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Wrong deal

State parks no place for new resorts

[Reproduced from a Sacramento Bee editorial 10-8-1997]

Introducing California's next "first-class vintage beach resort": historic cottages overlooking a quiet stretch of Southern California coast, three swimming pools, nightly rates up to $400. The place: a California state park, where a private developer has been asked to turn a deteriorating public-property into a private resort and give the state a tiny fraction of the proceeds

It's not hard to understand why park managers feel constrained to adopt plans such as the resort proposal to maintain their properties--but being understandable doesn't make it right. Legislators and the governor have woefully neglected the financial health of the state park system for years, forcing superintendents to spend less time preserving the resource and more time searching for new revenue sources. Despite that, building a new swanky beach resort isn't the answer for park lands that should be equally available to the rich and poor.

California purchased what is now Crystal Cove State Park in 1979 for $32.5 million to prevent, of all things, development. Empty stretches of Southern California coastline were rapidly disappearing. The purchase was to preserve 2,300 acres of canyon, bluffs and coastline in Orange County between Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach.

A sticky matter was what to do with the new park's human inhabitants, who had been leasing 45 beach-side cottages that were clustered on 12 acres. The cottages were added to the National Register of Historic Places just before the state's purchase, partly as a move by the leaseholders to secure their hold on the cottages. But like the rest of the park system, the cottages have suffered from neglect. Their sewer system is described by the state as "nonfunctional."

The state's solution is to end these leases and sign a deal with a developer. The duration of the resort contract is too long, 55 years. The government's share of the resort revenues is too small, just 5 percent. Downright laughable is a plan to make the resort affordable to the demonstrably poor by giving them a 50 per cent discount from the estimated average nightly rate of $295.

It is unclear whether this unprecedented resort development signals the first of many such deals or is simply a solution for an isolated dilemma about what to do with 45 deteriorating park cottages leased to a few lucky Californians. It is equally unclear whether building resorts in state parks is even legal, given a state code that prohibits any park improvements to be "attractions in themselves."

Rather than continue the ruse that these cottages represent a "historic" district worth millions to preserve, the state should have sought to delist these structures from the registry and to help relocate them to any private landowner willing to accept them. Instead, the state took the easy way out by signing too lucrative and too long a deal with a resort developer. For the state park system, this is one resort deal too many.


[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 Sacramento Bee]