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Tempers Flare Over Homeless Shelter Plan : Hearings: Residents shout down officials of organization that wants to turn surplus Navy housing into a homeless shelter.

March 27, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hundreds of angry residents turned out last week to grill the officials of a South-Central-based organization that wants to open a homeless shelter in surplus Navy housing in a San Pedro neighborhood.

Eight representatives from Turner's Technical Institute, which plans to run the homeless program for up to 120 families, faced a hostile crowd.

Institute representatives who addressed the crowd were often shouted down.

"We came here to ask questions, not for you to tell us stories!" one resident yelled.

The institute has the approval of the federal Department of Health and Human Services to open the homeless shelter in 144 dwellings on 27 acres on Taper Avenue. Enlisted personnel and their families from Long Beach Naval Station will live in the housing until summer, when they are expected to be transferred. The naval station is scheduled to close in the fall.

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Most questions from the public went unanswered by the institute panel, prompting Los Angeles Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents San Pedro, to say: "I've been up in City Hall for the past 7 1/2 months and I've seen some songs and I've seen some dances, but this is the most unorganized stage show I've ever seen in my life."

His comments were met with thunderous applause from residents, who wore baby blue ribbons as a symbol of support for their neighborhoods and of their anger at not being included in the federal decision to approve the shelter.

Johnathon Marzet, deputy director of the technical institute, assured the crowd that no alcoholics or drug users would be allowed in the program and that applicants would be screened thoroughly.

In the first month of operation, he said, only 30 families would be admitted to the shelter. Every 60 to 90 days, more families would be allowed in, so it would take nine to 12 months to fill the shelter.

Several people held up signs at the meeting whenever the audience got rowdy, telling them the institute was "not the enemy."

As the crowd shouted questions, Marzet and other panel members asked that the questions be written down, so they could answer them during the next meeting and provide the documentation that was requested. When this drew an angry response from the crowd, Marzet said it was a good time to end the meeting, and the panel left.

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Leaflets and signs told the crowd that the goal was to force the federal government to amend legislation that gives homeless advocacy groups first priority for surplus federal property without the consent of local communities.

The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 has been criticized by the California League of Cities and the state Office of Planning and Development.

Both agencies are studying a task force's recommendations to Gov. Pete Wilson, which released a report in February on the use of closed California military bases.

Among other things, the report calls the McKinney Act a significant barrier to economic growth and says local plans should be given priority over shelters.

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Ben Williams, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Development agrees, saying the McKinney Act was a concern throughout California when public meetings on base closures were held last year.

"The locals (should) have the option to offer comparable property at a different location from the specific location that was required by the homeless group," Williams said.

The issue also will be considered April 5 by the Los Angeles City Council Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

It is the first time the council has looked at how the federal law overrides any local decisions made on use of surplus military land, said Tom Kruesopon, spokesman for Svorinich.

"If the (federal) government can make laws like this, then what's next?" Kruesopon said.

The full council is expected to vote April 8 on a proposal to urge Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton to suspend a decision on the Taper Avenue housing until there is a full public hearing and an environmental review.

Svorinich will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at San Pedro High School, 1001 W. 15th Street.

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