Residents of El Morro Village seaside mobile home park, evicted by the state this month after a 26-year battle, may have to pay for damage found after they departed.
Picture windows were broken on some of the expensive homes left behind at the park north of Laguna Beach at Crystal Cove State Park. Holes were punched through interior and exterior walls. Fireplaces were removed. Sinks and cabinets were ripped from their locations. Trash is strewn about.
On Wednesday, park Supt. Ken Kramer toured the site, pointing out damage he said was obviously intentional. Seventy-five of the 200 mobile homes were vandalized, he said.
But at issue is whom to blame.
After several lease extensions, residents were given until March 1 to depart. Some residents took their mobile homes with them. Others left them behind.
Residents who left homes behind agreed to leave them free of trash, personal property and hazardous waste, Kramer said. The idea was to sell the homes with the greatest value to offset the cost of any additional cleaning, he said.
Now, park officials say, the homes have decreased in value because of vandalism, and they want to take the residents before a judge to determine who should pay cleanup costs. "Why should taxpayers of California pick up the cost for picking this trash up?" Kramer said. "If vandalism was done, it was done while the agreement was in force.
"We will let a judge decide," he said.
Former residents think it's nonsense.
"The real issue here is: What's the damage?" said Gerald Klein, an attorney representing the residents. He added that about 75 mobile homes along the beach would have to be removed or "torn down anyway."
Klein said many residents either removed their homes themselves or left them in good condition. "The overwhelming majority left furniture and things like books, and some people took out sinks and cabinets and provided them to charities."
Since 1978, when the state bought the land for Crystal Cove State Park from the Irvine Co. for $32.5 million, the seaside enclave between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach has been in a public-beach battle.
Residents were given 20-year leases that offered them ocean views. In 1999, the lease was extended five years, and after several court battles, residents agreed to leave by March 1.
By fall, officials say, work will be underway for a public campground, RV park and beach in the area that was one of the final mobile home parks along the California coastline.
Klein said he hoped a resolution could be reached. He faulted the state for providing no security, though the state posted rangers after the transfer.
Rolly Pulaski, president of the mobile home association, who now lives on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, has heard the state's complaints but isn't convinced residents were responsible for the damage.
"In my opinion, the state did not do a good job securing the property," Pulaski said. "Vandalism could have been done by anyone. They're making a mountain out of a molehill."
[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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