Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Berkeley), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, led a team of critics Monday in assailing the Pentagon’s plan to close down Alameda Naval Air Station and move many of its facilities to an uncompleted base in Everett, Wash.
Testifying before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission during its second day of regional hearings in California, Dellums charged that rather than saving money, the plan “leads in a different direction . . . against the grain of downsizing.”
Dellums said the Navy estimates that shutting the 2,800-acre Alameda base would save $169 million, but that the costs of outfitting the Everett site would run close to $1 billion.
“The economics of that escapes me. This plan makes no economic sense, no fiscal sense, no strategic sense, no force structure sense. It just makes no sense,” Dellums said to rousing applause from hundreds of base supporters at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center.
Also on the base closing list are five other major Bay Area facilities tied to the fate of the Alameda Naval Air Station, many in Dellums’ district.
With so much at stake to the local economy, the commission scheduled two days of hearings in Oakland. A third hearing today in San Diego focuses on two threatened bases in Southern California, the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station and the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
A total of 10 major California military facilities are slated for closure, more than any other state.
Dellums, who for 22 years in the House has been an ardent opponent of defense budgets, said his support for keeping Alameda open was not hypocritical.
“I have long maintained the military budget is not a jobs bill . . . and will continue to support the lowest budget possible,” Dellums said.
But he said the Navy’s recommendation was based on “fairly incompetent analysis” of Alameda’s merits and pointed out millions of dollars in hidden costs to move to the Everett site.
The Navy has spent $240 million to acquire the land and will need to spend $200 million more to complete the base, he said.
“That’s $440 million--and without one housing unit built,” Dellums said. A private company recently relocated to the Everett area and had trouble finding housing for 850 employees, Dellums said. “How will the Navy find homes for 5,000 people? Pitch tents in the countryside?”
The lack of nearby medical facilities would also increase the cost of moving to Everett--as much as $500 million if a new hospital had to be built, Dellums said.
A phalanx of retired Navy admirals also touted the advantages of keeping Alameda open. One key factor is the base’s three berths for nuclear aircraft carriers. Other issues raised in Alameda’s favor were its deep water port, rail and interstate highway links and better support facilities.
Because primary carrier training areas are off the coast of Southern California, ships based in Washington would add weeks to annual transit time, witnesses said, raising fuel and transportation costs.
One goal of Bay Area supporters of the Alameda bases is to persuade the commission to add the Everett site to the closure list. On that score, they received some modest encouragement.
Commission Chairman James Courter said during a break that he and other commissioners felt “duty-bound” to look at facilities, such as Everett, whose attributes the Navy decided were superior. But Courter refused to promise that the commission would vote to add the Washington base. Even visiting the Everett site is uncertain, he said.
“I was particularly struck by Alameda’s case,” Courter said, “although we had anticipated most of the arguments we heard.”
Dellums’ point about the hospital needing to be built in Everett was unexpected, he said. “Knowing the Navy, they’ll probably do it.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) led a panel of witnesses in support of Mare Island Naval Shipyard, also on the Pentagon closure list. Flanked by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rep. Dan Hamburg (D-Ukiah) and five local officials, Miller offered a detailed critique of the Navy’s decision to close the shipyard.
In a common tactic at the hearings, witnesses pointed out numerous flaws in the Navy’s rating system. For instance, Mare Island was not given credit for being able to dry-dock two cruisers and destroyers simultaneously.
Rival Long Beach Naval Shipyard, which survived the 1991 round of base closing and is not on the closure list this year, was given credit for being able to dry-dock nuclear ships, when in fact it can only berth them. Supporters were able to find 28 “substantial” errors in the Navy’s rating of Mare Island’s military value.
The fate of the shipyard attracted the biggest crowd of placard-carrying supporters during the two-day hearings. Organizers chartered 30 buses to bring 1,200 sympathizers to the hearing.
During an afternoon session the commission heard testimony on the Alameda Naval Aviation Depot, the Oakland Naval Supply Center and the Oakland Naval Hospital. Testimony about Treasure Island Naval Station was heard Sunday.