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Plan for Military Housing on Vacant Lot Puts City on Alert

May 03, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A proposal to lease the vacant, 37-acre Shadow Hills housing tract to a private developer for 51 years--without charge--has caused some concern among city officials as to the effect such a development would have on Los Alamitos.

The former Navy housing tract, unoccupied on the Armed Forces Reserve Center for the last three years, was officially transferred last month to the Army National Guard, which has overseen operations on the base since 1972.

The proposal was commissioned by guard officials in Sacramento to determine if the facility could be refurbished by a private developer to provide low-cost housing for military families. Council members expressed concerns after seeing a copy of the proposal, which suggested that housing could be made available to civilians and that a contract for developing the project should be awarded by May 30.

But a guard official said the development would be solely for military personnel.

"Nationwide there are pockets of old military housing that [are] in question, and the answer is in high military hands," said Maj. Lisa Haskins, assistant deputy commander of the center. "One thing is certain, though: Military housing is for military families, not for civilians or even civilian employees on the base."

The reopening of Shadow Hills is an eventual certainty, if not an immediate one, given the high demand and shortage of available military housing locally and nationwide, city and military officials say.

"There are 1,300 military families trying to make it in the community and make it on a housing allowance that is typically below market rates," said City Manager Robert Dominguez, who is researching the issue for the council.

Dominguez said any authorization to reopen the 201-unit Shadow Hills would be under the condition that housing costs would not be greater than available allowances. "All we've heard from the military is that it is pretty tough for families," Dominguez said. "Many [military employees] have two jobs."

"If we opened that [Shadow Hills] today, we'd have 1,325 applicants for the housing," Haskins said. "The impact is hardest on the junior ranks. That's why it was such a big deal a few years ago when military families were applying for food stamps and welfare. Our youngest families still qualify for food stamps."

Still, many issues must be addressed even if authorization is granted; such as the estimated $40,000 cost per unit to rehabilitate Shadow Hills, and the question of who would provide services for the 201 additional households in Los Alamitos. Dominguez said the issues will be a discussion item on a late-May council agenda.

"The proposal [seen by council members] was a trial balloon from the private sector to see if it could be privatized," Dominguez said. "The quick answer is probably, but it's all speculation right now."

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Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440.

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