College Park East – the little neighborhood that could

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The late Frank Laszlo was a Seal Beach City Councilman from College Park East with a career that spanned two decades.

Editor’s note: The following account of the history of College Park East in Seal Beach is presented here in honor of the Founders Day coverage the Sun has been publishing. This article is the first part of a  series.

Before College Park East was the neighborhood we know today, it was a part of the Bixby Rancho. It stayed in the hands of the Bixby family until it was sold to S&S Inc., in the early 1960’s.  At that time, the land that was to become College Park East, was unincorporated.

When it was about to be developed, Garden Grove, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach all wanted to annex the land, but Seal Beach won out because it was willing to give the Bixbys the commercial zonings they wanted on certain parcels of land (the tennis club site, the shopping center at the corner of Lampson & Seal Beach Boulevard, and some of the land that is now part of the Centex or Old Ranch Shopping Center).  All of CPE was zoned residential low density, with a portion along Lampson zoned residential medium density (site of the townhomes).

That created some problems as many buyers of the new homes were told by the S&S sales people, that the townhouse land was to be a new park.  When the Bixby Company decided to build the townhomes, many people organized (Citizens Park Committee) to place on the ballot, a bond issue for the purchase by CPE residents, of the land for the park.

It lost by about 32 votes.

Had it passed, approximately $25/year would have been added to the residents’ property taxes for 20 years.  College Park East residents were just getting started in what was to become the first of many “disputes” with the Bixby Company.

New Model Homes

S&S was developing land in west Garden Grove and was working its way west.  When they got to what was to become College Park East, they just kept building the same models as in Garden Park in Garden Grove, so the north east part of CPE was a continuation of that.

Then S&S decided to change all the models and in the process, got rid of the parkways in front of the homes (they also got approximately 25 more homes just by doing away with the parkways).  At that time, all model home tracts in Orange County had four models with three different exteriors.  In the northeast section, S&S had ten models (really seven since some of them were essentially the same) and then in the rest of the tract, S&S presented seven different models, with three different exteriors.

When the tract was about 75% completed, it added another model, for a total of 8 different models!  Talk about variety!

S&S was also known for building a better quality home with lath and plaster construction and many appointments that most new homes in Orange County did not have.

That said however, many original owners can tell you stories about disputes with S&S and the City in those early days.  Back in the 1960’s, our city had not yet built its “sterling” reputation and there are many residents still around that can attest to that.  Here are some examples:

Parks

The first homes in CPE were built in 1965 with people moving in shortly thereafter.  Lampson Avenue didn’t go all the way through to Seal Beach Blvd.  If you wanted to get on the freeway, you had to get on at Valley View.  CPE was divided into two sections with Heather Street as the “imaginary” dividing line of Parcel A (the eastern part of CPE which was built first) and Parcel B (the western part of CPE).  There are 1,739 homes in CPE.

When looking at a tract map, some parcels did not get developed, but ended up as parks.  This was due to the continuing, relentless resident pressure on our city to do so.  Most homeowners believe that CPE got short-changed when it came to parks, and we were!

The residents had to fight for Heather, Bluebell and Aster Parks.  There was a tremendous effort by our residents to improve our quality of life by getting parkland, since we did not have a school site in our area that would provide recreation space.

Almond Park was initially supposed to be a pool site for our tract, but when S&S changed the tract map to accommodate the new models (which, incidentally were supposed to be on 65’ x 100’ lots), the pool just disappeared  –  even though some lots near the pool commanded a premium price, the pool just never materialized.

According to state law at that time, developers were to supply 7 acres of park for every 1,000 residents.  CPE was supposed to have 4,000 residents, which should have mandated 28 acres of park.  Where did it go?

Arbor Park is our largest park and was put into service in 1987.  At that time, the City of Los Alamitos was also looking for more parkland. Former Mayor/Councilman Frank Laszlo, along with our city and a group of other CPE residents, worked with the Los Alamitos City Manager and the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base (then called the Air Station) to get the base to lease land to our two cities for parkland along both the northern and southern boundaries of the base.

Los Alamitos was able to lease land along Farquhar Street and we were able to lease the land behind the office building on Lampson Avenue for Arbor Park.

This didn’t happen overnight, but it was finally accomplished with the continuing support of the base commanders and all those involved.  The unusual thing about this city park is that it is located in another city!

Our city leases this land from the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and a second 25 year lease was signed in 2004.  At the very end of Arbor Park is the Arbor Park Dog Park, which recently won the Best Bark Park Award from Orange Coast Magazine.

Lot Size

When S&S changed all the models, the new lots were supposed to be 65’ x 100’, and homes were not to exceed 45% lot coverage.  Two of the models, the Princeton and Columbia, were approved for  65’ x 100’ lots, but like all models,  ended up on  55’ x 100’ lots so they exceeded the lot coverage (they were at 54% lot coverage).

Subsequently, a few years later, when people started trying to sell those models, they could not get FHA loans as they were in violation of city codes, so the city council had to vote to “legalize” them.  Now how do you build homes on 55 x 100 feet lots when they are supposed to be 65’ x 100’?

How do you miss that?  Lots of stuff went on then that is certainly questionable at best, but we were all new at this and couldn’t believe the city would allow these things to happen until they did.

Leaky Foundations

The building inspector and our city approved lots as ready-to-be-built in the western part of the tract but it was later discovered that the pads were not properly sealed to prevent water from coming to the surface (no visqueen, ie a moisture barrier).

As a result, when the concrete pads were poured for these houses, there was inadequate protection between the water table and concrete due to inadequate sealing.

Several years later, on a continuing progressive basis, more and more homeowners discovered that the underground water was rising through the concrete floors and ruining their parquet floors that had been placed over the concrete.  In addition, homes with the step-down living rooms experienced similar problems.

These living rooms were below grade and when it rained, the water just simply came in inbetween the foundations and the 2×4’s that sat on them, causing the water to seep right through to the plaster and then “wick” up the wall leaving an unsightly mess that needed to be repaired.

These problems caused untold amounts of expense to the homeowners and resulted in a number of out-of-court settlements by the responsible parties.  Two councilmen and one of the building inspectors facing investigation charges, soon thereafter left town.

Bad Pipes

This however was not the only water problem that CPE experienced.  Within 10 years of their homes being built, a growing number of residents discovered that the water pipes coming to their homes under their front lawns and driveways were bursting, often causing geysers to spring up in their lawns.  One of the most irate and astute homeowners was a retired judge.

He discovered the source of the problem.  He took samples, in the presence of witnesses, of the water pipe that had been replaced in his front yard connecting the city water line with his home.  These samples were sent to independent laboratories for analysis.

The concurrence of their findings was that the pipe was actually used iron pipe of unknown vintage that had been shipped to the US from Japan.  Apparently, the low-bid plumbing companies that had contracted with S&S had bought this pipe.

Again, surprisingly, this passed the inspection of the Seal Beach Bldg Dept.  The irony is that the reclaimed iron pipe that was not considered usable in Japan, had been sent to the US where it enjoyed a new life as part of the new S&S homes that many unsuspecting people purchased. The judge’s lawsuit was settled out of court, and, with the restriction that he not share the outcome of his suit with others.  Somehow, word leaked out and an unknown number of homeowners were able to obtain redress in a similar manner.

Unfortunately, most of the remaining CPE residents who were victims had to pay for the repairs themselves. The area involved included Almond, Birchwood, Candleberry and Dogwood, from Oleander west to the end of the tract.  A pressure check by a plumber can tell you the status of your intake line.

Land Re-graded   –  more water problems

Prior to building the homes in CPE, S&S re-graded the land.  The natural slope of the land is from the north east to the southwest.

However, not wanting to put in an expensive drainage system, S&S, with Bixby’s and the City’s approval, graded the land so that water would drain from the southeast to the northwest, and drain over to the Bixby Golf Course where it would then run under a culvert under the freeway, then go through Leisure World,  then to the San Gabriel River and then out to the ocean.   However, within just a few years, the land settled back to what it originally was, and now the water doesn’t run off the way originally planned.  In some areas, it just ponds.

In the early days, we had such phenomena as La Bar Lake (corner of Fuchsia and Candleberry)  and Candleberry River  –  and sometimes we still do!  The city recently put in new and larger drainage to help when it rains   –  we’re all hoping they will work!  In the early days, a few creative residents applied to the state requesting our ponds be stocked with fish;  the state showed no interest.  In 1995, when we experienced what many called the 200 year flood, CPE again had many lakes.   Along the north side of Ironwood Avenue from Heather to Candleberry (where the drains are to go under Lampson) we had many homes with water rising all the way up the driveway and into the back of the garages.  Fortunately, the homes did not sustain any damages and the only real losses were to vehicles parked in the streets.

Schools

CPE did not have it’s own elementary school, so our kids all went to schools in Rossmoor, which had 5 elementary schools at that time.  About 25% of the kids went to St. Hedwig, with the other 75% getting bounced around from school to school as one of the schools in Rossmoor closed and the boundaries were changed every year.  At first there was bus service from CPE to the schools in Rossmoor, but then the school board decided to drop it.  That resulted in a parade the first week of school, of parents pushing strollers along Lampson Avenue to Rossmoor schools.  Didn’t look good in the newspaper, so the school board relented and paid for the buses.  Eventually, down the road, however, everyone ended up paying for the bus transportation, not just CPE kids.  The Los Alamitos Unified School District didn’t exist in those early days.  Our elementary schools came under one school board.  We had two middle schools (Oak and Pine   –  now McAuliffe) and our high school was part of the Anaheim Union School District.  Eventually, all our elementary, middle and high schools came under the Los Alamitos Unified School District.  At that time, McGaugh School was a middle school and served just the kids in Old Town and the Hill.  Zoeter School was the elementary school for those two areas, and in no way could it handle the number of kids from CPE.  When Old Town and the Hill voted to join the Los Al School District, just about all elementary school kids in Seal Beach (save one section of eastern CPE and CPW, which still sends its kids to Hopkinson) went to McGaugh.

College Park East Homeowners Association

The forerunner to the College Park East Neighborhood Association, was the College Park East Homeowners Association.  It consisted of many residents who went on to city and county appointed/elected positions.  These early folks laid the groundwork for many of the improvements we have in our community today, and in the surrounding communities as well.  CPE residents were all directly involved in working with the RHA, the City of Los Alamitos and our congressman to obtain the Rossmoor Library, Rossmoor Park and the Meals on Wheels program for seniors in Los Alamitos and Seal Beach.  The old CPEHOA quietly went out of existence when there was a lull in the development wars, and when the new College Park East Neighborhood Association was organized in 1991, we could not use the former name unless we brought up-to-date all the state registration fees   –  hence a new name and a new organization.  However the original commitment continued on.

Epilog

Even though CPE has had more than its share of problems, most residents still consider it the best place to live. As realtors often say, it is location, location, location!    We are on the edge of two counties,  within 3 minutes to  one of  three freeways, near a university and most of all, a few minutes from the beach!  Seal Beach has more Prop 13 residents than any other city in the county.  That means we have more residents still here since 1978 than other cities in Orange County   –  approximately 31 %.  For College Park East, that number is even higher, up to approximately 33-35%.  Our residents like it here and stay!  Those of us who have been here since its inception, are called original owners.  And we are working on our second generation of residents:  people who grew up here and are now raising their own children here, often in the same house they grew up in!  They liked growing up here so much that they want the same experience for their kids.  For us, it’s not just location, location, location, but it is more than that:  it’s the people!  There can be no greater tribute to a community than that!


Note:  CPENA would be interested in discovering who has been in CPE the longest.  Please contact us at P.O. Box 3501, Seal Beach with your move-in date, or call 598-3941.  Thank you!