A city of Los Angeles proposal to swap land at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro for a nearby parcel owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District has been placed on hold because federal officials may be interested in reclaiming the district property.
Byron Kimbell, director of the district's building services division, said last week that he suspended discussions with the city about the proposed trade because the U. S. Department of Education is "making some noise" about taking back the property, possibly for military housing.
Did Not Meet Commitment
The 47-acre property, once part of the Fort MacArthur Army base, was declared surplus land by the federal government in the late 1970s and deeded to the school district in 1979. City officials want about six acres of it to replace athletic fields at the former Martin J. Bogdanovich Recreation Center, a city park turned over to the Air Force in April for military housing.
Kimbell said the Department of Education, which monitors the federal government's land deals with school districts, is reviewing the matter because the Los Angeles district has not honored its obligation to build a high school on the land.
"They are making some noise, saying, 'If you haven't fulfilled your end of the bargain, then we might want to take the land back,' ' he said.
The deed requires the district to use the land for "education purposes" and specifically requires that a high school be located there. The deed gives the federal government rights for 30 years to reclaim the land if the district violates any of the provisions.
The district uses the land for an adult education center, a continuation school and a summer camp. It also parks buses there and stores thousands of old files in underground tunnels built by the Army.
School officials said last week that they have no plans to build a senior high school on the property.
"That was a dream of Mildred Naslund, the former superintendent," said Trustee John Greenwood, who represents San Pedro. "It was going to replace San Pedro High School, but the travel distance for youngsters would be too great. It never made sense as a regular high school site."
Kimbell, who will meet with federal officials late next month to discuss the property, said the district suspended talks with the city's Department of Recreation and Parks about the land swap so as not "to cloud any of the waters" during the federal discussions. Any deal between the city and the school district would require federal approval.
Despite the suspension of talks, Greenwood said, the district remains committed to arranging a deal with the city for the proposed athletic fields. The city has proposed trading two acres at Angels Gate Park along Gaffey Street for the school district property.
Eugene Gonzales, the U. S. secretary of education's regional representative in San Francisco, said federal officials are "looking carefully" at the district's failure to build a high school on the property, but that no decision has been made on taking back the land.
Dave Hakola, a Department of Education staff assistant in Washington, said reclamation would be "an extreme remedy." He described the department's review of the deed as routine.
"We are in discussions with them as to how exactly the property is being utilized . . .," Hakola said. "It is a routine duty that we have to do to monitor all property to ensure they are properly utilized."
Kimbell, however, said district officials are taking the federal review seriously.
When first contacted about it, Kimbell said, he asked what would happen to the property if it were to revert to the federal government. He said Dave Carroll, the education department's real estate officer in San Francisco, said the military might be interested in it.
"His understanding was that the military was looking for additional space for military housing," he said. "I have no idea what branch, but he said there was an inquiry from Washington about additional space for military housing."
Carroll was unavailable for comment last week. Two other federal officials said they were unaware of any military interest in the property.
There would be precedent for taking back federal land for military housing. Last year, the federal government reclaimed land it had deeded to the city of Los Angeles in Harbor City for a 300-unit housing development for Navy personnel stationed in Long Beach.
In April, the city also turned over Bogdanovich park and a small portion of White Point Park for a 170-unit housing development for Air Force officers working at the El Segundo space station.
Jerry L. Gaines, chairman of a citizens committee appointed by Los Angeles officials to find new sites for athletic fields lost at Bogdanovich, said he has been assured by Air Force officials that they are not interested in building housing on the school district property.
"It doesn't make sense for the Department of Defense, with the three years of negotiations we have gone through with White Point, to start another bonfire at this point," Gaines said. "It doesn't make sense. I take it with a grain of salt. I am not alarmed."