President Clinton has approved a recommendation by an independent commission to close 35 major unneeded military installations across the United States, including seven large bases in California, White House officials said Thursday.
The decision, made after consultations Wednesday between the President and his national security advisers and scheduled to be announced this morning, is expected to ensure that the commission’s recommendations will take effect this autumn.
Under the law, the President must either accept the commission’s proposals intact or return them for changes by July 15. If he approves the panel’s plan, Congress has 45 legislative days to vote to block the proposals. Otherwise, they automatically become law.
In a letter, Gov. Pete Wilson asked President Clinton to reject the recommendations of the commission, calling the impact on California “terribly unfair.”
California could lose more than 45,000 jobs, he said. Even with 17,000 jobs that would be created by the moves, the state would face a net loss of 28,425 jobs, he said.
“I respectfully urge that you not accept the commission’s report but instead send it back to them with instructions to carefully review their recommended closures in California,” Wilson concluded.
The major California bases to be closed are the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro and six naval installations--the air station and depot at Alameda, a naval station at Treasure Island, the hospital at Oakland, the shipyard at Mare Island and the training center at San Diego.
Also to be shut down are the naval air station at Hunter’s Point, the naval engineering command at San Bruno, the civil engineering laboratory at Port Hueneme, the naval public works center in San Francisco and the surface-ship repair and alterations facility in San Francisco.
March Air Force Base in Riverside will be scaled back to a reserve center.
The base closings are expected to cost the state up to 41,000 jobs, the bulk of them in the San Francisco area. But experts said that in many cases, the land will be used for private businesses that eventually may produce more jobs and revenue.
As White House officials signaled the President’s intentions, the Pentagon announced Thursday that it was shutting down or reducing operations at 92 U.S. military sites overseas in the largest such pullback in three years.
The action brings the number of overseas bases that have been closed since early 1990 to 840, a cut of almost 50% and a far faster closure rate than the shutdown of domestic installations.
Thursday’s closures would all but eliminate the U.S. military presence in Berlin and cut the number of U.S. troops in Frankfurt and Fulda--two other major Cold War-era installations.
The base closings panel made its decisions last weekend after weeks of public hearings in Washington and at cities across the country--including Los Angeles--at which it listened to often emotional appeals from politicians and civic groups that it keep their bases intact.
Even so, only in about half a dozen cases did the commission overturn the Pentagon’s recommendations. In California, for example, the panel squelched a Defense Department proposal to close a naval supply center at Oakland.
The panel also recommended shutting down 95 smaller military installations and reshuffling units at 45 others. Commission members estimated that the actions would result in the loss of 125,000 military and civilian jobs nationwide.
This was the third major round of base closings that the Pentagon has undertaken. The first--handled entirely by Congress--came in 1988. The commission oversaw a second round in 1991.
Both Congress and the White House have said the unneeded bases must be closed as soon as possible if the Pentagon is to be able to live within rapidly declining budget.
Most analysts said they believe that Congress will not block the commission’s recommendations. The independent commission was set up to protect members of Congress from the political heat that they have taken in the past when bases have been shut down.
James A. Courter, the former New Jersey congressman who headed the eight-member panel, predicted that lawmakers will accept the commission’s recommendations. Under the law, they must vote on the entire package and cannot single out individual bases.
“Some (members of Congress) will pound their chests in outrage, but I’m 100% convinced that, when the leaves fall off the trees in the fall, Congress will overwhelmingly accept this package,” he said in an interview on the C-Span cable television channel Thursday.
In a statement, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she would vote against the recommendations if they are put before the Senate unchanged. She called the potential job loss to California “unfair and unacceptable.”
“California’s economy is already suffering from high unemployment and a lingering recession,” she said. “Those proposed closures underscore the need for a strong defense conversion program to counterpunch the heavy economic blow of base closures to our state. I am going to be there fighting to ensure that our communities . . . get the resources they need to clean up the bases for reuse.”
Defense experts said California was hit especially hard in this round of closures because the Navy--with operations heavily concentrated on the West and East Coasts--had lagged in proposing base closings and was forced to make up for it this year.
Times staff writer David Lauter contributed to this story.