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Moffett Field conversion being handled poorly, critic says

STANFORD -- Before Moffett Field was identified last April as one of 129 U.S. military bases targeted for closure, city officials from nearby Mountain View and Sunnyvale devised a plan for transferring the base from the Navy to NASA's Ames Research Center next door, a consultant on such transfers said Feb. 1.

One result has been to exclude the public from the process of deciding the best alternative use of the naval airbase, Michael Closson, director of the Center for Economic Conversion, told a Stanford audience on Feb. 1 at the annual You Can Make a Difference conference.

However, spokesmen for the two cities said that a congressional task force report recommending the move was the key factor in the decision.

Closson's center is a corporation that advises community groups and governments on converting military-related facilities to civilian uses.

Closson contended that local officials pushed for a NASA takeover of 2,000 acres of the field because of pressure from Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a defense contractor and the largest employer in Santa Clara County.

"Lockheed is a dinosaur," he said. "Lockheed Missiles and Space here in Sunnyvale may not see the light of the 21st century. City officials are buying into the short-term solution to save those jobs. . . . If Lockheed starts to fall apart . . . five years down the road, they can do something else with Moffett, but it's a shame to lose this valuable time.

"The county board of supervisors should be involved here, but because of the politics of the two cities jumping in right away, they have backed off," he said.

The handling of Moffett Field's closure contrasts sharply with that of Fort Ord in Monterey County. There, a citizens' task force with seven subcommittees, environmental activists and the California Coastal Commission have been involved in discussing the fate of the 28,000-acre army base, Closson said.

Contaminated with thousands of rounds of unexploded ammunition, Fort Ord will require a major cleanup. However, the land's eventual use will determine the region's economic future, so community response is essential, he said.

"But here, Mountain View and Sunnyvale officials got together before closure was announced and created a de facto situation," Closson said. "It's a classic example of democracy not working."

Spokesmen for both cities, in telephone interviews Feb. 3, disputed Closson's interpretations. The public has not been as involved in this case because a congressional task force recommended last July that the base stay in government hands after the naval base is closed in 1997, they said. The property plays a crucial role in the Silicon Valley's high-technology and aerospace industries, the congressional task force concluded.

By law, when the military gives up a base, the Defense Department has the first option for occupancy, and another federal agency has the second option. If the federal government no longer wants the base, it is handed to state or local government.

Community input is solicited at this last stage, according to Glen Gentry, assistant to Mountain View City Manager Kevin Duggan. David Vossbrink, a community relations officer for the city of Sunnyvale, agreed.

NASA may prove to be the best landlord for Moffett, Closson acknowledged, but the transfer faces two potential problems, he said. First, NASA may not be able operate Moffett Field to be the same economic engine that it was under the Navy. Second, NASA may not be financially equipped to run it.

"If NASA has to appropriate $20 million or 30 million a year to operate this airfield, this will have to come from some other part of the NASA budget," he said. "Is it going to come from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, or from other activities at the NASA/Ames Research Center itself?"

Alternative uses of the base that have been discussed by area residents include housing, industry, commerce, airport overflow or recreation.



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