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Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

San Diego Dodges the Base Closure Bullet

It is the more discreet side of Southern California. Go into the ocean far beyond the famous beaches or veer off the desert highways, and you’ll find military training centers and ranges such as Fort Irwin, Twentynine Palms, the Chocolate Mountains, and the Eastern Pacific Ocean Range.

The Pentagon knows the territory well, and apparently the Pentagon likes it.

The Department of Defense has spared San Diego from major base closures as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC.

“It’s the ranges, and the efficiency of travel to the ranges” that make San Diego County bases so valuable, said Tom Caughlan, who in his days as a Marine Corps colonel ran the air station at Miramar. Now a civilian, Caughlan was one of the people who helped in the local effort to retain San Diego County’s military complex, billed as the largest in the world.

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Lawmakers such as Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Escondido, also said the Pentagon declined to close bases here because of their military value. “San Diego’s value lies in the synergy created by these bases, the military industrial organizations that support them and the rich technology environment here in the region,” said a statement issued by Cunningham.

There could be some changes under the Pentagon plan. Naval Station San Diego may gain 10 ships and more than 1,000 jobs due to the closure of a base in Texas. Meanwhile, Naval Medical Center San Diego will lose a tenant: a school with hundreds of instructors and students.

If approved by a special commission, President Bush, and Congress, the changes are slated to take place between 2006 and 2011.

For now, at least, it looks as if San Diego has emerged from the Pentagon’s cost-cutting campaign far better than other communities. The Navy, for example, plans to shutter the submarine base in New London, Conn., taking 8,750 jobs from that part of New England. Close by, it plans to close Naval Shipyard Portsmouth in Maine, taking an additional 4,510 jobs. In all, the Department of Defense wants to close 33 major bases nationwide.

Roughly 80 major and minor military facilities make defense the No. 2 industry in San Diego County, which is home to 108,300 active-duty military personnel. The region took in $13.6 billion in Defense Department procurement, salaries, pensions and benefits in 2002, according to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

A Celebration

San Diego civic leaders were jubilant about the Pentagon’s recommendations.

“We’ve had a big victory today, but it’s not over,” San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy told reporters when the Pentagon broke its silence and made its list public May 13.

Julie Meier Wright, head of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., struck the same cautious note, but said that over the long term, the economic impact of the proposed changes will be favorable.

In the course of two years, the EDC spent $400,000 , a combination of public and private money , to retain San Diego’s bases. The cost estimate does not include staff time, Wright said. Also lending expertise to the effort was a group of retired military leaders.

Part of the money went to hire a lobbyist, William Cassidy, who as a Pentagon manager handled previous base closure rounds.

“Every dime we paid Bill was worth it,” the mayor said.

The base closure process will continue as follows:

The Government Accountability Office , the congressional agency formerly known as the General Accounting Office , will weigh in on the Pentagon’s recommendations, publishing its analysis of them by July 1.

A nine-member commission must review and approve the Pentagon’s recommendations, and has a chance to modify them. The commission, led by Rancho Santa Fe resident Anthony Principi, has a Sept. 8 deadline to make any changes.

Some Movement Locally

The closure list then goes to President Bush and Congress, who must either approve or reject the list as a whole. If the list is OK’d, the changes will start occurring next year. If the list is rejected, then the entire base closure process is scuttled.

Slated for closure locally is San Diego’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service office, which employs 237 civilians and three military personnel. The Defense Department is reportedly consolidating all such offices.

While BRAC changes won’t affect care at the Naval Medical Center, they will affect a tenant. The Naval School of Health Sciences trains enlisted medical personnel at the Balboa Park hospital.

The school employs 28 civilians, 26 officers and 129 enlisted personnel. Those jobs will leave under the plan.

Enrollment at the school is 688 this year and is projected to grow to 830 next year. The students do not put down roots, but they aren’t exactly overnight guests either, as classes can last for three, six or 12 months.

The school is being consolidated with other such schools at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

The medical center employs 4,607, according to figures provided by the mayor’s office.

For its part, Naval Station San Diego will gain 10 ships , specifically, mine countermeasure ships , as the Navy moves to close Naval Station Ingleside in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The economic impact of such ships is $50 million, EDC officials said, adding that the move will not only bring payrolls but business for area shipyards.

The Pentagon said Naval Station San Diego will have a net gain of 1,084 military jobs and 84 civilian jobs under the plan.

Other changes:

– Naval Base Coronado, which includes North Island Naval Air Station and Naval Amphibious Base, may have a net loss of 71 military jobs and 389 civilian jobs under the realignment plan.

– Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton will lose 145 military jobs and have a net gain of one civilian job under the plan.

– Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook is also slated for realignment, with a potential loss of 118 civilian jobs.

– Naval Base Point Loma will see a net gain of 300 military jobs and nine civilian jobs.

– Marine Corps Air Station Miramar will experience a net gain of 41 military jobs and 31 civilian jobs.

The Pentagon had said it wanted to consolidate support facilities.

There is still a chance that such facilities could be added to the BRAC list.


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