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Base Closure Gets Rare Welcome in Calif. Town

LIANE HANSEN, host:

When the Pentagon released the list of US military bases recommended for closure, many communities said they would fight to keep their local base open. That's not the case in Concord, California, 30 miles east of San Francisco. Officials there are delighted at the prospect that a big part of its naval weapons station could close for good. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Sarah Varney reports.

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SARAH VARNEY reporting:

Leaving downtown Concord, the pizza shops and dentist offices abruptly end and the view opens onto a wide valley floor. This is the southern end of the Concord Naval Weapons Base. Rolling hills surround a 5,000-acre basin dotted with rusting railroad boxcars and decaying concrete ammunition bunkers. The Navy abandoned this basin in the 1990s, but still operates a port just north of here. That port will remain in Navy hands, but the inland valley is what Concord City Council members have been eyeing for decades. It is the last tract of undeveloped land in the city. So while other towns across the nation are paralyzed with economic fear of a base closure, Concord let the Pentagon know loud and clear they'd like the land for development.

Mr. JIM FORSBERG (Director, Economic Development, Concord, California): We would be struck by fear, I believe, if it was the heyday of this base when it employed up to 4,000 people. There's virtually no employment here anymore. There may be at the most a hundred people employed.

VARNEY: Concord's director of economic development, Jim Forsberg.

Mr. FORSBERG: There's more to gain for the city by putting it to more productive use and letting the populace enjoy these beautiful hills that we're looking at here.

VARNEY: Forsberg says the city wants to preserve half of the land for open space and parks, and a quarter-century from now, he sees in the basin down below a bustling village of 13,000 homes.

Mr. FORSBERG: We would like to preserve what you see of the higher elevations of the hills.

VARNEY: So the infield area would be down here in this basin area.

Mr. FORSBERG: Principally it would be in the basin area, although you could expect that there would be some homes in select areas on the hills.

VARNEY: The executive homes.

Mr. FORSBERG: The executive homes.

VARNEY: There will be hurdles. Though the valley looks virginal, it is littered with toxic waste left by the military. For now, herds of cattle and elk and a lone Appaloosa are the only ones to call this valley home.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney in San Francisco.

LYDEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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