History Ph.D. Dissertations


De-Basing the San Francisco Bay Area: The Racial, Regional, and Environmental Politics of the 1991-1995 Brac Military Closures

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Stephen Ortiz

Second Advisor

Douglas Forsyth (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Gary Hess (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Amy Robinson (Committee Member)


The San Francisco Bay Area played a critical role in supporting military activities throughout the twentieth century. Due to its location, the Bay Area served as one of the key military staging grounds for the Pacific campaign of WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The region benefited from war-related industry, housing the largest shipyard west of the Mississippi and supporting the burgeoning postwar military industrial complex. Its demographics diversified dramatically as soldiers, Vietnam War refugees, and war workers migrated to the region. As part of the Sunbelt, the Bay Area benefited economically from generous military procurement spending. However, over the course of the 1980s, 1990s, and the 2000s, the Bay Area shifted away from having a significant military presence to having practically none. Compared to the approximately thirty military facilities operating in 1980, today all but a handful are either closed or slated for closure.

Residents, experts, and scholars wondered how could a single region in the Sun Belt, which benefited from significant federal defense investment, lose so much, so quickly? Many locals blamed the region's "liberal" people and politicians for inciting the military's wrath. Hence, a popular social narrative evolved. Many contended that the navy and Department of Defense deliberately targeted bases in the Bay Area for closure as a way of punishing the Bay Area for its anti-war intransigence.

This dissertation challenges the narrative that the Bay Area was punished. It examines the causal factors that led to the elimination of the region's bases. Through three case studies covering base closures in three Bay Area cities, Alameda (Alameda Naval Air Station), Vallejo (Mare Island Naval Shipyard), and Oakland (Oakland Army Base and Fleet and Industrial Supply Center Oakland), a different explanation for the closures emerges. This project demonstrates that the passage of federal policies and legislation, urban encroachment, the reduction of military need, the advancement of military technologies, the enforcement of environmental policies, and shifts in military procurement processes caused a collective cascading effect, which yielded unintended consequences on the region. Going further, this dissertation likewise investigates the effectiveness and fairness of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). The BRAC was designed as a way to close bases in an independent, equal, and apolitical manner. Taken together, these factors demonstrate that Bay Area bases closed due to politics, just not the punishment kind.