Laguna Beach officials are asking the state to open its vacant beachfront residences at a nearby mobile home park to the victims of last week's landslide ‹ a proposal that is drawing opposition from environmentalists and the parks system.
Nearly three dozen homes are vacant at El Morro Village Mobile Home Park because the state is evicting residents to convert the park into a public campground at Crystal Cove State Park.
But the conversion -- including an ongoing court battle with remaining residents -- may take years, and Laguna Beach officials say the empty mobile homes could be put to good use in the meantime.
"I am not giving up on the idea of finding a 2- to-2 1/2 -year solution for these people," said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider, who conceived the idea. "These are teachers, dual-working parents, seniors. They are not rich people. This gives them some immediate relief Š so they can get back on their feet and start rebuilding."
Fifteen homes in Bluebird Canyon were lost in the June 1 landslide; 33 others that have been red- or yellow-tagged because of their proximity to the slide remain uninhabitable.
The families have found temporary housing with friends and relatives, but face questions about the long term.
For homeowners John and Diane Stevens, the El Morro option would provide some relief as they continue to make mortgage payments on the destroyed one-story Flamingo Road house they bought 18 years ago, find funds to buy a new home and pay rent until they find a permanent solution.
The equity from their recently appraised $1.4-million house is gone, and the couple's 14-year-old daughter plans to enter college in three years.
"We have to find a way to finance these things that are pulling us in so many directions," said Diane Stevens, a marketing executive with the Irvine Co. Her husband works for a commercial real estate company.
The family plans to live with friends and relatives through the summer, but the transient lifestyle won't work when their daughter and 10-year-old son start school again, she said.
"We need to get settled so we can rebuild. We need the support of lawmakers to do that."
State parks officials are sympathetic, said parks spokesman Roy Stearns, but El Morro is "absolutely not a viable situation."
Allowing use of the mobile homes and vacation trailers could undermine the state's position in a lawsuit filed by tenants who are trying to block the evictions, Stearns said. The leases expired in December, but about 255 of the 295 mobile homes remain occupied.
In addition, use of the homes by Laguna Beach slide victims could delay plans to convert the area into public campgrounds and jeopardize funding for the project, he said.
The state also has been ordered by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has jurisdiction over the region, to stop using the septic tanks by Sept. 30 or face daily fines of up to $5,000.
"There are agencies out there -- county, city and federal -- who are in the business of offering and providing emergency housing," Stearns said. "That's their jobŠ.We don't think a state park system should be the answer to a disaster."
Bluebird Canyon victims say they are desperate for government help because landslides are rarely covered by insurance.
State emergency officials this week asked their federal counterparts to include the Bluebird Canyon slide within an emergency declaration already signed by President Bush because of a February storm. The federal government already had authorized assistance to public agencies because of that storm; a January storm also triggered an emergency declaration.
At least 10 area environmental groups have written to state officials to oppose the El Morro proposal because it could further delay the campground development.
"The more they spend time trying to pursue this illusion, the less time they're trying to pursue a real solution," said Claire Schlotterbeck, a consultant for Friends of Newport Coast. "There will be a fight. Why put these people through a situation that's already filled with so much contention?"
Despite the opposition, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) and state Sen. John Campbell (R-Irvine) are exploring the plan's feasibility at the request of the mayor and City Manager Kenneth C. Frank.
"You have people with desperate needs," said DeVore, who is lobbying for the plan. "You have almost the precise number of homes available. You have a government with extraordinary powersŠ. If the [governor's] administration agrees to it, it will end up being a minor miracle for the people who have lost those homes."
Red-tagged homeowner Jill Lockhart said she was losing hope as speculation mounted that there were too many obstacles to the plan.
She, her husband and their two young sons are living in a vacation home near El Morro, lent by a stranger who had heard they needed a place to live. Their cat, Tiger, is at the city animal shelter.
If the El Morro plan is approved, "we would be the first to jump on board," said Lockhart, noting that it would help her family rebuild its finances. "The trailers are old, but it's definitely a place where we can make a home."
[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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