The Point Mugu and Port Hueneme naval bases have been spared by Defense Department officials and will not appear on the Pentagon's recommended list of base closures to be unveiled today, according to congressional sources.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) learned late Monday that both Ventura County bases have survived the scrutiny of military experts looking to trim bases that the Pentagon can no longer afford in the post-Cold War era.
"I'm elated," Gallegly said. "It's very encouraging given the significance that these bases have strategically for the nation and economically to Ventura County."
In related news, Gallegly reported Monday that the local bases could lose close to 560 jobs in the coming years as the Navy backs away from its tradition of shuttling scientists and cargo to Antarctica. But that loss pales when compared to the 20,000 jobs at stake if the two Navy bases were ordered closed.
Given the economic impact, the two Navy bases have become the focus of a major lobbying effort to protect them from the widespread closures once threatened by defense officials.
Military leaders have scaled back their ambitious plans in recent weeks, congressional sources said, proposing that only two of California's military installations be shuttered: the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and the Onizuka Air Force Base in Sunnyvale.
"It is my understanding that the Oakland Army Base is off the list and that's very good news," Feinstein said of one base initially reported as a casualty.
Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch, who briefed Feinstein and other lawmakers Monday, did not reveal all of the Pentagon's recommendations, such as the expected shuffling of jobs and duties among those bases spared from closure.
Those details will be released this morning when Defense Secretary William J. Perry forwards the Pentagon's recommendations to the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
The commissioners, under a mandate from Congress, will have the next four months to review the list, remove bases from it or add others.
The independent commission also has the authority to scrap the Pentagon's suggestions and come up with its own separate list of targeted bases. But in earlier base-closure rounds, the commissioners have closely followed the suggestions of Pentagon experts.
The final list must be approved or rejected as a whole by President Clinton and Congress. In an effort to remove parochial politics from the process, neither Congress nor the President can tinker with the list.
Given that the process is far from over, members of a Ventura County lobbying group suggested it is too soon to uncork the champagne.
"This is basically the first hurdle we've gotten through, and it's certainly wonderful to pass it, but we've got months of commission hearings," said Cal Carrera, co-chairman of the BRAC '95 Task Force.
He warned that the federal base-closing commission could still add either of the county's bases, especially if rival bases are on the list and urge the commission to consider alternatives.
"We'll be looking at what's on the list and we'll be watching the commission hearings," he said.
Supervisor John K. Flynn, who recently returned from a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., said he believes the community must assume a more aggressive posture to line up more work for local bases.
"We've lost some activities at our bases," Flynn said. "Our strategy now has to be to add to the activities at Point Mugu and Hueneme."
Gallegly received word late last week that both bases could lose another 558 jobs in the years ahead.
Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, the Navy's top admiral, informed Gallegly that he is willing to forfeit the Navy's longstanding role flying scientists and cargo to Antarctica, so that those jobs can be applied to more critical duties.
In a letter to Gallegly, Boorda said he wants to hand over the seasonal airlift of supplies and scientists to an Air Force reserve unit based in Schenectady, N.Y.
"You are correct that we are planning to transfer this part of the mission from Navy to the Air Force National Guard," wrote Boorda, the chief of naval operations.
"I assure you, however, that this is not at all being done 'over the objections of the Navy,' " Boorda wrote, referring to Gallegly's inquiry into Operation Deep Freeze. "We fully support the transfer and, in fact, introduced the idea for a number of reasons."
Boorda explained that the Air Guard has experience flying the ski-equipped C-130 cargo planes in the Arctic and could save taxpayers money by taking over operations at both poles.
Gallegly questioned whether the transfer would save tax dollars because Congress would have to approve 200 to 250 new Air Force jobs in New York before the Navy could begin its proposed three-year phaseout of Operation Deep Freeze.
Members of the New York congressional delegation are coveting the new jobs to shore up their state's Air National Guard. Gallegly, meanwhile, has assembled a collection of California congressmen to halt any hemorrhage of work to New York.
"I'm not ready to roll over on this," said Gallegly, who has requested a face-to-face meeting with Boorda. "But it may be difficult to fight for this if the Navy says it doesn't want to do it."