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Homeland Security Targets List Leaves State Officials Puzzled

By Paul Jacobs
Mercury News

Local officials were baffled when they got their first look at the federal government's top priority list of potential terrorist targets in California.

Why was Emerald Hills Golfland, the South San Jose miniature golf course and water slide, on the list, along with more obvious targets like San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid and Oakland's McAfee Coliseum?

The statewide list was supposed to identify "critical infrastructure,'' possible targets of high economic or social importance that would be eligible for special federal grants to provide extra protection.

"We doubled over laughing,'' said Frances L. Edwards, director of San Jose's Office of Emergency Services. "It was comical.''

Although the entire list has never been made public, 259 sites in California are eligible for a share of nearly $13 million that's been promised to the state under the new federal Buffer Zone Protection Program. Each local government will get $50,000 a site for surveillance cameras, protective barriers or other equipment to discourage a terrorist attack.

"I would be real happy to bring 50,000 bucks to San Jose,'' said Robert Kenney, vice president of Golfland Entertainment Centers, which also has courses in Sunnyvale and Milpitas.

But even Kenney was surprised that San Jose's Golfland, with a maximum capacity of 750, would be on the same list as Disneyland and Great America. "I'd be happy if the money was used not to defend Golfland but a more visible site,'' he said.

Golfland wasn't the only place that had local and state officials scratching their heads when the list was first distributed last fall. San Jose's downtown arena was listed twice, as HP Pavilion and under its old name, Compaq Center. Spartan Stadium, with a capacity of about 30,000, was there, but Stanford Stadium, which holds 85,000, was not.

In San Francisco, the list included a non-existent shopping mall called Candlestick Mills, part of a failed plan to develop a new football stadium at Candlestick Point. And initially, the Golden Gate Bridge was left off, possibly because the city had already committed other money to protecting it.

Many of the most blatant errors have since been corrected, officials say. "These are old comments and they are not accurate comments today,'' said U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Michelle Petrovich.

But the initial problems raise questions about a key aspect of the nation's homeland security initiative: Why did it take the federal government more than three years after Sept. 11 to produce a list of crucial national assets? And how could the list contain so many gaffes?

The answer, local officials say, is simple: The feds never consulted state homeland security officials or local law enforcement, who had already compiled their own, much longer lists.

"How did they come up with these sites?'' asks Capt. Edward J. Perry, in charge of special operations and homeland security for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. They said, "This is the list. "They never contacted anybody.''

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, was even more pointed: "They would have been better off with a phone book. At least it would be more complete.''

California's new director of homeland security, Matthew Bettenhausen, defends the federal list as a first attempt in an important effort. Until recently, Bettenhausen was responsible for coordinating state funding programs at the federal Department of Homeland Security.

"It was under pressure,'' he said, adding, "There's always room for improvement.''

The problems with the list weren't limited to Silicon Valley or California.

Lofgren was one of several members of Congress who complained during a February hearing about the federal Department of Homeland Security's national asset database. She and other committee members believe a well-researched database of important structures should be an integral part of deciding where to focus federal dollars to prevent and respond to terrorist threats.

Committee members were given a look at the sensitive listing of top priority sites in their states--places seen as prime targets because of their potential to cause grave economic or psychological harm or extensive loss of life. Lofgren declined to name specific sites because of the confidential nature of the briefing.

In all, 18 sites in Santa Clara County and three counties to the south--Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz--are eligible for federal funding. It's been widely reported that California's list includes icons such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Disneyland, along with major stadiums and amusement parks. Locally, Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara, with an estimated 2 million visitors a year, is among the obvious places listed.

But Lofgren said she was shocked by many of the things that were included, some that were left out and by the overall shoddiness of the federal effort.

"In Los Angles County, they had the district offices of some city council members but not others,'' she recalled. "They had a check-cashing office.''

In one case, the branch office of a major Silicon Valley company was listed, Lofgren said, but not its larger, more economically significant Santa Clara County headquarters. Also missing, she said, was a company she regards as integral to the Internet and a facility elsewhere in California that she believes could be crucial to the state's water supply.

There's growing agreement the system needs changing.

Rep. Christopher Cox, the Newport Beach Republican who chairs the homeland security committee, said too much emphasis has been placed on "national icons'' like the Washington Monument, and not enough on sites whose loss could create a major disruption of our economic life.

"We've got to be harder-nosed about our prioritization,'' Cox said.

Meanwhile, California has been building its own list of more than 1,500 sites, said Gary S. Winuk, deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security. That's far more than the 259 eligible for the first round of federal funding.

Even after the federal government made changes, Winuk said, "We're still not happy with the composition of the list. At the end of the day, it's their list and we gave them the best we could.''

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