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Uniforms in Paradise

Its been nearly a hundred years since the city of San Diego hitched its wagon to the Navy on the path to prosperity. Since then the relationship has had ups and downs. You can argue over whether courting the military has been the best economic development strategy the city could have chosen. Let it suffice to say that uniforms, for better or worse, have made San Diego much of what it is today.

But San Diegos recent growth, along with defense department cutbacks, have caused the military to lower its profile in this town. More people today wonder whether whats good for the Navy is still good for San Diego. We can see this very clearly in the arguments over the Miramar Air Station and the redevelopment of the Navy Broadway Complex.

Miramar is a large military airbase right smack in the middle of San Diego. The Navy Broadway Complex is located on a choice piece of property in the heart of downtown on the bayfront no less. I suppose the locations of these military installations made sense when they were created. But I doubt that any urban development plan would put them there today.

In the case of Navy-Broadway, San Diego is negotiating with the Navy over the redevelopment of the property. But the negotiations have been difficult, in part, because the military doesnt behave the way we expect government to.

Ive met some of the local Navy and Marine brass in the course of hosting These Days. Theyre smart, reasonable people. Some of them even have a sense of humor. But they work for organizations which though they are governmental are NOT democratic. They give and take orders. Their organizations are run from the top, down. And they have little patience for the slow, frustrating pace of consensus decision-making.

Members of the Navy and the Marines feel that they serve a more important purpose than accommodating San Diegos land-use concerns. Whats more, they like it here.

Take, for example, the debate over turning Miramar Air Station into a commercial airport. You might ask, Couldnt the Marines do their touch-and-go flight training in Yuma? They probably could. But they dont want to do it in Yuma. Would you want to live in Yuma if you could be in San Diego?

One of the dynamics of life in San Diego is the dispute over who gets to live in this lovely spot on the globe. We can argue about what the role of the military in San Diego should be. But the uniforms staked their claim to this place a long time ago, and they wont give it up without a fight.

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