SAN PEDRO : U.S. Withdraws Approval for Homeless Shelter

After months of public opposition to plans for a large homeless shelter in San Pedro, federal officials have overturned their decision to let the project proceed.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday rejected a plan by Turner's Technical Institute, a homeless organization based in South-Central Los Angeles, to open a shelter for up to 880 people on surplus Navy property.

The department approved the project in January under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The law gives homeless advocacy groups first option on federal properties no longer being used.

Wednesday's turnabout follows another by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in August.

Officials there had determined that the 144 housing units on Taper Avenue, being vacated as the Long Beach Naval Station closes this month, were suitable for homeless use.

Then, under pressure from local politicians and the harbor community, the officials agreed that under McKinney provisions, 60% of the 144 units were too close to potentially hazardous aviation fuel tanks.

The San Pedro Area Community Reuse Committee was elated about the latest decision. The committee was established by Los Angeles City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. to come up with alternatives for surplus federal land.

"It was a minor miracle to get one agency to admit they made a mistake and just incredible to get a second to do the same," said Doane Liu, the committee's chairman.

In recent months, protests were attended by thousands of residents who were angry that they had not been informed about Turner's plan until after it was approved. Residents also maintained that the institute was inexperienced at running homeless shelters and that the project was too big.

Residents now hope that amendments will be made to the McKinney Act that allow them a voice in decisions about the use of surplus federal lands, especially closed military bases.

Legislation by Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) that will change how surplus military property is allocated was passed by the House in July. Similar legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is pending in the Senate.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) introduced her own bill last week to add requirements for community input and to improve federal monitoring of homeless groups applying for federal land.

"(The bill) would add a lot of notice requirements to the McKinney process so we never again have the same process where the community is unaware of a plan to put a shelter in the middle of a residential area," Harman said

The situation in San Pedro has been experienced by other communities throughout the country, she said.

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