Daily Breeze

May 6, 2004

DC trip gathers backing for AFB

By OTTO KREISHER
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- A delegation of government and business leaders from Los Angeles and the South Bay finished a busy two-day visit Wednesday that they believe will help protect the Los Angeles Air Force Base during next year's planned base realignment and closure process.

"I thought it was a terrific trip," Torrance City Councilman Ted Lieu said. "One of our objectives was to get a united California (congressional) delegation. I think we did.

"Our other objective was to establish the military value of the L.A. Air Force Base," Lieu said, because that is the basis on which the Pentagon will decide which facilities it will close or scale down.

The visit by the 12-person delegation was supported strongly by Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo, whose district includes the Air Force facility, which manages the procurement of most of the defense-related space systems.

The Space and Missile Systems Center, located on the El Segundo base, "helps fulfill the Air Force's critically important mission in space and plays a major role in our nation's war on terrorism," Harman said during a meeting she hosted for the visiting officials.

The engineers and scientists who work on the base and in aerospace firms located all around it "oversee the development of the next generation of ballistic missiles, rocket and surveillance and communications satellites," she said. "Any suggestion that its functions be moved would disrupt both national security and the local economy," added Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Harman noted that the center manages about $60 billion in contracts nationally, which pump about $18 billion annually into the local economy and provide about 14,000 jobs in the greater Los Angeles area, in addition to the nearly 4,000 military and civilian personnel at the Air Force base.

Harman and the visiting officials clearly are worried about the possibility that the air base, the only remaining active military facility left in the Los Angeles metropolitan region, could be a victim of the next base closure, or BRAC, round.

The four previous BRAC rounds resulted in the closure of 29 major bases and dozens of smaller ones in California, taking away nearly 100,000 uniformed and civilian defense jobs and an estimated $9.6 billion in annual spending.

And California still has 61 military installations with about 165,000 personnel, making it a ripe target for additional hits in the next BRAC, which Pentagon officials said would seek to reduce base "capacity" by about 24 percent.

Decisions to close or realign facilities will be made primarily on the basis of military value, which will include relative cost of operations, restrictions on activities due to environmental concerns or urban congestion and multiservice use. Secondary considerations will include the economic loss to the region and the time it would require to recover the cost of closing a facility.

In a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon and at the White House, the visiting officials emphasized the "synergy" achieved by the large pool of expertise in the aerospace firms and academic institutions in the Los Angeles area that work closely with the personnel at the air base.

It would be difficult to recreate that positive effect elsewhere, the Los Angeles officials argued.

Lieu, who was stationed at the L.A. base in 1996-99 as an Air Force officer, said it also would be difficult to reproduce the base personnel's talent because 3,500 of the workers are civilians who may not be willing to move.

The officials also cited the unusual land swap plan under which a private developer will produce a smaller, more efficient and much more modern facility at little government cost.

"I think it was a very good deal for the government," said Jeffery Dritley, managing partner of the Kearney real estate company, which will improve or replace most of the air base's essential facilities in exchange for the right to develop private housing on about two-thirds of the base's former land. "For $10 million, the government will get a $115 million facility."

"I think that's a positive move to indicate that we will downsize as much as we can to reduce cost," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

The decisions on what facilities will go on the closure or realignment list will be made by Pentagon officials, several of whom the delegation visited Tuesday. But Lieu noted that the officials who actually deal with BRAC were unable to talk about that subject. Instead, the delegation discussed Air Force space programs and procurement issues.

The delegation was particularly pleased with its meeting with Peter Teets, the Air Force's No. 2 civilian official. Ronald Sugar, chief executive officer for Northrop Grumman, joined the visiting officials in that meeting, held in a Capitol room normally used by the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee on defense. Use of that room was arranged by the panel's chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, one of the key California representatives who met with the delegation.

Harman said she expected all 53 of the California representatives and the two senators would support the air base.

However, Congress will not have a voice in the BRAC process until after a supposedly nonpartisan commission and the Pentagon make their decisions. And then all Congress can do is approve or reject the entire list.

Mike Gordon, who recently stepped down as mayor of El Segundo, called the visit "an excellent trip. I think we were able to articulate the value of the base and the federal legislation that allowed us to modernize the base.

"We had many good meetings and received lots of offers of help," Gordon said. "We know we have a lot of work to do, but it was a very good start."

The delegation also included John Parsons, Redondo Beach councilman and chairman of the South Bay Cities council of government; Jerry Say, chairman of the South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce; Joe Aro, executive director of the South Bay Economic Development Partnership; Don Knabe, chairman of the Board of Supervisors; Mike Molina, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn's chief of staff; Carleen Beste, Northrop Grumman public relations officer; Jonathan Choi of Boeing public relations; and Marcella Low of the Southern California Gas Co.