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Cox Backs Closure of Tustin Base if Land Is Sold : Lawmakers: Delegation urges preservation of Ft. Ord and the Long Beach Naval Station, charging the Pentagon erred.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rep. Christopher Cox told the national base-closing commission Tuesday that he supports the Pentagon’s plan to close the Marine Corps Air Station at Tustin as long as the military property can be sold for private development.

“In the final analysis,” Cox said in written testimony, “the Pentagon plan will only make sense if the land that now comprises the Tustin base is sold.” If the property is turned into a park or other government facility, he wrote, “instead of generating revenue, the Tustin base will end up costing taxpayers money.”

Cox, a Newport Beach Republican, was among a delegation of California lawmakers on Tuesday who urged members of a military base-closing commission to preserve Ft. Ord near Monterey, the Long Beach Naval Station and Castle Air Force Base in Merced, charging that the Pentagon erred in branding the bases as obsolete.

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However, Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and John Seymour (R-Calif.) and most of the state’s House delegation did not object to shutting down eight other targeted military facilities in the state, including the Tustin base.

The legislators urged the commission to carefully review proposed alternative uses for the bases, including a plan to turn over Moffett Field Naval Air Station in Northern California to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and a consortium of aerospace companies as a research facility.

Members of the California congressional delegation addressed their remarks to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which is reviewing the Pentagon’s month-old plan to close 43 military installations across the country, including 11 in California.

The hearing represented legislators’ only real opportunity to modify the list of bases being considered for closure. The commission will report its findings to President Bush on July 1, after which Congress can vote to accept or reject the final list, but not to amend it.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recommended the closings as part of a Pentagon effort to reduce the size of the U.S. armed services. Although most members of Congress acknowledge the need for consolidation, few are willing to endorse base closings in their own back yards.

“Unlike many who will testify over the next two days,” Cranston said, “I am not here to tell you not to close bases in my state.” But, he added, “I am troubled that in some cases the (armed) services brought an element of bias to their analysis.”

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The Department of Defense has said it wants to sell off about 1,200 of the 1,600 acres that comprise the Tustin helicopter base, first opened as a ground facility for observation blimps at the outset of World War II. Most of the aircraft at the base would move to a new Marine Corps Air Station to be built at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert. Some of the aircraft would move to the much smaller air station at nearby Camp Pendleton.

The Pentagon decided to close Tustin because military officials concluded that increasing development in the area surrounding the base has compromised Tustin’s military mission, and that skyrocketing land values in Orange County would make the base a prime property for redevelopment.

In his testimony, Cox told the commission: “Residents and business people who live and work nearby have long complained of noise problems created by Tustin’s aircraft, and have expressed their concerns regarding the safety risks. . . . At the same time, the Tustin facility is aging, and in need of significant improvements. . . .

“The Pentagon proposal thus appears to make sense by directing the hundreds of millions of dollars in needed facility improvements to a new location where the long-term viability of the base is assured.”

If the recommendation to close the base is approved by Congress, the facility would continue to operate for several more years, perhaps as many as six, while the new air base is built at Twentynine Palms, Marine Corps officials have said.

Cox did not appear in person before the commission but instead submitted written testimony because he was attending a hearing on his proposal to authorize construction of a new federal courthouse in Orange County. The courthouse plan was approved by the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation, but no funds have yet been set aside to build it.

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The strongest criticism at Tuesday’s hearing was leveled at the Pentagon’s plan to close Ft. Ord near Monterey, and move the 7th Light Infantry Division based there to Ft. Lewis, Washington.

Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley), who represents the area, said the 28,000-acre Ft. Ord provides “the best on-post family housing in the Army in the United States, bar none,” and “the best training area in the country for a light infantry division.”

In addition, Panetta said, the Department of Defense, which has anticipated that the sale of excess property at Ft. Ord could bring the government $400 million, failed to adequately consider the costs of environmental cleanup. Ft. Ord is one of five California military bases that have been placed on a “national priority list” of heavily polluted military sites; cleanup costs there could exceed $400 million, officials have said.

Seymour said: “I am convinced that the cost of closing this base will far exceed the investment needed to keep it open because of the severe environmental problems that it poses.”

The recommendation to close the Long Beach Naval Station drew fire from Cranston and Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach) and Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City). Rohrabacher criticized the methods the Navy used to evaluate its bases, noting that they differed from procedures followed by the Army and Air Force. He said the Navy analysis had been criticized in a study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Rohrabacher said that the Pearl Harbor Naval Station received the same color-coded ratings as Long Beach in each of four military categories, but that the Pentagon did not recommend closing Pearl Harbor.

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“For all the Navy can say about it, the yellow (closure) rating for Long Beach might as well have been done by a coin flip,” Rohrabacher said.

Seymour and Cranston also objected to plans to close Castle Air Force Base and move its bomber and tanker crew training mission to Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.

Seymour cited environmental concerns, noting that Castle also is on the national priority list of polluted military sites. Cranston said Fairchild is too far from other air bases to properly carry out training. “This seems to me to be a major flaw in the Pentagon’s analysis,” Cranston said.

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