Union Tribune

October 20, 2003

Base closure doesn't always spell doom for affected area


WASHINGTON Despite the dread with which local government and business leaders face the prospect of a future base-closing process, the history of previous rounds shows there can be economic life after the death of a military facility.

Government and private surveys indicate that two-thirds of the bases shuttered in the early closure rounds supported as many or more civilian jobs afterward.

The record also shows, however, that the conversion from military to civilian use can be painfully slow and does not always produce equal economic value.

"There's always a transition period; people lose their jobs and there's no guarantee that the jobs you get are as good or better than the ones you lost," said Christopher Hellman, who studied base closures for the Center for Defense Information.

In some urban areas, the acreage yielded by the military has been used for badly needed housing and open space, which can be as valuable as jobs.

California, which has had far more experience with base closings than any other state, has examples of all those results.

Among the closures listed as successes by the Pentagon's Office of Economic Redevelopment:

Mather Air Force Base, near Sacramento, now contains a busy air freight terminal and a number of companies that provide more than 3,000 jobs, which is about the total of uniformed and civilian jobs lost.

George Air Force Base, near Barstow, has become a mixed-use facility that supplies work for more than 1,000 people twice the civilian defense jobs lost, but less than the total former military employment.

Castle Air Force Base, south of Stockton, now houses a federal prison, a local health facility and Veterans Affairs clinic, a museum, an airpark and various businesses providing more than 2,200 jobs, twice the former civilian defense employment.

Some closed bases are less successful in producing jobs but offer promise for the future.

San Diego, which has suffered relatively little compared with the rest of the state, is working on a major conversion effort at the former Naval Training Center, which once provided more than 5,000 defense jobs.

Now called Liberty Station, the area just east of Lindbergh Field is expected to hold a large number of homes, a public arts and culture center, 46 acres of parks and open space, two hotels and a substantial number of retail and commercial interests when fully developed.

Despite environmental cleanup problems and other difficulties, Alameda Naval Air Station, near Oakland, has become a center for film producers and is attracting other businesses, residential development and public activities. But it is far from replacing the several thousand defense jobs lost.

Long Beach, which lost a Navy hospital, base and shipyard in the early 1990s, is finishing replacing them with a 375,000-acre marine terminal, two public schools, a Job Corps center, a nongovernment veterans center and California State University Long Beach's new technical and research park.

"Have we totally recouped the lost jobs? Probably not. But we're getting stronger every day," said Del Davis, a manager with the Long Beach Public Works Department. Compared to "those gray days" after the closings, "we think Long Beach is on a positive road."