Cleanup refugees are neighbors in Avila Beach once again

When the Avila Beach mobile home park where they lived was demolished in the late 1990s, Shirley Goetz and Laura Lee Waldorf weren’t sure they would ever be neighbors again.

Goetz relocated to a friend’s place in San Luis Obispo, where she stayed for about two years during Unocal’s oil contamination cleanup. During that time, it was difficult to keep in touch with former mobile home park residents, she said.

“Just talking on the phone and meeting occasionally for lunch was all there was,” Goetz said.

For Waldorf, the change was more unsettling.

The former commercial fisherwoman moved first to Avila Hot Springs in her RV, to a friend’s home in Santa Maria and then to another friend’s property in Arroyo Grande.

Her journey took her to Colorado, where her sister lived, and to her native Wisconsin. For three years, she kept tabs on what was happening in Avila, checking in to see if she could return.

Now, she and Goetz are home again, residents of Lachen Tara Apartments, a 29-unit complex with affordable rent on Ocean Oaks Drive that opened in 2009. Preference was given to households that had been affected by the cleanup or people who work in Avila Beach.

“It’s a lot different,” Waldorf said. “It’s not the quiet little town any more; the cat is out of the bag. But I enjoy seeing more people showing up at the beach. The tourists are what feed us.”Goetz said it’s not unusual for neighbors to stop by for a visit or to grab a bite to eat, just like in the old days.

“I love it, just the sense of community,” she said. “It’s great to have neighbors again. And the new people here are just some of the nicest people you ever want to meet. Even if you don’t know them, everyone still waves at you. It’s a lot of fun to feel welcome.”