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Coastal Panel to Aid Restoration at Crystal Cove

Funding: Commission expected to approve $2.8million originally earmarked for Dana Point youth hostel.


Restoration of the historic cottages at Crystal Cove State Park has received a big boost with a $2.8-million contribution expected from the California Coastal Commission, money that originally was set aside for a youth hostel.

The funds represent about a quarter of what the state Department of Parks and Recreation says it will need to restore the historic district, considered the last intact example of a 1920s Southern California beach colony.

"It's a substantial commitment, and it lends credibility to the state's assertion that it intends to fund the restoration of this historic district," said Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network, which works on conservation and protection projects. "We have waited 22 years, and I feel that everything is now pointed in the right direction."

The Coastal Commission money started as a $1.4-million fee developers of what is now the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point were required to pay in the late 1980s so low-cost, overnight accommodations could be built. The money was going to be used to build a youth hostel across Pacific Coast Highway.

The money, which was deposited in an interest-bearing account, has doubled, said Sarah Christie, legislative coordinator of the Coastal Commission.

Instead of the hostel, the parks department plans to convert "a few cottages into low-cost, family-style or dorm-style living accommodations," said Roy Stearns, spokesman for the department.

Peter Douglas, executive director of the commission, said he has asked the parks department to use Steep Ravine, a coastal park north of San Francisco, as a model for low-cost, overnight stays. The half-dozen cabins there rent for $20 to $30 a night, although they do not have running water or phones, he said.

The funds could be released within a few weeks, said Christie, after the expected approval by the commission. The money, the largest single amount set aside for the district's restoration, comes after the parks department rejected a proposal by Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine) to increase rents at the nearby El Morro Village, extend tenants' leases for another 10 years and use that money to pay for the restoration.

The 300 tenants at El Morro, part of Crystal Cove State Park, are expected to be evicted in 2004. The Crystal Cove tenants were evicted in July after two decades of battling with the state. Some families had rented inexpensive cottages for several generations, affording them a coveted lifestyle in one of California's most picturesque locales. Critics of the evictions said the state had acted before it had secured funds for the restoration.

Campbell's proposal was in response to those concerns and the state's $12-billion budget deficit.

With the $2.8 million, however, state officials say they are confident that Crystal Cove will not go wanting for funds.

Stearns said the California Coastal Conservancy "is looking at funding us for several million" and if Proposition 40, , the state parks bond initiative, passes in March, "you could guarantee that Crystal Cove would get total funding very quickly."

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