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Stockton Seeking to Capture Battleship

Times Staff Writer

San Francisco might be a lovely place to leave your heart, but it’s not the place to park a battleship.

Instead, look east to scrappy Stockton, where residents eagerly await the historic warship Iowa, which was spurned last week by San Francisco officials objecting to the war in Iraq and the military’s treatment of gays.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Jul. 23, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 23, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Stockton port -- An article in Monday’s California section about the effort to find a permanent home for the historic warship Iowa described Stockton as the West Coast’s easternmost port. In fact, San Diego is.

No such cautions were sounded in Stockton, where officials have orchestrated an aggressive battle plan to capture the Iowa.

“The San Francisco vote doesn’t surprise me,” said Doug Wilhoit, head of the local Chamber of Commerce and a former San Joaquin County commissioner. “It reflects their general attitude toward the fighting men and women of our country.”

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By a vote of 8 to 3, San Francisco County supervisors Tuesday opposed a move by veterans groups and history buffs to provide a home for the Iowa in the City by the Bay.

Under the plan, the 63-year-old ship would have drawn tourists eager to tread the decks of one of the world’s biggest battleships, a vessel that was a favorite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and fitted with his own presidential bathtub. In 1943, the ship carried Roosevelt to Casablanca en route to the Tehran Conference.

The decision shocked the Iowa’s supporters, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a former San Francisco mayor, who helped secure $3 million to tow the Iowa from Rhode Island to the Bay Area in 2001.

However, boosters of Stockton were elated.

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“San Francisco has so many tourist attractions that the Iowa could get lost in all the noise,” said Gordon Palmer, Stockton’s deputy city manager. “But here in Stockton, the Iowa is the noise. People up here are really excited about it.”

The West Coast’s easternmost port, Stockton is a 70-mile sail from the Golden Gate Bridge and cosmopolitan San Francisco. It once was known as Mudville and claims, along with a few other towns, to be the hometown of “the Mudville nine,” the hapless team in the baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.”

An agricultural mecca on the San Joaquin River, Stockton throws an annual asparagus festival and brings in vast shipments of fertilizer through its port. In recent years, though, it also has embarked on a sweeping downtown renovation that includes an ice-hockey arena, a 16-screen movie theater, a ballpark and -- perhaps -- the Iowa.

“People saw us as a rundown, farm-city sort of place,” Palmer said, “but we’re turning into a vibrant urban center.”

To secure the Iowa, Stockton has offered a mile-long dock in the city’s busy port on the San Joaquin River, a 90,000-square-foot waterfront building and a 15-acre parking area -- all free of charge.

San Francisco offered nothing.

In fact, there was no visible support for the idea from the mayor’s office or the port district, according to county Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who said he voted against the proposal partly for lack of governmental enthusiasm.

But he also cast his vote on principle.

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“It’s difficult to honor a military icon realizing that neither I nor anyone else who’s openly gay can serve in the military,” said Dufty, who represents the Castro district, San Francisco’s biggest gay neighborhood.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said he “didn’t want to sink money into a war museum while we’re stuck in a war I don’t support.” He also was uncertain that the Iowa could sustain itself as a tourist site, pointing to the shaky finances of the aircraft carrier Hornet, moored across the bay in Alameda.

In Stockton, boosters have no doubt they can at least break even by drawing 125,000 tourists a year and charging them $12 each to see the Iowa.

It seems like such a sure thing that Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy) sponsored legislation authorizing the ship’s permanent move to Stockton from its temporary spot in a mothballed flotilla at Suisun Bay, near the entrance to the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta about 35 miles east of San Francisco.

Part of a larger defense bill, the measure has been passed by the House but has yet to reach the Senate.

Pombo said he expects the Iowa to float into Stockton within a year, undaunted by any competition from San Francisco after last week’s supervisorial snub.

Ordinarily, the Navy chooses the spots for its museum ships after bids are submitted from vying cities. In the case of the Iowa, Pombo said, the Navy would be reluctant to choose a spot like San Francisco, where local leaders don’t support the move.

“That vote made me smile,” he said. “I was with some other members of the California delegation when we heard about it. They shook their heads and said, ‘That’s San Francisco.’ ”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

One ship, two cities

San Francisco supervisors want nothing to do with the Iowa, but officials in Stockton would love to have the historic warship docked at their port. A look at the two cities:

San Francisco

Population: 776,733

People per square mile: 16,634

Median household income: $55,221

Median value of owner-occupied housing units: $396,400

Bachelor’s degree or higher: 45%

--

Stockton

Population: 243,771

People per square mile: 4,456

Median household income: $35,453

Median value of owner-occupied housing units: $119,500

Bachelor’s degree or higher: 15.4%

--

Source: 2000 census


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