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Long Beach Yard, 32 Other Bases Targeted to Close

March 01, 1995|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary William J. Perry announced Tuesday that he is recommending closure of 33 major military installations--including the large Long Beach Naval Shipyard--in the fourth round of military base closings following the end of the Cold War.

Saying that "with fewer forces, obviously we need fewer bases," Perry estimated that as much as $18 billion would be saved over the next two decades by shutting down, relocating or consolidating a total of 146 installations around the country. About 34,200 civilian jobs would be eliminated.

The news of imminent closings, as it has in the past, caused immediate disbelief and anger in many communities, with local officials vowing to continue fighting to keep their installations open. The recommendations will now be reviewed by a special commission and then sent on to the White House and Capitol Hill.

In California, where 22 bases have been ordered shut since the base closings began in 1988, several hundred workers at the Long Beach yards resurrected a 1960s anti-war slogan, angrily chanting: "Hell no! We won't go!"

The shipyard employs 3,100 civilian workers, and Long Beach officials estimate that the local economy will lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the installation closes its gates. Pentagon officials argue that the shipyard's capabilities duplicate those available at Navy yards and docks in the San Diego area.

Statewide, California stands to lose about 5,000 jobs under this round of recommendations, which also include closing the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, Onizuka Air Station in San Jose and Air National Guard stations in Ontario and North Highlands, and realigning four other military installations.

Perry said he recognizes that this has been "a painful process for the communities involved. But it is necessary . . . and that is why we are doing it." He said it also had been "a painful process for the Defense Department."

Even so, Perry and other Pentagon officials, mindful of the budget-cutting fever in Washington, said that not only are they strongly recommending the closures, but they also plan to push for "one more round" of cuts in three years.

Perry said the Pentagon is trying to spread the pain around. He noted that California has been "very heavily hit" with closings in the past and has lost a total of 26,000 civilian jobs since 1988.

"In this closing," Perry said of California, "it's still a significant impact but much, much smaller than in previous years."

Texas, which has had a very negligible impact from past closings, would lose 6,600 civilian jobs and is the state that stands to lose the most in this round of closings.

Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton said in an interview that, when he made his recommendations to Perry about closing Long Beach, "one of the tough parts about it was that I knew California had been hit hard in the past."

But with the number of Navy ships dropping from 450 to 350 in the last two years, he said, "we have excess capacity with shipyards and Long Beach was the shipyard that we decided to close."

Defense officials added that closing Long Beach would save $1.9 billion over the next 20 years.

But California lawmakers charged that California is being singled out unfairly. They noted that Long Beach survived after being targeted for closure two years ago, and they suggested that political pressures could be brought to bear to save it once again.

"We've already lost a quarter of a million jobs in California," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "We're getting hit pretty hard. We should have been left alone."

But under Perry's recommendations, which will be presented today to the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, other communities stand to lose plenty as well.

In Texas, Brooks and Reese Air Force bases would be shut down. Naval air stations in Mississippi and Massachusetts would be shuttered. And the Army's Ft. McClellan in Alabama would be closed.

Perry said that the cost of all the closures in this round would be about $5.8 billion. Built into those costs, he said, is $1.8 billion in environmental cleanup work that must be done before the installations can be turned over to local communities.

Pentagon and military officials said that the closures would save taxpayers' money in the long run. "We are motivated and the services are motivated to reduce the infrastructure further in order to free up dollars that we can apply to readiness and to modernization," Perry said.

"The first and highest criteria is military value, and that was the one which the services had to consider first of all."

Deputy Secretary of Defense John M. Deutch said that the bases were chosen for closure after numerous meetings with leaders of the armed forces. And he added that he personally fielded numerous calls from local elected officials worried that their home bases were being targeted. "I've done that hundreds of times," Deutch said.

Local communities still can lobby against inclusion in the final list, as Boxer and other California officials said they intend to do. Under the law, the independent commission will review the Pentagon's recommendations and, after a series of hearings and debate, the panel can amend the list as it sees fit.

The other large California installations included in the Pentagon's recommendations for closure: Onizuka Air Station in San Jose; it would be deactivated and its functions sent to Falcon Air Force Base in Colorado. The Ontario International Airport Air National Guard station and the North Highlands Air National Guard station in the Sacramento area; they would see their combat communications squadrons moved to other bases. A total of about $193 million would be saved by closing these bases.

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