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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Meddling With the Base

July 22, 2001|ROSS JOHNSON | Joseph D. McNamara, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City

Last year, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed legislation affecting how the Tustin Redevelopment Agency would grant contracts for designing and building at the closed Marine Corps Air Station. In his veto message he wrote: "It is the responsibility of interested local agencies to work together toward an agreement on redevelopment plans at the former air station."

That same logic holds true for AB 212, proposed by state Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim).

It forces Tustin to give 100 acres of land on the former base to the Santa Ana Unified School District, despite the fact that no new students will be generated for their district by the reuse plan. It purportedly resolves this local dispute by ordering one party (Tustin) to satisfy other parties (Santa Ana schools) no matter what the cost or equities.

This is a local issue that should be resolved by the local entities. If the governor and the Legislature are going to involve themselves in a local dispute, they should do it in a responsible manner. Assembly Bill 212 is irresponsible, and the governor should veto it.

The city has followed the law for base reuse. There have been extensive public hearings and planning that Congress and the Legislature put in place for redevelopment of closed military bases.

Tustin officials walked a tightrope to fulfill the federal directive for economic development and still managed to dedicate nearly one-third of the base for uses benefiting the public, such as homeless shelters, regional law enforcement centers, a day care center, and a crisis shelter for children, parks and other regional recreation, and land for five school and community college districts, including Santa Ana's. Assembly Bill 212 puts all of that at risk.

This dispute is further complicated by the dynamics of local land use decisions and politics. In April, the Santa Ana City Council voted to allow construction of a gated community of half-million-dollar homes in north Santa Ana, despite the pleas of the Santa Ana Unified School District to build an elementary school on that site. Three months later, it appears the school district has found its school site--not in Santa Ana, where it belongs, but in neighboring Tustin.

Thanks to AB 212, the Legislature is forcing Tustin to provide for Santa Ana children what Santa Ana's own city officials refused to do. The legislation, however, does not resolve the dispute. It merely prolongs it. That's because that 100-acre parcel, along with the other 1,500 acres, would sit idle for years while the issue meanders through the courts.

This legislation isn't necessary. Tustin has offered the Santa Ana Unified School District and the Rancho Santiago Community College District 37 acres of environmentally clean land; $38 million for the Santa Ana Unified School District and $3 million in tax increment revenue and developer fees--a total package worth $78 million. That offer was rejected by the Santa Ana Unified School District because it says it needs more land to help with the overcrowding of its schools.

The $78-million value is a lot of money for the little city of Tustin. It is important to point out that it is $78 million more than the city of Santa Ana has offered to help relieve the overcrowding problems, even though the vast majority of schoolchildren in Santa Ana, naturally enough, attend Santa Ana schools.

Redevelopment of the base won't create a single residence or a single student within the boundaries of the Santa Ana Unified School District.

Santa Ana's own experts concluded that the potential indirect effect of the reuse plan might be an additional 272 students for Santa Ana schools over 20 years. That means Tustin's offer to Santa Ana schools amounts to nearly $232,000 per student.

Tustin, as a good neighbor, is perfectly willing to help Santa Ana's school children, but the city's generous $78-million offer was summarily dismissed.

In fact, three times Santa Ana school officials told Tustin they had reached an agreement, only to have the settlement evaporate when Santa Ana issued new demands.

If the governor signs AB 212, the city of Tustin will be left with no choice but to go to court. Once that happens, everyone loses. The base will sit idle. No redevelopment will take place. And nothing will be done to relieve the overcrowding of the Santa Ana schools.

*

State Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) represents the 35th District.

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