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Ventura County on Alert Over New Round of Base Closures

Members of Congress and local leaders hope recent changes at Point Mugu will help keep it off the Pentagon's list.

October 18, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

In the years since federal officials decided to spare the Point Mugu naval base in 1995, a coalition of economic and political leaders has worked behind the scenes to ensure that Ventura County's military installation stays open.

Those leaders will face another test in 2005, when base-closure commissioners are scheduled to shutter more stations across the country and the competition by states to keep theirs open grows tighter.

In the last decade, Ventura County officials introduced a number of changes designed to make Naval Base Ventura County more valuable to West Coast military efforts. They include combining the operations of the Point Mugu Naval Air Station, a testing site for missiles fired by naval aircraft, and the Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center, one of two Seabee bases in the United States.

But whether the new and improved Naval Base Ventura County can survive next time around remains to be seen as states and counties across the nation prepare to fight for their bases, which are seen as important sources of income and employment.

Point Mugu had been on a list for closure in 1995 but was spared after heavy lobbying by local officials, including U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), who said he was willing to again fight local base closures.

"We have great people in this county, in the civilian and military community, who I continue to work with and who play a vital role," Gallegly said. "If there's a key to any of this process, it's knowledge of how this system works."

Outside analysts estimate that more than 100 of the nation's 425 bases will be closed. Under legislation passed by Congress, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is required by May 16, 2005, to prepare a list of bases to be closed or realigned, and the nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission must submit its list to the White House by Sept. 8, 2005.

No list of bases to be closed has been drawn up, but the California congressional delegation and Ventura County officials are working to limit the effect of new base closures on the state.

"We're very much remaining active. We can't take anything for granted," said Jarrod DeGonia, assistant to Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels, who heads a public-private partnership created to save the base.

Ventura County possesses unique benefits, Gallegly said, including having the only deep-water port between San Francisco and Los Angeles, a position as a staging area for the Pacific Fleet during a national emergency and missile-testing capabilities at Point Mugu.

Naval Base Ventura County is the county's largest employer, with about 14,700 workers, of whom about 60% are military and 40% civilian. The figure does not include defense contractors, many of them Ventura County businesses that provide services, products and equipment to the base.

In the last decade, two organizations have been created to help protect the base. One is the Regional Defense Partnership for the 21st Century, a coalition of public, private and military people that focuses on strengthening and diversifying the services offered at the base.

The other is the Base Realignment and Closure Commission Task Force, a lobbying group made up of private and government representatives.

Created in response to the 1995 cutbacks, the group was dormant for most of the last decade but was reactivated this year in anticipation of the next round of cuts.

"Both organizations have the same goals: to protect the bases and enhance their capabilities by bringing more jobs to the bases," DeGonia said.

Supervisor Kathy Long, who co-chairs the task force, said she believed Point Mugu and Port Hueneme were much stronger today than they were 10 years ago. "We're being proactive this time," she said. "We have to show that there is a strong relationship between the community and the bases. Our goal is not to even get on the list."

Every city in the county and the county government were asked to contribute money to the task force, Long said. The funds would be used to send officials to Washington, D.C., when the base-closure commission announces its criteria for picking bases to be closed.

The two groups are compiling statistics to show how much the county's base affects the local economy, said Ed Summers, chairman of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn. and co-chairman of the regional defense partnership.

Operations at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu pump an estimated $1 billion into the local economy annually, officials said.

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