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Publication Date: Friday, February 09, 2001

Army presents Moffett housing plans Army presents Moffett housing plans (February 09, 2001)

Base housing could impact school population, as well as additional housing sites for city

Justin Scheck

Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, appearing at a Monday night city council study session, presented the Army's plans to provide military housing at Moffett Field.

While the presentation was a general overview of housing plans for the former airbase, council members gave special attention to an empty six-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Middlefield Road and Moffett Boulevard, where the city has expressed interest in building housing.

However, the meeting brought to light a large number of hurdles, with regard to federal regulation and otherwise, that the city must clear before public housing could be built on the site.

The presentation was made by Maj. Jeff Cooper and Dennis Drennan, the corps' chief of real estate for the South Pacific Division.

Drennan said Tuesday that the goal of the Moffett housing plan is to provide affordable housing for military personnel stationed throughout the Bay Area.

The housing areas at Moffett Field were transferred to the Army by the Air Force last year. The Army now plans on demolishing 95 older housing units and converting 30 two-bedroom units into four-bedroom units.

The changes will result in approximately 650 housing units, which will house between 2,000 and 3,000 members of the armed forces and the Coast Guard.

Cooper said that there are currently about 1,700 armed forces personnel living on the base.

Cooper told the council that the Army wants to go through two or three housing cycles, or about 2 years of movements of military personnel, before it decides whether to develop housing on the six-acre site or to transfer the site to another government agency or the city.

He explained that, aside from Moffett, the only military housing in the area is 292 units in Concord. He added that with the many recent base closures there are approximately 1,500 military families in the Bay Area, in addition to about 1,500 from the Coast Guard.

But with the military paying relatively low salaries, it is difficult for personnel to pay market-price rent in the area.

"It really gets down to an issue of availability of housing and affordability of housing," said Drennan.

The plans for Moffett also include demolishing 34 units to build a new commissary at the base to serve the families living there.

At the presentation, council members expressed enthusiasm for the Army's apparent willingness to work with the city, but had a number of questions about what the city could do to build housing on the six-acre parcel.

"I thought it was great that it seems like they're willing to work with us," said Council member Sally Lieber.

According to Drennan, before the empty parcel can be transferred to the city, a lengthy federal process must be undertaken.

He said that if, after two years, the Army decides not to develop the land, it would have to offer it to other Department of Defense agencies. If no other agency claims it, the land would be offered to other federal agencies, and then, if not claimed, it could be identified as surplus.

Under the 1987 Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the land must be offered to groups that provide housing for the homeless. If no group lays claim to the site, or if the federal Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services agencies do not approve groups that do make claim, the site could then be turned over, or sold, to the community.

However, the only way the parcel could be transferred to the community without a market-rate sale would be through a public benefit conveyance, which would require the city to build a park or an educational, health-care, or prison facility.

Drennan said that in order for affordable housing to be considered for a public benefit conveyance, the city would have to encourage federal legislation that would change the current conveyance law.

But before this is considered, Drennan said, the Army wants to be sure that it will not use the parcel.

"If the demand (for housing) exceeds the supply, then we will want to keep those six acres," said Drennan.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said, "It's not ok for them to just sit on this land for two years because that's when they might be ready to think about it."

"There are a lot of regulations about things that we can't do, so let's talk about things we can do," said Stasek. "The community wonders why that extraordinarily valuable piece of land is sitting vacant in the middle of the community."

Council member Matt Pear said that while he, too, is interested in the piece of land, the meeting highlighted for him a discrepancy in federal government policies.

Pear said that with the recent decision to increase the number of H1-B visas for immigrants to work in the technology sector, he would like to see the federal government make provisions for housing in Silicon Valley, where many of those receiving the visas will likely work.

"This is a good time for the federal government to come to our aid and work with us... But (this legislation) shows a flaw in federal policy, in my opinion; how you have one arm of the federal government doing one thing, and the other arm doing another?" said Pear.

Council members agreed that based on the presentation, the city should include a provisional plan for the six-acre site in the update of the housing element of the general plan, which is now being formulated.

"I think they said that we need to step up to the plate," said Pear.

Stasek said she is interested in finding ways for the Army and the city to work together to develop joint housing for civilians and armed forces personnel as soon as possible.

Mountain View resident Lenny Siegel, executive director of the San Francisco-based Center for Public Environmental Oversight, and an expert on military base realignment nationwide, said he thinks the city should try to incorporate the site into the general plan, and also focus on federal legislation that would allow the city to obtain the property through public conveyance.

"I thought the Army people seemed very open to working with the city," Siegel said of the presentation. 


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