U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has softened his position on moving federal earthquake scientists out of Menlo Park, Calif., and the Bay Area.
In a meeting this week in Washington with six Bay Area members of Congress, Babbitt agreed to extend the evaluation period for the future of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western regional headquarters to the end of the year, officials said.
Babbitt's tone has changed since an initial advisory in August that a local team had only until Sept. 25 to present options on moving. Now the deadline is Nov. 1, and a spokeswoman said Babbitt aides will not complete their evaluation until Jan. 1.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) said Friday, "The Bay Area congressional delegation had a very productive meeting with Secretary Babbitt. We made a strong presentation to him about the regional importance of . . . Menlo Park and bought additional time for local USGS authorities to review all money-saving options, including consolidating programs at existing facilities."
On Sept. 3, Gordon Eaton, the USGS national director, who reports to Babbitt, said that Sacramento and Davis, well outside the hazardous earthquake zones in the Bay Area, were prime possibilities for relocating hundreds of scientists.
But Eaton soon thereafter announced his retirement. Babbitt has yet to name an acting USGS director, and the decision on what do with the regional headquarters is in his hands.
Many of the scientists are strongly resistant to a move out of the Bay Area. They note that they have many close research relationships with scientists at UC Berkeley and Stanford University, as well as researchers in private quake-modeling firms.
In his letter to Eshoo, Babbitt said he is trying to avoid impending rent increases at USGS facilities in Menlo Park, but he added that he recognizes the strong support of Bay Area representatives for keeping the quake scientists there, and said, "I appreciate having your input as we consider ways to control facility costs."
Eshoo noted Friday that there would be very substantial moving costs incurred in any transfer of facilities and personnel.