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Communities to Get More Say in Use of Closed Military Bases : Legislation: Under a new law, which will affect a disputed San Pedro property, homeless groups will no longer get priority.

October 13, 1994|SUSAN WOODWARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The use of closed military property, including Navy housing that is being abandoned in San Pedro, will be left largely in the hands of local communities under legislation passed by Congress.

Under the law passed Friday, military bases are exempt from the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, which gave homeless organizations first priority on all surplus federal property. The needs of the homeless still must be addressed in plans devised by communities, however.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and expected to be signed into law, will affect California particularly.

Twenty-two bases have been targeted for closure or realignment under the Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990. Homeless groups have applied under the McKinney Act to use all or part of 16 of them.

Congressional sources said the McKinney Act, enacted before the base closures law, was not designed with military bases in mind. It has polarized many communities, pitting residents against homeless advocacy groups that were under no obligation to consult the community about their plans for shelters.

A provision from a bill written by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) was included in the new law, ensuring that local communities are notified when military property becomes surplus.

"It's a Draconian remedy to impose solutions (for homelessness) on communities where their input is minimal," Harman said. "We really have a total victory here."

The legislation was written after consultation with the national Interagency Council on the Homeless.

In San Pedro this year, many residents were outraged when federal officials approved an application by a South-Central homeless provider to run a shelter for up to 880 people in surplus Navy housing on Taper Avenue.

Federal officials recently revoked their approval to Turner's Technical Institute Inc. after finding that 60% of the site was not suitable for homeless use because of its proximity to two aviation fuel tanks.

Under the new law, the San Pedro Area Reuse Committee will have nine months to submit a plan for the Navy housing and land to the Housing and Urban Development Department.

The department then will review the plan to ensure that the local committee has included provisions to adequately address the needs of the homeless.

Turner's spokesman, Samuel Theus, said the organization has not been notified of the recent changes to the McKinney Act.

"The last we heard from (the Health and Human Services Department) we could resubmit our application," Theus said.

Turner's wants to work with the San Pedro community to develop a homeless shelter, he said. But Health and Human Services, which approved applications under the McKinney Act, has been taken out of the process, officials said.

The new law is retroactive; only operating shelters will be protected and allowed to continue, officials said.

The San Pedro committee has indicated that it wants to use the Taper Avenue site for senior citizen housing. Chairman Doane Liu said the community does not want to work with Turner's Institute because members believe the organization is not qualified to run a shelter.

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