County Leaders Lobby Pentagon to Save Bases


Pushing their case face-to-face with top military brass, a local delegation spent Wednesday shuttling through the Pentagon in an effort to protect Ventura County’s military bases from closure.

Delivering the same message half a dozen times throughout the day, participants said military leaders appeared receptive to their argument that the Point Mugu and Port Hueneme bases are unique military assets that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

“In practically every instance, they viewed our information as useful and said they would pass it along,” said County Supervisor Maggie Kildee. “We were able to point out things I don’t think they thought of.”


Stressing the one-of-a-kind geography that prompted the Defense Department to locate the bases in Ventura County in the first place, the group reminded military leaders of the islands just off the Ventura coastline used by Point Mugu, the deep-water launching spot at Port Hueneme and the critical tracking instruments based on Laguna Peak.

Participants said the word synergy came up again and again at the sessions as they stressed that the Navy bases work together for the good of the country’s defense. Just as they had rehearsed in weeks of preparatory sessions, they did not stress the severe economic impact that closure would have on the community, sticking instead to the military rationale for keeping the bases alive.

Still, as officials geared up for meetings today and Friday, they said the threat to the county’s bases, which contribute substantially to the area’s economic health, is real. During this fourth round of cutbacks, Defense Secretary William J. Perry has instructed the various military branches to recommend closing about 15% of the nation’s bases, setting communities across the country on edge.

“We’re still in the middle of the process,” said Richard Wittenberg, the county’s chief administrative officer. “I feel better now because we’re passing important information along, but I don’t feel relieved yet. At least we’re doing something.”

As they strode through Pentagon hallways, the local officials wore small American flags and red, white and blue ribbons on their lapels. They call themselves the BRAC ’95 Task Force, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure law.

Among their stops were the offices of Vice Adm. William C. Bowes, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, which oversees the weapons-testing programs at Point Mugu; Rear Adm. J.E. Buffington, chief of civil engineers and responsible for the Seabees at Port Hueneme; Rear Adm. Edward S. McGinty, vice commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, which encompasses the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme; and Robert Bayer, deputy assistant defense secretary responsible for base realignment.


Although many other communities have made similar lobbying trips, those supporting Ventura County’s cause saw the visit as essential.

“I think it says a lot about Ventura County and the importance of our bases that this group has taken the time and effort to travel across the country,” said Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley). “This kind of face-to-face contact . . . can only help make our case that Point Mugu and Port Hueneme are vital military facilities that should continue to operate.”

Looking exhausted at day’s end, the officials said there is little glamour to their visit, which was funded by local governments and businesses. They stayed at a cut-rate hotel, grabbed a 25-minute lunch at the Pentagon cafeteria and shuttled across the city packed into a van.

Stressing the importance of the mission to the county’s future, former Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino said he gave up a day of duck hunting, while county Supervisor John Flynn said he left his daughter, who had just given birth, back home.

“It was a grueling day,” said Kildee, slumping in her chair. “We got up very early and we haven’t stopped. . . . We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and I’m tired.”

The group continues its lobbying blitz today in meetings with congressional staffers and Friday with the chairman of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.


That final session will be critical because the commission is charged with submitting the final list of cutbacks to President Clinton next summer. The county’s bases emerged largely unscathed in previous reductions but each round increases the risk that they will be put on the chopping block.

Others participating in the three-day effort are Ted Rains, retired technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center; businesswoman Carolyn Leavens; Moorpark Councilman Bernardo Perez, and Penny Bohannon, the county’s Sacramento lobbyist. Helping them pry open doors in Washington was Lynn Jacquez, whose lobbying firm was hired for its expertise in saving military bases.