For years, the U.S. Air Force has said it might have to move out of the South Bay, citing a lack of affordable housing for uniformed personnel. But according to Gov. Pete Wilson, that problem might be resolved as early as this week.
Wilson announced on Friday that the state is due within days to reach an agreement with the Air Force to build housing in San Pedro. The agreement, which would allow the construction of 250 housing units at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro, means that if the Air Force's space division in El Segundo ultimately leaves, it won't be because its officers cannot find an affordable place to live.
Speaking to a meeting of the South Bay Chamber of Commerce, Wilson said his administration, mediating among the state, city, county, Los Angeles Unified School District and Air Force, has reached an agreement leasing about 20 acres of school district land to the service so it can build housing its personnel can afford.
"There may be no finer example of an effective campaign to save a base than the effort surrounding the Los Angeles Air Force Base," Wilson said Friday.
Wilson cited the efforts of Reps. Jane Harman (D-Marina Del Rey) and Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles) who secured $2 million in federal funding for the housing at Angels Gate.
Details of the lease were being ironed out Friday, but the basic agreement calls for the Los Angeles Unified School District to turn over about 20 of its 40 acres at Angels Gate Park to the Air Force for 50 years, said LAUSD attorney Richard Mason.
After the lease expires, the land reverts to the school district. In return, the state, county and city have agreed to find a site of comparable value--the Angels Gate land is valued at about $17 million--for the school district.
The land also reverts to school district ownership should the Air Force vacate the housing before the lease expires. The school district still is negotiating the final details, however, of how it would share an interest in the land with the state and local governments should the Air Force leave before the lease expires.
The Air Force's complaint about a lack of affordable South Bay housing for uniformed personnel began when real estate prices were skyrocketing in Southern California. Those complaints prompted fears that the base, which employs about 7,000 people, might be closed and that its main tenant--the Space and Missile Systems Center--would be moved out of California.
The center procures space hardware for the military and is considered a valuable stimulus for aerospace business in Southern California. It has about $5.4 billion in contracts with area companies, and its departure would trigger the loss of about 54,000 jobs throughout the region, business leaders have said.
The lease deal, which has been in the works for about a year, was a smooth one to negotiate, school officials said.
"This is a positive experience, it's a good use of some land and I can't think of any hesitations," said school Superintendent Sid Thompson. "We are prepared to finalize this deal."
Wilson's announcement was greeted with pragmatic acceptance at the Air Force base. Officials, referring to the recent wave of base closures across the nation as the Defense Department budget adjusts to the end of the Cold War, were reluctant to say whether the housing agreement actually increases the base's chances of staying in the South Bay.
"Is the (housing agreement) going to have any bearing on whether we stay? Realistically, I don't know," said Lt. Col. Philip Johnson. "Today, we're not on the hit list (of base closures). Are we going to be there tomorrow? Maybe."
Some of the civilians living near Angels Gate Park, meanwhile, have reservations about the housing proposal.
The neighbors say their community had done its share in providing housing for the military, pointing out that San Pedro has more than 700 Navy housing units and 570 Air Force units--170 of which were built when the Air Force hinted in the late 1980s that it might leave if more housing were not provided.
Others resent that Angels Gate Park was chosen as the site, arguing that the Air Force does not need to claim one of the most beautiful--and valuable--pieces of public oceanfront land in the Harbor area.
"Other space in San Pedro is coming available, and even if one argued the case that a housing commitment to the Air Force is important, well, my goodness, the city is full of space for housing," said San Pedro resident Noah Modisett.
"I never entered into the false logic that somehow having sea view property in San Pedro would determine whether or not space systems stayed in Los Angeles," Modisett added.
Harbor-area Los Angeles City Councilman Rudy Svorinich said he supports the agreement because it serves the area's greater good by helping to keep jobs in the South Bay.
"I don't have serious objections to military housing at that site in order that we can keep the Los Angeles Air Force Base's billions of dollars in revenue in San Pedro and the greater South Bay area," Svorinich said.
The space division's future in El Segundo is scheduled for study in 1995, when the Pentagon will consider each military installation to be a candidate for consolidation or downsizing.