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They're in the Navy -- comfortably

Pacific Beacon, a $322-million high-rise housing project at Naval Base San Diego, has amenities common to upscale residences and resort hotels but heretofore missing from military housing.

February 02, 2009|Tony Perry

SAN DIEGO — It is a complaint common to junior enlisted personnel in the U.S. military and one made famous by Goldie Hawn in the 1980 movie "Private Benjamin."

Hawn, as Pvt. Judy Benjamin, is shocked when she realizes that her recruiter exaggerated when he described her future living accommodations.

"See, I did join the Army, but I joined a different Army," she says in horror when she sees the barracks. "I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms."

If only Hawn's character had waited to join today's Navy. In San Diego, she could have her condo and private room -- as well as a rooftop swimming pool, bay-front views, fitness rooms, a WiFi-equipped cafe and other amenities common to upscale residences and resort hotels but heretofore missing from military housing.

To boost morale and reenlistment rates, the Navy and a private development firm have opened the first phase of Pacific Beacon, a $322-million high-rise housing project at Naval Base San Diego.

Four 18-story towers now surround a quad on what was once the base's par-3 golf course. At full occupancy, the towers will accommodate 1,882 unmarried sailors in 941 apartments.

The Navy has signed private-public agreements for similar housing projects in Norfolk, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla. The other services have sent top officers to study the arrangement.

"What's not to love?" said Capt. Ricky Williamson, the base commander. "I'd live here in a heartbeat."

The project is reserved for ranks E-4 (petty officer 3rd class) through E-6 (petty officer 1st class). Rental rates are set below what sailors receive in their housing allowances. In San Diego, one of the most expensive housing markets with military bases, monthly allowances for those ranks range from $1,472 to $1,798.

At Pacific Beacon, each unit accommodates two sailors -- each with his or her own room and bathroom. The roommates share a kitchen, living room, washer and dryer and balcony.

"I like the privacy," said Trumaine Shermon, a petty officer 3rd class. "It's like I can establish my own life and have a fresh start when I'm not on duty."

To old salts who might be tempted to say the Navy is going soft, Williamson has a response: Better accommodations will help the Navy attract and keep talent. "We're competing for the best and the brightest," he said. "Obviously we can't offer the salaries, but we can offer better living conditions."

The chief of naval operations wants the Navy to earn a spot on one of those Best Employers lists that magazines run. That may be tough, given certain inescapable facts of Navy life: long, arduous deployments at sea, cramped living quarters aboard ship, constant noise and lack of privacy.

But Pacific Beacon is meant as an offset to the rigors of deployment and an affordable way for sailors to live close to their work. San Diego has more than 27,000 single sailors.

The towers are run by the Navy's partner in the project, Clark Realty Capital. Sailors are asked to sign six-month leases; after that, it's month-to-month.

There are no inspections and no senior chiefs barking out commands. The Navy does insist on one rule: no cohabitation. Roommates must be of the same gender. Living at Pacific Beacon is voluntary; sailors are still allowed to use their housing allowance to find apartments off-base.

Because the towers are on a military base, construction had to meet the government's anti-terrorism construction standards. "This is built like a bomb shelter," said Bryan Lamb, development executive for Clark Realty Capital.

Most units are 1,000 square feet, with rents and other costs between $950 and $1,374 a month per bedroom, depending on location and other amenities. The barbecue patios, classrooms, fitness rooms, Subway sandwich shop and game rooms with big-screen TVs are open all night.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Martinez is particularly taken by the room dedicated to the playing of Texas Hold 'Em poker. He held a Super Bowl party on one of the rooftop recreation areas with a view of San Diego Bay.


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