San Pedro community leaders and local politicians have enlisted Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina Del Rey) in their fight to stop a large homeless shelter from being set up in the city.
The shelter is expected to open on a 27-acre site at Taper Avenue after the Navy moves out this summer.
At a meeting of about 50 homeowners Saturday, Harman said she may introduce amendments to the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. The legislation gives homeless programs priority on surplus federal land.
"I think the act ought to be changed and I will work with the (Los Angeles) mayor and others to get it changed, but that doesn't do anything for this particular issue," Harman said.
It was her first meeting with the San Pedro community since controversy over the shelter began last month. More than 1,000 protesters gathered at several meetings to oppose a project they say would dramatically change their community.
Harman brought with her Department of Health and Human Services representative Judy Breitman, who reviews applications for surplus federal land.
Breitman fielded questions about how a South-Central Los Angeles homeless advocacy group, Turner's Technical Institute, was given permission to use the Taper Avenue site and buildings.
She said the group had shown suitable experience and the ability to apply for program funding and "we had no reason to disapprove it."
The issue is not unique to San Pedro, she said. Other communities are angry about bases being transferred under the McKinney Act because the law does not allow for public discussion of the applications. Approval of the shelter does not mean it will be on the site forever, she said.
Under department regulations, Turner's must have its program running in a year, provide a written report to the department every year and undergo on-site checks every three to five years, Breitman said.
"There have been some properties that have come back to us because they couldn't get the funding or couldn't overcome the opposition," Breitman said.
Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Rae Brown told the audience that Turner's homeless program cannot begin until it meets city zoning regulations.
"The city's planning process requires public hearings. You have at that time the chance to bring forward your concerns again," Brown said. Turner's has not yet applied for a zoning permit, she said.
The City Council is expected to approve four recommendations by Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents San Pedro, when it meets next week.
The recommendations, agreed to unanimously at a meeting of the council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee last week, would allow the city to join lobbying efforts to ensure that the community is consulted on future decisions about federal surplus land.
Meanwhile, the Housing and Urban Development Department, which approves sites as suitable for use by the homeless, is assessing the site for a second time on information that it does not meet to determine whether it meets legal guidelines.
Two privately owned tanks containing millions of gallons of aviation fuel are within 2,000 feet of the site's 24 buildings.
Although opposition to the project is growing, Turner's has no plan to give up its application, director John Marzet said. However, Turner's will continue to work with Svorinich's office to find an alternative site, he said.
Opponents are looking for any avenue to kill the project, he said.
"If you suffer from economic disaster in your life, we don't want you to live next door to us--that's what they're saying," Marzet said recently. "It's discrimination."