Remilitarized Zone

“The only thing scarier than a serviceman is a serviceman's wife,” licensed social worker Dr. Nicki Pike—fairly well-off wife of a Navy reservist—told me at a protest Friday aimed at reopening the former El Toro Marine Base housing north of Irvine Boulevard to low-income military families.

So where were all the scary low-income servicemen's wives I'd been hearing were living in their cars outside the former Tustin base or using food stamps to buy groceries?

Their comparative lack of couture could have frightened Representative Chris Cox (R-Newport Beach) into demanding the reopening of the base and its commissary, which closed back in '99—but I didn't see a one at the protest outside Cox's swelligant Manufacturer's Bank offices. They were all probably out working three jobs to buy a brick o' gubmint cheese.

Filled out mainly by military retirees, this was the type of gig that will probably fall through the cracks—just like the military working poor that OCmil, a military advocacy group, tries to help. Which is sad because no one, not even Cox (whose 10th-floor staff told me he was “out of pocket”), thinks military families should be living in refrigerator boxes under the 55 freeway and foraging outside McDonald's.

This may just be the wrong issue at the wrong time.

That's because, regardless of how important everyone thinks the military is in Iraq, at home, no one wants to pay them a decent wage. And the Orange County Great Park is steaming ahead like the Exxon Valdez on its mission to make El Toro into a forest glade. Or a rusty baseball backstop. That'd be okay, too.

“Do I wish we had more affordable housing? Sure I do,” Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, Mr. Great Park himself, said. “I'm sympathetic to that idea. The reality is twofold: the housing units out there are truly substandard; further, there is going to be . . . 160 units built to address homelessness.”

Hope that includes military homelessness.

Agran told me he feels like he's doing his job by being a voice for affordable housing and by pressuring the Navy “all along the way,” which is kind of funny. I hear the Navy's actually behind schedulegetting El Toro ready to be sold like the fatted calf it is.

I also hear the Navy has a virtual lock on getting El Toro auctioned off.

According to military law, there's no way any part of El Toro can be reopened unless another military body—the Department of the Defense itself or the Air Force, for instance—formally takes it over from the Marine Corps.

It's highly unlikely that will happen, just like it's unlikely that two ongoing lawsuits from the anti-park Airport Working Group (AWG)—one aimed at proving the environmental-impact report (EIR) on El Toro wasn't adequate, another at reversing Irvine's recent annexation of El Toro—will stop the park.

Only Ken Lee can stop the park, one of his foes told me—ironically enough, after pronouncing him “a nutcase.” Lee shrugged when I told him he'd been dissed; maybe he's heard that before.

El Toro Reuse Planning Authority (ETRPA: anti-airport, anti-housing) bigwig Meg Waters discounted AWG's EIR lawsuit. (Today only, acronyms half-off.)

But earlier, in the same conversation, she worried that Lee and his protesting would derail the greatest park since the Garden of Eden.

“Yes, yes, we're very concerned about that. The whole plan they put through is kind of a delicate balance,” Waters said. “When you talk about federal housing, that slows down the process. If they keep it federal housing, they keep it federal property, and that slows down the conveyance.”

It undoubtedly would slow down the conveyance—if anyone but Lee were seriously raising the question. Sadly, no one is, except a bunch of retirees, and as several pointed out to me, the government didn't really think they'd live this long anyway.

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