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Site Uncertain for Fitness Academy : County Upset as Panel Looks at Alternatives to Aliso Viejo

December 19, 1985|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times Staff Writer

The National Fitness Foundation still has not confirmed plans to build a national physical fitness academy in Aliso Viejo and now will consider other sites outside the county for the facility, the Board of Supervisors said Wednesday.

As a result, the board on Wednesday demanded a written guarantee that the academy will be built along Aliso Creek, southwest of Laguna Niguel. The supervisors also voted to curtail immediate spending on the project to $11,000 from the $59,900 that had been requested.

The county already has spent $59,000 in staff time and consulting fees to prepare environmental reports and other paper work needed to apply for permits.

Plans Set in February

In February the Los Angeles-based foundation announced plans to build the facility in Aliso Viejo. Last month, the supervisors said, foundation trustees told the county they would consider other sites for the facility at the trustees' Jan. 14 meeting.

The chairman of the National Fitness Foundation, George Allen, and the foundation secretary-treasurer, Willard V. Harris, acknowledged in interviews Wednesday that foundation trustees last month expressed concern about the site that they chose in February. But both men said they still expected the academy to be built in Aliso Viejo.

Thomas F. Riley, board chairman and the supervisor most supportive of the academy, said in a letter sent to Allen Wednesday that he found it "humiliating and embarrassing" to carry the project for the foundation "in the absence of the same level of commitment to the project from the foundation."

Riley said the foundation's consultants were "continuously argumentative" and slow to take action, leading the supervisors "to wonder whether this project is headed for success."

Last week Riley told Allen that it would be difficult for the supervisors to spend more money when foundation representatives "continue to make it clear that a final commitment to Orange County has not actually yet been made and that there remains the chance that the academy will in the end locate elsewhere."

Riley reminded Allen, the former coach of the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins football teams, that at a Nov. 14 meeting, "your staff emphasized that we had but 60 days to complete work that might realistically take longer than 60 days."

In addition, Riley said Allen's staff told the meeting that funds the foundation was willing to spend to get the project ready for voting by the commissions that must issue permits "was limited to an arbitrary level of $11,000."

Clark 'Very Uncomfortable'

Riley's concerns were echoed by Supervisor Ralph Clark, who said he was "very uncomfortable with this project."

"I think in the interest of good business we should have a contract or something in writing. . . . I wonder if not having anything in writing is going to backfire on us someday," Clark said.

Last June, Clark was the only one of the five supervisors to vote against spending the initial $59,900 in federal revenue-sharing money, saying the promoters of the U.S. Physical Fitness Academy "have done nothing" to publicize the facility.

Supervisor Bruce Nestande also complained Wednesday, saying that the lack of a firm commitment means that the supervisors are "getting to the point almost where we're looking a little embarrassed."

"We don't have to go like a bunch of beggars and make fools of ourselves and open the county treasury when they run out of money," Nestande said.

He noted that the county would provide the 200 acres for the academy rent free and said, "I think Orange County has been very fair and very generous" to the academy but in return has not received a commitment.

Allen said Aliso Viejo "is my choice for the academy, and I'm going to do everything within my power to make it happen."

But Allen said there had been "problems" with anticipated objections by the California Coastal Commission, and "we had delays" that caused concern about his self-imposed deadline of getting the academy in operation before President Reagan leaves office.

"That's one of the reasons the board of trustees (of the foundation) thinks if we can't work these things out we'd better find another site."

Allen and county staff members met Wednesday with Coastal Commission staff in Los Angeles to discuss the project.

Clark noted that the architects on the project, the Luckman Partnership, based in Los Angeles, had little experience working on projects that needed Coastal Commission approval.

Robert Fisher, planning director in the county Environmental Management Agency, told the supervisors Wednesday that "we have had some difficulties in working with the architects." But Fisher added that, after "a little bit of a bumpy road," the relationship seems to be improving.

Fisher said later that the Coastal Commission staff has expressed concern about plans to build a new access road to the academy, which would be used by an estimated 350 cars a day.

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