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El Morro Should Go Public

October 20, 2002

The residents of the El Morro mobile home park aren't letting any good deed by the state go unpunished.

They've had the privilege of living for nearly two decades on state-owned oceanfront land just north of Laguna Beach. Their rental rates in the midst of pristine Crystal Cove State Park remain way below market price. But for many years, the state has warned them it planned to reclaim the property for park use.

Most people figure the mobile-home residents had no permanent claim on the land. But the 294 El Morro tenants aren't most people; they're householders who don't want to lose an exquisite housing deal courtesy of taxpayers.

The state says they must move out when leases expire in two years. The state Department of Parks and Recreation wants to replace the asphalt-covered canyon with coastal habitat, picnic tables and 60 camping spots that would be open to the public.

The El Morro tenants are trying to take a page from the history of nearby Crystal Cove, where residents of 1920s beachfront cottages fended off eviction for decades. They aim to keep their gated community private by positioning themselves as environmentalists and guardians of child safety and the public dollar. The environmental report for returning the parkland to the public is inadequate, they claim in a lawsuit filed against the state. Students at the nearby elementary school would be in danger from those "itinerant" campers. And the state would make more money collecting continued rent payments than by building park facilities.

This is self-serving rhetoric at best. The state is not in the business of making money from its parks. It's in the business of providing public services, and it hasn't provided any new campgrounds to Southern Californians in 10 years.

If El Morro residents were really worried about the California budget, they would drop their lawsuit and save the state years of expensive legal wrangling.

The state's plan at El Morro would bring the land closer to its natural state and open it to thousands more people. In addition, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park adjacent to Crystal Cove is opening to the public; the El Morro parcel provides a crucial trail link from inland to ocean that is now fenced off from the public.

The Sierra Club is openly offering its support to the state on El Morro. So is a long list of local environmental groups and activists. These watchdogs do not see the problems in the state's environmental report that the mobile-home residents allege in their lawsuit.

El Morro residents, it's been fun, but that's not your land. It's time to start packing.

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