Shipyard Supporters Vow to Continue Fight to Save It : Defense: Grass-roots group says battle is not over. Workers, some from Orange County, blame closure recommendation on San Diego competitors’ lobbying.


A few minutes after word arrived early Tuesday from Washington, about 500 Long Beach Naval Shipyard workers in hard hats and welders’ hoods spilled out the front entrance.

It had finally happened. After surviving three rounds of base closings since 1988, the shipyard was on the Defense Department’s hit list, and the workers were simmering.

“It’s dirty, it’s rotten, it’s unfair--and that’s being polite,” said welder Patricia Ray, a 24-year veteran of the yard. “We do too good a job to be on the list.”


Long Beach city officials and leaders of a grass-roots lobbying effort to save the shipyard were disappointed to see the facility on the list, but they grimly expressed their determination to continue the fight.

“We have been preparing for this moment,” said Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, “and we are ready to launch the fight of our life to keep this facility open and operational.”

The Defense Department recommendations for shutdowns now go to the eight-member Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which begins a round of public hearings and base visits, culminating in its own recommendations to President Clinton on July 1. This is the last round of a five-year process to scale back the post-Cold War military.

The shipyard employs 3,100, about 60% of them members of minority groups. According to a 1994 independent study, it pumps $757 million a year into the regional economy.

The loss of the facility would be an especially hard blow for Long Beach, which in recent years has seen the closure of the Long Beach Naval Station and the elimination of 30,000 jobs at McDonnell Douglas, the city’s largest employer.

City officials lauded a recent decision by the airplane manufacturer to produce fuselage sections of its MD-11 jetliner in Long Beach, bringing in fewer than 3,000 new jobs, as a major victory.


Closing the shipyard just does not make sense, many workers insist. It has operated in the black since 1988. Its huge dry dock No. 1 is the only one in California big enough to handle aircraft carriers, and the only one within 1,600 miles of San Diego, where 70% of the Pacific Fleet is based.

“I’m going batty trying to figure out where they’re coming from,” said Lou Rodriguez, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 174.

“The shipyard ought to be modeled, not closed,” said former City Councilman Ray Grabinski, a member of Save Our Shipyard, a 300-person grass-roots group.

Besides, California and Long Beach have been hit disproportionately by the base closing process, some said. The government has closed 250 bases since 1988, 22 of them in California.

“The last few closures hit quite a few bases in California,” said installation supervisor Bruce Owens, 38. “Why do they have to come back to California to clean up?”

Many workers wrote the listing off as a “political” decision, prompted by upper echelon maneuvering by a group of private shipyards in San Diego, which has mounted a fierce campaign to close down the Long Beach yard.


Dwight Ridge, 48, of Garden Grove, a machinist who has worked at the base for 23 years, said he “was kind of expecting (the closing), but I think it’s politics that’s closing it.”

The difference between the private shipyards and Long Beach is that “we make money for the Navy,” Ridge said. It was “politicking from San Diego that put us on the list.”

A report in the San Diego Union-Tribune said Washington, D.C., lobbyist George Schlossberg had been offered a $75,000 reward if Long Beach were placed on the list and closed.

Howard Ruggles, military affairs director for the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, denied that a “bounty” had been placed on the Long Beach facility. But he acknowledged that lobbyists such as Schlossberg were working to have it closed. “Part of (Schlossberg’s) job is to see what he can do about putting Long Beach on the closure list, because of competition with the local repair industry,” Ruggles said Tuesday.

Putting Navy ships solely in the hands of private yards would be a big mistake, said Long Beach sheet metal supervisor Paul Martin. “If we see a problem on a ship, we fix it because it has to be fixed,” he contended. “The privates only fix what they’re paid to fix.”

Martin added that closing the Long Beach yard would mean losing vast stores of experience and expertise. “These guys know ships inside out,” he said. “They know where everything is at, and they know how to get a job started.”


For some, the future suddenly seems full of uncertainty. “I’ve been a naval architectural technician for 19 years,” said Susan Cross, 46. “There aren’t a whole lot of jobs out there for people who do what I do.”

Raymond Chamberlain, 36, of Anaheim, a painter at the yard for three years whose father has worked there for 20 years, said, “All we can do is see what happens and do the best we can.”

Officials said that even if the Long Beach facility remains targeted for closure through the entire process, which will not be completed until Sept. 1, the facility will probably remain open another three years.

The focus now shifts to the base closure commission, whose members will visit the Long Beach shipyard within the next two months on a fact-finding trip. Shipyard supporters are pressing a plan to have three nuclear-powered aircraft carriers based in Long Beach, giving the shipyard added military value.

City officials emphasized that the listing on Tuesday was just the first step in a six-month process.

Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this story.