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Thursday, May 12, 2005 | The Department of Defense will make its recommendations Friday to an independent panel overseeing the next round of military base closures, and San Diego boosters will be anxiously awaiting the announcement after a two-year lobbying effort to protect the county’s installations.

“As of right now, I’m cautiously optimistic,” Eric Bruvold, vice president of public affairs for the San Diego Economic Development Corp., said Wednesday afternoon.

Bruvold is among the San Diegans who have written letters, walked the halls of power and crafted impact reports to keep the 11 military centers in San Diego County from the upcoming round of modifications to the armed services’ base infrastructure made by the base realignment and closure commission, or BRAC.

“It’s the best-kept secret the DoD has ever kept,” said Bob Johnstone, executive director of the California Defense Alliance, an organization lobbying on behalf of the state’s bases. “We’ll wait and see, but I can promise you there will be a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on once the list comes out.”

At stake in the recent round are tens of thousands of jobs locally. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce estimates that defense spending accounts for $18 billion in the county, 13 percent of the total economy. One out of every 10 county residents is affiliated with the military, the chamber reports.

There are 11 Navy and Marine Corps centers in the county the commission will consider: the Navy’s San Diego naval station, North Island air station, Imperial Beach landing field, Coronado amphibious base, Point Loma base and Fallbrook weapons station detachment; the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, Miramar air station and Recruit Depot San Diego; Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, also called SPAWAR; and the Naval Medical Center.

The Pentagon’s recommendation on Friday kicks off a process lasting several months where lawmakers and lobbyists will try to press the nine-member BRAC panel to keep bases in their communities off the list of closures.

“When that list comes out, it’s like throwing a dirt clod at a wasp’s nest,” said Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Escondido. “Once that dirt clod hits, the wasps are going to come swarming out. Communities are going to mount to the best of their knowledge why their base shouldn’t be closed.”

Following the Pentagon’s recommendations, the BRAC panel will mull the list before submitting a revision to President Bush by Sept. 8.

The odds of BRAC changing a Defense Department closure recommendation are 10 percent, said Retired Vice Admiral Peter Hekman of University City, who is working with local and state lawmakers to retain the region’s bases.

Two weeks later, the president will announce whether he has approved the commission’s realignment plan wholesale.

If Bush approves, the commission’s plan becomes permanent after 45 days unless both houses of Congress vote to nix it. If the president or Congress does not approve BRAC’s plan, the commission has until Oct. 20 to submit a new plan.

A revised plan must be approved by Bush and Congress by Nov. 7 or the process ends.

Since 1988, there have been four previous rounds of BRAC that closed 97 bases and made 55 major realignments to the military’s infrastructure nationwide.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld originally estimated that about a quarter of the nation’s bases would be trimmed in the upcoming round of closures, but last week he estimated that only half of those shutdowns will be made.

The criteria authorized by the 2002 bill that enacted this year’s closures places a base’s military value as the top priority for the commission to consider. Local lobbyists herald the military “synergy” of the Southwestern United States as an argument why the region’s bases should not be shuddered.

Southern California and Arizona host 80 percent of the armed services’ air-to-ground training, Hekman said.

San Diego’s proximity to large airspaces over southwestern deserts and the Pacific Ocean make it a valuable training asset to the nation’s security, Bruvold said.

“Helicopters based in Pendleton can deploy with ships from 32nd Street (Naval Station San Diego), and they can train in the offshore or desert training ranges nearby with aircraft from Miramar that is furnished at North Island with the weapons systems made at SPAWAR,” he said.

“The proximity creates value greater than the sum of its parts.”

Cunningham, who spent part of his military service training pilots at Miramar in the former Naval station’s famed “Top Gun” program, said closing just one of the bases could create a “domino effect.”

“If you lose Miramar, why would you need three nuclear carriers off the coast? And if you don’t need those carriers, why have the shipbuilding and repair bays in the harbor?” he said. “Closures could be disastrous for both our economy and national security.”

California officials estimate the state loses $9.6 billion annually due to the closure of 29 bases in previous rounds. The Pentagon touts its economic aid programs to communities where bases are closed.

The Naval Training Center near Point Loma was shuttered in the 1993 base closures. A federal report released last week estimated that 120 jobs have been created after the base’s closure forced 400 job losses. Officials from the city’s redevelopment agency estimated 5,344 jobs will be created once the former NTC site is built out.

The final BRAC listing will also play a part in determining what sites the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority will recommend to the county’s voters in November 2006. Five of the nine local sites the authority has decided to consider are on existing military installations – North Island, Camp Pendleton, March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County and two Miramar locations.

However, after repeated pressure from state and federal lawmakers, the authority decided last month to halt studies on existing military sites until the president and Congress approve a base closure list.

Local boosters think they’ve made a compelling argument regardless of airport talks.

“We’ve done an enormous amount of homework in preparing decision-makers with well-articulated info about the region’s vital importance in the national defense equation,” Hekman said. “But we can’t anticipate what happens.”

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly at

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