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Plan for Homeless Angers Residents : Housing: A coalition vows to fight a proposal to convert empty Navy barracks to a shelter.

March 17, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the one week since San Pedro residents discovered that a homeless shelter is proposed for surplus Navy housing in the middle of a residential area, they have turned their anger into a united front, vowing to halt the project.

Homeowners and real estate agents formed a group, Concerned Citizens, just days after they found out that Turner's Technical Institute, a homeless advocacy organization based in South Central Los Angeles, planned to run the shelter.

Turner's Technical plans to run a housing program for up to 600 homeless people in 144 units of Navy property at 2300 Taper Ave. The plan already has been approved by the federal Health and Human Services Department.

Concerned Citizens countered by distributing 4,000 flyers by early this week, rallying 1,000 people to protest the plan Tuesday night.

Community opposition is not a case of just saying "not in my back yard," residents say.

"Our motto is 'San Pedro Cares,' but we've done more than our share," resident Bonnie Christensen said.

The community was not told about the plan before approval was given, and it already has a number of homeless shelters, subsidized housing programs and churches that feed the hungry, residents said.

The city of Rancho Palos Verdes has rallied behind the movement to stop the housing plan.

At its own meeting Tuesday night, the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council unanimously agreed to begin lobbying Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the League of California Cities and the secretary of the Navy. It is also looking at possible litigation, Mayor Steven Kuykendall said.

The community meeting, at Dodson Junior High auditorium in Rancho Palos Verdes, was so crowded that dozens of people had to listen to the four-hour meeting from outside.

Community leaders and individuals heatedly voiced concerns about interfering federal bureaucrats, secretive local politicians, crowded public schools and collapsing real estate deals.

"I know someone personally who was going to write up an offer (to buy a house) until this hit the paper and she decided not to put an offer on the property," said Ann DiBernardo, of the San Pedro-Wilmington Board of Realtors.

"She wasn't willing to move her family into San Pedro until she was sure what was going to happen with that area."

The Navy is closing down the Long Beach Naval Station and will move out enlisted personnel and their families from 44 buildings on the 27-acre site, which is surrounded by single-family homes in San Pedro and Rancho Palos Verdes.

Under federal law, homeless advocacy groups such as Turner's Technical Institute are given priority on federal land that has been declared surplus.

The Health and Human Services Department decides which organization gets the property and has already approved the Turner's application to use the property.

Turner's Technical is not required to get permission from the community, and the Navy "can't arbitrarily overturn the decision by HHS," said Long Beach Navy spokesman Lt. Carl Johnson.

"The Navy prefers that all parties come to an agreement or compromise before we give our stamp of approval. Obviously, we recognize that that might not be possible in all cases, and we can't delay these matters indefinitely because that wouldn't be in keeping with the spirit of the legislation," Johnson said.

Turner's Technical Institute made an impassioned plea for community support.

Representatives say the housing will be used for an atypical group of homeless families and individuals, those displaced by natural disasters or the recession who are too proud to seek welfare help.

They said the site would be gated, and no foot traffic to or from the premises would be allowed. A committee with community representatives would rigorously screen applicants, and no substance abusers would be taken into the program.

Turner's Technical Institute will hold its own meeting to address public concerns at Dodson Junior High on Tuesday.

But the Concerned Citizens group said it will continue its opposition with petitions and more gatherings.

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