Campground raises new concerns

It’s been almost 30 years since a campground was proposed at the site of the former El Morro Village Trailer Park at Crystal Cove.

Now trucks are rolling and a new $22 million campground for RVs and tents, plus other amenities, is beginning to take shape on the 35-acre site.

The park is expected to open in spring or summer of 2010, said Ken Kramer, Orange Coast District superintendent of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which owns the park.

Earth-moving equipment is contouring a new parking lot and amphitheater at the lower level of the site, while the old trailer park configuration makes a perfect RV park on the upper property, Kramer said.

The terraced RV sites will maximize ocean views and should be a big draw when the park opens.

But this highly anticipated park — one of the last expected to be built along the California coast — is creating a number of issues for its nearest neighbor, El Morro Elementary School.

The park project — which survived state budget cuts and years of legal challenges — has a new wrinkle: concerns about how it will affect the school, which is located due north of the park grounds.

School-park issues

Opening up the park to RVs and the expected popularity of the park with its spectacular ocean views and adjacency to beautiful Crystal Cove itself has raised many parent concerns.

Some of the issues — including the fact that the RV campground will be located close to the school — have been resolved, at least in theory, according to school and park officials.

A 25-foot buffer zone and earthen berm will separate the campground from the school, and restrictions will be imposed on the campers, who will not be allowed to burn their campfires, or make loud noises during school hours, said Norma Shelton, Laguna Beach Unified School District’s vice principal for business services.

In addition, two camp hosts instead of one — which is the norm for the state park system — will be at the site 24 hours.

The camp hosts are volunteers who stay in their own RVs and monitor for problems.

The hosts are in addition to park rangers and other state employees who will also be at the site at all times, said Kramer.

A committee, including school representatives, will select camp hosts from a pool of applicants through an interview process, he said.

Shared entry

The most difficult issue for school officials and parents is how the school will share its entrance with the state park.

The park and school now share an entrance, which hasn’t been a problem while the park usage consisted mainly of hiking and bicycling.

While the RVs will be limited to 36 to 38 feet in length, it can be expected that longer vehicles will make the drive from Coast Highway up to the campground entry, only to be turned away.

Park officials have planned for this eventuality with a large turn-around area to accommodate the larger vehicles.

By next summer, Caltrans will have removed the existing traffic signal at the school-park entry and relocated it 300 feet north, Shelton said.

The new road will be three lanes — one lane in and two lanes out, Kramer said.

The school will still have use of its existing road for entry purposes only, but will have to share the exit lanes with the park.

Conflicts could arise when parents pick up or drop off their children and must cross the park entry road on their way out.

At a recent meeting at the school, about 100 parents voiced concerns about the traffic issues.

Some parents want the school to have a separate roadway, but Kramer says this isn’t feasible given the topography of the site and other constraints.

The park road abuts an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, or ESHA, which is protected under state law from development, Kramer said.

“We looked at all possible configurations because we want to be good neighbors,” he said.

The park entry road runs along the school on two sides instead of using the original El Morro Village Trailer Park entrance. Kramer said that Caltrans would not permit the original trailer park entrance — directly opposite the Crystal Cove beach — to be used for the new RV park because fast-moving traffic and hills on either side created a potential for traffic danger.

Because of the traffic concerns, park users will also be discouraged from crossing Coast Highway to the beach, he said. An underpass — originally built as a storm drain in 1924 — will be the only approved method for accessing the beach from the campground on the other side of the highway.

Traffic consultant hired

The school district has hired a traffic consultant, Joseph Faust, who will work with a special committee made up of school board members, district employees, PTA members, and Kramer.

The consultant will do traffic studies and create models of the site in an effort to determine the best way to handle the traffic issues, Shelton said.

The committee will meet Monday and could decide to hold another meeting for parents to air concerns.

“We will be as transparent as possible,” Shelton said.

A traffic plan hammered out in 2002 for the El Morro Elementary School expansion will be revised, according to the district.

Parents may be require to drop off students in the upper part of the school campus, with the lower part reserved for bus use.

The school may also seek to increase use of school buses to help reduce the number of individual traffic trips at the site, according to a recent committee report.

A PowerPoint presentation and other information about the school-park issues is on the district’s website, on the superintendent’s page.

CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 494-2087 or

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