Tustin officials will determine the fate of the former Marine Corps Air Station after council members nixed previous plans with the County of Orange to develop the land into a regional park, citing years of inaction.
The city now heads back to the drawing board to decide what to do with the 85-acres and World War II-era blimp hangar currently owned by the U.S. Navy.
The council’s unanimous decision last Wednesday came after recent frustration by city council members over lack of progress on the property known as Reuse Parcel 18, which has been deteriorating and has become a site for criminal activity, according to the staff report.
The city — which was federally appointed to develop a land reuse plan– has asked the county to maintain the property and demonstrate a plan and budget for the park on multiple occasions.
Lack of maintenance and security on the site has forced Tustin police to respond to trespassing and vandalism according to a city news release.
A police officer also shot someone on the base, according the news release.
Following a meeting with county officials in February, the council sent a letter in March asking for direct answers about whether the county would proceed in developing the park. The county failed to respond until August 10 — the day before the meeting.
The responses suggested that after 25 years, the county has no interest in accepting a lease, no source of funding and no timeline to develop or maintain the park.
Council members said lack of timely response and cooperation from the county has been disappointing.
“I’m just really frustrated with the whole situation that the county has not stepped up,” said Council member Rebecca Gomez at last Wednesday’s meeting.
County officials did not provide any comment or presentation at the meeting, nor did they attend.
Because of an initial agreement made with the federal government (called a Public Benefit Conveyance) along with other unforeseen circumstances, the county has been unable to secure an economically viable plan to develop the park, according to a 2020 Orange County Grand Jury Report.
The historical hangar that was supposed to be preserved as the park’s centerpiece partially collapsed in 2013 — causing a lawsuit and millions of dollars in damages.
Redevelopment also became more complicated and costly than anticipated due to the Navy’s prolonged cleanup of on-site contaminants, the staff report documented.
In 2012, the County proposed changes to its previously approved application by seeking additional and more expansive revenue-generating activities which were never approved by the Department of Interior.
The Grand Jury report suggested the County reevaluated its ability to provide benefit to residents through its involvement in the park development and that Tustin would be more equipped to take on the challenge.
“I’m not interested in pointing fingers at who’s responsible for the failure, but I think we are responsible for moving forward and doing something about it,” said Mayor Pro Tem Austin Lumbard at the August 10 special meeting.
Council members have yet to determine the fate of Reuse Parcel 18, but say they will make a plan.
The potential for a park is still in the picture.
The county could also contribute to the development.
Federal agencies like the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy will be involved in the ultimate decision but in the meantime, Tustin officials intend to secure and maintain the land at its expense, according to the news release.
“It’s really our job as the LRA to move forward and take on that accountability for our community, because they deserve that,” said Mayor Leticia Clark.
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