San Diego Union-Tribune

Aug. 3, 2001

A-1

Off-limits list could be key to base closings
    Miramar thought untouchable; MCRD might be expendable

By DANA WILKIE 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- To win over lawmakers wary of the Pentagon's proposal for another round of base closings, San Diego congressmen with ties to defense yesterday suggested creating a list of bases that would be safe from the chopping block.

Rep. Randy Cunningham, an Escondido Republican and a former Navy
fighter pilot, said after talks with defense and administration officials that he
was confident Miramar Marine Corps Air Station is considered too important to close or move.

On the other hand, Cunningham said he told Bush advisers he would not
oppose using the Marine Corps Recruit Depot to expand Lindbergh Field or
shutting down South Bay's Ream Field.

The Pentagon will propose to Congress today that an independent
commission meet in 2003 to hold a round of military base closures and
consolidations.

The administration believes America has about 25 percent more bases than
necessary, costing taxpayers about $3.5 billion a year.

There has not been a round of military base closings since 1995. Before that,
the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission held four rounds
in which 97 bases were closed or consolidated -- 29 of them in California.
About 60 percent of the cuts in personnel came from the state.

The Pentagon estimates the closings saved $14.5 billion to $15.5 billion.

It is difficult to tell which of California's remaining 60 bases could be closed,
but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., felt certain that "San Diego, just by virtue
of the fact that there are so many bases clustered around there, has to be a
target."

Cunningham said a Bush adviser pressed him for advice on "what it would
take to get Congress to support a base closing round."

"I told him you could save yourself a lot of headaches if you come out with a
list (of bases) that you have no intention of closing," Cunningham said of his
meeting with Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for
installations and the environment. "Then you could . . . build a coalition in
support of base closings."

Cunningham, who sits on a committee that handles defense spending, said
Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
assured him that Miramar Marine Corps Air Station is too critical to the
military to close.

The community group opposing Miramar's helicopter routes -- called
MARCH, Move Against Relocating Choppers Here -- has never advocated
closing the base, its president said yesterday. However, since the Marine
Corps has been unwilling to change routes, some residents contend that
closing the base is an option, said Jerry Hargarten, MARCH president.

Cunningham said he would not object to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot
being shut in order to expand Lindbergh Field. For years, some San Diego
politicians and residents have proposed using the depot, which is next to
Lindbergh, to build a second runway at the airport.

"Possibly we could move the whole MCRD (operations) up to Camp
Pendleton," said Cunningham, who plans to meet in San Diego with Marine
Corps commandant Gen. James L. Jones in the coming weeks to discuss the
idea. "I'm sure (Jones) wouldn't want to move, but if we showed him what we could do to make a better facility, he may."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who represents Camp Pendleton, said he spoke
with Cunningham about the idea and said that it could work, provided there is more off-base housing for military families.

Lindbergh Field and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot are in Democrat Susan
Davis' congressional district. The congresswoman said the Marine Corps
believes it would be too costly to move to Camp Pendleton.

"The Marine (Corps) community doesn't believe they could be
accommodated at Pendleton or other bases," Davis said. "They have an
infrastructure there that works very well for them."

Cunningham also told defense and administration officials he would not object to closing Ream Field, where helicopter noise has angered Imperial Beach residents.

Ream Field is an auxiliary helicopter-training site for North Island Naval Air
Station, but local officials want to take it over. In June, the Navy canceled
reconnaissance drone flights after residents complained about noise and late
flying hours.

There also are concerns that the field's operations might damage the
ecosystem of the Tijuana estuary that borders the city.

Imperial Beach Mayor Diane Rose said she has mixed feelings about the
facility's possible closure.

"Ream Field has been identified as having the acreage to support some
industrial or biotech uses, which would be great for Imperial Beach and the
region," Rose said.

"On the other hand, the Navy helicopter training and the Navy's need for
military readiness has been very important and supported by this city."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who is a veteran of past base closings, said he doesn't want any San Diego facilities shut or moved.

"I've defended MCRD through a round of base closures," said Hunter, a
member of the House Armed Services Committee and a friend of the vice
president. "And we can't give up Ream Field, because it's a very effective
touch-and-go operation that works in synergy with North Island."

The chairman of the Port Commission, Frank Urtasun, said that although base closures hurt the region, if the Marine Corps Recruit Depot is on the federal government's list, closing it might have some benefit for passengers and cargo at Lindbergh Field, which is operated by the San Diego Unified Port District.

"When you're operating on a 475-acre postage stamp-sized airport, I can't
help but look at that (the possible closure of MCRD) as an opportunity,"
Urtasun said.

In past rounds of base closing, lawmakers complained that by putting every
base on the table as a candidate for cuts, communities across America had to
defend their interests with lobbyists and lawyers. Creating a list of off-limits
bases might mollify some lawmakers fearful of losing votes in the 2002
election.

Pentagon officials said Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff would let the
commission know which bases they considered necessary "to conduct military operations." Regardless, one defense official said, the commission "can do anything it wants to."

Staff writers Janine Z˙˝iga, Jeanette Steele and Ronald W. Powell
contributed to this report.