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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

A Solution for Crystal Cove

January 06, 2002|JOHN CAMPBELL | Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) represents the 70th District in Orange County

For many years I have been going to Crystal Cove. I have gone to run on the beach, to watch the sunset, to see the tide pools and to step back in time. No beach in Orange County combines a special place of natural beauty, artistic expression and historic preservation like Crystal Cove.

But the cottages that gave the area its character are now unoccupied, waiting for restoration. Until this community is put back together, too few of us will be able to experience the magic of this place.

Now imagine what Crystal Cove could be--a place where one can step back in time and forward in science all at once. Imagine its 46 cottages painstakingly restored as originally built in the 1920s and 1930s. Imagine some cottages where people could celebrate weddings or birthdays or just spend the day.

Imagine others dedicated to ecosystem preservation. Imagine some set up for education so children from all over Orange County could come and learn about the ocean and our area's history. Imagine others as artistic workshops or some occupied by long-term residents who agree to be part of the historical interpretation of the area, as in Williamsburg, Va.

It just takes about $20 million. Therein lies the challenge.

The cottages at Crystal Cove have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. As such, they may not be torn down and any reconstruction must be done with authentic historical materials and construction methods. This process is expensive. The state Department of Parks and Recreation has estimated that each cottage will require between $250,000 and $400,000 to restore.

That's why, two years ago, the department began negotiations with a major hotel developer. I was told by the parks department director that the hotel deal was necessary because the department could not get $20 million and the developer was willing to put up all of the money.

When the department had no money for the project, California enjoyed a $10-billion surplus. Today, California is facing a deficit of about $13 billion. Furthermore, the independent legislative analyst is forecasting budget deficits through at least 2006-07. So if the department couldn't find the money in our best financial year, where are they going to find it now?

Because of the state budget shortfall, the governor has asked all departments, including the parks department, to cut their operating budgets by 15%. It's hard to fathom that $20 million for Crystal Cove can be found in that fiscal environment.

Some point out that there will be money through the park bond measure on the March 2002 ballot. First, the bond must pass, which is questionable in a recessionary period. And if it passes, Crystal Cove would have to compete against other projects statewide for the money.

That is why I have proposed another option that does not depend on the vicissitudes of the state budget process. El Morro to the south of the Crystal Cove Historic District occupies only 5% of the land of Crystal Cove State Park. Those 275 homes pay rent to the state. That rent is below market and ends up in the state's general fund. Those leases are set to expire in about three years.

We should double the rent immediately and extend the lease for another 10 years. The additional rent increment would be dedicated to improvement of the historic district. If this proposal were enacted during 2002, it would begin bringing in money in 2003 and would provide roughly $26 million over 13 years. This revenue stream could be bonded, providing some $13 million upfront. And work on the cottages could begin next year, rather than six or seven years from now.

And what are we giving up to do this? Not much. El Morro Village has agreed to provide additional public parking and beach and canyon access. The department's proposal is to demolish the homes at El Morro and put in overnight camping. Some may not believe that El Morro adds much to our community, but it does represent community stability and a potentially significant revenue stream. Can you say that about a campground? Can you imagine huge RVs rumbling down Coast Highway at Main Beach in Laguna or in Corona Del Mar in summer traffic?

But my interest is frankly not in El Morro. Orange County at large is neither harmed nor benefited by the extension of these leases. My interest is in guaranteeing the future of Crystal Cove. There is no argument about what Crystal Cove can be with the cottage restoration. There should be no argument over a controllable, creative and realistic way to do that. Let's make that vision for Crystal Cove a reality.

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