A Regional Response to Military Base Closings

By Tuohy, William S. | Public Management, February 1997 | Go to article overview

A Regional Response to Military Base Closings


Tuohy, William S., Public Management


In 1988, Congress began the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program to reduce U.S. military infrastructure, in line with post-Cold War personnel reductions. Maintaining underused and excess facilities costs the military, and hence the taxpayers, billions of dollars annually. To date, there have been a total of four rounds of closures (1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995), closing or realigning nearly 100 major bases and 250 smaller installations.

The impact of this process on nearby communities has been significant. They face a short-term shock to their economy and a long, complex process of closure, reuse planning and implementation, and environmental cleanup. Local governments find themselves challenged to balance the need to protect public health and safety from environmental contamination on the base with the urgency of preparing a viable economic reuse for the property. Yet despite the immediate impact, some localities have found enormous opportunity.

To reuse a closed military facility successfully, a local government must guide the community through a complex maze of closure and reuse processes and laws. The locality also must work with the federal and state governments, other affected local governments, and neighboring jurisdictions.

Over the past few years, northern California has shouldered more military base closures than any other region in the United States, and communities within Alameda County in particular have been greatly affected. Bases within the county scheduled to close by 1998 include Alameda Naval Air Station, the Naval Aviation Depot, the Naval Public Works Center, and Oak Knoll Naval Hospital. In addition to these, the Oakland Army Base and the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center will close by 2001. This article describes how the communities of Alameda County have worked together to turn this loss of a major employer into an opportunity for economic redevelopment and diversification.

Elected officials, local governments, and other community leaders in Alameda County joined with the military and federal agencies to seek improved ways to manage base closure and conversion. The organization formed for this task, the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission (EBCRC) offers important lessons not only for military facilities that are converting but also for communities facing the loss of major industrial facilities and employers.

A Project That Grew

In fiscal year 1993, Congress authorized four pilot projects charged with planning for improved federal economic adjustment and diversification assistance to communities facing major cutbacks in defense spending. Alameda County, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, was selected for one of these projects. The county was home to five Navy installations and one Army base potentially facing closure, two U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories facing the loss of major weapons programs, and many local businesses supplying goods and services to the bases and labs.

Ronald V. Dellums, the congressman for Alameda and Oakland - the cities hosting all six military installations - then convened the EBCRC as a representative regional body formed to manage the pilot project. EBCRC board members include local, state, and federal elected officials, joined by representatives of public agencies, community groups, educational institutions, labor unions, environmental advocacy groups, businesses, and the military. Membership later grew from about 20 to 38, as other community interests requested participation and as current members saw the need for broader representation.

Even before the EBCRC's pilot project had been fully organized and staffed, four local Navy facilities had appeared on the final 1993 base closure list. The impact was profound: calls for immediate action threatened to overwhelm the research and planning orientation of the pilot project. Neither Alameda nor Oakland had yet fully organized its local reuse authority (LRA), the mechanism promoted by the Department of Defense as the single local government instrument for planning closure and reuse. …

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