I went to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Los Angeles Air Force Base this morning, and it was a pretty exciting event. There was a ton of free food... oh yeah, and the actual groundbreaking and such. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take any pictures with my digital camera, but I'll write down my impressions anyway.
First off, let me tell you all the important people I met: Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Jane Harmond; Mayor Guidi of Hawthorne (who I already knew); Lt. General Brian Arnold, the base commander; Bill Ballhaus, formerly president of Boeing Satellite Systems and now president of The Aerospace Corporation, the company that manages many of the government aerospace projects in the region; Nelson Gibbs, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics; plus assorted pastries and sandwiches. I was hoping our new governor might be in attendance -- since keeping the Air Force Base lines up with his goal of keeping jobs in California -- but I guess he was busy.
The LAAFB was first constructed some 50 years ago, and without the major renovation that began today it was pretty likely that the base would have been condemned and moved to Arizona or New Mexico in the next round of closures, starting in 2005. Knowing that, the cities of El Segundo (where the base is actually located) and Hawthorne (the adjacent city, where I live) developed a revolutionary land-swap deal to help pay for the construction of new base facilities.
The land-swap worked like this: the Air Force sold a portion of its land (which was located in El Segundo) to developers; El Segundo ceded the land to the city of Hawthorne in exchange for property taxes for 30 years; the Air Force will now use the money it raised to build new facilities on an adjacent piece of Air Force property that is currently sparsely developed. Los Angeles city and county are also kicking in some minor money. In the end, a lot of gimmicks and magic tricks finalized a convoluted deal that basically lets the Air Force sell some land to pay for the renovation itself.
Why is it important to keep LAAFB? Mainly because of the Space and Missile Systems Center that's responsible for all the cool missile and satellite technologies that are crucial for maintaining America's military superiority. The AFB can't do it alone, and works very closely with civilian contractors in the Los Angeles region like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon, and many others. If the SAMS Center moved, it would lose close contact with these corporations, and it's unlikely that the corporations (mainly their employees) would be eager to relocate east.
More selfishly, I'm glad the project is proceeding because I don't want to move anywhere, and I like my job. Moreover, it would be bad for the city and community if the thousands of high-paying jobs the AFB supplies were eliminated (or moved). That said, I've never seen my Democrat representatives stronger on national defense than when they're working to protect a base located in their districts. Everyone loves national defense when it pumps billions of dollars a year into the pockets of people who can vote for you. This isn't necessarily a great effect, and I'm sure it leads to inefficiencies, but on the whole the military is one spending program I heartily approve of, and if its spending power can buy votes which in turn work to keep it strong, so be it.