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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Reveille for Our Reps to Save El Toro

April 20, 1993

All over the country, and especially in California, there are dire predictions about the economic fallout from the latest round of planned military base closings. Ironically, as many members of Congress wail in the face of stark reality--that both military budgets and troop strengths are headed down--there still is precious little hand-wringing from the Orange County delegation, which may well have a strong military-strategic case to make.

There's certainly no surprise in the public reaction. Respondents in a recent Times Orange County Poll opposed the planned closure of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station convincingly. The Marines have been good neighbors for a very long time. Most important, economic ramifications strike close to home for the three out of five poll respondents who were opposed to the base closing.

But that was the public, after all, not privy to all the nuances of cost-effectiveness and strategic considerations. What about the military arguments, which are those that really count for the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission? If there is a case to be made on military grounds, it ought to be assembled quickly and presented forcefully. Since the commission will meet in San Diego next week and eventually make recommendations to President Clinton, time is of the essence.

Remember, too, that the economic-hurt argument alone won't cut it. It is analogous to asking for any kind of reprieve--that is, of course an adverse ruling is going to cause some pain and dislocation. To win a stay or clemency--in this case, to preserve a base--it is necessary to demonstrate what is special about a particular situation.

That question has been answered fairly decisively in recent days by Maj. Gen. P. Drax Williams, head of all Marine air operations on the West Coast. He says that now that the Marines are looking at the numbers, it may prove very costly in the end to close El Toro because of what it will cost to move the Marines to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. Miramar will have to be upgraded, and it will be very expensive to relocate 4,600 Marine families.

In effect, the Department of Defense may have put El Toro on the list too hastily. So where are our local congressmen? Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), in whose district the base lies, has acknowledged the possibility of a case for El Toro but still sits on the fence. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), long a friend of the military, remains unopposed to the closing.

That's not good enough, for either.

It's fine to have some local officials and community groups taking up the case for the base, but that alone won't do. Cox and Dornan should lead the charge across Saddleback Valley.

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