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Orange County

Beach Dwellers Prepare for End to Their Slice of Paradise

Leases on Crystal Cove mobile homes expire Dec. 31. A reprieve doesn't appear likely.

August 01, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Barring any last-minute stay, residents of the oceanfront El Morro Mobile Home Park between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach are counting down the final days of their 25-year lease on paradise.

The staff of the California Coastal Commission, which meets Aug. 12 in San Pedro, has recommended removal of the trailers to make way for a day-use and overnight campground in Crystal Cove State Park.

The state budget includes $10.4 million to convert the mobile home village, with roots dating to the 1920s, into an RV park and campsites as part of the 2,791-acre state park. The park also includes the 1920s-era cottages at Crystal Cove, now being restored for overnight stays.

Leases for the 295 mobile homes -- on the beach, along the bluffs and on the edge of El Moro Canyon across Pacific Coast Highway -- expire Dec. 31. The terms of the leases require the residents to take their homes with them or pay to have them demolished.

John McGraw, 86, a resident since 1971, is about to go through his second eviction at the state park. He and his wife also had a cottage at Crystal Cove that they had to vacate in 2002.

Now he says, "We have no intention of hauling this trailer away," and assumes that the state will bear the cost of its removal.

He said the association that represents the residents should hire attorneys and sue the state over relocation costs.

"They listen when you get a lawyer. If they sue 'em, they probably could buy a little more time," he said.

Some trailer owners have incentive to buy a little more time. They pay the state $400 to $1,000 monthly rent for their sites, depending on the location, and can fetch upward of $2,000 a week for them as summer rentals.

State officials say that only about 38% of the owners are full-time residents.

Park residents rented their sites on a month-to-month basis from the Irvine Co. until 1979, when the land was sold to the state, which then offered 20-year leases.

The park residents "made out like bandits when the state bought it," said Claire Schlotterbeck, a consultant for the Laguna Greenbelt and Friends of the Newport Coast, two groups that support the conversion. The 20-year leases kept rents low.

Some of the homes are handsomely appointed with indoor Jacuzzis, modern kitchens and stylish master suites. Wide decks reach out onto the beach, offering the occupants near-private access to a breathtaking cove.

Many of the trailers are typical examples of single- or double-wide mobile homes that can be removed at a cost of several thousand dollars, say several companies that perform such work.

Some, though, bear little resemblance to the originals and are certain to require more than the routine amount of work -- and cost -- to remove them. Over the years, second stories, cement walkways and tile patios have been attached to some homes.

Whatever the trailers' condition, the owners -- a diverse mix of retirees, government employees, small-business owners, clerks and corporate executives -- are responsible for their removal, said Rich Rozzelle, assistant superintendent at the state park.

"Our position is, it's not our responsibility" to remove them, he said. "It's theirs and we expect them to do it.... We have no interest in becoming a trailer broker or a holder of these trailers. They don't have any value to us for our project there."

Nadine Burdick, a resident since 1971, accepts the pending eviction and plans to demolish her double-wide trailer and buy a condominium in Santa Barbara, near her son.

"You start at the top and take it apart piece by piece," she said of the coming dismantling of her home.

Burdick, who recalls spending every weekend at the trailer with her family in the 1970s, is wistful about the end of her time on the bluffs.

Weekend parties at her home, she said, would invariably grow from just a few people to large affairs, sometimes nourished by fresh lobster from commercial traps that would wash ashore.

"I'll never live this inexpensively this close to the beach [again]," she said.

The trailer park's demise is welcomed by state park advocates, some of whom worry that residents will manage to extend their lease, as they did in 1999.

State officials, however, are certain the eviction will take place.

"The fact that the governor left it in [the budget] ... shows the intent not to stop this project," said Roy Stearns, deputy director of state parks. "In fact, no one at any level has told us to stop or delay or do another short-term lease."

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