Diego Union Tribune
August 25, 2005
Base panel rebuffs Pentagon on closings
Navy gets time to shed the Broadway complex
By Toby Eckert
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Citing concerns about terrorism and wanting to preserve at least 12,000 defense-related jobs, a federal base-closing commission yesterday thwarted the Pentagon's bid to shutter two major bases in New England.
The panel also offered the Navy's Broadway complex in San Diego a reprieve, giving the Navy more time to reach a pact on redevelopment of the prime waterfront property. The complex was not on the Defense Department's list of recommended closures, but the commission said it should be shuttered if a redevelopment deal isn't reached by Jan. 1, 2007.
Beginning its consideration of proposals to close or shrink more than 800 bases, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission bucked Pentagon recommendations on installations in Maine, Connecticut, California, Texas and Louisiana.
Two of the most dramatic votes came when the commission decided to retain the Portsmouth naval shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and a submarine base in New London, Conn. The commissioners said closing the facilities would have created too large of a military void in New England.
"If we close New London down, we will never get it back," commission Chairman Anthony Principi said. "I think it would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss for this nation."
Likewise, the commission spared the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco. It opposed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recommendation to close the base and move its operations to the Point Mugu naval base in Ventura County.
But it went along with plans to close four major Navy installations elsewhere and five large Army bases, as well as reserve and National Guard facilities in dozens of states.
San Diego officials were pleased by the decision on the Broadway complex.
"It does create an aggressive timeline for moving forward with the redevelopment plans," said Julie Meier Wright, president of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.
"But the city and the city's redevelopment agency and the Navy have already been meeting to lay out how we move forward."
The decision provides momentum for groups trying to negotiate a deal, said Peter Hall, president of Centre City Development Corp., the city's downtown redevelopment arm.
"The Navy's been given the football, and the city for that matter, and it's time for us to make progress," he said.
Hall and Wright said the Navy was on the verge of issuing a request for redevelopment proposals earlier this year but backed off, fearing it would appear biased against the base-closure process.
A Navy representative could not be reached for comment.
The 16-acre Broadway complex is on property that San Diego has long coveted as part of its plan to transform the North Embarcadero into a district of shops, restaurants, parks and high-rise housing. The site's value is estimated at $150 million to $350 million.
The Navy has occupied the complex since the 1920s. It serves as headquarters for Navy Region Southwest and includes the Navy Readiness Command Southwest and the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center.
The commission took issue with the Pentagon's decision not to include the Broadway complex on its proposed list of closures. The commission's staff concluded that retaining it was "neither cost-effective nor in step with current Navy asset-management policies or other similar Navy . . . recommendations."
But commissioners also noted the broad desire in San Diego to see the site redeveloped.
"Everybody seemed to be in agreement that it was a good thing to do," said Commissioner Harold W. Gehman Jr., a retired admiral. "They all promised us that the delays were behind them."
As it began several days of voting on the Pentagon's recommendations, the commission displayed its independence. Besides voting to keep the New England facilities, it also pushed to maintain the Red River Army Depot in Texas and a naval support center in New Orleans.
It decided to close a Navy air station in Brunswick, Maine, rather than reduce the force size there as the Defense Department recommended.
"They have shown that they are independent and they are looking at what is in their purview that might have been different from the Department of Defense," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who was on hand for the deliberations.
She predicted the commission would alter 25 percent to 30 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations, twice the average in four previous rounds of closures.
Principi noted that the number of recommendations was about double those of the earlier rounds.
"We know that the decisions we reach will have a profound impact on the communities hosting our military installations and, more importantly, on the people who bring those communities to life," he said.
The commission decided last month to add the Broadway complex to a list of installations facing closure. After commissioners toured the site this month and heard a presentation on the redevelopment plans, Principi suggested giving the Navy and developers more time to cut a deal.
San Diego officials feared that redevelopment strategies would be jeopardized if the commission favored closing the complex, since that would launch a federal review for control of the property.
If the Navy doesn't enter into a long-term agreement for renovating the site by the 2007 deadline, it would be closed. The complex's operations would be moved to other Navy facilities in San Diego such as the 32nd Street Naval Station, according to the commission's unanimous recommendation.
"Most of the commissioners . . . wondered why (redevelopment) hadn't happened five, six, seven years ago and why we're still waiting around for it to happen," Gehman said.
Wright and Hall were optimistic the deadline could be met.
"I think the timing couldn't be better in terms of moving forward because the (commercial real estate) market is stronger than it has been virtually in 15 years," Wright said. "I would characterize it as a 'real red' team effort. It will require exceptionally close coordination between the city and the Navy, a well-thought-through plan for every step of the way and the establishment of interim milestones that will get us there."
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, who has met with the commissioners on the Broadway complex issue, applauded their decision yesterday. She called it "a victory for the Navy and for San Diego."
The commission's recommendations will be delivered to President Bush by Sept. 8. He can accept or reject them, without changes.
If the recommendations are accepted, they become final 45 days later unless Congress blocks them. If Bush rejects the list, the commission has until Oct. 20 to submit new proposals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.