As the new Congress gets sworn into office in January, Orange County representatives will likely move up in seniority on the committees they serve.
But none, perhaps, will have as much influence on local issues as Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside), who recently was appointed chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on military construction.
As one of the 13 “cardinals"--the appellation given to members who head the powerful appropriations subcommittees--Packard’s new job places him in charge of spending at local military bases, including the environmental cleanup of the soon-to-be-shuttered El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
With so many bases closed as part of the military downsizing of the 1990s, Packard said there will not be enough money to meet all the closing costs.
“It will be a big challenge,” Packard said. “We are not going to have the money to do it all at one time. That may mean we have to determine which bases are closing first and then which way to go.”
The cleanup of the El Toro property and the continued movement of troops to Miramar in San Diego and other Southern California bases are costly items that will be funded through Packard’s subcommittee.
Packard opposes the transformation of El Toro into a commercial airport, a proposal being fought by some of his constituents who live in south Orange County. But his work on that front would be separate from his committee assignment, he said.
“I don’t know that we will have a lot of policy decisions relative to what happens to the base after [El Toro] is closed, [but] it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
The environmental work required at El Toro, scheduled for closure by 1999, involves an underground storage of hazardous waste materials that have accumulated through the years, the congressman said.
“That’s a very expensive process. El Toro alone has got a huge hazardous waste site that has been identified,” Packard said. “It has to be cleaned up before it can be turned over to local or private use and that will be costly.”
The El Toro base is not in Packard’s district, but it is an example of the reach of influence in the coming session of Congress.
Though the huge Camp Pendleton is located in Packard’s district, which straddles Orange and San Diego counties, Packard will be doling construction dollars out to U.S. military installations and posts around the world. That means he will be making trips abroad to review the conditions of the bases, he added.
His first priority, he said, will be to improve the base housing for servicemen and servicewomen, including Camp Pendleton.
“That is crucial to the morale of our troops and families. [The housing units] are in rather deplorable condition generally,” Packard said.
During the last session, Packard headed the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the spending on the legislative branch. Though he was focused on congressional operations, Packard said he secured some money for naval base housing in San Diego, and for Marines at Camp Pendleton. “Now I’m in a position to really do something about it.”