Leaders attend state defense summit

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Leaders  attend state defense  summitA summit for military communities and their advocates, held last week in Sacramento, gave representatives from the Indian Wells Valley a chance to hear from and network with elected leaders while exchanging information and ideas from their peers about the challenges facing towns that serve national defense.

“Overall it was a very encouraging event,” said Scott O’Neil, China Lake’s former executive director who now leads the IWV Economic Development Corp.

“This was a great opportunity to learn more about how communities work together with defense organizations. We had people from the city, from the EDC and from the China Lake Alliance in attendance, but it was unfortunate that we only had a civilian, and no uniformed military, representing China Lake.”

The events at the capitol included the California Summit of Military Communities and the California Defense Leadership Summit, which included base commanders from across the state.

In the first event, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the attendees about the importance of California’s role in defense and national security.

“In that vein, his comments were spot on,” said O’Neil. “He basically acknowledged that California has given a cold shoulder to the defense industry and communities for the last couple of decades.

“However, defense is still a major part of our state’s economic base. I believe he wants to change the perspective of some of our California legislators who don’t perceive defense as an asset. I think that’s good.”

O’Neil noted that when Newsom visited Ridgecrest following our July 4-5 earthquakes, the governor addressed the importance of restoring operations on the base — for the sake of our nation’s defense, as well as our economic vitality.

“Everything I have seen out of Newsom, at least as it relates to our local level, has been impressive and fair. But I do think there’s a possibility that allying with defense is a way to build his relationship with the military.”

O’Neil said that from an economic perspective, the earthquake recovery process could play a positive role in how to build up our community. “Having robust infrastructure and a vibrant quality of life off the base is a critical piece to our ability to maintain longterm retention and recruitment of China Lake employees,” he said.

“Now that most of our employees live off base, we have to consider that off-base infrastructure still supports the mission of China Lake. There were a lot of discussion about how to engage with the community on these issues, and a lot of open thinking about how those ideas can manifest into improvements.”

O’Neil said that he was disappointed that the only briefing about earthquake damage at China Lake was delivered by someone who did not represent — and had not visited — the local base.

“The summit and the events around it are very important, and I think it was a great event this year,” said Dave Janiec, executive director of the China Lake Alliance.

“Part of the benefit of having so many communities involved in defense is that you have representatives from both sides of the aisle who can come together and help represent those interests.”

Janiec pointed out that in California defense has a bigger economic impact than does agriculture. “In fact, California is the top state for DOD spending.”

However, California has also been the most heavily impacted in the last five rounds of the base realignment and closure process. “Our failure to recognize the critical importance of defense in California has cost us dearly. More than half the bases closed by BRAC were in California.”

Janiec said that one specific issue addressed at the summit was the feasibility of public-private partnerships to respond to the State Groundwater Management Act, which mandates groundwater sustainability by all basins within the state.

China Lake has been authorized to receive millions each year in Coso Geothermal royalties to address water and energy security. “We were able to meet with some of the leaders who will play a key role in those kinds of solutions,” said Janiec.

Pictured: Assemblyman Vince Fong (center) meets with (from left) Scott O’Neil of IWVEDC, Dave Janiec of China Lake Alliance and Ron Strand and Jed McLaughlin of the city of Ridgecrest — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-08-23