April 30, 2004 - From the April, 2004 issue

Another Base Closure in Metro Los Angeles In 2005? BRAC Targets The Los Angeles Air Force Base

As part of the military's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) policy, the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo is at risk to be one of the facilities to close. Should LAAFB close, the location of the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) would be in doubt, as would the jobs and contracts that it supports. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Joe Aro, Executive Director of the South Bay Economic Partnership, in which he addresses the effort to retain the SMC at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

Joe Aro

Joe, please bring our readers up to speed on what the newest federal base closure effort means for the South Bay. Is the El Segundo Space and Missile Systems Center currently sited at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in jeopardy of closing?

To give you some background, Congress authorized a Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2005. We are now in a process whereby more than 400 military installations throughout the nation are being evaluated, including over 60 bases in California. This is part of the streamlining process for the military to update itself to make sure that we are getting maximum return on investment. BRAC 2005 intends to eliminate excess physical capacity and transform the Department of Defense to maximize both war fighting capability and efficiency. Because the key word with BRAC is realignment, some of the missions may be absorbed in other facilities, and some of them that are underutilized will be turned over for public use.

We have a unique situation here in the South Bay in that the Los Angeles Air Force Base in the city of El Segundo is unknown to many people, including many in the military. LAAFB is not a typical military installation with thousands of acres of land and where large-scale military exercises are conducted; it doesn't have a runway. Many Air Force personnel have never been to Los Angeles Air Force Base because it's a particular type of person who's stationed there. The Los Angeles Air Force Base is home to the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), which is the heart of the nation's space enterprise technology sector.

Why is this base on the list for consideration under BRAC?

All bases are being evaluated and considered, and those that are deemed as having lived past their useful purpose-those that may not fit the new model of the military-could be slated for closure. Because LAAFB is primarily an office building, there are those who believe it needs to be evaluated along with all of the other installations. Potentially, only the key element of the Air Force Base, the SMC, could be moved to another site. Colorado appears to be the front-runner under that scenario.

What's the economic significance of this base for the region? Why are you and the LAEDC so involved in fighting for its survival?

The significance of the LA Air Force Base is the Space and Missile Systems Center. If we look at it purely from an economic standpoint, calculations by the LAEDC indicate that the base directly and indirectly affects 65,000 jobs throughout California, with a payroll estimated to be approximately $3.2 billion annually. However, the value of the base is far greater than that when we consider the intellectual capacity of this region. The SMC annually awards procurement contracts in the amount of anywhere from $6 billion to $11 billion. At any given time, the SMC is managing contracts that will have a value of up to $70 billion total. That's a lot of money, and it goes into a region with the richest concentration of scientists and engineers who are involved in the development of the next generation of ballistic missiles, rockets and satellites. No other military installation worldwide matches the LA Air Force Base's position as a leader in space systems design and development. So, the value of the base goes beyond 65,000 direct and indirect jobs statewide and $3.2 billion in annual payroll.

The South Bay Economic Development Partnership joined the South Bay Cities Council of Governments, the South Bay Association of Chambers of Commerce and more than 100 other entities to form the Los Angeles Air Force Base Regional Alliance. The Alliance purpose is to preserve the base in its current location in the city of El Segundo. Beyond the economic impact of the base, we are interested in preserving the base as a model for public-private, local-federal government collaboration for local development. The military has traded some of its property at the base to the private sector for development in exchange for the construction of a state-of-the-art facility for the L.A. Air Force Base and the SMC. This is known as the SAMS project. A project description is found at http://www.losangeles.af.mil/non-mil.shtml. The need for this project is that the current facilities are well over 40 years old.

Joe, there's evidence that the Colorado Economic Development Corporation is a competitor trying to lure the Air Force and the aerospace industry from California to Colorado. Do you want to comment on this competition generally and specifically?

Actually, it goes a lot deeper than Colorado Springs and the state of Colorado. As soon as President George W. Bush took office, Senator Pete Domenici (NM) wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld encouraging him to consider moving the SMC from its present location to Kirtland Air Force Base, outside of Albequerque, New Mexico. Over the years, other people and organizations have sought to relocate the SMC, believing that the SMC would be a magnet to attract aerospace contractors and higher level engineering personnel.

Also, it's not a secret that governors from other states make regular visits to California to encourage many of our key aerospace supplier firms to relocate or expand in their states. Governor Jeb Bush is in California regularly. The Governor of Colorado makes trips out here. Because of the diversity of the California economy, other states perceive the space enterprise technology companies as low hanging fruit, and they try to recruit them away. The SMC is not only being sought by Kirtland Air Force Base, but a more dramatic move is being made to lure the SMC to Colorado by the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation. A similar effort is being made by Omaha, Nebraska. We've heard recently that Florida and either North or South Carolina also are seeking to have the SMC moved.

So, the challenge to us here in the South Bay and in Southern California is not only to keep the Los Angeles Air Force Base off of the 2005 BRAC list, but it's also to defend the base against the encroachment and poaching of other states throughout the country.

How cohesive and effective are the California Congressional delegation and the South Bay representatives in defending the base and its role and place and significance in Los Angeles County?

We are getting absolutely outstanding cooperation from the federal elected officials, as well as those at the state and county level, and councilmembers at the city level. This support is coming in a variety of ways. The elected officials are not only voicing their opinion relative to L.A. Air Force Base and, in the case of statewide elected and national officials, other sites throughout California that may be slated for closure. But also, we are being rewarded with financial support. Supervisor Don Knabe contributed $100,000 to our effort. Mayor James Hahn made a commitment of $100,000 from the city of Los Angeles, because even though the base itself is located in the city of El Segundo, base housing is located in San Pedro. We have support from Senator Feinstein, who has gone on the record as indicating that the LAAFB is the linchpin for our defense industry in California.


Congresswoman Jane Harman has led the effort among the congressional representatives in the five county region. We expect the same support, and we are getting it, from Supervisor Yvonne Burke as well as the other supervisors in Los Angeles County. Many of our cities throughout the county already have written letters and passed resolutions in support of the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

We also have cities that are making financial contributions-El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes. We expect that eventually all South Bay cities will provide financial support to our effort, and we believe that many of the cities, if not all, throughout L.A. County also will provide financial support. Around the region, we believe that we will be getting financial support from Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties as well.

Let's return to the base as it exists now and address the public-private development opportunities. Can you elaborate on how it evolved and what is included?

The way that came about is the Air Force issued an RFP indicating that they were highly desirous of having a new facility that would be paid for without using federal taxpayer money. They proposed doing this by swapping land for the provision of a new facility. The project would involve a collaboration between the cities of Hawthorne and El Segundo, brought together with tremendous support from Supervisor Knabe and from the state.

The deal involves some land changing hands. A parcel of land in El Segundo, on which part of the current base resides, is being ceded to the city of El Segundo by the military, which then structured an arrangement for the city of Hawthorne to annex that property. With the development of the new L.A. Air Force Base facility, the land on which the base currently sits is being ceded to the city of Hawthorne, and housing is being built on that property.

The Air Force gets a state of the art facility on the remaining piece of property they own, which still is in the city of El Segundo, built at no cost to them. Construction is already underway on that facility – all agreements are in place, and the department of the Air Force and the local jurisdictions have signed all contracts.

This was a three-year effort to make this happen, and it actually began at the instigation of Congressman Steve Kuykendall. Later, Representatives Jane Harman and Maxine Waters were able to get together on this and provide the necessary support in Congress. This is the first ever effort of this kind, and it has a value in the $90 million range.

Joe, what's your prediction? Is the Los Angeles Air Force Base likely to close?

I believe that the message platform that is being created for presentation to the BRAC Commission and senior staff at the Pentagon, will demonstrate that the ability of the Air Force and other armed forces to complete their mission will be severely handicapped, to our detriment, if the Space and Missile Systems Center is moved to another location. It's not just the SMC that we're talking about. We are talking about the potential relocation of the Aerospace Corporation-which is a nonprofit engineering consulting firm with primarily one customer: the SMC-all of the engineering companies that are in the area, and all of the defense contractors that are in the area. This is something that everyone needs to understand-you just don't move an entity like the SMC without some peril attached to it.

The Air Force Space Command is located in Colorado Springs. The people who start the requirements process are in Colorado Springs. However, military requirements are refined and then moved forward in Washington D.C., and then they are actually implemented, as far as space procurement is concerned, here at the Los Angeles Air Force Base. We do have evidence of past programs that have been moved out of the area and have not delivered the desired results that the federal government may have wanted to see. The Aerospace Corporation itself has been involved in every space mission over the last 40 years.

You don't disrupt a delicate network of intellectual infrastructure such as we have here and expect to be able replicate it easily in another locale. Our personnel and the contractors who surround the base are the brains behind America's high-tech military might. If you move the SMC, there is no assurance that without the concentration of not only defense contractors, but also our educational institutions in the region, that the civilians, the intellectual capital, will follow.

We believe that we have very talented representatives who are able to make not only a compelling argument, but also a very logical and rational presentation that will be received in a logical and rational way in Washington. The L.A. Air Force Base will not only remain open and operating, but we expect that over the passage of time, we may see even a greater presence in this region of those scientists and technologists who are supporting our space system's design and development.


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