Community Sees Last 4th on the Sand


Crystal Cove in summers past has been a relaxed beach community. This year, residents are frantically packing to meet a state deadline to vacate the historic cottages by Sunday.

Some of the 46 cottages, which are on the National Register of Historic Places as the last intact example of a 1920s Southern California beach colony, are already empty.

Others are being cleared out in stages as residents squeeze as much pleasure as they can from the final days before they must turn the keys over to park rangers. Notices from rangers explaining the eviction procedure are still tucked in some doors.

"I'm done crying," said Natalie Falsetti, who has lived at Crystal Cove for 10 years. "I'm going to enjoy the last few days."

Said Jim Thobe, a resident for 31 years: "It's a death of a way of life that will never exist in California again."

Even as residents were packing up, a group of nonresidents in Orange County Superior Court Tuesday filed a petition to block the evictions. The Crystal Cove Community Trust argued that the community is a significant cultural resource that disappears when the tenants leave.

The group says the state has violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not submitting either a negative declaration of a project's impact or an environmental impact report.

"If we allow the people to go, a horrible thing is going to happen, a regrettable loss to our society," said Bruce Hostetter, a member of the group.

They are asking a judge to issue a restraining order or set up a hearing for a preliminary injunction, the aim being to bring the parties together to find an alternative to eviction.

The residents, some of whom have lived there year-round and others who have come for vacations, have been renting on borrowed time since the state bought the property from the Irvine family in 1979. The Department of Parks and Recreation immediately sent the residents eviction notices as part of a plan for greater public access to the cove, situated below Pacific Coast Highway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

Over the years, Crystal Cove residents sought and won numerous extensions from the state, but no more. Come Sunday, everybody must be gone.

The parks department quietly signed a 1997 deal with developer Michael Freed to turn the land into a $35-million resort. But loud protests from environmentalists and area residents forced the state to reverse course and seek money to buy out Freed's 60-year contract.

Parks officials say the cottages need to be refurbished. State water officials have also ordered that leaking septic tanks be replaced with a sewer system.

On Tuesday, as youngsters splashed in the surf and sunbathers lounged on the sand, an occasional artist put the scenic cove on canvas while moving vans and cars loaded with personal belongings formed a steady trail along the community's narrow streets.

Among the departing residents' destinations are a condo in Newport Beach, a home in Laguna Niguel, an avocado farm in Fallbrook in San Diego County--sharp contrasts to the ramshackle cottages that offer a beach lifestyle unlike any other in Southern California.

Today they will gather for the last time as a community. The annual Fourth of July bash promises to be bittersweet. Two bands have been booked, and everybody is bringing food for an all-day potluck and barbecue. But the mood will be altered by knowledge that this celebration will be the last.

Immediate plans for the cottages include changing the locks, installing a security gate at the entrance and having rangers occupy some of them. Residents fear that the others will crumble from neglect and become useless.

"They have 15 plans, but nothing's been decided," resident Peggy Ogden said.

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