The California Coastal Commission handed a victory to supporters of a state park at undeveloped White Point Park in San Pedro when it ruled this month that an Air Force plan for military housing at the site would violate rules aimed at preserving the coastline.
Commissioners, in an 11-0 vote, upheld a staff conclusion that construction of the housing on a major portion of the prime oceanfront property could jeopardize plans for a state park, hamper the public's access to nearby beach areas, harm marine habitats and destroy the area's scenic beauty.
Although it is uncertain what effect the commission's action ultimately will have on the proposed housing project, the ruling was a moral victory for opponents of the housing, who favor preserving the 145-acre site for recreation. The site is one of the last major undeveloped parcels of oceanfront property in Los Angeles County.
"I just want everyone to know we are not anti-military, but anti-location," said Ken Malloy, a San Pedro resident and environmentalist who attended the commission's meeting in El Segundo.
'Reserved for All'
"That location should be reserved for all of California to enjoy and not just a select few," said Malloy, who has worked for seven years to turn the White Point area into a state park. "The commission's decision is just one more step upward for us."
Col. William Sims, deputy chief of staff for engineering and services for the Air Force's Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, said after the vote that the Air Force would work with the commission, as well as Los Angeles city officials, to seek an alternative site or a compromise on the White Point location.
The commission's ruling came less than three weeks after the city Recreation and Parks Department turned down a request by the Interior Department to allow the Air Force to begin surveying the White Point site immediately, creating an apparent stalemate between the city and the federal government over who has a right to the land.
The area was deeded to the city in 1978 after the government declared it surplus property, but the Interior Department, in a letter to the city in April, requested that 50 acres of the park be given to the Air Force under provisions of a deed that states that the federal government could reclaim the land in the "national interest."
Neither city nor Interior Department officials have said what action, if any, they will take to resolve the matter. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the San Pedro area and opposes the housing project, may meet with James E. Boatright, a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, this week to discuss the matter, said Bernie Evans, the councilwoman's chief deputy.
The issue was placed on the Coastal Commission's agenda at the city's insistence. The Air Force, which has argued that the project conforms to the state's Coastal Zone Management Act because it is necessary for the national defense, can try again later for commission approval.
The Air Force has repeatedly said it needs the land, which once housed a Nike missile base, to construct 170 town houses for officers stationed at its El Segundo Space Center. Officers assigned to the center are hard pressed to find affordable housing in the Los Angeles area, making it difficult for the Space Center to attract and retain highly trained engineers and scientists, the Air Force has said.
Sims told commission members that attempts by the Air Force to find other suitable sites for housing near the center proved fruitless because the sites were either too small or already earmarked for other uses. "For the Air Force, White Point is it," he said. "It is all we have."
Sims also said the Coastal Commission staff's finding that construction of housing at White Point could have an adverse affect on shoreline kelp beds because of increased water runoff "appears to be based on speculation." Such problems are routinely solved by engineers and designers, he said.
In addition, Sims said the Air Force plans to cluster the homes on the site's level areas instead of terracing them out along the steeper slopes, further minimizing any runoff problems and, at the same time, leaving cliff areas vacant. The cliffs provide a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Catalina Island.
Sims maintained that while the project would decrease the amount of land available for a state park, an "excellent" park could still be developed in conjunction with nearby Royal Palms State Beach. Such a park would be the largest in the San Pedro area, he said.
However, the Coastal Commission staff, along with other opponents, asserted that the Air Force housing could eliminate the possibility of a state park ever being built at the site. The state Department of Parks and Recreation, which last year placed White Point at the top of a list of areas to be turned into parks, has stated that the entire 145-acre area must be set aside or the site will be too small to buffer surrounding residential areas from a proposed campground.
Air Force Criticized
Moreover, the commission staff and opponents criticized the Air Force for failing to search seriously for alternative sites. The staff's report noted that the Air Force last studied alternative sites in 1981, and then limited itself to federally owned land.
Opponents of the housing also maintained that the White Point site, despite the Air Force's contentions, would not be convenient for officers stationed at the Space Center. Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach) noted that it would take officers at least 20 minutes just to get to the freeway leading to the center. "And unless they are going to have helicopters, it's going to take them another 30 minutes to get to El Segundo where they work," the assemblyman said.
Several commission members, as well as other opponents, also took issue with the Air Force's contention that the area should be returned to the federal government in the "national interest." The opponents maintained that the land is not necessary for the country's defense. "This is not a priority item for any branch of the armed forces at this time," said Commissioner Leo King.