Chapter 8. The Stealth Waterfront
The Naval Supply Center and the Oakland Army
Base occupy nearly eight hundred acres of the Waterfront in West
Oakland. The future of these installations is in doubt - bringing great
risk or, perhaps, important new opportunities for Oakland.
The threat of closure has hung over the Oakland
Naval Supply Center and other closely related facilities in the Bay Area
for several years. Recently, the Defense Department placed this
installation on the 1993 base closure list. While local officials have
argued that this facility should be retained as a ship pre-positioning
service center, there is a strong likelihood that this facility will be
closed in the near future, regardless of the fate of other Bay Area
bases. The Oakland Army Base is not on the current closure list, but its
long-term future remains in doubt with the continued reduction in the
nation's military forces.
The local military installations provide a large
number of relatively well-paid blue collar and service jobs. The closure
of one or both of Oakland's bases would not only sacrifice these jobs,
but would also damage the supply, security and other local businesses
which serve the bases.
If either of these bases were closed, there is
little doubt that, given the pivotal position of this land on the
Waterfront, the area could ultimately be restored as a valuable asset.
The Port of Oakland, for example, has prepared a plan for conversion of
the Naval Supply Center if closure is ordered. However, during the time
required for planning, environmental clean-up and conversion to civilian
use, Oakland's economy would suffer greatly.
The dilemma, then, is whether Oakland should
make contingency plans now, particularly in relation to the Oakland Army
Base which is not presently faced with a specific closure threat, or
whether such planning might actually make conversion more likely. By
exploring future opportunities, are we increasing the immediate risks?
The Military Role of the Bases
In 1939, the Navy purchased five hundred acres
of marsh and submerged tideland from the City of Oakland for one dollar
and combined it with land acquired from two railroads to create a place
for the Naval Supply Depot. Three-and-a-half-million cubic years of fill
were dredged from the Bay and more was brought in from the Oakland hills
to prepare the site. The Depot was activated only eight days after the
raid on Pearl Harbor, and it quickly grew to an enormous logistical
machine for the Pacific Theater. The Oakland Army Base was established
in 1941 to provide a similar facility for the Army.
Today the Naval Supply Center supports naval
operations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It maintains a "surge"
capacity in emergencies, such as the Persian Gulf War. Customers include
repair facilities at the Alameda Naval Aviation Depot, western Pacific
supply centers, such as Pearl Harbor, and the aircraft carrier USN
Abraham Lincoln which is stationed at Alameda. Since 1990, the Defense
Logistics Agency, servicing all branches of the military, has managed
distribution from the Center. The Center now houses more than 50,000
different items valued at $2.5 billion and provides world-wide customer
The Oakland Army Base is headquarters for the
Military Traffic Management Command which coordinates Department of
Defense passenger and freight traffic in the twenty western states. It
controls all sea-level cargo between the mainland and Pacific Basin. It
also operates ocean terminals and outports, including the Bay Area
Military Ocean Terminal. In addition, the Oakland Army Base monitors
airlift traffic and manages shipment and storage of personal property
for the armed services. Two of its largest tenants are a warehouse
operation supporting Army and Air Force Post Exchange stores in the
western states and Pacific and the Navy Public Works Center which
constructs and maintains military facilities in the Bay Area.
Economic Impact of the Bases
Naval operations in Oakland and at the Alameda
Naval Air Station currently employ 8,605 civilian workers, causing the
Navy to be Alameda County's largest employer. The Army employs
approximately 2,750 civilian and 570 military personnel at its local
facilities. The civilian figures include Oak Knoll Hospital, the Naval
Supply Center, the Alameda Naval Air Station and Treasure Island.
Subsidiary economy benefits come from contracts
and supply purchases, which totaled $124 million at the Oakland Army
Base and $27.5 million at the Naval Supply Center in 1991. Mainly due to
federal procurement policies, Alameda County has the highest per-capita
minority and women-owned businesses in California. Many contracts go to
Oakland maritime, transportation and security firms.
According to a recent survey at naval facilities
in Alameda, over half of the civilian workers are minorities, with an
average age of 42 and an average of 16.5 years of service. The work
force has unique and specialized skills, but has limited formal
education. These data show that workers dislocated by base closure would
experience great difficulty finding Stable alternative employment in the
The Uncertain Future of the Bases
The end of the Cold War and the federal budget
crunch have led to down-sizing of United States military and closure of
one-forth of our nation's military installations. To achieve this end,
the federal government has developed a process for selecting facilities
for closure and a procedure for converting bases to civilian uses.
The Alameda Naval Air Station and related
activities at the Naval Supply Center and Oak Knoll Naval Hospital were
initially included on the 1991 Defense Base Closure List. Only after
intensive lobbying by local officials were these facilities removed from
the list. The local effort was organized through the Alameda County Base
Retention Tactical Committee, a coalition of elected officials and
business and labor representatives. This facility was placed back on the
1993 closure list, along with the Naval Supply Center, Treasure Island,
Oak Knoll Naval Hospital and Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Even if any of
these installations are removed from the current list, they could be
future base closure lists as could the Oakland Army Base.
Presently, the Defense Base Closure and
Realignment Commission is considering the fate of local bases. After
Commission review, a revised list will be sent to the President for
final action. Congress will act on the list this Fall, but its action
will be limited to approval or disapproval of the complete list as
issued by the President. The same procedure will be followed in 1995 and
possibly in subsequent years.
Representative Ron Dellums (D-Oakland), Chair of
the House Armed Services Committee, has argued that, even if military
expenditures are cut as much as fifty percent and the number of United
States aircraft carriers is reduced from fifteen to seven, there will
continue to be a need to base three carriers on the Pacific Ocean. He
believes that the local bases offer the only West Coast facility with
full operational support for the newest Nimitz-class aircraft carriers
and presently certified to homeport three such carriers.
Despite this, there is fierce competition among
West Coast ports and Bay Area bases remain at considerable risk. Nearly
$200 million, of a total $485 million budget allocation, has already
been spent for construction of an aircraft carrier base in Everett,
Washington, the home state of House Speaker Thomas Foley.
Recent competition has also arisen over the
location of logistical centers to serve the nation's newly reconfigured
naval fleet. As part of Post-Cold War military down-sizing, the Navy
plans to establish one or two ship pre-positioning centers in the United
States to replace overseas military bases. Such centers would maintain
and service supply ships which would remain at sea, ready for
deployment. The Navy has four such ships afloat now and plans to
increase the number to fifteen or sixteen.
The Bay Area and Charleston, South Carolina are
the leading contenders for designation as this new type of logistical
center. Existing facilities at the Oakland Naval Supply Center, Alameda
Naval Aviation Depot and Concord Naval Weapons Center can be upgraded
for this purpose at a cost of only six million dollars, while a similar
capacity at Charleston would cost $60 to $80 million. Moreover, the
local installations have superior land-sea connections. The Bay Area's
success in this competition may decide the fate of the local bases.
Pitfalls of the Conversion Process
If closure of any of the local military
installations becomes necessary, a major effort would be urgently needed
to minimize dislocations and delays in the conversion process. Federal
law provides for assistance, but the speed and nature of the transition
is dependent upon the response of the local community.
In 1961 Congress enacted the Defense Economic
Adjustment Program to help communities predict and resolve problems
caused by military program changes. Thus far it has been applied to more
than four hundred communities. Results in these communities offer hope
that conversion can lead to long-term economic and social benefits. An
average of more than 1.5 new civilian jobs have been created for every
civilian job lost due to base closure, although it has sometimes taken
as long as ten years for this adjustment. Some areas have fared much
worse than others. In the late 1960's, Mobile, Alabama, lost more than
twelve thousand jobs and gained only three thousand.
Most of the larger closures on which this record
is based occurred before 1977, during a period of national economic
expansion. Therefore, it may nę be valid to extrapolate from this
experience to the 1990's economy, fraught with structural deficiencies
and fewer opportunities for low-skill or less-educated workers.
Moreover, local dislocations could be greater due to Oakland's high
Based upon past experience with base closures,
the following are some ingredients for successful conversions:
Avoid delaying pre-planning and community
If closure is required, negotiate as much
lead time as possible.
Bargain hard with the federal government on
price of the land and the costs and responsibilities which the local
government must bear in conversion. In converting Hunters Point
Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, the Navy sought to make the City
responsible for nearly one million dollars in new police and fire
equipment and over three minion dollars a year for police, fire and
security services during redevelopment.
Beware of costly or complicated
The presence of contamination is a critical
issue, not only due to the cost of clean-up but also because it can
delay re-use of the land. Only properties which are certified as posing
no public health risk can be transferred. For example, a twenty-eight
acre contaminated landfill at the deactivated Hamilton Air Force Base in
Novato has delayed plans to build housing and commercial space. An
impermeable cap and groundwater treatment system for this toxic dump
will cost twenty-five million dollars. The San Francisco Bay Regional
Water Quality Control Board has questioned this solution, causing the
dump to remain fenced and undevelopable for the present.
Usually very little federal money is available
for investigation of environmental hazards until a base is actually
scheduled for closure. Consequently, both Oakland bases have received
only preliminary evaluations showing that:
The Oakland Army Base has no known
dump/landfill sites, waste treatment facilities or PCB transformers.
Groundwater monitoring wells have been installed, soil borings have
been taken to test for contamination and to monitor possible trouble
spots, such as from silver nitrate contamination from photography
Potential problems loom larger at the Naval
Supply Center, which has twenty-two sites under review. A closure
plan for one hazardous waste storage area is being developed and an
asbestos survey is being conducted.
Both bases are actively involved in
identifying and correcting problems associated with underground
Planning Now for Conversion - Harmful or
Local officials have tended to discourage
discussion of conversion as counterproductive during lobbying efforts to
retain the bases. Others question the validity of this position,
sometimes even whether such lobbying should proceed at all.
Nonetheless, two limited local efforts have
begun which explore contingencies in advance of any decision to close
either or both of the bases. The first was initiated by the City of
Oakland. At the request of the City Council Legislation and Long-Term
Planning Committee, the Office of Economic Development and Employment
has been compiling data from other areas undergoing base closure,
examining their re-use strategies and gathering names of consultants.
Ordinarily, no federal funds are available for
contingency planning until a facility has been placed on the
Congressionally-approved closure list. However, recent legislation,
initiated by Representative Dellums, makes $500,000 planning grants
available to four areas which could be severely impacted by future
military cuts. If the East Bay qualifies for such funds, contingency
planning could be undertaken locally.
A private community organization, the Arms
Control Research Center (ARC), has also undertaken contingency planning,
in the belief that closing the Bay Area bases could positively affect
the Bay Area economy. ARC contends that civilian use could generate at
least 14,000 jobs in the East Bay. The group has offered a five-year
plan with various conversion options to save jobs and clean up toxic
wastes at the bases, creating local environmental reconstruction jobs in
the process. ARC's plan is based upon a lateral conversion concept
whereby existing facilities would be re-used for similar civilian
functions, wherever possible. For example, the Navy's fifty-foot
aircraft carrier harbor would be converted to use as a commercial cargo
Aside from a federal planning process, a limited
degree of conversion may already be underway. By federal legislation,
the Port of Oakland is authorized to enter into a long-term lease with
the Department of Defense for up to 195 acres of the Naval Supply
Center. The Port and Navy are presently negotiating the lease of land
which would be cleared of the existing Naval facilities and devoted
primarily to a new civilian marine terminal.
In many respects, this transfer of land would
accomplish the same purposes as conversion of military facilities to
civilian use, although the proposed transfer is too limited to impair
continuation of the essential functions of the Naval Supply Center.
However, completely aside from the merits of the present proposal; if
this method were applied to a larger area by future legislation, the
Oakland bases could be subjected to defacto conversion without the basic
protections and community review process which are such a basic part of
the military conversion legislation.
In addition, the Port of Oakland has argued that
the process for conversion of the Naval Supply Center for civilian use
can be avoided due to an automatic reversionary right which the Port
holds in case the Defense Department abandons the land. The validity of
the Port's legal position has not yet been determined. More importantly,
if such an automatic right does exist, it is unclear what process, if
any will be utilized for public review of alternative proposals for
reuse and what federal financial assistance might be made available for
clean-up, conversion and retraining.
A Pivotal Time for Oakland's Waterfront
The Naval Supply Center and the Oakland Army
Base are, in many respects, the key to the future of the Waterfront in
West Oakland. For fifty years they have provided a valuable base for
employment and small business activity in the Oakland economy.
The safest, most predictable future for this
area is its continuation as a logistical and communications center, with
an enlarged role in the nation's Post-Cold War military structure.
However, if this role is not achieved, Oakland will be faced with a
Despite the pivotal point at which this part of
the Waterfront finds itself, little consideration has been given to
alternative uses of this vast area in the event that any or all of it is
set for conversion. The range of possibilities is indeed great. The
speed and the future opportunities which are realized as a result, if a
transition were required, will test the effectiveness of our government
leaders and our community's vision of its Waterfront.
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