VENTURA, Calif. (CN) – The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday approved a $30 million project to renovate the remaining 17 cottages at historic Crystal Cove State Park as affordable overnight cabins for visitors.
The commission’s OK at its monthly meeting was a final step toward renovating the 46 cabins from the 1930s and 1940s nestled halfway between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.
Commissioners unanimously approved starting construction on phase three of the project, which includes grading, building a beachfront boardwalk and renovating one cottage as a hostel-like dorm where visitors can rent a bed for $35 a night.
The final renovations will enable the nonprofit Crystal Cove Alliance to host 200 underserved students a year on two-night trips focused on education and conservation. The Alliance successfully lobbied for public access to the park, squashing a 60-year lease for a luxury resort slated to be built after the last private tenants moved out in 2001.
Of the 29 cottages already restored, 16 have been turned into high-demand overnight rentals. The others have been converted into restaurants and educational buildings, with some used as a visitor center, film and media center, and park and marine research facility.
The prices to rent the wildly popular affordable cottages have remained the same since they were approved in 2003, starting at $35 a night up to $245 a night for a cottage that sleeps up to 10 people. Like many other state park permits and reservations throughout California, spots open up for the Crystal Cove cottages on the first of the month and are often snapped up within five minutes.
Crystal Cove had some unlikely supporters at the Wednesday meeting, with well-known environmental advocates praising the interagency collaboration between the State Parks Department, Coastal Commission and Crystal Cove Alliance to restore the remaining cottages, though doing so will likely have a negative environmental impact on the bluffs where the cottages stand.
A commission staffer acknowledged that while the most remote cottages will be refurbished where they were built, they will have to be moved in a few decades due to climate change and sea level rise.
But commission staff say the benefits of public access to the Crystal Cove Beach, especially the low-cost visitor accommodations, outweighs the cost of possible environmental impacts and is “most protective of coastal resources in this area.”
Penny Elia with the Sierra Club suggested the commission and Crystal Cove Alliance work to double overnight stays for underserved students and relocate the furthest cottage, where the hostel-style dorm will be, to a location less affected by sea level rise. She also suggested the maximum stay in the cottages be lowered from seven to three nights to free up reservations for more people eager to stay at the historic lodging.
Newly appointed executive director Jack Ainsworth acknowledged the “many challenges the project presents under the Coastal Act,” but said the coastal access and education opportunities have inspired a new generation of coastal stewards.
“We hope those students will seek careers with State Parks and the Coastal Commission going forward,” Ainsworth said.
The state acquired the land in 1979, the same year the Crystal Cove Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places “because of its exceptional significance as a unique self-contained Southern California coastal community with a vernacular character that has remained intact since the 1930s.”