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Questions Raised in Irvine

December 06, 1987

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's surprise reversal of its previously approved $496,000 federal grant to help Irvine renovate a never-used animal shelter into housing for the city's homeless raises some interesting questions for the City Council. And a challenge for the rest of the community.

HUD withdrew its approval of the Irvine grant in response to "new information" from the Department of Defense that made the previously eligible site "environmentally unacceptable." That new information was from Marine Corps officials at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station who, after the well-publicized grant had been approved, wrote HUD to say that homeless residents would be subjected to high noise levels from base aircraft.

That's not new information. Everyone understood that the site was not the best one, only the best available. But with the sound attenuation planned, it was considered acceptable by the city staff and council majority; certainly as acceptable as the 100-room hotel already located across the street and other industrial and commercial projects approved for the area.

And the city's planning and approval of projects in the East Irvine neighborhood, also known as the Sand Canyon Development Corridor, have been based on previous studies by the Marine Corps that did not put the area off limits. What does the Marine Corps' new objection to what previously had been permissible mean for all other development in the same area? And what about the existing hotel across the street from the proposed homeless shelter? How environmentally unacceptable is its continued operation for the health and safety of registered guests? Those are some of the questions the council must now consider.

HUD's rejection also poses a challenge for the Irvine community. The federal grant money is still available--if the city can find an alternative site. But the council's options for creating new housing for the homeless are now severely limited. The plan was to use city property for the shelter. City officials say the city has no suitable alternative site, and, without one, there is not enough money available to provide the proposed 50-bed shelter.

That leaves the problem squarely up to the community, and even more specifically up to the city's major landholders, such as the Irvine Co., UC Irvine and some of its major business firms. They could provide the land needed and save the federal grant.

The question, and challenge, now is whether Irvine's residents and business community are as committed to their responsibility of providing temporary housing for their homeless neighbors as their City Council has been.

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