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Navy Cuts Might Not Hurt Here, Expert Says

February 07, 1988|JANE FRITSCH | Times Staff Writer

San Diego would not suffer dramatically if the Navy pulled six frigates and about 2,000 sailors from the area under budget cuts proposed by the Defense Department, some local officials say.

The cuts were ordered by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci to help pare $12 billion from the Navy's 1989 budget proposal, delivered to the White House on Friday. Carlucci has ordered the Navy to retire 16 of its older ships and to disband a unit of about 80 aircraft, many of which are stationed in the San Diego area.

The threat of the cuts drew cries of protest last week from Mayor Maureen O'Connor, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) and other officials, but others say the cuts would have minor significance here and may even ease a military housing shortage.

"I don't believe it's what you might call a significant cut," said Jack Koerper, a military specialist for the San Diego Assn. of Governments. "It's less than one and one-half percent of the military population.

"We went through this before a couple of years ago with strategic home-porting when the Navy down-sized the fleet here by several ships and that didn't seem to have a dramatic impact.

"The concern is more that this is a harbinger of things to come," Koerper said.

Remained Steady

Chief Craig Huebler, a spokesman for the San Diego Naval Base Command, said that over the last decade, the area has experienced minor fluctuations in the numbers of ships and personnel, but that the active duty Navy population has remained steady at approximately 106,000. Marines in the area bring the total of military personnel to about 140,000, according to Chamber of Commerce figures.

Several years ago, Huebler said, San Diego lost more than a dozen ships when they were returned to Long Beach after a temporary stay here. However, growth in the Naval Training Command and the addition of other personnel here compensated for the loss, he said.

"We didn't have a big training program years ago," Huebler said. "But we have definitely built up a tremendous training program here in San Diego. Or maybe we lost a ship and we got a squadron.

"This process of exchange has kept the total numbers of people in the Navy here the same over (the) years."

And as budgetary constraints become tighter, on-shore training commands become more important, Huebler added.

"If you don't have the money to send the ships out to sea, such as during the oil crisis, you have to do the same type of training pier-side," Huebler said.

The $12-billion proposed Navy cut is part of a $33-billion cut from the fiscal 1989 budget plan proposed by the Pentagon last year. The figure was the result of an October deficit compromise between the White House and Congress.

Appealed the Cuts

Last week, Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. and Adm. Carlisle A. Trost, chief of naval operations, appealed the ship retirements in meetings with Carlucci and his staff, arguing that the cuts would slow the Navy's progress toward President Reagan's long-stated goal of building a 600-ship fleet.

Webb had proposed in December that 16 of the ships be transferred to the Naval Reserves, where they could be staffed more cheaply, and suggested that the ships reduce their steaming hours and crews.

However, Carlucci, under pressure to pare military costs as part of an overall effort to reduce the nation's budget deficit, appeared resolved to order the ships into mothballs.

A spokesman for O'Connor said Friday that the mayor, who is strongly opposed to any ship reductions here, has contacted legislators in Washington for help.

"We've already put in our bid with Wilson. We called him," said Paul Downey, O'Connor's press secretary. "We gave it to him loud and clear. We told him we don't want to lose any ships."

Downey said the O'Connor administration would be happy to see even more ships moved to San Diego. However, he conceded that the area has "some problems" with navy housing. The area is currently 6,000 units short in military family housing, according to a report in the San Diego Economic Bulletin, which is published by the Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed ship pullout may provide "some relief" for Navy families, said Koerper of the Assn. of Governments.

"There's very little inclination by the Department of Defense or by Congress to build enough units to take up the deficit," Koerper said. "They're only providing new units at about 400 a year."

Any relief in the housing shortage would only be temporary, Koerper said, because the Navy is planning to station a third aircraft carrier, the Independence, in San Diego next fall. Further, the proposal to disband Carrier Airwing 10 would likely have little effect on the military population in the San Diego area, according to a Navy official who asked not to be named.

The airwing was put together about a year ago by moving planes, helicopters and crews from a number of squadrons on the West Coast. Each squadron, made up of 20 to 30 officers and 100 to 150 enlisted personnel, would be sent back to its home base, the official said.

Since most of the squadrons came from Miramar and North Island to begin with, there would be little change, he said.

Specifics of the defense budget reductions are to be announced along with the rest of Reagan's overall budget package on Feb. 18.

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