When the Pentagon first began closing military bases in 1988, California was caught off guard.
The state didn't mount a coordinated effort to save bases and lost over 20 installations, including El Toro in Orange County, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, the Presidio of San Francisco and Ft. Ord near Monterey.
With Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set to announce another hit list in May, California officials over the last weeks have been honing their message to Washington on why the remaining bases in the state should stay open.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a bipartisan state council to advise local communities fighting to keep their bases open, offering one main message: Instead of bemoaning the economic pain of closures -- a common tactic in the past -- tell the Department of Defense why it needs its 62 remaining California military installations.
The strategy is part of an effort by base supporters to fight smarter for California installations in the upcoming round of closures.
Previously, supporters of one base sometimes pointed to another base in hopes of saving themselves. To avoid that, advocates for all the installations are being asked to sign a "nonaggression compact" under which each community group agrees to work together for the greater good.
The state has allocated about $500,000 this fiscal year toward the campaign to save bases. It also holds weekly conference calls to discuss strategy with parties committed to keeping bases open.
This month, the California Council on Base Support and Retention held meetings throughout the state, giving communities a chance to practice their pitches for base retention.
"It's kind of like spring training for the communities to test out their arguments," said James Spagnole, director of the state's Office of Military and Aerospace Support.
Eventually, the groups will have to persuade Pentagon decision makers, who will advise the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that is to be appointed by the president and Congress in March.
Range of Facilities
California's remaining installations include massive facilities, such as Camp Pendleton and Edwards Air Force Base, and lesser-known facilities, such as Los Angeles Air Force Base near Los Angeles International Airport.
No one knows how many bases might be targeted. Some officials have expressed concern that Los Angeles Air Force Base, which develops and acquires satellite systems, might be vulnerable, but the Pentagon has not confirmed this.
The loss of military bases since 1988 has had a profound effect on California, the hardest-hit state. The state lost more than 90,000 defense-related jobs in four earlier rounds. According to Leon Panetta, co-chairman of the state council and a former Clinton White House chief of staff, the closures dealt an estimated $9.6-billion blow to the state's economy.
The process spawned a bitter debate in Orange County over whether to build a commercial airport at El Toro, and Long Beach's economy was hit hard when the shipyard and its 3,100 jobs were cut.
Officials see more economic pain and community turmoil ahead if additional bases are closed. Rumsfeld has said he would like to reduce "military infrastructure" by as much as 24%. In keeping with the broader strategy, local officials are focusing less on how closure would hurt their communities and more on what the bases can do for the military.
"The military needs these resources as much as the county needs the military," said Kern County Supervisor Jon McQuiston, a former Navy air traffic controller.
Kern County is home to parts of Edwards Air Force Base and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the Navy's main facility for the development, testing and evaluation of weapons, including the Sidewinder missile. The military is the largest employer in Kern County, providing more than 16,000 jobs, McQuiston said. This year, the county is putting $30,000 into each of three regional alliances promoting base retention.
Recently in Lancaster, the California Council on Base Support and Retention held meetings with community advocates for Edwards Air Force Base, renowned for its testing and evaluation of military air and spacecraft; the China Lake facility; and Lemoore Naval Air Station in Kings County.
Phil Arnold said he and colleagues in the China Lake Defense Alliance have been working to protect the Mojave Desert facility since the last round of closings a decade ago. Now retired, like many base advocates, Arnold was an engineer and manager at China Lake for 38 years. He said he believes the state is much better prepared to fight closings than it was in 1995.
At that time, Arnold said: "California did not have an organized program. Every community was on its own defending its own base."