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TUSTIN, CA-The municipal battle for control of a large chunk of land at the closed Tustin Marine Corps Air Facility here has taken another unusual twist, with Santa Ana school officials rejecting an offer by leaders in the City of Tustin to test the soil for contaminants before any schools on the property could be built.

Officials from the neighboring Santa Ana Unified School District and the Rancho Santiago Community College District want 100 acres of the parcel so they can build sorely needed new campuses. Tustin officials want to sell the land to commercial and residential builders as part of their ongoing redevelopment efforts: They have offered smaller parcels to the two school districts and millions in cash, but the districts claim that’s not enough and that some of the land Tustin is offering may be contaminated.

To ease such concerns, Tustin officials recently offered to pay for half the cost of testing the soil to see if it’s free of toxins. But Santa Ana school officials have rejected the offer, saying they want Tustin to first make a backup offer in case test results show that the land is indeed contaminated.

No compromise is expected soon. Though Governor Gray Davis in July signed a bill into law that requires Tustin to turn over the 100 acres, Tustin officials say the measure isn’t legally enforceable because it attempts to override federal laws that guide base closures and conversions. Meantime, the school and college districts are pursuing lawsuits of their own against Tustin city leaders, and those suits could take years to wend their way through the courts.

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