2010 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lennysiegel@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, 9 May 2010 08:32:55 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] CLOSURE: Selling bases
[See my response below. - LS]

Trading Up: Buy a Base, Help Cut the Deficit

New York Times
May 7, 2010

In a previous column, I introduced the concept of a "paid lunch." It's better than a free lunch - which is often thought not to exist - because you're paid to devour it.


After the cold war, deciding which bases to shut down was a political hot potato. The job went to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which started in 1988 and had its last round in 2005. Guess which factor the commission didn't focus on? The money you could get for selling a particular piece of land. Bases were given away or sold below market price. The military didn't have much incentive to sell its crown jewels, and it still doesn't.


The Marine Corps seems to have particularly good taste in base location. For example, it has Camp Pendleton, about 40 miles north of downtown San Diego. The base sits on 200 square miles of land, including 17.5 miles of Pacific shoreline. About 60,000 people work there.


For the entire column, see

Lenny's response:

It's clear that Thaler doesn't know much about military bases, open or closed.

I first learned about Camp Pendleton around 1960, when my siblings and I bicycled from our home in Culver City (Los Angeles County) to San Diego. Camp Pendleton was (and remains today) the only large undeveloped section of the southern California coast. Later the lesson was reinforced when my car blew a radiator hose on the highway outside the base. Selling Camp Pendleton is undoubtedly a bad idea. As one goes north from LA, there are other protected areas, such as Vandenberg Air Force Base.

In 2003 I toured Camp Pendleton, learning first hand about its protection of endangered species and critical habitat and cultural resources. I also learned, "A vast area 23,000-acre swath in the middle of Camp Pendleton serves as an impact area, not only for artillery but for aerial bombardment." It would clearly cost more to make that land safe than it would bring in if ever sold. While the on-base tomato fields could be sold, they generate lease revenue now. If Professor Thaler had taken that tour, he might have come up with another idea.

Finally, the professor wrote, "You can't practice amphibious landings in the desert, but other operations could be done at either place [that is, in the desert]." Some could, but the Marines made it clear that their training doesn't stop when they hit the beach. They train to set up the encampments that support their operations as they move inland. Again, if Professor Thaler had taken that tour, he might have come up with another idea.

In fact, the only reason I take his suggestion, with Camp Pendleton as an example, seriously is that it appeared in the New York Times. Here's the comment I submitted to the Times:

While in the long run, the military might generate a relatively small amount of cash by selling bases that it doesn't need, his Camp Pendleton example demonstrates the opposite. Camp Pendleton serves as an island of relatively natural habitat that separates the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. The best public policy decision, were it to close, would be to make most of it a park or wildlife refuge. That wouldn't generate any money for the government.

Much of the nearby El Toro Marine Corps Air Station has been sold, but like Camp Pendleton it is on the Superfund National Priorities List. Closure increased the already hefty cost of cleanup, and much of the base could not be sold because of the contamination.

So even if Congress wanted to make money off base closure instead of helping impacted communities recover, it's not as simple as the professor suggests.



Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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