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Bringing It All Back Home

By U.S. Representative Ronald V. Dellums

In the summer of 1993, the President and Congress accepted the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) recommendation to close Alameda Naval Air Station and the Alameda Naval Aviation Depot, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Naval Station Treasure Island and the Oakland Naval Hospital among other major and minor military facilities in the Bay Area. Prior decisions had already closed Hamilton Air Field and Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard.

The challenges that these closures presented to the Bay Area community were immediate and complex. The questions to be answered were many: To what use would the land now be put? What decision-making process would be established to determine the answer to that question? What could be done to provide employment for civilian personnel and assistance to the communities adversely affected by the closure decisions? What environmental problems existed at the facilities and how would they be cleaned up?

The stakes were rightly perceived in the community to be quite high, a fact made more urgent by examples of inability or delay in dealing effectively with the effects of the earlier closure decisions. These included the possibility of significant unemployment, possible catastrophic economic losses in the Bay Area, and the potential waste of valuable land and real estate resources.

A Model for the Nation

For years, I have argued that East Bay civic leaders had an obligation to plan for the possibility that some or all of our military installations might be determined to be excess and then slated for closure. In 1992, a year before the BRAC 1993 process that recommended the most recent closures. I secured a provision in the FY 1993 Defense Authorization bill that established a four- community pilot conversion program. This program supports the conversion planning processes in four communities potentially affected by base closures, defense industrial downsizing or national laboratory closure or realignment. The information developed from these four experiences will be available to these communities, as well as collected into a usable resource for other communities which might also face these challenges.

While BRAC '93 was undertaking its assessments, the Defense Department determined that the East Bay would become one of the four pilot programs. I had hoped that we would have our community designated as one of the pilots when I conceived of the legislation, not because of any certainty that we would face an actual closure decision but because of my long standing view that prudent leadership required such planning. The circumstance that resulted in our community receiving planning money in advance of actually having to deal with an actual closure was extremely fortunate, as it allowed us to get underway prior to the closure announcement.

Who, What, When, Where, and Why

Having established the basis and resources for such a process, we needed then to answer: who should participate, what is the process and goal, when do we need to reach decision, where will the process take us and why are we proceeding?

The first question—who should participate?—provides the real key to understanding what is at stake and how we can succeed. Solving it provides confidence that the four other questions will be adequately resolved because all of the questions will be addressed and answered.

In our view it is critically important that all elements of the community fully participate in planning for what purposes these facilities will be used in the future. It is especially important to ensure that many who are traditionally outside of such processes—minority groups and the poor—be brought into the center and that the whole range of community interests be reflected—including organized labor, the base workers, business groups, environmentalists, civic leaders, etc.

A common-sense view of the impact of closure alone shows why this is so important. Communities of color, especially, face significant adverse impacts from these decisions. The bases affected have long provided significant opportunities for meaningful and well-paid jobs-both blue collar and white collar—for these communities, in part because of aggressive programs that we pursued to ensure equal employment opportunities at federal facilities. The loss of these jobs threatens to further tear the already fragile economic fabric of these communities.

The resources that these employment opportunities generate in the community are additionally significant, helping to support local businesses.
As a result, we have established a planning process that includes these communities in the vital effort of conversion. Not only does this apply with respect to the types of end-uses to which the land might be used—a vitally important question to the employment, economic and quality-of-life concerns of traditionally disenfranchised communities. But it also applies to contracts for planning, analysis, land clearance, environmental remediation or any of the other myriad problems associated with a successful conversion effort, ensuring the full and effective participation of communities traditionally absent or under-represented in such projects.

Whatever the final outcome of the decision-making process that culminates from the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, the land reuse authorities and other active agents, it is clear that it will be better made by having vigorous participation from communities of color.

Such participation will help to ensure that the employment needs of the community are fully considered. It will help to ensure that in these communities—long-afflicted as dumping grounds for environmental hazards—planning will proceed in a manner that fully takes into account the health and safety of these communities.

Although the closure decisions represent the possibility of crisis in our community, they also represent great opportunity. We must not flinch from the opportunity offered by the end of the Cold War to cut military spending and pursue social investment. My longstanding commitment to an aggressive program of economic conversion now has an opportunity to be tested at home—in a manner that can benefit both the East Bay in its immediate needs and the nation as a whole, by way of learning, guidance and experience. When coupled with a commitment to ensure social equity, full participation and the acquisition of a meaningful stake in the outcome, this process represents an opportunity to remake our communities into a better place for our children and their children.

For information write: East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, 530 Water Street, 5th Floor, Oakland, CA 94607. Tel. (510) 834- 6928; Fax (510) 834 8913.

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