Frank Wazzan, dean of UCLA's School of Engineering and Applied Science, was a happy man when he learned that the Los Angeles Air Force Base was omitted from the list of base closings proposed Friday by the Department of Defense.
"By God!" Wazzan exclaimed. "This is great news for the technical and scientific community."
The El Segundo base houses the Air Force Space Systems Division, a 3,200-employee unit that oversees military contracts for procurement of space hardware ranging from spy satellites to heavy-lift rockets. The division is considered a linchpin in the local aerospace industry--and a key stimulus for hi-tech university research in the region.
In January, 1990, the Air Force announced it was studying a plan to close the base and relocate the space unit, largely due to a lack of affordable housing in the Los Angeles area for enlisted Air Force personnel.
Ever since, local business and political leaders have been scrambling for ways to ease the 250-unit housing shortage, fearing that relocation of the division would give local aerospace companies another reason to shift operations out of the Los Angeles area.
Sam Iacobellis, Rockwell's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said Friday: "It's kind of like a bond that helps keep the nucleus of the aerospace industry in Southern California."
Had the division been relocated, Iacobellis said, "This could have been the beginning of the unraveling of the aerospace resources in the Los Angeles area. It could have been the beginning of a great migration."
Though a definitive solution to the housing shortage has not been found, progress in the effort was cited Friday as a reason Los Angeles AFB was not included on the updated base-closing list.
"The fact that we're not just giving lip service in trying to keep them I think really helped them to defer the issue," said Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), one of those trying to broker additional Air Force housing.
Though Air Force officials declined to comment in detail on why Los Angeles AFB was not on Friday's list, Col. Edwin Peura, chief of staff of the Space Systems Division, suggested that the housing hunt was a factor.
In a written statement, Peura said there is now time for "continuing the progress we've made in finding a solution to the quality of life issues that have been central to the debate on the future of Los Angeles AFB (housing etc.)."
In January, Gov. Pete Wilson offered the Air Force 2.5 acres of California National Guard property in San Pedro. All 574 of the Air Force's existing housing units for enlisted personnel are located elsewhere in San Pedro. Since the Guard parcel is capable of accommodating only 35 units, negotiations for more property are under way--including additional land in San Pedro from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The effort is being led by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce with help from Mayor Tom Bradley and other elected officials, including Reps. Dixon and Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), whose district includes Los Angeles AFB.
Levine on Friday warned that if the housing issue is not resolved, it is likely that in the future Los Angeles AFB will be reconsidered for closure and the space division will be studied for relocation.
"I've been told consistently (by the Air Force) that they will take a fresh look at this for the next round of base-closing proposals in 1993," Levine said.