In his budget request for next year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced he will seek a new round of cost-saving military base realignments and closures in 2017.
Congress turned down the last two Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) requests in 2012 and 2013, and may do so again next time.
But even if Hagel’s request is approved by legislators, it’s unknown at this point whether Naval Base Ventura County would be on his hit list.
Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve who is running for Congress in the 26th district, doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.
Gorell and the Ventura County Economic Development Association hosted a forum Friday at CSU Channel Islands on what base supporters can to minimize the odds that the installation will be targeted for realignment or closure.
The base, which includes facilities at Point Mugu, Port Hueneme and San Nicolas Island, historically has been placed on the BRAC list, Gorell said at the “Defending Our Military Community and Economy” program.
“What we found in the last BRAC 10 years ago and 10 years prior to that, is that communities which organized early were capable of making the best case to hold on to and defend their military installations,” he said in an interview.
Retired Rear Adm. Benjamin Montoya, a presidential appointee to the 1995 BRAC commission, agreed.
“The time to do your homework is before BRAC is announced,” Montoya told an audience of about 100 people, including local officials and military and business representatives.
Community support for the base is critical, said keynote speaker Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
“I think it’s very important for the community to rally to save your base,” McKeon said.
Charlie Giacchi, a member of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s military council, which is charged with protecting the state’s military bases from Pentagon budget cuts, said the time for the community to get behind the base is now.
“We can’t wait for BRAC,” said Giacchi, a member of one of the forum’s three panels and a former technical director of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, which has several locations, including one at Port Hueneme. “We have to be involved. We have to be engaged.”
Another panel at the forum focused on the economic impacts to the county if the base were closed. The installation is the county’s largest employer with more than 17,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel. It has an estimated $1.9 billion annual local economic impact.
“I don’t see any good outcomes” if the base were closed, said California Lutheran University economist Bill Watkins, although he joked that “traffic would be lighter on the freeways.”
Retired base commander Capt. Brad “Brick” Conners said he believed the odds were slim the installation would be targeted for closure, given its military value, including its 36,000-square-mile Pacific Ocean test range.
“It’s very unlikely, but you never know,” he said in an interview. “There is no accounting for a strategic surprise — 9/11, the Gulf War, the Soviet implosion — which can change the whole dynamic.”