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Tustin Marine Base Land to Be Auctioned

Sale: Three parcels, 235 acres, will be sold online this summer as the military tries to recoup costs.

April 11, 2002|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The federal government has posted three parcels of land at the former Tustin Marine base for online auction, an act that carries as much symbolism--for the former helicopter station and the closed El Toro Marine base--as it does potential cash for the Navy.

Interest generated by the Tustin auction probably will affect how the Navy handles the disposal of the 4,700-acre El Toro base. The Navy announced a day after last month's election rezoning El Toro for a future park that it would declare on April 23 whether it will dispose of all or part of that base through a public sale.

Since then, four of Orange County's five supervisors have met with Navy officials in Washington to argue against a piecemeal sale of El Toro, and for more time to present an alternative redevelopment plan for the base.

But the Navy "is focused on removing the El Toro property from the books, and its mission is to put dollars back into the Navy coffers," Supervisors Tom Wilson and Chuck Smith said in a joint statement this week.

Until a few months ago, most of the 1,600-acre Tustin base was slated to be given free to the city of Tustin for redevelopment. Navy officials announced in February that they would keep some of the land and sell it.

The General Service Administration's announcement of the upcoming sale on its Web site is a first for the Orange County bases, which closed in July 1999. Proceeds are intended to help cover the $1-billion cost of relocating troops, reflecting a policy established by the Bush administration to recoup military costs.

The Navy also wants to dispose of its closed bases, such as El Toro, as Congress eyes a new round of military closures in 2005. The Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station is said to be among U.S. bases considered for shutdown.

The Tustin land is among five "Hot Properties" featured on the Web site for GSA's Office of Property Disposal. It is the largest chunk of former military land for sale.

Other properties include the 174-acre former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital outside Oakland, which goes out for bid May 15 with a suggested opening bid of $6 million; more than a dozen parcels of less than 10 acres each in Las Vegas; and several single-family homes in Florida. A house in Northern California that was used as an airport weather station also is for sale.

The 235 acres to be sold in Tustin are among the most valuable on that base. They hold the bulk of 1,257 single-family homes used as military housing, and they account for more than half of the total base area designated for new homes in the city's redevelopment plan.

The GSA Web site initially posted the Tustin land's minimum value at $25 million--a figure a Navy spokesman said was a misprint.

No dollar value has been or will be established for the property, said Lee Saunders, environmental public affairs spokesman for the Navy's Southwest division in San Diego.

"It's an auction," he said. "The purpose of an auction is to get the best price."

Residential land ready for development in nearby Irvine--without existing homes--has gone for as much as $1 million an acre.

Sale details still are being worked out, including opening bid amounts for each parcel, Saunders said.

School District, City Deal Is Still Needed

Interest could be heavy; 22 developers submitted bids to the city of Tustin for a smaller, undeveloped parcel without roads, sewers or utilities that the city will get on the northeast corner of the base.

Tustin officials said many of the former military houses on the Irvine side of the base are less than 20 years old and can easily be refurbished. Others will be demolished and rebuilt.

The only remaining hurdle for redevelopment is a dispute between the city and the Santa Ana Unified School District, which wants land on the base for a school. A bill passed last year by the Legislature requires Tustin to turn over 100 acres to Santa Ana Unified if ongoing negotiations fail for a 22-acre parcel and $38 million in cash.

The city cannot zone its base property--a necessary step for redevelopment--until the land dispute is resolved. Tustin and the school district have been fighting for eight years.

That hasn't stopping the Navy from moving forward, Tustin City Manager William A. Huston said. The Tustin land sale will occur sometime this summer, and the Navy hopes that will provide enough time for the city and the school district to reach a settlement.

"Hopefully, we'll arrive at a deal before then," Huston said. "If not, that's something we'll have to deal with. [The Navy] wants to move on like the rest of us."

Of the three parcels for sale, 94 acres are in Irvine and hold 550 houses. The rest are within Tustin in an area known as Tustin Villas. The oldest neighborhood, Moffett Meadows, was built in 1964; the other houses were built in the 1980s.

The federal government will turn over 14 of the homes to Families Forward, a nonprofit group that wants to use them to house homeless people attending career development classes. The houses will stay on site.

Toxic contamination was found years ago near one of the housing areas, according to the Marines. An area near Tustin Villas used for helicopter operations was treated in 1996 to remove petroleum from the soil.

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