San Diego Union-Tribune

August 20, 2001

Base-closing talk worries Californians


WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's call for more military base closings has drawn protests from many California officials who say the state suffered an unfair share of the pain of past closures.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, have urged the House and Senate armed services committees to reject the Pentagon's request for a base closure round in 2003.

"We believe it would be unfair and inefficient to close even one more base" while California communities still are struggling with the shut down of 29 major bases in the past rounds, the lawmakers said in a joint letter.

Closing those large bases and dozens of smaller facilities cost the state nearly 100,000 jobs and $9.6 billion in total revenues, according to state officials.

Californians have reasons to be concerned. Despite losing nearly one-third of the 97 major bases closed in the four previous rounds, the state has a number
of large installations that could be prime candidates for the next round. Several of those are in Southern California.

The odds alone indicate California could get hit again.

Pentagon officials estimate they have 20 percent to 25 percent excess in bases nationally.

"We simply cannot be carrying that. . . . So we're going to be coming at you on base closing," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress recently.

With about 260 major facilities and 600 total sites, a 20-percent cut could mean closing more than 120 installations nationally, including 50 large bases.

California has 29 sizable military facilities and about 100 total, including National Guard and Reserve activities. A 20-percent cut could shut down at
least six large bases and perhaps 20 total.

No one expects even the most aggressive base closure exercise to touch San Diego County's four largest installations: San Diego Naval Station, North Island Naval Air Station, Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, and Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base and Air Station. They are considered irreplaceable after the previous consolidations.

North Island, however, is home to an aircraft repair depot, which could be a victim of a Pentagon push to rely more on private industry for its major maintenance and modification work. The depot accounts for most of the 9,000 civilian employees on North Island.

When the service chiefs were asked their view on the need for another closure round, the chief of naval operations, Adm. Vernon Clark, was cautious. While "we shouldn't pay a nickel for a structure we don't need . . . I would say that we are already, in our major naval bases, very consolidated," Clark replied. "I think that the potential savings would be in the area of
support structure."

Pressed on that, Clark said he included shipyards and depots as part of the support structure.

Several smaller installations and some of the separate commands in San Diego also could be vulnerable.

One possible closure candidate locally is the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. It sits next to San Diego International Airport and was studied during a previous closure round. The San Diego Unified Port District, the agency that operates the airport, would love to have the land to expand Lindbergh Field.

The Navy, which trains more recruits annually than the Marines, has consolidated all its recruit training from three sites to one, while the Corps operates two boot camps.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James L. Jones, insisted during a San Diego visit last week that the recruit depot would not be closed. Jones rejected the proposal to move the recruit training to Camp Pendleton, saying there was no room and that it was risky to mix recruit and operational training.

But about half of the recruit training is done at Pendleton, including the weapons and fieldwork. What remains at the recruit depot -- classroom work and drill -- would have little impact on the combat training.

But the venerable recruit depot has great emotional and public relations value to the Marines and would not be relinquished without a fight by the corps.

Another San Diego-area facility that might be vulnerable is the submarine base at Ballast Point. With a shrinking attack-submarine fleet, San Diego is down to six boats -- one-third of previous levels.

But the Navy argues that having submarines based with carriers and surface warships facilitates battle group training. Ballast Point also is used by other commands, so closing the sub base might not make sense.

Around the state, several large facilities are likely targets because of previous efforts to close them or because of the growing pressure on the services to
shed their noncombat support activities and to combine redundant operations.

The General Accounting Office and several independent defense analysts note that previous closures did not touch the military's extensive network of laboratories and research and test facilities. California has many of those, and some could be expendable in a time of tightening budgets and fewer new weapons to test.

Among the possible targets:

The China Lake Naval Air Weapons Test Center, just 50 miles from the larger and better-endowed Edwards Air Force Base.

The Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Test Station, 80 miles down the coast from Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is larger, more isolated and home to a growing commercial space-launch activity.

The Marine Corps Logistic Base in Barstow, a supply and vehicle repair depot that was studied before.

The El Centro Naval Air Facility, which has a relatively small permanent population, but sees a heavy traffic of visiting Navy squadrons that come for training on the nearby ranges. It also is the winter home of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.

The Presidio of Monterey, an Army post that hosts the Defense Language School, and the nearby Navy Postgraduate School were considered for closure before on the grounds that the training can be done cheaper at civilian schools. Those arguments may have greater sway this time.

The Air Force is the biggest advocate of base closure and wants to shed a lot of its air bases. But after closing six bases in California, the Air Force has only two flying bases left in the state.

Travis, east of Vallejo, is one of the two air mobility bases handling large transports heading to Asia. Beale, 35 miles north of Sacramento, is home to the U-2 spy planes, which may be retired soon. It has been selected to host the new Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance jets. But that could be

Los Angeles Air Force Base, in El Segundo, is a nonflying space and missile command management office that was considered by a past closure
commission and could be again. But it is consolidating and could be spared.

The Army's Fort Irwin and the nearby Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center are large sites that allow realistic maneuvering and live fire training. They are considered irreplaceable.