Restaurateur Ed Lee thought he’d experienced just about every industry calamity possible since early 2020, given stay-at-home orders at the onset of the pandemic, as well as related supply chain issues, worker shortages and numerous other challenges.
Then the co-founder of Costa Mesa’s Wahoo’s Fish Taco and other area restaurant concepts was hit with a potential airborne toxic event.
Lee’s Toast Kitchen + Bakery opened about a year ago at The Village at Tustin Legacy shopping center, located about a quarter mile from the city’s now burned-out World War II-era blimp hangar at the shuttered Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.
Among businesses at the 22-acre shopping center, the restaurant is among the closest to the former 17-story hangar, which was still smoldering as of late last week.
Toast, with a sizeable outdoor seating area, closed following the fire that started on Nov. 7 “for the safety of our guests and employees,” a sign posted at the restaurant said.
It remains closed and will continue to be “until it’s safe,” given asbestos concerns and other issues related to the fire, Lee told the Business Journal on Nov. 15.
“We don’t know when we’re going to open again,” said Lee, who lamented a lack of communication and coordination from the city and other agencies since the onset of the fire.
“The city should have done a better job,” he said. “Mistakes were made after the fact.”
Toast counts about 13 full-time staff, and about eight part-time workers. Many employees were afraid to come to work, “and rightfully so,” Lee said.
Other shops and stores at the Regency Centers-owned shopping center, which is anchored by a Stater Bros. grocery store, remained open as of last week, with a fair amount of visitor traffic.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Lee said of the latest challenge facing his businesses.
A timeline for what happens next for businesses, schools and proposed projects in the immediate vicinity of the sprawling 1,600-acre Tustin Legacy development remains in flux.
City officials and other agencies have given limited guidance of what environmental issues face the area, both in the near term and long term.
“Air monitoring units (AMUs) have been deployed around the site, and inside a 1.5-mile circumference around the hangar,” the city said in a Nov. 14 statement.
“These AMUs monitor for dust and smoke. Currently, there are no areas that are showing unhealthful levels. In addition, the monitoring shows no breathable asbestos in the air.”
Anaheim’s ATI Restoration LLC, a provider of restoration and emergency reconstruction services, was selected about a week ago for collecting and examining potential contaminated materials at the site.
Certified asbestos professionals from ATI were on-site last week, with a “catastrophe response team” trailer seen near the hangar. Company officials directed inquiries from the Business Journal about the extent of contamination they had found in the area to the city.
Likewise, the Tustin Unified School District contracted with Orange’s Envirocheck, an environmental inspection and consulting firm, to gauge asbestos and other air quality issues from the fire.
Most schools in the district had returned to in-class teaching as of last week after several days of closures, though others close to the hangar were still conducting classes virtually.
Projects on Tap
Tustin Legacy counts hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of ongoing and proposed developments for land surrounding the city’s two hangars, including existing new housing developments like Brookfield Residential’s 400-unit The Landing, where construction was ongoing as of last week.
The mega-development includes numerous new planned offices, senior living projects and educational facilities that have yet to break ground.
Advantech Co., a Taiwanese-based maker of industrial PCs, embedded Internet of Things devices and other tech products, earlier this year inked a deal that promised the construction of the company’s new North American headquarters at Tustin Legacy.
A ceremonial groundbreaking event for the project, which is expected to hold a six-story 108,942-square-foot office and a two-story 78,837-square-foot warehouse facility, was held in May, though construction has yet to begin in earnest.
Company officials last week told the Business Journal the project remained on track.
“There is no impact on our timeline for our new campus,” the company said. “We have felt no effects from the fire.”
Advantech remains committed to opening the project by late 2025 or early 2026, the company said.
In September, Confluent Senior Living and MorningStar Senior Living, both based in Denver, entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the city to develop MorningStar at Tustin Legacy, an approximately 283,000-square-foot senior living community.
The proposed Tustin facility, located on 6 acres within walking distance of the city’s two hangars, was anticipated to break ground in the first half of 2025, the companies said in September.
Reached for comment last week, the developers told the Business Journal that “the city will be handling all inquiries regarding the fire.”
Other companies with plans eyed for the area include REIT AvalonBay Communities Inc. of Arlington, Va., which along with Los Angeles-based affordable housing developer Abode Communities, entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement last year with the city to develop Legacy Village, a 19.4-acre mixed-use project including 1,208 apartments within the 1,600-acre Tustin Legacy development.
Renderings for the project highlighted the development’s proximity to the city’s hangars. By unit count, Legacy Village would be the largest apartment project at Tustin Legacy once complete, according to the city.
Over the past decade, nearly 800 apartments and over 1,000 homes have been built at Tustin Legacy, according to city filings.