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2 California Bases May Return to Closure List : Defense: Head of review panel cites concerns that McClellan, Presidio were dropped for political reasons.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The head of the independent commission reviewing the Pentagon’s plan for shutting down military bases said Monday that McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento and the Presidio in Monterey will be put back on the list of bases being considered for closure.

The two facilities were deleted by the Clinton Administration just before the Defense Department announced the list of bases it wants to close.

James A. Courter, the former New Jersey congressman who chairs the commission, said he and other panel members believe that the move was necessary to allay concerns that the bases had been eliminated from consideration for political reasons.

Both installations initially had been recommended for shutdown by the armed services and were on the Pentagon’s list until two days before the Clinton Administration announced its proposal. They were removed, however, by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who said the closures would have dealt too severe a blow to the California economy.

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Although the Administration has denied it, members of the California congressional delegation have asserted that the bases were spared as a result of political pressure that they exerted--a suggestion that has drawn criticism that the base-closure process has become too political.

The Defense Department says the bases listed for closure no longer are needed as the United States reduces its military Establishment in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union. Its argument is that the longer unneeded bases are kept open, the more existing military resources will be strained.

Courter indicated Monday that he would seek to offer a motion early next week to restore the two California bases to the list, partly to enable the commission to make sure that they were not removed for political reasons.

He said others on the eight-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, as the panel is known formally, also supported the idea and suggested that he may include the names of several other bases outside California in Monday’s resolution.

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Courter stressed in an interview that placing McClellan and the Presidio back on the list did not necessarily mean that the commission ultimately would suggest closing them when it makes its own recommendations on July 1.

“We just wanted to make our own independent examination,” he said. “These two bases were part of the armed services’ recommendation, and then it was changed. We feel duty-bound to make our own independent judgment.”

Even so, his announcement appeared likely to steal some of the political thunder from California’s congressional delegation, particularly Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, who had been especially vocal in claiming credit for sparing the bases.

It also was a sign that the commission once again intends to assert its independence from the Administration. The panel was set up in 1990 as part of a procedure that was designed to insulate the base-closing process from political considerations.

By contrast, in the last major round of base-closings in 1991, Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary during the George Bush Administration, forwarded the armed services’ recommendations to the commission without any changes.

Reaction to Courter’s announcement was immediate. Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento) issued a statement calling the decision “disappointing but not surprising. We knew that the commission would be gunning for us and we will continue to argue McClellan’s case.”

Matsui and other members of the California congressional delegation indicated that they would step up their lobbying effort to keep McClellan and the Presidio off the list. And Gov. Pete Wilson made an appointment to see Courter here in Washington today.

But Keith Cunningham, an analyst with Business Executives for National Security, termed the announcement a bold step that will enhance the credibility of the commission. “This shows that (Courter) is taking politics out of the process,” Cunningham said.

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Under current law, the commission has until July 1 to make its own recommendations on which bases should be closed. President Clinton--and later Congress--then have specified periods of time in which they must either accept the panel’s proposals intact or reject them entirely.

Unless the panel’s recommendations are rejected in toto, they are scheduled to become law by Sept. 1, although the shutdowns would not be likely to take place for another three or four years.

There was no immediate indication that the panel also would recommend placing the Long Beach shipyard on the list of bases that it will consider. Nevertheless, Courter reiterated his earlier warning that for the moment at least, the commission reserves the right to consider any existing base in preparing its recommendations. “There is no facility right now that ought to be able to say” it is exempt, he said.

Eight California bases were among 31 major military installations that the Administration recommended for closure earlier this month. Aspin also proposed cutting 12 other large bases and shutting or scaling back 122 smaller ones.

The Pentagon estimates that the shutdowns that it has recommended in California would cost 42,166 military jobs and 19,425 civilian slots, but the state would get 25,606 new military slots and 4,238 civilian jobs through the enlargement of other military facilities.

McClellan, nine miles north of Sacramento, provides maintenance and logistic support for the F-111 and the F-117 Stealth fighters and the A-10 attack plane. The Presidio, an Army installation, is home to the Defense Language Institute.


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