Clearly divided over whether the likely loss of aerospace jobs outweighs the certain loss of parkland, more than 250 Harbor-area residents turned out last week to debate a plan to set aside 20 acres at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro for new Air Force housing.
The spirited three-hour hearing Thursday night at Peck Park underscored the split among residents over the latest plan, which would keep the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo by providing housing for 250 officers and their families.
On one side, business leaders and residents argued that without the housing the base will leave the South Bay. If that happens, they said, the Air Force will take with it not only 3,200 base employees, but about $7 billion in contracts that could spur layoffs of thousands of aerospace workers.
"All of us, in one way or another, will feel the economic consequences if the Los Angeles Air Force base is relocated to some other part of the nation," said Sam Iacobellis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rockwell International Corp.
Added Joe Marino, a retired school principal and former honorary mayor of San Pedro: "The shipyards have closed up in San Pedro and Terminal Island . . . the fishing industry is decimated . . . and all the major canneries are closed.
"Can we afford to lose business? Can we afford to lose jobs? . . . And above all, can we afford to lose good neighbors?"
But just as supporters passionately argued in favor of the Air Force housing at Angels Gate, others strongly protested the plan, insisting that San Pedro--which already has nearly 1,300 Air Force and Navy housing units--has done more than its share to accommodate the military.
"We are being steamrolled here," said resident Arlene Harrison. "It's not that we don't love the Air Force. But we have given already to the military, and we have given away our precious, precious land."
Like other opponents of the project, resident George Gonzalez also voiced concern that the proposed Air Force housing, like an earlier project at 25th Street and Western Avenue, will bring unsightly development to the seaside bluff. "Why do they insist on taking the best piece of land in San Pedro and building the ugliest housing imaginable?" he said.
The fierce debate served as a prelude to a decision by a citizens' advisory committee on whether to support the proposed Air Force housing plan. The proposal was developed by the city of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, which owns the acreage now sought for the housing.
The 16-member advisory committee, appointed by Harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, has been studying the plan for several weeks and is scheduled to vote on it Tuesday.
Though a majority of the committee's members are now said to be leaning toward approval of the project, last week's hearing illustrated how strong the sentiments run on both sides of the issue, said committee co-chairman Jerry Gaines, president of the San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners Coalition.
The hearing offered a forum for "those that are emotional about the beauty of that property" and others who are concerned about "the risk" to the local economy if the base leaves, Gaines said.
"Without a doubt, I believe the attitude of the committee is that it's a very serious (economic) atmosphere we are in," Gaines said. "I also recognize that the community has worked very hard on our community plan and is therefore very sensitive about any modifications" to housing densities, increased traffic and other development issues that would arise if the Air Force housing is approved.
So fierce was the public debate, in fact, that at several times, supporters and opponents of the project raised issues that went far beyond the housing plan.
Several supporters of the plan, for example, complained that opponents did not fully appreciate the project's economic significance. And a few even suggested the community had a patriotic duty to support the new Air Force housing.
But those comments were not well-received by some in the audience.
"If anyone accuses me of not understanding the (economic) bottom line or not being a patriot, I will meet them out in the parking lot," said resident Peggy Reavey.