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California's 40th District

Jan 26, 2024 | Health, In The News

OC Register

There is a bipartisan effort among Orange County’s congressional delegation to persuade Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse his position on a state of emergency proclamation for the Tustin hangar fire.

On Thursday, a week after Newsom told reporters he would not issue a state of emergency proclamation for the fire that destroyed the massive World War II-era blimp hangar, Republican Rep. Young Kim and Democratic Rep. Lou Correa asked Newsom in a letter to reconsider, arguing that a proclamation would allow Tustin to “access critical federal funds for remediation efforts.”

“We share our constituents’ concerns regarding the fire’s impact on public health and the environment, as well as the city’s fiscal position after investing millions of dollars into toxic debris cleanup,” the lawmakers wrote. “To date, the city has spent $54.2 million for disaster response and debris cleanup, and costs continue to grow unsustainably. While the Navy delivered $11 million to the city, outstanding remediation costs are a key concern.”

The now shuttered Tustin Marine Corps Air Station’s northern blimp hangar caught on fire on Nov. 7, and burned for weeks, prompting a cleanup in the surrounding community of debris that had fallen on schools, parks and homes.

Residents have asked for additional testing for lead or asbestos in their homes, remediation and reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses related to the fire, the lawmakers wrote in their letter. Some residents have spent thousands on testing their homes for hazardous contaminants or to rent hotel rooms to get away from the fire that wasn’t extinguished until Dec. 1.

City and county officials have been lobbying the governor to issue an emergency proclamation, and in turn request President Joe Biden to issue a presidential declaration of emergency, saying it would allow agencies to give money to the city and residents to get reimbursed for costs associated with the fire.

But Newsom, while in Orange County last week for a housing event in Costa Mesa, said because the emergency is over, a state of emergency proclamation “won’t have any effectiveness in terms of reimbursement.”

“Disaster declaration has to reach a certain threshold. A major disaster (declaration), actually has a numeric legal threshold of about $73 million. As it relates to this specific issue, it doesn’t reach those thresholds,” he said.

Kim and Correa questioned that threshold, asking Newsom to clarify why that would disqualify Tustin from receiving the “much-needed relief it is requesting.”

Mayor Austin Lumbard responded to Newsom’s comments then by saying it was the first time city officials had heard about a monetary threshold for emergency proclamations. Lumbard criticized Newsom’s response and said city officials have done their due diligence to understand the laws on the issue.

Navy officials have long said the service is committed to “fully pay for remediation efforts.” The Navy has faced criticism from local leaders for being too slow to commit more money to Tustin. The city has floated estimates of their total costs from the fire reaching more than $100 million.

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