STATE PARKS BRIEFING ON CONTROVERSIAL RESORT PLAN
State Parks Director Rusty Areias now has plans to hold a "detailed informational briefing" Thursday, January 18th, , 2001 on the controversial resort proposal for the Historic District of Crystal Cove State Park. The "briefing" will be held at 7 PM at Lincoln Elementary School, 3101 Pacific View (at Marguerite) in Corona Del Mar.
Historic Crystal Cove, with its now rare cottages and tidepools, occupies 13 acres of beachfront parkland acquired along with extensive inland watershed in 1979 for $33 Million. Today the beachfront alone is estimated to be worth several billion dollars.
As cottage "relocation" leases expired in the mid-90ís, Park officials were quietly directed toward abandonment of the 1982 citizens plan for a public Historic District (affordable cottage rentals, no new construction) in favor of a 60 year private resort operation (gourmet restaurant, second Park Interpretive Center, swimming pools and other resort amenities).
The alternative resort plan was kept secret from the public. Stealth legislation intro-duced at midnight budget sessions in Sacramento authorized its exceptional 60 year term while avoiding legislative committee discussion, floor debate, and the customary "public input workshops" for changing an approved General Plan. The result was a signed contract inherited by the Davis administration , now bound by its special terms to "push" the resort approval before Parks Commission and Coastal Commission hearings.
The only catch is that the resort proposal is "subject to all permits and approvals not yet had or obtained". And, at this point it lacks any of the appropriate approvals despite efforts to overcome three years of persistent opposition. The Concessionaire is a Limited Partnership under the direction of Post Ranch Inn owner, Michael Freed. Under these circumstances, he now has a option to withdraw, but continues in the hope of some semblance of public support before risking Parks Commission and Coastal approvals.
The Sierra Club, one of Orange Countyís largest environmental organizations, seeks to uphold the PublicResources Code against special resort concession terms and favors the 1982 General Plan "until and unless any amendment is subject to the same extensive, good faith public review". Other opposing groups include Harbors, Beaches and Parks, The Laguna Greenbelt, Laguna Surfriders, Laguna Historical Society, Laguna North, SPON , South Laguna Civic Association, Laguna Beach Board of Realtors, Women For, and Village Laguna. The League of Women Voters objects to the lack of a public participatory process.
The Departmentís announced meeting after three years of waiting is welcome news to opposition groups in the area. But Parks spokesman, Roy Stearns warns that "We are not required to hold such a meeting as a public hearing". Officials are expected to make a presentation on the resort alternative to Crystal Cove General Plan, and Director Areias will address the crowd. Questions from the news media and comments from the public may be limited by the length of the question and answer period as the multi-purpose room must be cleared by 9 P.M.
Three years have elapsed since the unveiling of the 60 year private resort operation as an alternative to the existing General Plan for Crystal Cove State Park. Concerned citizens raised strong objections to both the non-public process that produced the resort scheme and the terms of an already signed Concessionaire Contract.
Its terms were so inconsistent with the long-approved existing General Plan and Historic District "Public Use Plan" that it dictated approval in reverse by the Parks Commission of a "New" or "Amended" General Plan to validate the Contract. Then Parks Director, Donald Murphy, calmed the outraged crowd by informing them that the terms were not "in cement" and "public workshops" would be held to hear objections, and that changes could and would be made. Within two weeks he had resigned his post.
The promise has not been kept by either Wilson or Davis administrations.
During the same three years Michael Freed, active Partner for "Crystal
Cove Preservation Partners, a Limited Partnership" moved quietly to gain
some semblance of public supportfor public hearing to come. since
his Contract is, "Subject to all permits and approvals not yet had or obtained",
but with little success. Freed then hired a consultant, Sharon Browning
to conduct separate interviews of opposition group leaders in a "divide
and conquer strategyto incfease the possibility of a reaching a consesnsus
useful in getting approval of his project.
Browning then held an "invitation only" meetings at a nearby Senior Center. She promised attendees they could speak freely as individuals, not as representatives of their group for purposes of "consensus". When a discussion of "process" raised strong unified objections to a reversed , non-public process she was unable to offer State Parks customary Public Workshops, allowing the public to raise and discuss all alternatives to the existing Plan, not just the resort. The group disbanded without any consensus, not even consensus on whether or not a second meeting should be held.
This dilemma was overcome by meeting with a "select" group in a private home who agreed that another attempt should be made to invite Alternatives. Those who sumitted alternatives were "shot down" in writing and the discussion tightly controlled. Again no consensus. At a final meeting limited to those persons (not representatives)who were "not opposed" to the resort was held to discuss the specific details (one pool or three). Although minutes were taken for the consultant, they were not distributed for approval to by those attending.
Freed now claims in submitted project plans that he consulted and made changes based on the input of "many environmental groups", "local environmentalists", etc. such as locating the 5,000 sq.ft. gourmnet restaurant high on a panoramic view bluff instead of in a central site among the cottages.
The "General Development and Public Use Plan" the product of an approval process with exemplary public participation and input. It was easily approved by both Parks and Coastal Commissions in the summer of 1982 with strong citizen backing. It has survived a 20 year delay by Park leases offered as "relocation benefits" for occupants in both El Morro and Crystal Cove areas, State deficit budgets, and continuing political manuevers.
Today this Plan remains the controlling plan for the Historic District .