Vets angry airstrip will be business complex, not homeless

Tom Boland (
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 17:05:44 -0700 (PDT)

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FWD  Modesto Bee [California, USA] - Saturday, October 23, 1999



Not everyone is pleased that last week Congress gift-wrapped the Navy
airstrip at Crows Landing for Stanislaus County to develop as a business

Representatives of state and local veterans groups said they were
disappointed their request to turn the 1,500-acre site into a homeless
shelter was ignored.

"It's time we spoke out," said Odas Flake of the Military Order of the
Purple Heart. "We've been dumped on long enough."

Ben Allustiarte of Modesto, a decorated World War II veteran, asked nearly
two years ago for control of the abandoned airstrip, which is now under the
jurisdiction of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Allustiarte said he would round up veterans groups to set up huts
accommodating up to 500 homeless veterans. They would receive vocational
training and recovery services for substance abuse and post-traumatic

But county leaders were pursuing a different track. In their corner was
Rep. Gary Condit, D- Ceres, and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. They
succeeded last week in pushing legislation through both houses of Congress,
giving the land and airstrip to the county for free, for economic

Local leaders will launch a feasibility study on the best uses for the
site, county Chief Executive Officer Reagan Wilson said, as soon as
President Clinton signs the bill. The Clinton administration has shown no
signs of opposing it.

The airfield could be used as an air cargo facility. For example,
manufacturers could reduce prices of goods by shipping upon production,
cutting out costs of warehousing items waiting for distribution.

"I'm certain (county supporters) said there was no interest in it (other
than the county), and they didn't bother checking," Flake said.

Condit's chief of staff, Mike Lynch, said Condit's office knew nothing of
the veterans' dream.

Condit this month was honored by the California Department of the American
Legion as its Congressional Legislator of the Year.

Local veterans supporting Allustiarte's dream include Derrel Sensenbaugh,
Larry Dick and Al Menshew. They represent American Legion Post 74, Veterans
of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

Allustiarte and Flake said their request should have superseded action by
Congress because of the McKinney Act, federal legislation allowing the
department of Housing and Urban Development to deed surplus land for use by
advocates for homeless people.

"This didn't reach the definition of becoming surplus," Lynch explained.
"(Condit) bypassed the entire process by making an outright deed to the
county. Congress has a prerogative to do that."

Allustiarte said there are 289,000 homeless veterans in the United States.
Some have been helped through about 200 small shelters acquired through the
McKinney Act, but none approach the scope of his vision for the Crows
Landing airfield.

"This is a chance to knock out a good chunk of those homeless," he said.

Said Menshew: "It's our responsibility. Helping fellow veterans, that's why
we exist."

This is the second time this year that homeless advocates have felt spurned.

Several community organizations had lobbied to convert the former Army
Reserve training facility at Kansas and Emerald avenues in Modesto into a
center for the homeless. But that was turned aside in favor of making it
into a National Guard brigade headquarters in the summer.


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