With virtually no fanfare, the Navy has given what amounts to a green
light for the transfer of the Long Beach Naval Base to the China Ocean
Shipping Company (COSCO) — the mega-size shipping firm that is owned by
the Chinese government.
The announcement was made Tuesday, with the release of the
long-awaited recommendations for conversion and reuse of the former
Naval Station and Ship Repair Yard. In its report (formally known as a
Record of Decision), the Navy agrees to transfer the properties it has
held since the beginning of World War II back to the city and, as
expected, endorses the city’s plan to convert most of the 576-acre site
to a cargo container terminal.
The Navy also approved Long Beach’s proposal to use part of the site
for a small ship-repair facility, a police headquarters and a police
The decision, though not a surprise, defied the mounting
congressional and public opposition — but was in compliance with the
wishes of the Clinton White House which has lobbied the Navy long and
hard for the proposal.
The report stopped short of recommending a tenant and does not cite
COSCO by name, but approval of the Long Beach plan means that as far as
the Navy is concerned the city — through its port authority — is free
to lease the property to whomever it chooses. That is almost certain to
be COSCO — provided the company is still willing to sign a lease and
has not accepted an offer clandestinely from nearby Los Angeles which,
like Long Beach, is eager to have the Beijing-based shipping line as a
COSCO has leased space at the commercial section of the port since
1981, and hoped to move into larger facilities. In 1996 — before the
Navy had agreed to transfer the property — Long Beach and Beijing
officials signed a 10-year lease. The port authority and city agreed to
bulldoze the existing base and build a facility large enough to handle
cargo containers from China. The city spent $5.9 million for a
consultant to develop a plan and allowed the Chinese government to
install several cranes.
Last November, in the face of mounting public outrage and pending
litigation from several sources, the city was forced to cancel the
contract, but it’s doubtful the deal was really shelved. The Chinese
government probably still wants it. Local elected officials and some
business leaders want it. And the Clinton administration, in particular,
wants it and has lobbied the Navy and other agencies strongly for its
Much of the opposition, too, has been bought off. In February, eight
historic preservation groups accepted a settlement offer in a lawsuit
they had brought against the city and port of Long Beach to halt
destruction of the 18 historic buildings at the base, most of them
designed by the pre-eminent African-American architect Paul Williams.
The agreement stipulates that if the buildings are destroyed, the
city will set up a $4.5 million Long Beach Heritage Fund to be used for
preservation projects at other locations in Long Beach. The groups,
therefore, now have a vested interest in the bulldozing of the
Moreover, they signed a binding Covenant Not to Sue, under which the
organizations and individuals promised to refrain from future
litigation. Not only may the groups not initiate law suits, they have
agreed not “to participate in, encourage or provide assistance in any
such suit” against the United States, the city of Long Beach or its
departments or employees “relating in any way to past or future
decisions regarding the disposal, reuse, redevelopment or demolition of
the Naval Complex.”
But the battle for the Naval Station is being waged as fiercely as
ever, perhaps more so. Although the heritage groups have completely
deserted the field, there’s still the major strategic defense to save
the Naval Station and its historic buildings: the lawsuit against the
city of Long Beach, the Port Authority and the State Lands Commission
brought by public television host Huell Howser.
It was Howser’s program, “California Gold,” that alerted Californians
— and eventually the nation — about the plans to turn the base into a
cargo container terminal. That was in September, 1996. At the time,
neither Howser nor the public knew that the tenant-of-choice for the
facility was COSCO. Howser’s concern was over the planned destruction of
a national historical treasure.
In a telephone interview, Los Angeles attorney Richard Fine, who is
handling the case for Howser, outlined the fast-paced scenario that will
take place this week.
First, the Long Beach Harbor Board of Commissioners meets today to
vote on whether to accept the transfer. It’s nearly one-hundred percent
certain that they will vote to do so. Bids on the conversion of the site
are to be prepared by the third or fourth of June.
“That [acceptance of the transfer] is the final thing they have to
do, as far as I know,” Fine told WorldNetDaily. “The Navy can actually
lease the Naval Station to Long Beach before the transfer is final.”
Second, the attorney will move quickly to block the demolition.
“We’ll be going to court on Tuesday or Wednesday — once Long Beach
does its final act — with a request for a temporary restraining order
and preliminary injunction to stop any destruction pending the time our
lawsuit is in the court,” he said.
Fine expressed confidence in the outcome, both “on and off the
“We have two things going for us,” he explained.
There is the lawsuit, which is based on the fact that the proposal
with its destruction of the site represents a waste of half-a-billion
dollars of public assets.
“The buildings and the land are worth $350 million. And the port will
spend $182 million to convert the station to a cargo container
terminal,” Fine pointed out.
Then, besides the lawsuit, Howser and Fine have formally petitioned
the Department of Interior to look into the possibility of turning the
base into a national park devoted to naval history as well as America’s
involvement in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and the
long Cold War.
“There will be aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers and other
examples of Navy ships — plus all the buildings will be preserved,
along with the recreational facilities. It will be a real destination
place,” said Fine enthusiastically. “There’s not another such national
park in the country.”
“Also,” he noted, “if we ever need the base again for defense and
military purposes, it can be easily reconverted. That won’t be so easy
if there is a tenant there.”
In January, Fine tried to interest the Navy in the idea of the park,
but his suggestion, which he detailed in a letter, was not even
The Department of Interior, however, has agreed to study it.
“On April 23 the department wrote back to us that they are going to
institute a study,” said Fine. “I think a judge would have a tough time
allowing the demolition — not only because of the waste issue, but also
if a government agency is instituting a study to make this a national
So where does Congress come in?
A staff person with the Park Service told Fine that even if the base
meets the criteria for a national park and it gets through the review
procedure, the actual establishment requires an act of Congress.
“He suggested I get a bill moving in Congress,” Fine recalled.
Fine promptly drafted one modeled on the act that established
Williamsburg Colonial Historical Park in Virginia and sent it to Duncan
Hunter. He hopes the Republican congressman from San Diego will
introduce it this week, or perhaps Steven Horn, who represents Long
Beach and the surrounding area — “Although I don’t know his position on
Hunter and fellow San Diegan representative Randy Cunningham
introduced legislation last year calling for permanent cancellation of
the Long Beach project and its leasing to COSCO on grounds that it poses
a threat to national security.
“At this point we need to find a congressman to introduce the
legislation,” said Fine.
“Once it’s introduced, I’ll have driven another nail in the coffin of
this proposal. At that point there’s not a judge out there that would go
against a pending act of Congress.”
A big break for COSCO deal (2/9/98)