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Navy May Move Out of Complex : Camarillo: Some city officials fear surplus housing in middle-class neighborhood would go to agencies that help homeless.

October 19, 1994|J.E. MITCHELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Navy is studying whether to continue using a 315-unit townhouse complex in Camarillo, sparking concerns among city officials that the site could eventually be turned over to the homeless.

Depending on the results of a two-year study, the 51-acre parcel could be declared surplus in 1996 and, by federal law, made available to other federal departments and then to area homeless agencies.

But the image of a massive center for the county's homeless in a middle-class enclave has city officials concerned.

"We don't want (the property) to be used to satisfy the homeless needs of the entire county," Councilwoman Charlotte Craven said. "We want to be ahead of the curve and in control. We don't want to have this thing dictated to us."

Craven said the city, now a member of a countywide housing authority, might even consider establishing its own agency to set controls on development at the site near the intersection of Las Posas Road and Ponderosa Drive.

"It would enable us to have direct control over the management of the facility," she said.

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Craven's colleague on the council, Mayor Ken Gose, said that he, too, would want to see strict controls over the site.

"I don't believe in the 'not in my back yard' theory. I think that if we can accommodate the homeless and help give them a hand, we should," Gose said. "At the same time, we have to protect the rights of the residents who live nearby."

Navy officials, however, said there is no certainty that the service will give up the site, known as Catalina, and that it has just started a review of available housing for sailors stationed at the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station and the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme. The housing compound is shared by both naval bases.

"What we are doing is signaling that we are reviewing our housing needs," Navy spokesman Alan Alpers said. "Depending on the outcome of that review, we may or may not find ourselves in a position where we need to declare Catalina surplus. Either way, we are a long, long way from that point."

With the completion of nearly 400 new housing units at the two bases, the Catalina complex may indeed become surplus, depending on how the military "drawdown" and next year's round of the base closings affect staffing at the bases.

Navy officials said that about 1,200 service members and their families live in the compound in the city's north central section, a neighborhood of neatly kept, stucco and wood single-family homes.

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Meanwhile, homeless advocates say that if the Navy does give up the parcel, it will be one of the largest plots of federal land ever relinquished, aside from those properties abandoned through previous rounds of the base closure process.

"This is a potentially significant piece of property," said Laurel Weir, policy director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, D.C.

Weir and Carolyn Briggs, executive director of the Area Housing Authority of Ventura County, warned that even if the Navy gives up the land, the federal McKinney Act requires that the parcel first be offered to other Defense Department agencies and then any other federal agency before it can be turned over to local homeless agencies.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Briggs said. "But, this could be a dream come true."

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Briggs said that the site would likely lend itself to housing low- and moderate-income families who would live in the townhouses on a transitional basis or perhaps on a rent-to-own arrangement.

"If we get the property, it will be very highly managed," Briggs said. "It's not the kind of place suited necessarily for a big shelter. We would want to work very closely with the neighbors and the city on this. It's not like the Navy will move out one day and 315 U-Hauls will be seen there the next."

But Camarillo City Manager Bill Little said the city does not like the idea of having such a large social services facility in the middle of the middle-class town of 56,000 people.

"It's not something we are particularly relishing, I can assure," Little said.

Little added that an amendment to the McKinney Act, now on President Clinton's desk, would give localities more control in dealing with surplus military property within their jurisdiction.

"I'm hoping (the amendment) will help us, if the president signs it," Little said. "At this point our residents shouldn't panic, but we are keeping an eye on this situation."

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