A hard-fought compromise between the city of Los Angeles and the Air Force on military housing in San Pedro was thrown into limbo last week when the city's Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners unexpectedly refused to approve it.
By a 5-0 vote, the board decided to postpone action on the agreement until Jan. 9 to consider objections by residents who oppose it. The compromise would preserve most of the city's White Point park for a proposed oceanfront state park, but would allow housing to be built at the nearby Bogdanovich park, where 1,200 children play soccer.
Board President William Robertson said the prospect of dislocating the children from Bogdanovich left the panel with no choice but to "further explore if there were any other viable alternatives."
City officials had expected the agreement, which took nearly three years to negotiate, to receive routine approval from the board. The Department of Recreation and Parks was involved in the negotiations and recommended approval, as did harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores and Mayor Tom Bradley.
'Stunned and Shocked'
"We were all stunned and shocked by the decision," said Mario Juravich, an aide to Flores, whose office led the city's negotiating team.
"It surprised everybody," said Lt. Col. John Booth, a spokesman for the Air Force.
Assistant City Atty. Pete Echeverria, who advises the board, said the agreement requires the commissioners' approval before it can be considered by the City Council and Bradley. If the board rejects the agreement at its next meeting, city and Air Force officials would have no choice but to renegotiate it or take the issue to court, he said.
Joel Breitbart, assistant general manager for the city's Recreation and Parks Department, said board members--who are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council--generally follow staff recommendations, but sometimes act on their own on controversial issues. He said the board agreed with the staff on all other items on its agenda at last Friday's meeting.
"The staff is convinced that (approval) is the appropriate course of action," Breitbart said. "Obviously, the staff did not do sufficient work to convince the board that the staff's position was the correct one." Ali Webb, a Bradley spokeswoman, agreed that not enough staff work had been done to prepare the commissioners.
"They were simply exercising some caution in making sure the soccer field is being replaced," she said. However, she added, "If this was a final decision, we would obviously have another statement."
The agreement, signed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force James F. Boatright this month, allows military housing to be built at the 22-acre Bogdanovich park and on an 11.3-acre parcel at nearby White Point. The Air Force intends to build 170 single-family homes at the two sites for officers at its Space Division in El Segundo.
Both parks were once part of the Ft. MacArthur Army base, but the land was declared surplus by the federal government in the 1970s and deeded to the city with the provision that it could be reclaimed "for national defense purposes." The Air Force has argued that its housing needs fall within the national-defense provision.
Undeveloped Park Site
Opponents of the agreement want the Air Force to build all of the housing at White Point park, which has not been developed, and leave Bogdanovich park alone. Bogdanovich park was dedicated in 1983, and the city used about $420,000 in state funds to landscape it and construct baseball and soccer fields.
While the Air Force would prefer building all of the housing at White Point, the city persuaded the military to split the development between the two parks so about 100 acres at White Point would still be available for a state park. State parks officials have said a large housing development at the former Nike missile site would kill any state interest in developing a park there.
But opponents of the deal say the city should not give up a park that is already being used by the community for one that may never be built.
"You don't give up an active program in the works," said Bob Bryant, regional commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization, which has about 1,200 members who play regularly at Bogdanovich park. Bryant led the opposition to the agreement before the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners, and some city officials credit him with persuading the commissioners to look further into the issue.
Want New Facility
"We simply don't want to give up the park until a new facility is available and the funds have been set aside to develop it," Bryant said in an interview.