Almost paradise

Deirdre Newman

BALBOA PENINSULA-- Some might call the Marinapark mobile-home park a

slice of heaven. It sits on a piece of harbor-front property with

dazzling views of Newport Harbor. It's just a stone's throw from the

ocean.

Its residents, however, know it better as limbo land.

What to do with the property between 15th and 18th streets

containing quaint, Cape Cod-style homes has been a big question mark

since the late 1990s, or further back, depending on who you ask.

And the question got even bigger on Nov. 2 when voters

resoundingly rejected a change to Newport Beach's general plan that

would have allowed a luxury resort on the city-owned property.

Although a public park was presented as a viable alternative during

the campaign, there is no guarantee that one will be built.

The City Council is expected to hold a study session dealing with

issues of the Marinapark site on Jan. 11, City Manager Homer Bludau

said.

With all this uncertainty swirling around the property, like a

marine layer that never recedes, residents have taken a wait-and-see

approach.

"We have just tried to have the attitude of enjoy it while we

can," said Erin Kunkle, 28, who lives at the park with her husband

and three children. "We've loved living here."

Clouds of uncertainty

The mobile-home park evolved from a city campground that sprung up

in 1919. It was transformed into an upscale trailer park in 1956,

with a picnic area along the waterfront. At that time, it held 120

trailers. The mobile homes there now are larger, and there are only

56 of them. The last long-term lease -- for 15 years -- expired in

2000. Residents are either on a 12-month lease that will be up in

2005 or on a month-to-month lease, Bludau said.

Ask residents of the park when the cloud of uncertainty parked

itself over the property and you get different answers.

Resident Ed Dillon, 68, said there's been controversy surrounding

the park for the last 30 to 40 years.

"When we bought, I thought the lease would go on forever because

nothing had ever happened before [despite the controversy]," said

Dillon, who has lived in the park part-time with his wife, Joy, for

15 years.

Bob Seymour, president of the association's board of directors and

a full-time Marinapark resident, said it's been even longer than

that.

"Since 1940," Seymour said with a chuckle.

Reconsidering, Seymour said it started in 1997, when city

officials said they were going to ask the state to decide if there

are any tidelands on the property. That issue still has not been

resolved. Although the state lands commission's legal counsel has

told the city it believes a sizable portion of the land below the

trailer park is tidelands -- land the public must have access to that

can only be developed with uses that serve visitors -- the city

hasn't received any official confirmation.

A little refuge

Most of the residents who moved to Marinapark did so for the

peace, tranquillity and natural beauty of the environment. Dillon

used to live across the street in a house his grandfather built in

1928. But the area became overrun with college kids who threw raucous

parties, he said, sending him scrambling across the street for

relief.

"It was 100 yards away, but it was nice and peaceful and quiet,"

Dillon said.

Seymour came for the same reasons, he said.

"They say if it's too loud, you're too old," said Seymour, who has

lived in the park with his wife, Pat, for 15 years. "I moved here for

peace and quiet and so my grandkids can play in the water."

Others moved in because the home has been passed on to them from

family members.

Jeff Whitaker's mother bought a mobile home for him early this

summer but didn't know it might be ripped out to make way for a

hotel, he said. Whitaker and his girlfriend, Terri Richter, live at

the park full-time and have quickly grown fond of their new home by

the harbor, he said.

Once they found out about a potential hotel, they were wary of

doing anything to improve their home.

"We couldn't fix up our place because [of the uncertainty]," said

Whitaker, 19.

The Kunkles also got their home from a family member and have been

happily ensconced in Marinapark for a year and a half, Erin Kunkle

said. They are concerned for some of their neighbors, though.

"We actually felt worse for a lot of our elderly neighbors who

have lived here for 15 years or more," Erin Kunkle said.

Years of battles

One of the residents who has been most affected by the park's

murky future is John Rettberg, who has lived at Marinapark part-time

with his wife, Jackie, since 1996.

Since day one, John Rettberg has been immersed in fighting for the

park's survival, first over the tidelands then against the hotel.

"Like my wife says, 'When are we going to get out from underneath

all this?'" Rettberg said. "We have fought this for so many years.

I've sort of been the catalyst for it."

Rettberg and other residents spent $60,000 of their own money in

the late 1990s -- Rettberg spent a few thousand of his own -- to put

together a comprehensive document that showed there were no tidelands

on the property.

The city believes there are tidelands on the property, Bludau

said.

Rettberg said he's not sure why the city doesn't just close the

mobile-home park if they want to use the land for something else.

"If they don't want the park there, all they have to do is follow

the law," Rettberg said. "There's a state law that tells you exactly

what you have to do, instead of all these oblique things, like trying

to change the land use or fight the tidelands."

If the city does close Marinapark, it would have to offer

residents a relocation package that complies with state law. That

could be costly, especially if residents fight it, Rettberg said.

The Marinapark Homeowners Assn. presented a proposal to the city

in July to increase the park revenue from $700,000 to $1.5 million by

increasing the lease length and raising the rents. That would weed

out some of the residents who couldn't afford it, but that's the

price of paradise, Seymour said.

"If you can't afford it, then sell it," he said.

So far, there's been no response to the proposal.

The city is in the midst of a study assessing the effect of

relocating park residents if the city decides to close the park,

Assistant City Manager Sharon Wood said. When the hotel was still an

option, the hotel designer, Stephen Sutherland, had offered to pay at

least half of the relocation costs, Bludau said. The city has pegged

the total relocation cost at about $1.6 million, Bludau added.

At this point, Rettberg and his wife are staying put, waiting to

see what happens.

"We're going to stay here as long as we can," he said. "We enjoy

it, our kids enjoy it ... it's obviously a nice place for us to go."

* DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers government. She may be reached at (714)

966-4623 or by e-mail at deirdre.newman@latimes.com.

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