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EDWARDS BOLSTERED BY REPORT PENTAGON TO MAKE DECISIONS ON CLOSURES.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - A gubernatorial commission's recommendations on how best to protect California's military bases from defense cuts drew praise from Antelope Valley leaders, who said it will help them protect and promote Edwards Air Force Base.

The Governor's Council on Base Support and Retention urges political unity and continued promotion of California's unique assets in a report issued just weeks before the Pentagon releases its recommendations for which bases to close.

``I think the report spells out the route we have to follow in order to protect our military asset,'' said state Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster.

The council recommended creating a high-level state advisory group to represent the military's interests, and helping community leaders prepare information for the federal government's base closure commission, including creating ``action teams'' to assist communities with bases targeted for closure.

Runner said the report correctly recommends a unified defense of California military bases on their importance to national defense.

In previous base closure rounds, individual communities put on fragmented efforts, mostly focused on the economic harm closing a base would do to the surrounding community, Runner said.

Stressing California bases' strategic role and the cost to replace them is more likely to get results, he said.

``That's a much better message,'' Runner said. ``I think it's very worthwhile and I think it has the right tone for what we need to say.''

After Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on May 16 issues his recommendation for which bases to close, a base realignment and closure commission - or BRAC - will hold hearings through the summer. The commission is scheduled to present its recommendations to President George W. Bush in September.

The previous four rounds of base closures since the 1990s have saved the Defense Department an estimated $28.9 billion, Pentagon officials said. Another round could save as much as an additional $7 billion annually, federal officials said.

California lost 93,546 Defense Department personnel, both military and civilian, in the cuts, more than the 80,373 job cuts in the other 49 states combined.

The state has lost about $9.6 billion annually from the cuts, according to a report released by the California Institute for Federal Policy Research.

One of the alarm bells sounded in the gubernatorial panel's report was that there is perception of California being unfriendly toward the military. The council's report did not quantify what has created that perception.

Runner doesn't think California has an anti-military attitude, but it has higher costs in many areas and other restrictions such as tight environmental laws that the military must face, just like civilian businesses do.

State Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, whose district includes Edwards and the China Lake Naval Warfare Center, also does not agree that there is an anti-military altitude in California.

``I'm not sure California is perceived as anti-military,'' Ashburn said. ``We have unity on the issue of keeping, maintaining, and supporting our military bases. Our congressional delegation and Legislature members, regardless of party and location in the state, have been very united on this topic.''

Ashburn, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Defense and Aerospace industry, said he will be calling a hearing to go through the council's recommendations and discuss ways to implement them.

The council's report reflects much of what Antelope Valley leaders told them during a Jan. 10 hearing in Lancaster. At that hearing there was a great deal of discussion of the Southwest Defense Complex, a concept of basing much of the military's training and test and evaluation missions in the Southwest, with Edwards being a linchpin of the complex.

The council's report makes more than a dozen references to the complex, and among their recommendations is working with other Southwest states to protect and strengthen bases that would be part of it.

``The value of each of these facilities, for operations, training, or testing, depends on the integration among them all,'' the council's report said. ``Southwestern states cannot count on the Pentagon understanding the best way to link and support these capabilities, unless they join California and work together to further this unique set of capabilities.''

Bob Johnstone, executive director of the Southwest Defense Alliance, a multistate group promoting the concept, said he sees a great deal of interest about the concept in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Johnstone was in Washington, D.C., promoting the concept during the Antelope Valley Board of Trade's annual lobbying trip earlier this month.

``Everyone was aware of it and complimentary of it. The question is how to make it happen,'' Johnstone said. ``Everyone was complimentary about Edwards and its capabilities, but everyone also said they don't know what the powers that be are thinking on BRAC.''

One recommendation Pentagon officials passed on to Johnstone was for the Antelope Valley to pursue economic adjustment grants to do planning for changes resulting from BRAC. Such grants are available to communities that might gain military personnel or missions, and not just for communities suffering from base closures.

The defense of Edwards by the region's civic leaders began years before the Governor's Council was formed and will continue on through the BRAC process, officials said. Those efforts have included promoting the Southwest Defense Complex, educating federal and state lawmakers on military issues, and working on land use issues to avoid development encroachment on bases.

``I'm confident our work will stand on its own, with or without (Arnold Schwarzenegger's) council,'' said Kern County Supervisor Don Maben, whose district includes Edwards.

Despite the losses from previous base closures, California still has the largest number of bases and military personnel, the institute study said. The Defense Department operates out of 424 locations in California, including 26 medium or large bases, and has about 200,000 personnel, not counting contractor staff.

The Defense Department still spends about $40 billion annually in California.

The institute report also touched on the perception of a lack of friendliness toward the military in California.

``Local governments can make land use and encroachment regulations friendlier for existing military bases. State and local governments and community leaders can promote affordable housing near bases,'' the report said. ``Ultimately, California could put itself in a position to receive, rather than lose, military personnel in future base closure rounds - but only if the state takes proactive steps to be a friendlier home for the military.''

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 17, 2005
Words:1066
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