CRYSTAL COVE — Tenants who are refusing to immediately leave the historic oceanfront homes they lease on public parkland have filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Parks and Recreation to delay their eviction, officials said Wednesday.
Cove residents contend the 45 cottages making up the federally recognized historic district will be vandalized and fall into disrepair if they are vacated while the state goes ahead with plans to create a resort area, where the homes will be rented to the general public for short stays.
"Because of where they're located, the cottages would be very vulnerable to the weather and vandalism if left vacant," said attorney Deborah M. Rosenthal, who is representing cove residents. "It would be prudent to have them occupied."
The tenants' leases expired New Year's Eve, and they were ordered to move out immediately. The 27-page suit, filed in Superior Court in Santa Ana, seeks to let residents remain in the cottages at least several months more.
State parks officials said Wednesday they had not yet received the suit and could not comment on it. But officials say they are not surprised, considering tenants have fought for more than a decade to stay in the homes that offer a stunning ocean view and lease for between $380 to nearly $2,000 a month.
"They're obviously pulling out all the stops," said Kenneth Mitchell, a state parks architect handling the cove redevelopment plan. "There's a long history here."
Mitchell said state officials will review residents' demands.
"We're not unreasonable folks," Mitchell said. "We need to take a look at what they are saying."
Although leases expired New Year's Eve, tenants are defying the eviction notice they received in early December. In the suit, residents insist they be allowed to stay in their homes until construction begins on individual cottages--still several months off.
Residents say the state would be throwing away nearly $40,000 a month in rent if cove residents are forced out sooner.
Parks officials have said in the past they want tenants out because developers bidding to redevelop Crystal Cove have voiced concerns that they might be dragged into lengthy litigation.
The state has received three bids for the project, including one by cove residents who propose to refurbish the homes themselves and continue living there.
State officials say that residents' concerns about vandalism or deterioration are overblown because the area will be patrolled after the homes are left vacant. But residents counter that two cottages that have been abandoned for years have fallen into disrepair.
Some state officials privately predicted Wednesday that the lawsuit demonstrates that cove residents, many of whom have lived here for decades, will never leave willingly.
The last extension was in 1993, when Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation that allowed tenants to live in the cove until Dec. 31, 1995, after which the cottages would be used for the general public.
The lawsuit insists that, because the public cannot begin renting homes immediately, residents do not have to move.
"That's an awfully literal translation," Mitchell said after being told of the argument.
Cove residents are once again seeking Wilson's help. The Crystal Cove Residents Assn. ran an "open letter" advertisement in a Sacramento newspaper Wednesday asking for Wilson's intervention.