is approved in the governor's 2007-08 budget and is financed by voter-approved Proposition 12 park bond funds.
"This is a project that will provide construction jobs to build the park and tourism visitors to fill the park and spur the Orange Coast economy," said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks.
"This is one example of what the governor wants in public-private partnerships. We are using public bond funds for a private company to build a visitor destination that is an investment in the future of the local economy."
Revenues from camping, day use and special events could generate as much as an additional $1 million per year to support California State Parks, parks officials said in a press statement.
The El Moro campground will be the first coastal campground to be added to the system in about 20 years.
With the popularity of coastal park camping, parks officials are predicting the park could be sold out on the first day reservations are opened.
The 35-acre site is located within the boundaries of the 2,791 acre Crystal Cove State Park located on one of the last undeveloped stretches of the Orange County coastline.
The park was purchased in 1979 from the Irvine Co. for more than $32 million. While the public approved the park's General Plan in 1982, including conversion plans for the trailer park, a long-term lease for the 294 homes and legal challenges by the former tenants delayed the start of the project for years.
For more information, contact Kramer at (949) 494-3539.
Candice Baker contributed to this story.
[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 Coastline Pilot]
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