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Aspin to Recommend Closure of 9 State Bases : Military: Shutdown list includes three Southland facilities. Wilson calls move a 'man-made disaster.'

March 11, 1993|ART PINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Les Aspin has decided to recommend permanent closure of all nine military bases in California that were targeted for shutdown by the individual armed services last week, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The decision, made by Aspin and his top aides Wednesday afternoon, is scheduled to be made public Friday and sent to the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which is charged with making final judgments on base closures.

The California bases would be shut down over the next three or four years.

The commission is expected to conduct public hearings and visit each base before coming up with its own recommendations by July 1. Those proposals then go to the President and Congress. If lawmakers do not specifically reject the plan, it becomes law on Sept. 1.

The bases on Aspin's list include the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, El Toro Marine Air Station and March Air Force Base in Southern California. Also earmarked for closure are the Presidio Army base in Monterey and five facilities in Northern California: Alameda Naval Air Station, the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, McClellan Air Force Base, Oakland Navy Supply Center and Treasure Island Naval Station.

In addition, Aspin is expected to recommend the closing of some 21 other major installations around the country and the consolidation of as many as 150 other depots and smaller sites. In line with the recommendations, San Diego would have the major remaining Navy base on the Pacific Coast.

California officials have predicted serious economic consequences if all nine bases are closed. The state is already in a severe economic slump, with the unemployment rate at 9.8%.

Gov. Pete Wilson issued a report Wednesday saying that closure of the nine bases could cost California $6 billion a year and eliminate up to 328,000 jobs at the bases and among surrounding businesses.

"This is wrong for national security and it's wrong for California's economy," Wilson said in a statement. "I intend to do everything in my power to prevent this kind of man-made disaster from taking place."

By far the biggest single hit at any of the California installations would come at McClellan Air Force Base, an aircraft repair facility near Sacramento that employs 12,600 civilians and 3,500 military personnel.

But officials said the impact is likely to be especially hard in areas already hit by base-closings in 1991, when the commission shut down seven bases in California and recommended consolidation of three others.

For example, March Air Force Base, which is the third-largest employer in the Inland Empire with 9,196 military and civilian employees and a $97-million annual payroll, is in an area where Norton Air Force Base and George Air Force Base are being shut down.

In Southern California, closure of Long Beach Naval Shipyard would cost 4,196 civilian jobs and 33 military jobs, while the closing of El Toro Marine Air Station in Orange County would result in the loss of 1,562 civilian jobs and 4,738 military jobs.

The developments came as members of Congress intensified lobbying against prospective base-closing recommendations, with delegations from California and South Carolina--two of the states expected to be hit the hardest by the 1993 proposals--continuing to appeal for relief.

President Clinton met for an hour Wednesday with members of the California Legislature but reportedly offered them little reassurance that any of the military bases on the list would be spared.

He also promised to expand federal efforts to assist Los Angeles and other hard-hit Southern California communities but offered no firm plans. Clinton travels to Baltimore today to unveil a new "defense conversion" plan but it is expected to be modest.

Aspin--in an effort to blunt the mounting protests in Congress--sent lawmakers a memo arguing that keeping unneeded facilities open would only drain badly needed defense money and warning that more shutdowns will be necessary in future years.

He said that "closing domestic bases and reducing weapons and equipment purchases are critical elements of a balanced defense drawdown--one which will preserve a fully capable, albeit smaller, military."

Officials cautioned Wednesday that Aspin could make some changes in the base-closing list before Friday morning, when the Pentagon plans to begin privately notifying members of Congress whose districts contain bases that are in jeopardy. But they said none of those last-minute changes is likely to affect the California bases.

One factor exacerbating the situation for California is that the state is heavily dependent on Navy installations and the Navy is pushing hard to close bases this year. During previous base closures in 1988 and 1991, few Navy facilities were targeted.

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