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Vasquez Assails Leaving O.C. off Base Panel

July 14, 1993|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to omit Orange County from a statewide military base reuse committee has drawn a strong protest from Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who argued Tuesday that a local representative should have been included, given the impending closure of two Marine bases here.

The eight-member panel appointed by Wilson this week includes representatives from every area of the state hit by a major base closure except Orange County, which will lose the El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps Air stations.

"I was very surprised when I picked up the newspapers this morning and read that Orange County was conspicuously absent from the process," Vasquez told news reporters after raising the issue during the weekly meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Four of the eight gubernatorial committee members are from Northern California--the region of the state hardest hit by base closures. Also named to the committee are four Southern Californians: San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, who will chair the task force; a real estate developer from Santa Monica; an environmental lawyer from Los Angeles, and a supervisor from San Bernardino County, where March Air Force Base is scheduled for major downsizing.

"I think some people have had a tendency to underestimate . . . or diminish the tremendous economic impact of (the Tustin and El Toro base) closures," Vasquez said. "It's significant; it's significant in jobs, it's significant in the economy."

A recently released report from the governor's office shows that Orange County is expected to lose 12,993 military, civilian and defense contractor-related jobs as the result of both base closures. Another 15,592 jobs will be lost by businesses that now indirectly benefit from the Marine presence.

Unless the economy improves dramatically, the state study says Orange County's jobless rate will rise by 2% by the time the bases close in four to six years. But that projected increase pales in comparison to that of Alameda County, where 38,136 direct and indirect jobs will be lost, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise by almost 10% because of defense cutbacks.

Holding out hope that Wilson might still appoint additional members to the committee, Vasquez registered his complaint Tuesday with the governor's top aides. Membership to the committee is key, he added, because it could help influence which communities receive the most federal dollars the fastest.

"Our input has been received, our concerns have been expressed, and I am told that consideration is being given," the supervisor said after telephoning Wilson's office. However, the governor's chief economist said the goal was to appoint people with expertise in certain areas, such as the environment or commercial redevelopment.

"There was by no means any attempt to slight Orange County. No one should read anything political into this," said Philip Romero of the governor's Office of Planning and Research. He added that the panel itself can decide at its first meeting later this month whether to expand its membership to include an Orange County representative.

Vasquez raised his objections just before the supervisors voted to formally assert the county's claim as the lead redevelopment planner for the El Toro base, which was approved for closure last month. The Tustin base was ordered closed two years ago and a separate planning process is being guided by the city of Tustin.

By claiming authority over the 4,700-acre site, the supervisors have taken on the formidable task of forging a compromise between two disparate groups of cities that disagree over whether El Toro should be promptly converted to a commercial airport.

"It puts the county in the driver's seat and we are moving ahead with due deliberation," Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said before the vote.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the county will appoint its own advisory committee to come up with a redevelopment plan during the next year. Its members still unnamed, the panel will be made up of representatives from business and civic groups, as well as from cities, with particular attention to those cities "most affected" by the base closure and reuse plan.

The cities of Irvine, Lake Forest and Laguna Hills, which oppose commercial aviation operations at El Toro, are expected to be represented on the county committee, as will Newport Beach, which has been leading the charge for commercial cargo and passenger service at the Marine base.

"The process will balance regional needs with a sensitivity to the directly adjacent cities," said Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who represents the district that includes El Toro. "We can and we will work together," he added.

The supervisors also authorized the staff to begin applying for federal grants that are supposed to smooth the transition process. A representative of the Defense Department's Office of Economic Adjustment is expected to participate in a local forum during the first week in August to answer questions from the public about reuse planning and toxic waste cleanup at the base.

Orange County Chamber of Commerce President Ken Moore, speaking on behalf of three business groups, also asked the board to oppose joint military-commercial use of the El Toro base unless there is countywide agreement. Air cargo carriers have expressed an interest in moving in as quickly as possible, perhaps even as the Marine mission is being phased out.

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