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Support From Government, Business Sought for Local Bases : Military: Some area leaders are planning a Washington lobbying trip to help Point Mugu and Port Hueneme protect their 17,900 jobs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although Ventura County’s Navy bases survived this year’s base closures, Point Mugu is facing renewed scrutiny as the White House, Congress and Pentagon launch studies on how to consolidate weapons-test centers.

Any of the pending studies could recommend shutting down Point Mugu and casting adrift thousands of jobs as a way to save tax dollars, federal officials say.

Despite the Navy’s strong support of Point Mugu, military experts agree that the Pentagon can no longer afford all of its installations that test missiles and other weaponry. And, the experts say, the glut must end.

“We are going to continue to see efforts to get the infrastructure down to the bare minimum,” said Rear Adm. Dana B. McKinney, commanding officer of Point Mugu and its sister base at China Lake. “The question is, ‘What is the bare minimum?’ ”

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Nervous managers at Point Mugu have quietly asked local government and business leaders to rally behind the county’s bases. More importantly, they want public officials to match the lobbying campaigns being mounted by supporters of rival bases in Maryland and Florida.

Responding to the call for help, Supervisor John K. Flynn and defense contractors are rounding up a delegation of at least five mayors and other public officials to go to Washington next month for a show of community support.

“Mugu is still under serious threat and we’ve learned through Navy people and others that we need to have more of a presence in Washington,” Flynn said.

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The Dec. 11-14 lobbying trip is designed to help Point Mugu and Port Hueneme protect their 17,900 jobs and scrounge for more work to fortify the bases--the two largest employers in Ventura County.

Following this year’s round of base closings, the delegation hopes to secure about 300 new Navy and defense contractor jobs from other, less-fortunate bases in the country.

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They also plan to throw their support behind a growing list of Navy proposals for bringing in new activities that could fill empty aircraft hangars and help shoulder the cost of running the bases.

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Managers of Point Mugu are trying to attract a Marine helicopter squadron from the soon-to-be-closed Alameda Naval Air Station and a reserve unit of Navy Seals from a base in San Diego.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme wants to lure an Aegis cruiser here that would be home-ported at the deep-water Port of Hueneme.

The idea is to dedicate one cruiser as a special test ship that, in part, would help Port Hueneme and Point Mugu latch onto a portion of the Navy’s hottest new research project: a ship-fired missile that can down incoming ballistic missiles.

As conceived, the Theater Ballistic Missile Defense would work much like the Patriot Missile, the defensive weapon used by the Army to knock down Iraqi Scud missiles launched during the Gulf War.

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Only in this case, a Navy ship could cruise off the coast of a threatened city and envelop it in its protective shield. The Navy is now redesigning its Standard missile to extend its range for such a technological feat.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, with nearly 2,500 employees at Port Hueneme, is the Navy’s principal shop for trouble-shooting shipboard weapons, computers and radar.

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It has done quite well in recent years, collecting tasks from other bases that were ordered closed or consolidated by the base-closing commission set up by Congress.

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But the Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division, at Point Mugu has continued to shrink in workload and work force in the post-Cold War era. Some of the programs have been transferred to China Lake, its sister base in the upper Mojave Desert.

Other jobs have been lost as the Pentagon reduces its ranks 4% a year in the 1990s. And much of its missile-testing work is done on older weapons with limited life spans.

“Mugu fears that all of the missiles there are being phased out of the Navy,” said Bill Simmons, who is helping organize the renewed lobbying effort. “If they don’t get anything else going, they will continue to shrink. They acknowledge they need to diversify and diversify quite rapidly.”

Earlier this year, the nation’s base-closing commissioners added Point Mugu to a list of bases proposed for shutdown. The commissioners eventually removed the base from the closure list, acknowledging, “We goofed.”

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Even so, Navy officials expect that big battles lie ahead with the Air Force over the three studies to consolidate weapons-testing centers.

The proposed studies will push money-saving scenarios for consolidation that had little success with the base-closing commission: merging similar Army, Air Force and Navy facilities.

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The studies are sure to pit Point Mugu against its longtime rival, Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Both Point Mugu and Eglin test aircraft weaponry on their missile-test ranges that stretch for miles out to sea.

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Other bases may also come into play, including the Navy bases at China Lake, Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert.

Pentagon officials are now working up their own consolidation study and preparing to respond to two outside requests. The results could come swiftly.

Congress has ordered the secretary of defense to come up with a consolidation plan no later than May 1. President Clinton has ordered a similar consolidation scenario by Feb. 15.

The scare of losing the base and its 8,700 jobs to base closing has forged a strong alliance between the Navy and its surrounding community--one that is being reactivated to fight for Point Mugu now.

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The task force of community leaders who defended Point Mugu before the base-closing commission has been reborn under a new name, the Community-Navy Action Partnership.

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The group has kicked into high gear in the past two weeks, with the newly emerging threat to Point Mugu.

Last week, the group raised about $6,000 from businesses and private donors. Flynn plans to ask the County Board of Supervisors for a contribution of $5,000 to $10,000. Other members plan to appeal to the cities for contributions.

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The money is needed for the delegation’s trip to the nation’s capital and to rehire Lynn Jacquez, the Washington lobbyist who was instrumental in the successful campaign to save Point Mugu from closure earlier this year, said Ventura businesswoman Carolyn Leavens, one of the group’s leaders.

“We are going to get back to supporting Lynn because we need her,” Leavens said. “We have to get busy or the base will be downsized out of business.”

Flynn has sent letters to the mayors and city managers of Ventura County’s 10 cities on the upcoming lobbying trip.

So far, the Camarillo and Port Hueneme city councils have agreed to participate. Port Hueneme Mayor Toni Young will join the delegation as will Camarillo City Councilman Michael Morgan and Camarillo City Manager Bill Little.

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Camarillo Mayor David Smith said his city’s representatives will not just be unabashed boosters of more activity at Point Mugu. “It would be a good time for our representatives to talk to our legislators about our opposition to the joint-use airport at Point Mugu,” he said.

The Camarillo council passed a resolution last week opposing a plan to allow commercial airliners to share the Navy airfield. City residents are worried about the safety of more planes flying over schools and the nuisance of additional aircraft noise.

Meanwhile in Washington, Jacquez and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) are cobbling together an itinerary of meetings at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill for the county’s delegation.

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“We are going to make sure that the people with the technical knowledge have access to not just a few of the key people, but all of the key people,” Gallegly said.

Gallegly’s staff has also been dogging the progress of the scheduled transfer of about 100 jobs from a Navy facility in Louisville to Port Hueneme.

The transfers were ordered by the base-closing commission, but the Louisville facility is trying to hang onto the work by switching it from Navy employees to private defense contractors.


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