Trailer-Park Dwellers Fight Eviction From Paradise
By CHRIS DIXON
Published: May 2, 2005
BEACH, Calif., April 29 - In one of the few rustic corners remaining in
coastal Orange County, a tiny trailer park has become the focal point
of a battle between residents and the park's landlord - the California
State Parks system.
With the state ready to proceed on a stalled
plan to construct a campground and day-use facilities at the 27-acre
site, which officials say will grant greater public access, parks
officials have started eviction proceedings against the residents of
the trailer park, El Morro Village.
||Have our Top 20 Newsletter|
delivered to your Inbox each
|The Most "WOW!" Travel Deals on the
Internet - here's a sampling:
APR 27, 2005
But with a slice of paradise on the line, most residents have chosen to fight.
pulling this old bandwagon that's long dead and not true," said Tim
Williams, 36, who has lived at El Morro for nearly four years with his
wife, Dalila, and their son, Sebastian, 5. "Saying people are denied
access - that's a lie."
Mr. Williams said the only time access
was controlled was during high season at the beachfront, when crowds
get large. "But at any time, anyone can walk down and enjoy that
beach," he said.
To many, though - including the Sierra Club
and the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation - the residents of
this 80-year-old, 295-unit trailer park, part of Crystal Cove State
Park, have been given a fair deal for years, and have little left to
In 1979, El Morro residents were granted a
20-year lease when the state bought the trailer park as part of a
nearly 3,000-acre, $32 million deal with the Irvine Company, a real
estate investment company in Orange County and the park's previous
landlord. Today, the park's 3.2-mile stretch of ocean bluffs and broad
foothills separate the private sands of Irvine Cove in Laguna Beach - a
neighborhood where the billionaire Warren E. Buffett owns a home - from
the graded hillsides and million-dollar tract houses of Newport Coast
to the north.
A general plan adopted in 1982 called for the
removal of the beachfront, canyon-side and bluff-top trailers; the
restoration of habitat; and the creation of a 60-site campground and a
200-space parking lot. In 1999, as the El Morro lease was set to
expire, California State Parks granted residents a five-year extension
until Dec. 31, 2004.
Roy Stearns, a deputy director of California
State Parks, said residents had been paying below-market rent and had
known all along that their time would be up.
"You think about
that little piece of paradise," Mr. Stearns said, "and you might not
want to leave, either. But I want to be clear: this is a public park."
added that while El Morro residents pay in total about $1.2 million a
year to the state in rent, projections for revenue to be gained from
the thousands of likely campground and day users nearly match that.
residents concede that they have had a good deal, but they also say
they would be glad to pay more than their current monthly rent of $470
to $1,100 to hold on to an affordable seaside way of life.
been through lease extensions and all kinds of pressure," said James
Woolcott, 39, who rented a bluff-top trailer 10 years ago. "It's a game
they're playing with us. But the people that are still there are very
hopeful. They're fighters and they're not going to give up."
Heflin, 27, a general contractor, grew up at El Morro; today, four
generations of his family live here. Mr. Heflin lives in a modest
two-bedroom trailer with his wife and their three children, ages 1, 4
and 12. He said that diving the reefs, hiking the back-country trails,
surfing waves that peel off the rocky headland, and knowing nearly all
his neighbors by name was the only life he had ever known.
Heflin and other residents say that for the last five years, residents
have gone out of their way to welcome visitors, even placing a sign
alongside the Pacific Coast Highway offering free beach access and
parking. Mr. Heflin also said that three separate Crystal Cove parking
areas nearby were rarely even halfway filled, and the 50-car visitors
lot at El Morro Village was typically empty.
Residents here, Mr.
Heflin said, are often portrayed as rich and elitist. Yet Mr. Heflin,
his wife and several others said that while there certainly were
wealthy trailer dwellers on the ocean side, many of the more rustic,
funky trailers on the land side were inhabited by teachers,
firefighters, young families and the elderly. One neighbor, Gloria
Monroe, who is in her 80's, has nowhere else to go, they said.
been really fortunate to live here," Mr. Heflin's wife, Kelly, said. "I
won't say we haven't. But we live paycheck to paycheck."
She added, "What's so bad about there being one affordable place to live in Laguna?"
Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, said
affordable housing was not the point. "This is also going to be one of
those rare places along the coast where there will be affordable
camping and beach access," Ms. Goldstein said.
47, a real estate professional and a father of four, said his family
had owned a trailer here since 1964. He questioned the wisdom of
demolishing El Morro, which he said generated considerable revenue for
a state parks system with a maintenance backlog of $900 million.
concerns were recently addressed in two bills put forth by State
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who represents the district that includes the
trailer park. The bills would have extended leases for El Morro
residents 10 to 30 years, raised rents to market levels, and put the
money toward reducing either the state's budge deficit or the state
parks' maintenance backlog.
After the bills' introduction,
however, Mr. DeVore came under fire when it was revealed that he had
taken $66,000 in campaign contributions from park residents and his
campaign manager, Roberto Brutocao, whose company, SunCoast Properties,
manages El Morro Village.
"I served my constituents," Mr. DeVore
said. "These people live here and voted for me. You can attack me on
this, but engage me on the merits of the case."
Mr. DeVore said he pulled the bills when it became evident that they would not make it out of committee.
the Heflins said they could only watch and wait. "I can't worry
anymore," Mr. Heflin said. "I've worried myself sick. As it is, every
night is just another sunset I'm thankful for."
Home Delivery of The Times from $2.90/week - Act Now!