A South-Central organization is going ahead with plans to set up a controversial homeless center in San Pedro even though federal officials have yet to complete a review of the proposal.
Turner's Technical Institute Inc. has appointed Samuel Theus as its executive public relations director to help establish the center on 27 acres of surplus Navy property on Taper Avenue. Theus said the institute plans to start moving homeless families into the site's 144 units in March.
The federal Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development departments--which approved Turner's application for the land in January--agreed to review the issue more than two months ago in response to allegations that the property is not suitable for a homeless center and that the institute lacks the track record to make the project succeed.
But there is still no definite word from department officials about when the review will be completed.
"I do expect that they will have something wrapped up pretty soon," said Jack Flynn, a spokesman for Health and Human Services. "I'm hoping in the next week or two, but I can't say for sure."
In the meantime, Theus said Health and Human Services is now helping the group apply for funding to start the homeless project.
He said Judy Breitman, a Health and Human Services official who recommended that Turner's initial application for the property be approved, has been in contact with the institute's executive director, Priscilla Turner.
Breitman has "been giving us the information we need and she's been very helpful," Theus said. "They speak regularly, and she's working with us to make it happen."
Breitman could not be reached for comment.
Theus said the institute is applying for $2.2 million from HHS and HUD to start the project.
Navy personnel and their families will be moved off the site by the time the Long Beach Naval Station closes in September.
The institute plans to house up to 880 homeless people, but opposition to the proposed homeless center is still strong in the San Pedro community.
Theus said Turner's officials, who faced more than 1,000 hostile residents at meetings in March, will now try a different tack.
"From now on, what we think we'll do is wait until we actually get the property . . . and we have some funding in view, because right now, we've been putting the cart before the horse," he said.
Theus, who is president of the HELP Public Service Foundation, said his organization and Turner's have worked together for 15 years. HELP, at 5460 S. Crenshaw Blvd., primarily works with the LAPD, helping the families of prison inmates. It also has helped homeless shelters, Theus said.
His appointment follows the resignation of Turner's former assistant director, Johnathon C. Marzet, who was in charge of the shelter plans.
Marzet resigned amid allegations he forged letters of support and falsified his educational qualifications in Turner's application to obtain the Taper Avenue site.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina del Rey) is preparing amendments to the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the law that gives homeless advocacy groups such as Turner's first priority on surplus federal property.
Harman said Tuesday that the amendments would shift more authority over the use of surplus military land into the hands of local officials. She expects to have the bill ready to introduce after Congress' July 4 recess.
"My view is that the community should be able to decide on best use of the military property. In theory, the McKinney Act does that; in practice, it does not," Harman said.
She plans to base her bill on recommendations for using surplus government property made by a task force appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson.
She will also include three suggestions made by a local committee that was established to look at possibilities for surplus military land in San Pedro.