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How Washington Can Really Help California : Hand the bases--all seven of them--over to the state

July 18, 1993

What has the Clinton Administration, which during the campaign promised Californians so much, done for the state's economy? Not that much, so far as we, or almost anyone else, can see.

When they visit California, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and other Administration plenipotentiaries are all action. Moving from one public appearance to the next, they express unquestionably sincere concern. After each and every new fly-by from Washington, hopes briefly flicker--then real economic indicators sag.

Indeed, the Administration signed off on the recommendations of the federal commission that called for jettisoning 35 bases nationwide. California must suffer seven closings--20% of the total for the country.

In all fairness, base closings were unavoidable after the bipolar superpower military standoff evaporated. And, of course, for years California blossomed from the military building. Now it must share in the pain.

And, to be absolutely fair, Congress is so monomaniacally focused on the deficit that the stimulus portion of the original Clinton budget has been all but eviscerated. There has been a bit of good news lately: The Clinton Administration announced reactivation of the small-business loan program and a proposal to distribute more money to lenders in poor areas.

But more must be done for California. The interests of both California and the nation (not to mention President Clinton's 1996 political interest) make the case: Unless there is substantial economic recovery in this state, there cannot possibly be substantial economic recovery in the nation. California is too sizable a chunk of the whole; if it lags behind recovery in other regions, it will drag the nation down like a monster anchor on a shaky boat.

What is Clinton to do? Given the political realities in Washington, which include congressional leaders who can't wait to position themselves for a run at the White House in 1996 and won't give Clinton an inch, the White House needs to jump on a proposal that would deed back to this state the land on which the seven to-be-closed bases sit. The idea is not new. Southern California Edison President Michael R. Peevey, among others, has advocated it; California State University President Barry Munitz has even proposed cleaning up Ft. Ord near Monterey and converting it to a university campus.

Such thoughts also impress Gov. Pete Wilson, who on Monday added his voice to the campaign for California. That's helpful--and no doubt San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, named by Wilson to head the state's Military Base Reuse Task Force, will use the panel's planned hearings to drum up support for the idea.

In the absence of any truly significant job-creation or job-education programs, Washington should at least use the assets it does possess to help California. "They have closed bases, they have taken away military and civilian payrolls," the governor said. But seven bases that are cleaned of toxic waste and deeded back to the state can either be sold to the private sector for job-creating economic development or used for public purposes, such as Munitz suggests. This is an idea President Clinton should personally see through to realization. It's an idea that congressional leaders should support, even if it means changing federal law. But if the idea is left to the famed federal bureaucracy, nothing will happen quickly enough to have any economic effect.

Says Wilson: "The normal foot-dragging can't be tolerated." Amen.

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