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Departing C-130s Leave Van Nuys Guard Base Future Up in Air

December 08, 1988|T.W. McGARRY | Times Staff Writer

Strung together nose-to-tail like a flying freight train, nine camouflage-green Air National Guard cargo planes roared away from Van Nuys Airport for good, leaving behind a base that is becoming the prize in a touchy land-use conflict.

The takeoff Saturday of the C-130s in a practice combat formation was the beginning of the end of a military presence at the airport that goes back to the days of Pearl Harbor.

The Air National Guard base is scheduled to be abandoned by the end of next year, and the 62-acre site has attracted the attention of those who have rival plans for its future. A proposal that has gained some support calls for the land to be used for an aerospace museum and city park, primarily as a compromise to head off a bitter political battle between aviation interests and anti-noise homeowners.

The C-130s of the 146th Tactical Airlift Wing lined up on the runway before taking off 20 seconds apart at noon, following the lead plane flown by the wing commander, Col. Tandy Bozeman.

The parade of aircraft soared in formation northward over the Santa Susana Mountains and headed for Edwards Air Force Base in the Antelope Valley on what Air National Guard spokesmen said was their last mission from the Van Nuys base.

Ventura County Home

The routine mission was to practice dropping supplies to troops by parachute. After 18 sandbags were parachuted into the Mojave Desert east of the Air Force base--alongside the dry lake bed where the space shuttle lands--the formation flew westward to the Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, the wing's new home on the Ventura County coast.

The 220-acre base is under construction alongside the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, a Navy base just south of Port Hueneme, at a cost of $64 million, virtually all of that coming from the Defense Department. Two of the base's 18 planned buildings were completed last week.

The planes landed at 2:06 p.m., still in a line with only 20 seconds between aircraft.

The rest of the wing's 16 C-130s remain based at Van Nuys for repairs, said Maj. Michael Ritz, wing spokesman. Aircraft maintenance will continue to be performed at Van Nuys, "so planes will still come and go," he said. "But from now on, all missions will be flown from the Channel Islands base, and that's where the planes will be if we're not working on them."

The wing's headquarters is expected to remain at Van Nuys until December, 1989, he said.

Under terms of its lease with the Los Angeles Department of Airports, which owns the airport, the Air National Guard will turn over to the city the 28-acre portion of the base to the east of the Bull Creek flood control channel at the end of this month.

That tract, next to the northern end of the runways, contains two office and maintenance buildings, several workshops in trailers and a fire station.

Gone by End of 1989

The Air National Guard has agreed to vacate the remaining 34 acres, on which most of the base is located, by the end of 1989.

The use of the land has been the subject of intense speculation and planning by airport-based businesses and other commercial interests, neighboring homeowner groups, and city officials and officeholders.

Anti-noise homeowner groups, which have increasing political clout with Los Angeles City Council members, have for years been pressuring the Department of Airports to limit the number of airport businesses that might bring more planes, such as firms offering hangar space, charter flights, fuel and repairs. They have successfully encouraged the department to lease land instead to commercial developments with no aviation connections.

Aviation interests have been organizing to resist them, pointing to requirements in federal law.

The deed under which the federal government donated the airport, a World War II Air Corps base, to the city in 1947 requires that it "be used and maintained for public airport purposes." Under terms of the deed, and later federal construction loans to the Department of Airports, the Federal Aviation Administration retains veto power over leases for non-aviation purposes.

The two sides have conducted increasingly bitter land-use skirmishes before the Board of Airport Commissioners, the City Council and other city agencies for several years.

In 1985, the airport board, at the request of the City Council, established the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council to provide a forum for the two sides to work out their differences. But the advisory group's meetings are almost always marked by bickering between the two camps.

As the largest tract that will probably ever become available at the airport, the Air National Guard base was expected to set off the biggest fight of all.

The battle will never be fought if advisory council members have their way.

In the only motion ever to receive unanimous approval in the 3-year history of the divided group, members agreed in April to ask the city to turn most of the base into a city park and aerospace museum.

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