The third round of national military retrenchment passed its final legislative test Monday, clearing the way for the armed services to begin shutting down or realigning 175 bases nationwide, including nine major facilities in California.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer tried to derail the base closing plan, projected to cost California as much as $4 billion in economic activity and 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. But the Senate rejected a resolution co-sponsored by the California senators and several others in a resounding 83-12 vote.
The Bay Area will be hit most severely with six large bases targeted for closure. The El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County and the San Diego Naval Training Center were also ordered closed.
March Air Force Base in Riverside County will undergo a major realignment and emerge as an Air Force reserve base.
The base closures will cause economic trauma to many of the surrounding communities. But the decisive vote favoring the base closing plan was a foregone conclusion because most senators were more concerned about the overall savings as U.S. military requirements decrease dramatically in the post-Cold War era.
The commission estimated that closing the bases will save about $4 billion from fiscal 1994 to fiscal 1999. Savings after the turn of the century will be about $2.3 billion annually.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had “deep feelings of sympathy for the communities that are going to suffer.” But he warned that putting off the base closings would force the government to make budget cuts that would impair the readiness of U.S. military forces.
Feinstein said the recommendations were unfair to California, which has absorbed 48% of the personnel reductions ordered in three rounds of base closings, and she urged that the cuts be postponed.
“I believe it will be a grave mistake to move forward with this round of base closures at this time, especially when the nation’s economy is at a standstill,” Feinstein said.
The net loss of direct military and civilian jobs in California because of the base closures is 33,300, according to figures released by Gov. Pete Wilson’s office.
In Orange County, El Toro’s closure will mean a loss of 8,350 jobs and a payroll of $174.7 million. A study by two Cal State Fullerton professors released last week found that, with the multiplier effect that occurs with the re-spending of those dollars, the base is worth about $231.6 million a year to the local economy.
There has been limited sympathy for California in other parts of the country, in part because the state has benefited so heavily from defense spending and base building for decades.
President Clinton endorsed the Defense Base Closing and Realignment Commission’s recommendations and sent them to Congress in early July. Both houses of Congress need to pass resolutions to reject the panel’s findings; otherwise, they become law.
Because no such resolution was introduced in the House, Monday’s Senate vote clears the way for the bases to be closed and ends the 1993 process.
Another round is scheduled in two years, and most observers say more California bases will have to be shut down. The Long Beach Naval Shipyard, which barely escaped closure this time, is considered a prime target.
By law, the bases must be shut down within two to six years. But the process often takes much longer.
In California, where 17 major bases were ordered closed in the earlier rounds in 1988 and 1991, only one, George Air Force Base near Victorville, has done so, said Tim Ransdell of the California Institute in Washington. Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino is expected to close in April.
The schedule for closing the nine new California bases is under discussion with Pentagon officials, Ransdell said, and should be ready in about a month. But Navy officials have projected El Toro’s closure will occur in four to six years.
In early July, Clinton announced a series of measures intended to streamline the base closing process. The plan was devised in response to complaints that bureaucratic delays frustrated local efforts to transform military property to private enterprises.
The fight against the base closures began when Defense Secretary Les Aspin released his “hit list” in mid-March, representing the installations that the Pentagon thought were expendable.
The base closing commission reviews the Pentagon choices to make sure they were based on accurate data and conformed to the military’s established force structure.
The commission held 17 hearings, including two trips to California, and made 125 field visits to potential closure victims.
With several exceptions, the commission accepted the Pentagon recommendations. In California, the commission spared the Naval Supply Center in Oakland.
* EL TORO UPROAR: Two South County cities move to control future use of base. B1