Tustin City Council members will today examine what to do with 85-acres of a former Marine Corps Air Station after decades of inaction on the site — which was slated to become a regional park.

At a special meeting Tuesday, Tustin City Council members are expected to discuss the fate of the deteriorating property, after no progress on the park and issues of security and vandalism have arisen. 

“During the last several years, Reuse Parcel 18 has seen an increase in instances of trespassing, criminal conduct, vandalism and other illicit activities that have required an independent and significant local City of Tustin response,” according to the staff report. 

Because of the county’s agreement with the federal government (called a Public Benefit Conveyance), 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 County once envisioned a unique regional park with a grand testament to Orange County’s military history at its center. However, it has been ineffective in its planning efforts and unexpected circumstances have diminished the potential economic viability and public benefit to be gained from a county regional park in this location,” grand jurors found.

The grand jury also doesn’t think the county can develop a regional park.

“Despite altered conditions and the lack of an approved plan, there is no indication that the County has reevaluated the fundamental benefit of remaining involved in development of Parcel 18,” reads the report.

The redevelopment also became more complicated and costly than originally anticipated due to the Navy’s prolonged cleanup of on-site contaminants, the Jury report explained. 

The land includes a World War II-era blimp hangar — one of two similar historical structures on the former base. It was supposed to be preserved as the centerpiece for a county regional park, according to the staff report. 

In 2013, the roof of the hangar collapsed damaging a $35 million experiential airship being built by a company leasing part of the hangar, according to the OC Register.

The company, Aeros Aeronautical Systems, later filed a $65 million lawsuit against the US Navy. 

The City of Tustin reported spending approximately $680,000 on capital improvements for the South Hangar through June 30, 2019, and planned an additional $4,300,000 to improve the functionality and safety of the hangar structure in 2020. 

The grand jury report suggested Tustin would be better equipped than the county to handle the land and hangar moving forward.

In a public forum with Tustin’s land reuse agency and the county in February, the County’s testimony suggested there was no plan or interest to develop the park after spending time and resources over the past 25 years to figure something out. 

In March, the development agency requested additional comments from the County about its testimony to be answered within 30 days. As of July 27, no response was received, according to the staff report. 

“It is time for the County of Orange to reevaluate its ability to provide additional benefit to county residents from its involvement with the redevelopment of Parcel 18 as a county regional park,” the 2020 Grand Jury Report. 

The meeting is today at 3 pm and can be viewed online through the City of Tustin’s website

Jillie Herrold is a Voice of OC News Intern. Contact her at jherrold@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @jillieherrold.

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