Leaders Lobby to Spare L.A. Air Force Base From Closure : Economy: Campaign includes letters and visits to Washington. Defense secretary's list is expected March 1.


The Los Angeles Air Force Base has no control tower, no runway and no aircraft, but South Bay business leaders say its closure would lead to dire consequences.

They warn of thousands of jobs lost, billions of dollars of revenue down the drain and a flood of aerospace contractors leaving the area.

These cries have been repeated in Washington in recent weeks, as South Bay business leaders and politicians lobby to spare the base from the next round of closures and relocations. They have their sights set on March 1, when Defense Secretary William Perry is scheduled to unveil his recommendations for bases that should close. A special commission then will consider his choices and vote on a list that will be sent to President Clinton.

In 1991 and again in 1993, the Los Angeles Air Force Base survived the process. And recent news has been encouraging about the next round. Perry said last week that the list will not be as long as expected.

"We're guardedly optimistic," said Jerry Saunders, a Continental Development Corp. executive, who is leading the effort by the South Bay Assn. of Chambers of Commerce to save the base. "The rules haven't changed (since 1993), the real world hasn't changed too much. But you never know."

As in past years, the fear is that the Pentagon will recommend that the base relocate to the Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, or to other sites in Colorado or Texas.


To rally against a possible move, Saunders and others have been writing letters to lawmakers, visiting Washington and handing out bright yellow brochures. The base handed out $4 billion in contracts in 1994, according to Air Force officials.

"Could the largest employer in the South Bay be leaving soon?" the brochure reads.

The organization also has its eyes on the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. Its future is believed to be more shaky than that of the Los Angeles Air Force Base, because it was spared by only one vote by the commission in 1993. Union officials became even more concerned over reports that the shipyard was on a Navy list of bases recommended for closure.

"I think that we are going down this time," said Tommie Williams, a shipfitter who is leading efforts to save the facility for his union local, the Federal Employees Metal Trades Council.

But Jerry Miller, head of economic development for Long Beach, said that the list was just one of several scenarios that a Navy analysis team has considered.

Conflicting rumors have also dogged the Los Angeles Air Force Base ever since the 1993 round of closures.

"Obviously everyone (on the base) is very concerned," said Howard Antelis, a spokesman for the base. "Everyone wants to know where they will be working."

Yet rallying support off the base is not easy for the business officials leading the effort. Unlike work at the Long Beach shipyard, where destroyers frequently pull up to dry docks for repairs, the operations at Los Angeles Air Force Base are shielded from public view. The sprawling campus looks similar to other aerospace facilities along El Segundo Boulevard.

"We do not have the visibility most bases do," Antelis said. "Most people do not even know we're here."

The base, with 1,300 civilian and 1,300 military employees, oversees the purchasing, design and construction of almost all of the Department of Defense's space systems, including satellites and launch vehicles.

Air Force officials in the past have cited a lack of affordable housing, as well as the area's problems with crime, as reasons for relocating the base.

"It's very difficult to recruit folks to go to Los Angeles," said Antelis, the base spokesman. "It's not like it used to be, when you get orders to go somewhere. (Military personnel) can make choices where they want to go and where they don't want to go."

Part of the problem may have been solved in 1993, when Air Force officials signed a lease on 26 acres of prime ocean-view property in San Pedro where they plan to build about 150 housing units.

But quality of life is just one factor that is being considered by the Base Closure Commission. They also have to consider economic factors in their decision.

Boosters of the base argue that moving it elsewhere would rack up a bill of $300 million to $1 billion for the Pentagon. The added expense ranges from moving or rebuilding the base's research facilities, to paying a premium on commercial airline tickets because the base would be in a city without a hub airport like LAX.

An even greater fear is that the contractors that build the satellites--such as Hughes Aircraft Co. and TRW Inc.--would move many of their employees to be near their government clients if the base moves. The Aerospace Corp., a nonprofit research firm, gets almost all of its contracts from the base.

"A lot of people are staying here because it's close to the client," said Michael Beltramo, a Los Angeles-based aerospace consultant.

A move could have a "destabilizing" impact on national security, because it would disrupt defense programs, according to Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills), who plans to meet with Pentagon officials and the staff of the closure commission later this month.

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