As Congress prepares to whittle down the number of active military bases throughout the country, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa made a public appeal for legislation to temporarily halt the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority from studying any of San Diego’s bases as potential sites for relocating the airport.
Addressing the California Council on Base Support and Retention in Oceanside on Jan. 13, the Vista Republican said the airport agency’s short list of sites, which includes Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, East Miramar and Naval Air Station North Island, undermines community efforts to keep the bases open. March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County is also on the list of possible sites, as are sites near Borrego Springs, Campo and one in the Imperial County desert. Expanding Lindbergh Field is also a possibility.
“Our concern is that their study of such alternative uses for these installations undermines our efforts and the community effort to protect these bases during the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process,” Issa said. “Most recently, the authority announced their intention to move forward with studies of these military installations once the Defense Department releases the initial BRAC list in May.”
He said the “critical time” in the BRAC process is the months between the release of the initial list of bases recommended for closure by the Defense Department and the time the congressional review period ends.
“With its announced timeline, the Airport Authority’s activities will directly conflict with the community effort to retain our bases,” Issa told the council.
Issa asked the council to recommend that the state pass legislation to delay the airport agency from further studying the military sites until the BRAC process is complete, or gain its assurance that it won’t take any action until President Bush has approved the list of bases marked for closure.
Already In Agreement
Airport Authority Chairman Joe Craver, the president of Galaxie Management Inc., said the board already agreed to hold back on a thorough study of the bases, but only until the initial BRAC list is released in late May.
“The Airport Authority is in no way taking action to encourage the closure and/or the realignment of military bases in our region,” Craver said. “The Airport Authority board has been clear in its support for the military as vital to San Diego and the country. We would never do anything to jeopardize national security.
“Further, members of our regional congressional delegation have expressed concern regarding the study of military bases, and that is why the Airport Authority agreed to postpone full review of military bases until this spring, when the initial BRAC list is released.”
The Airport Authority, which is in charge of overseeing the operations and finances of Lindbergh Field, is bound by state law to put a site recommendation for relocating the regional airport before county voters in November 2006.
“I was in the Air Force for 26 years,” Craver said. “I understand the military. I served a combat tour in Vietnam and I am a wounded veteran.”
Craver retired from the Air Force as a colonel.
More State Legislation Unlikely
Despite Issa’s appeal during the recent public forum, Dale Neugebauer, his chief of staff, said Jan. 18 that the preferred route to temporarily stall the Airport Authority from studying military bases “is not legislation at this point.”
Instead, Issa wants Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to intervene and made his request via the governor’s Washington, D.C., office. But Neugebauer said Issa hadn’t received a reply.
State Assemblyman George Plescia, R-Poway, who tried and failed to get legislation passed last year that would have given the Airport Authority until 2008 to put its site recommendation before the county’s voters, said there was no consensus to support the measure then. He also said he doubts support could be mustered for any measure this year that would change the agency’s directive.
Furthermore, time is running out. To be considered in the current session of the Legislature, bills must introduced by mid-February.
“I have no plans of doing that this year,” Plescia said.
The 18-member Council on Base Support and Retention, which included retired military officers and business leaders, held a series of town hall-style meetings that wrapped up in San Diego on Jan. 14. It is scheduled to make its recommendations to Schwarzenegger next month. The governor set up the panel in November.
The base closure process should be completed in the fall.