Yes, There Is Community Life after Military Base Closures Cities, Towns Find Efforts to Attract New Activities Are Tough - but Can Pay Off

Article excerpt

WHEN residents near Fort Ord in northern California first heard in 1990 that the Army base was to be closed, they launched a full-throated fight to keep the soldiers in place. Once it became inevitable, though, that the base would shut down, they focused on ways to reuse the sprawling seaside site.

The result has been a barracks-full of ideas: a new college campus, research park, agricultural center, golf resort, theme park. While officials expect to turn the military loss into an economic gain, getting there has involved squabbling over jurisdiction and dealing with everything from cleaning up unexploded bombs to protecting the endangered black legless lizard.

The problems and promise that have confronted these residents symbolize what dozens of communities across the country will face as the federal government moves forward with a sweeping new round of base closures.

Although many are fighting the lastest list of proposed shutdowns, some are also beginning to wonder if there is life after the military. The answer, according to those who have studied the issue, is yes, but the transition is often slow and difficult.

"When all is said and done, there usually will be more jobs than when the base was open," says Keith Cunningham, an analyst with Business Executives for National Security, a private research group that recently studied 24 bases ordered closed in 1991. "But people have to be patient."

Patience isn't something many politicians and community officials believe they can afford when the economy has been in a half nelson. Thus some plan to press their case before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, an independent panel that has until July 1 to review the Pentagon's latest proposed shutdowns.

That list, released by Defense Secretary Les Aspin on Friday, calls for closing 31 installations nationwide, including eight in California. In a bow to the state's economic plight and political importance, Mr. Aspin dropped three California sites from the list (McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, the Monterey Presidio, and Long Beach Naval Shipyard). This cheered local officials but some still think California is taking too much of a hit. …