ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Insensitivity in Closure Listing

The Seal Beach City Council is probably right in cautioning residents not to make too much of last weekend's disclosure that the Naval Weapons Station has been put on a federal list of bases that might be closed or cut back. For one thing, the base might actually wind up gaining jobs. For another, of 35 military facilities put on a similar list two years ago, none closed.

But Orange County residents would certainly be right to wonder whether the federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission could not explain things better, in a way that avoids needlessly inflaming community fears. The commission may well be right to say that it's unnecessary to have 16 weapons depots like the one at Seal Beach testing tactical missiles. But that testing accounts for less than 10% of the facility's work, and this fact leaves many people hopeful that the rest of the base will stay open. The problem comes with the commission putting the Seal Beach base on its possible-closure list around midnight Friday and then being unavailable for additional information until Monday. That left city officials, workers and their families fearing the worst for an entire weekend.

One thing the commission did correctly was decide to re-examine whether to close the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro. The Navy, which has jurisdiction over the Marine Corps, originally estimated that it would cost $340 million to consolidate at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego the functions of the Marines' El Toro and Tustin stations; local Marine Corps officials, however, put the figure at more than $1.2 billion.

Now the commission has Miramar on the new list as well, meaning that installation could be closed, or pared back. Or Miramar could get the Tustin and El Toro air wings as originally planned. The commission will hold more hearings before making its recommendations to President Clinton and Congress July 1.

Because the commission must consider not just national security and the federal budget but also the impact on the local economy, Orange County has a good case to make against closing all the local facilities. But the commission must do a better job of communicating and not repeat the Seal Beach fiasco.

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