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Proposal for 274-Unit Tustin Base Housing Dropped

TIMES STAFF WRITER

To the delight of city officials, the Coast Guard has announced it will abandon its quest to convert a 55-acre chunk of the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station into housing for its Los Angeles Harbor personnel.

The Coast Guard proposal to build 274 housing units at the base threatened to derail a city plan that would convert the 1,600-acre base into a commercial and residential district with schools and parks. The air station is scheduled to close by 1999.

For 18 months, the city was locked in what the mayor called a “wrestling match” over the proposal. For a time, the city even offered the Coast Guard $500,000 to find a different site to house military families.

The wrangling ended Wednesday morning when Coast Guard Vice Admiral R.T. Rufe Jr. told Mayor Tracy Wills Worley that the housing proposal was being withdrawn. Rufe did not elaborate on the motivations behind scrapping the plan, Worley said.

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“I can’t say why they decided to do it, but I’m very grateful they did,” said Worley, who traveled to Washington three times to lobby against the Coast Guard plan. “On this day before Thanksgiving, we’re very thankful. It’s a red banner day for Tustin.”

Coast Guard officials in Washington could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

The Coast Guard proposal endangered the city’s far-reaching reuse plan by carving 55 acres out of the redevelopment area planned for the base site, Councilman Thomas R. Saltarelli said. That lost land would have meant $600,000 less in property taxes each year and would have eliminated $8 million to $10 million in potential redevelopment bonds, Saltarelli said.

“It would have been a huge hit for us,” Saltarelli said.

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Saltarelli and other critics said the Coast Guard housing plan was impractical because it would mean a 75-mile round-trip commute for personnel stationed at Los Angeles Harbor. Also, the housing plan was filed late and after the city’s reuse plan had already been crafted.

Saltarelli said he believed negative rumblings from Navy leaders and Pentagon officials likely prompted the Coast Guard to scrap their proposal.

“I don’t think any other decision could have been made,” Saltarelli said. “From the very beginning, none of this made any sense. . . . I think they changed their mind based on knowledge that the Department of Defense was not going to go their way.”

In March, city leaders offered the Coast Guard $500,000 to abandon their housing proposal, but that offer was withdrawn earlier this month. The city’s reuse plan will continue through a review process by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Defense.

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