Mobile home residents pack up

Earlier this week, Newport Beach resident Erin Kunkle took stock of the contents in the kitchen of her mobile home at Marina Park.

She wondered not about which utensils to use to make turkey or stuffing, but instead how to pack all of the items from the cupboards and drawers into cardboard boxes.

The Marina Park residents, whose homes along Balboa Boulevard will be removed to make way for a new public park, must vacate the city property by noon Monday — a final "date of surrender" set so that the mobile home dwellers might enjoy one last Thanksgiving meal at home.

Residents received 90-day notices soon after the city acquired the necessary California Coastal Commission permitting documents in mid-August.

While the current project has been in the works since at least 2008, when the City Council commissioned its conceptual design, the city had been warning as early as 1985 of the space's impending conversion to a public park.

Knowing their fate, most residents of the nearly 60 mobile homes had already left. And while Kunkle and her family plan to move Saturday, they will spend the holiday at her parents' house, as they usually do.

Regardless, their living room has filled with towers of boxes.

"That's life, moving on," said Kunkle, 37.

Her family has lived in the home for nearly 11 years.


'The best kept secret around'

The Marina Park site served as a city campground beginning in 1919, when Newport acquired the land between 16th and 18th streets from the Pacific Electric Land Co., according to a book by S.A. Meyer on the city's early history.

In the coming years, Meyer wrote, toilets were installed. The area was fenced. Gas plates were rented for cooking.

The camp underwent renovations in 1956 to become a "de-lux trailer court," complete with a picnic area looking onto the harbor's waterfront, according to Meyer's account. Homes became bigger, plumbing facilities improved and area landscaping was modernized.

What had accommodated up to 120 trailers in the years preceding now fit half that number.

"It provides all trailers with a water view and will, it is hoped, increase the revenue by providing a first-class park," Meyer wrote.

Whereas early campers paid 75 cents per day to pitch a tent in the waterfront areas and 50 cents farther back, as a mobile home park, recent monthly rents have ranged from $924 to $1,364, according to city records.

That price range for a harbor-side home proved "a very, very reasonable amount," said John Rettberg, 76, president of the Marina Park Homeowner's Assn., noting with a chuckle that the view rivaled that of his friend's $30 million home nearby.

"Look at the view. Look at the sight," said Rettberg, who bought his front-row mobile home 17 years ago for family vacations. It is just a few houses from one his mother- and father-in-law owned. "This is the best kept secret around."


Park to be 'window on the bay'

The mobile homes, many in shades of beige and blue, cluster in 11 groups of five and one group of three, arranged side by side along the harbor. They are largely blocked from the view of passersby on Balboa Boulevard, hidden behind the tennis courts, Girl Scout building and community center, all of which will be rebuilt as part of the new plan.

Roughly half of the residents, including Rettberg, who drives a Mercedes, used the mobile homes as second homes. The other half lived there full-time, raising families or enjoying retirement.

"Our kids got to play on that beach like it was their yard," said Kunkle, a mother of five who plans to move with her husband and children to Santa Ana, where they will have a backyard — though no beach.

By Monday, the area felt largely vacant. Many possessions had been packed or thrown away, as indicated by a mattress that sat tossed atop a Dumpster.

Miniature American flags decorated stair steps at one home, and Christmas lights hung from the porch of another, but many looked otherwise abandoned, with parking spots empty and window blinds drawn. They're ready to be cleared by the city, which bought the mobile homes through a 2007 settlement agreement for $35,000 each.

The new city park, conceived as a "window on the bay," according to a design report prepared by Newport Beach-based Rabben/Herman design office, intends to provide a view for those who choose to enjoy the space or simply drive by it. The nearly 10-acre area will count 154 parking spaces. Even the trees have been chosen to allow for a direct line of sight.

It comes as part of overall efforts to reinvigorate the Balboa Peninsula area. In addition to creating a visually appealing space, the park will enhance recreational water access with docks and slips for sailing instruction, an improved portage vessel launch area and a marina with slips for visiting boaters, according to the design company's presentation.

"Bottom line is it's the city's land. It's theirs to manage," said Rettberg, who moved out in August. "It's pretty hard to get upset. It could have happened long ago."

The city will start to clear the site in December, clearing the way for construction to start next spring with utility installations and an extension of the marina.

In the meantime, the grassy landscaped areas that wind along small sidewalks between the homes have faded. In the Kunkle home on Tuesday, two daughters requested that their mother mark their growing heights on the wall in pencil one last time.

The resident who lived in the mobile home park the longest, Herb Williams, moved out five months ago. He had been there for 52 years and served as a member of the homeowners association board.

He died at age 90 last week.

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