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U.S. Support for Shelter Continues Despite Protests

July 31, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD and JAMES BORNEMEIER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Federal officials reviewing plans for a homeless center operated by a South-Central group on surplus Navy property in San Pedro say they have no reason to reverse their earlier approval of the project, although a final decision has not been made.

The Department of Health and Human Services' continued support of the plan, which hundreds of local residents have challenged in recent months, is one of several developments in the dispute over bringing the center to the harbor community.

In January, the department approved an application by Turner's Technical Institute Inc. of South-Central to use housing on Taper Avenue for homeless families. Turner's would use the 27-acre site after the Long Beach Naval Station Closes this summer and moves out its personnel.

But department officials agreed to review their decision after local politicians and community members raised questions about the ability of Turner's to house as many as 880. Opponents also pointed out inconsistencies in the group's application for the land.

During the height of public outcry, Turner's onetime executive director, Johnathon C. Marzet, resigned amid claims that on the application two letters of endorsement were forged and that he had falsified his academic qualifications. The reputed endorsers of Turner's said they did not sign the letters. Marzet has acknowledged false claims of college degrees.

However, the tumult apparently has not changed the opinion of Health and Human Services officials about Turner's qualifications.

The Times asked the department if its review had uncovered any inaccurate or misleading material in the Turner's application. Kathleen Furey Martin, the official who approved the selection of Turner's, replied: "To date,our review has not provided any basis on which to reverse our previous approval of (Turner's) application."

But a decision on the project isn't final, said Martin, who is director of the department's division of health-facilities programming.

Her statement drew angry local reaction.

"(The department) is basically saying it's OK to commit fraud or forgery," said Doane Liu, chairman of the San Pedro Area Re-Use Committee. "It's probably not going to be pursued by any federal agency, but it's a federal crime and we view it that way."

City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents San Pedro and also is fighting the homeless center, called Martin's response "ridiculous."

"HHS knows they made a mistake with a hasty decision. Now they're so afraid to admit their mistake, they're going to allow their incompetence to prevail," Svorinich said.

A review by the Department of Housing and Urban Development has apparently been completed, but officials said no decision has been made. In response to local concerns, HUD officials re-examined safety questions about two aviation fuel tanks near the 144 units of housing at Taper Avenue.

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