San Diego Union Tribune

July 2, 2005

Base closure panel asks why S.D. sites aren't being eyed

By Rick Rogers and Otto Kreisher
STAFF WRITER / COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

The federal commission overseeing base cuts wants to know why the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and the Navy Broadway Complex are not among the dozens of installations being considered for closure or realignment.

The commission's questions, contained in a letter sent yesterday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sparked mixed reactions among San Diego County leaders.

The local officials repeated a long-standing promise to keep the depot open. They noted that the facility doesn't have enough land to create a regional airport capable of meeting the county's future aviation needs. But they saw a potential win-win situation in moving the naval complex elsewhere in the city so San Diego could transform North Embarcadero with a park, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

The Marine Corps operates two boot camps, one in San Diego and another on Parris Island, S.C. The local depot trains about 16,000 recruits a year.

"In terms of efficiency and protection of America's 9/11 fighting force, MCRD is unsurpassed," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine. "It doesn't make sense to consolidate all training on the East Coast.

By contrast, San Diego business and political leaders have been in discussions with the Navy for several months about relocating the complex, which serves as headquarters for Navy Region Southwest.

There has been talk of moving the complex to a more secure spot, perhaps by making it part of the 32nd Street Naval Station. Such a switch would allow the city to work with developers in upgrading the waterfront area.

"It would mean an opportunity to move forward with the long-anticipated redevelopment of North Embarcadero as the crown jewel in a revitalized downtown San Diego," said Julie Meier Wright, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp.

The depot and complex were among 12 military installations highlighted in the memo to Rumsfeld from Anthony Principi, chairman of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

In May, the Pentagon proposed closing or reducing forces at 62 major bases and hundreds of smaller installations to save money and streamline the armed forces. Dozens of other facilities would grow, absorbing troops from domestic and overseas bases slated for closure or downsizing.

Principi said the commission would consider adding the two San Diego sites and other facilities to the closure or realignment list when it holds a public hearing July 19. The list will then go to President Bush and Congress for final approval in September.

Changes are rare, but not unprecedented, because seven of the nine commissioners must agree on any revisions.

J.J. Gertler, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said Congress intentionally made it difficult to add bases to the closure list. He also said the commission is empowered to scrutinize the Pentagon's list for political biases.

"The only way the commission can get information on the bases" is by asking the Defense Department to explain its reasons for selecting or not selecting a base for closure or realignment.

In its letter yesterday, the commission asked: "Why was Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego not closed and consolidated with MCRD Parris Island, S.C.?"

Wright said San Diego has plenty of reasons for keeping the local depot.

She and numerous military analysts have said the cost of moving boot-camp training to Parris Island – estimated at $680 million – is prohibitive. They also contend that the Parris Island depot wouldn't be able to take more recruits because it's geographically constrained by adjacent residential and commercial development.

Closure of the local depot could have major implications for a project to replace or supplement San Diego International Airport.

One scenario on the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority's study list is an expansion of the single-runway Lindbergh Field, one of the smallest but most convenient big-city airports in the nation.

A consultant to the authority has concluded that a second, 10,000-foot runway could be developed without the adjacent depot's property, but only by taking over a major portion of the heavily developed Midway District.

Airport officials have said that the depot's land could provide more options with less disruption of private property, but that it wouldn't provide the capacity needed to meet future air-transportation demands.

Closure of the depot would allow the agency to propose a second runway in a V-shaped configuration with the existing runway. It would not permit simultaneous landings, however, and would increase the airport's capacity of 24 million passengers a year by only 15 percent to 20 percent, planners say.

Because of terrain obstructions in downtown San Diego, such a runway could be used primarily for departures, planners say.

The agency has agreed to suspend any study of the depot and five other military sites until Congress and the president have finished their review of the base closure and realignment process, or BRAC. In the past, the region's congressional and state legislative delegations have complained that even a "what if" analysis of the depot, Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and other Department of Defense sites would undermine their efforts to protect the county's military infrastructure and its economic benefits.

Under that policy, an airport spokeswoman said yesterday that the agency had no comment on the commission's letter.

Likewise, the Navy declined to discuss its talks with San Diego officials about the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, which was launched in the 1980s.

In its memo, the commission asked whether consolidating Navy activities in a more secure location – such as the 32nd Street Naval Station – could improve security and allow for future expansion.

The Navy could sell its current complex, Wright said, and use the proceeds to build a new headquarters elsewhere in San Diego.

Gertler said it would be more beneficial to shutter the Broadway complex during the BRAC process than to have the Navy close the site on its own.

"If it is closed through BRAC, there would be (economic renewal) funds that would be available," Gertler said. "If the Defense Department agrees with the commission, this could be one of those cases where, for the Navy and the community, it is a win-win situation."

Staff writer Jeff Ristine contributed to this report.

Rick Rogers: (760) 476-8212; rick.rogers@uniontrib.com

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