Defense authorization excludes land transfer backed by Pelosi

A land provision strongly supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and dozens of lawmakers in both chambers was struck from the final version of the 2010 defense authorization bill Wednesday.

The House included the provision in its version of the bill. It required the Pentagon to transfer closed military bases, at no cost, to local authorities for economic development.

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Leading Senate defense authorizers strongly opposed the House language and did not include it in its version.

The fate of the language was the last issue leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee resolved as part of conference negotiations on the final defense authorization bill.

It was rejected amid intense lobbying from lawmakers in both chambers who saw great benefits for economic development in their districts.

Treasure Island is one of those shuttered bases with potentially high value. The former base, which closed in 1993, has been the subject of years of failed negotiations between San Francisco — the city Pelosi represents — and the Navy.

Pelosi has personally fought and negotiated with the Navy over the land transfer, but those negotiations broke down. California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have also been involved, including sending letters to President Barack Obama, the Pentagon and the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services panels.

San Francisco and the Navy have been at a stalemate over Treasure Island, squabbling over the price of the land. The Navy estimates it is worth $240 million; the city offered a tenth of that value.

While Treasure Island has been a high-profile case, communities across the country have also been looking for ways to develop the bases formerly owned by the military.

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) sponsored the House language, which would have benefited about 24 districts from Maine to California. Pelosi did not request the language, but supported it and was closely monitoring it, her spokesman Drew Hammill told The Hill.

“The House language would have benefited two dozen communities across the country where critical economic redevelopment projects are stalled, in some cases for over a decade, because the current system is not working,” said Hammill.

Hammill stressed that the 2010 authorization bill provides some beneficial changes, including the removal of a current statutory requirement that the Pentagon “shall obtain fair market value” for properties, and it urges the Pentagon to conclude and expedite the transfer of properties.

Last year, Pelosi failed to get a provision in the defense policy bill that would have forced the Navy to sell the Treasure Island property at a price the city offered.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that conferees reached a “middle position” that he described as “fair and neutral.”

“We don’t state a preference for getting fair [market] value, but we also don’t state a preference for a conveyance for free,” Levin told reporters on Wednesday. “We go back to what we think is the right approach, which is that the Department of Defense can work on these situations, which differ from each other dramatically on a case-by-case basis, doing what they think is best.”

Congressional aides argue the bill will allow stalled negotiations to move forward. They said the intention was not to have legislation favor one side or another and that fact should help stalled negotiations move forward because it will shut down lobbyists and consultants, who were promising local communities that the government would give them the land for free.

San Francisco city officials followed the congressional developments closely and had hoped that the House provision would be preserved in the final bill.

“As a matter of good public policy, we support this bipartisan nationwide no-cost economic development conveyance legislation, but we are not putting all our eggs in one basket,” said Michael Cohen, director of the San Francisco mayor’s office of economic development.

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“We recently had a number of productive conversations with the Defense Department on Treasure Island, and we are cautiously optimistic that we are going to be able to negotiate a deal with the Navy.”

Cohen said that the city is putting $700 million of local taxes into the Treasure Island project to help pay for infrastructure development.

“Without our contribution of local taxes, there is no development of any kind that is feasible. The city is prepared to step up — we have 10,000 jobs at stake — and we have the private capital that is prepared to step up as well,” he said. “We are willing to structure something with the Navy that is going to result in fair market value based on actual revenues and actual costs, not mere projections.”

Overall, defense authorizers reached a few other high-profile decisions:

They green-lighted funding for a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

They agreed to terminate the production of Lockheed Martin F-22 fighter jets at 187 aircraft, but authorized $192.3 million for modifications on existing aircraft.

They authorized the Navy to enter into a multiyear procurement contract for Boeing’s F/A-18E/F and/or EA-18G aircraft, as well as an increase of $108 million for advance procurement for items that would be used to build new, additional aircraft beyond fiscal 2010.

They agreed to a $2.45 billion authorization for the communications network and the spin out equipment sets, the two elements of the terminated Army Future Combat Systems (FCS) program that are expected to continue as separate programs in 2010.

They provided $216 million, a reduction of $211 million, for the termination of the FCS manned ground vehicle program.

Defense authorizers also agreed to include language that extends the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Many of our colleagues are unhappy [with that provision] and will not sign the conference report,” Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters. McCain said he strongly opposed the language, championed by the late Sen. Edward  Kennedy (D-Mass.), but would sign the conference report.

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