SAN PEDRO — Rebuffed by Los Angeles officials in its attempt to gain entry to undeveloped White Point Park, the Air Force has flexed its legal muscle to get its way.
U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter this week granted a request by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles that the government be allowed access to the 145-acre park for four months to conduct geological surveys to see if housing can be built there.
However, Hatter refused to allow the Air Force to enter the park immediately. Instead, the judge gave city officials 30 days to state why the Air Force should be barred from the site.
City officials, opposed to construction of housing there, have repeatedly refused the Air Force access to the park.
Former Missile Site
The skirmish is the latest to erupt between the Air Force and city officials, who in recent months have been engaged in a protracted dogfight over the park. The land, a former Nike missile site, was deeded to the city in 1978 after the federal government declared it surplus. The deed states that the government can reclaim the land in the national interest.
Last year the Air Force, citing a severe shortage of affordable housing for officers assigned to its El Segundo Space Center, announced that it wanted back 50 acres to construct 170 houses. Other attempts to find suitable sites proved fruitless, the Air Force said.
The action was criticized by local homeowner groups and environmentalists who support building a city or state park on the land, which is one of the last major undeveloped oceanfront parcels in Los Angeles County. Mayor Tom Bradley, as well as Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the San Pedro area, favor preserving the entire area for recreation.
Air Force spokesman Larry Hannon declined to comment this week on whether the Air Force will seek to invoke the reversionary clause in the deed if city officials continue to oppose the project.
Time Grows Short
Hannon said this week's legal action was initiated because the Air Force believes it is running out of time. The Air Force was allocated $14.5 million by Congress for construction of the housing, but the money must be used within 24 months, he said. Eleven months have already elapsed.
In addition, Hannon said, even if the Air Force is able to construct some of the housing at the city's Martin J. Bogdanovich Recreation Center, under a compromise favored by Flores, there would not be enough land to construct all the units. Flores first proposed giving the Air Force a 12-acre parcel of the Bogdanovich park, and later said she would be willing to sacrifice more of the 22-acre park, provided the military relocate some of the park's recreational facilities.
"We were trying to work through a compromise, we were trying to be nice guys," Hannon said. "We're not sure what there is to talk about now."
Bernie Evans, Flores' chief deputy, said the Air Force's decision to go to court did not surprise the councilwoman.
Room for Condos
Evans added that the Air Force has not formally responded to the councilwoman's idea to use a portion or all of the Bogdanovich park, but he said James E. Boatright, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, indicated in earlier discussions that there would be enough room at the site if condominiums or town homes were built instead of single-family dwellings. The park could accommodate 170 condominiums or town homes, Evans said.
Evans, as well as Hannon, said neither side has scheduled a meeting to discuss the compromise proposal further.
Deputy City Atty. Ken Cirlin, who represented the city during the court proceeding on Monday, said he had asked the judge to give the city 60 days to respond to the Air Force's request. The city argued that there were unresolved questions on whether the Air Force had complied with federal and state environmental laws.
Hatter cut the request in half because he felt that it was unreasonable to force the Air Force to wait that long, Cirlin said.