Dismay Greets Base Closure Vote : Reaction: Sacramento fears effect on economy of losing so many jobs. Wilson, lawmakers and community leaders vow to try to overturn the decision.
After 26 years working at McClellan Air Force Base, Ronald Wilkinson was simply not prepared for the bad news that a federal commission has recommended the base for closing.
“I was flabbergasted,” said the 46-year-old chief of fleet vehicle operations. “I figured we would get some realignment and some changes, but I didn’t think they would close the base.”
From the base to the nearby Golden Egg Cafe to the state Capitol, there was shock and dismay Thursday at news about McClellan, Northern California’s largest industrial employer.
The Sacramento region was hit in the 1988 round of base closings with the shutdown of Mather Air Force Base. Then, in 1991, the Sacramento Army Depot was closed. In all, it cost the area an estimated 7,000 jobs.
“Sacramento has already taken two hits” in recent years, Wilkinson said. “That drastically affects the whole community and businesses in the Sacramento area.”
Indeed, there was concern from nearby merchants and their employees. “This is just awful news,” said Theresa Matthews, 30, a waitress at the Golden Egg Cafe, which is known for its specialty omelets. “A lot of people are going to be unemployed, and we will lose a lot of business.”
Price Club security guard Doug Young, 29, said, “It is going to mean a sizable decline in our business. It’s pretty slow now, but it’s going to get a lot slower.”
Young added that he believed President Clinton would overturn the recommendation to close the base, “but I’m an optimist by nature.”
And, in fact, the campaign is on to influence Clinton.
Gov. Pete Wilson, members of Congress and community leaders vowed Thursday to challenge the commission’s decision to close the base, which would mean the loss of about 14,000 military and civilian jobs and $1.5 billion in economic activity.
“The fight is not over yet,” said Keith Dumas, executive director of operations at the base, pledging to fight on to try to save McClellan.
“We intend to continue making a very strong case that McClellan should remain open,” the governor said, “and we will sign legislation shortly that will provide [funding] for taking that fight to the Congress and the President. We think they should reverse this decision.”
Wilson called McClellan “an essential part of national security and our ability to project force, especially with respect to the Pacific Rim, but really worldwide as the Persian Gulf conflict indicates.”
The governor added that he would remind the President that two months ago Clinton visited McClellan and remarked “what a fine parking spot it was for Air Force I.”
Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr. said, “We fought hard, and there shouldn’t be any second-guessing, but it didn’t go our way.”
The mayor added that he will call a joint city-county hearing within the next four to five weeks to talk about the steps that need to be taken for a last-ditch effort to save McClellan.
“I think the base closure commission made a mistake,” said Tom Eres of the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, who is head of a task force that was set up to try to save the base from closure.
Opened in 1938 as the Sacramento Air Depot, McClellan AFB has long enjoyed a reputation of being in the forefront of maintaining and repairing high-technology military aircraft systems.
It was renamed McClellan Field in 1939 in honor of Maj. Hezekiah McClellan, a pioneer in charting Alaskan air routes who died in an aircraft accident.
A beehive of activity during World War II, the base was a site for repairing and servicing fighters and bombers such as P-38s, P-51s, B-29s and B-25s.
The base continued to perform maintenance work on military aircraft during the Korean War, Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, employing a maximum of 26,000 personnel in 1967.
More recently, supporters say, it was McClellan technology and workers that helped rescue Capt. Scott F. O’Grady, the Air Force pilot whose F-16 was shot down by Serbs over northwestern Bosnia.
Assemblywoman Barbara Alby (R-Fair Oaks) reported that the radio beacon and transmitter, and other aircraft equipment used by O’Grady and his rescuers, had been repaired and serviced at McClellan.
“From ejection to the helicopter picking him up, McClellan cradled this man,” Alby told base supporters at a rally.
A public affairs specialist who has worked at McClellan for five years, Jamie Cameron-Harley, 30, said, “I hope it won’t close. I hope it won’t happen. And I have a lot of faith that it won’t.
“If the base does close, I will assess my skills and look elsewhere for another position here.
“But I don’t want to leave the community. I was born here, grew up here, and my husband has his own business here.”
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California Score Card
Here is a list of the actions taken Thursday by the base-closing commission that affect California:
Military Base City No. of Jobs Closed: McClellan Air Force Base Sacramento 14,000 Realigned: Onizuka Air Station Sunnyvale 1,875 Kept Open: Point Mugu Navy Base Oxnard 6,500 Moffet Field Air Guard Station Sunnyvale 318 North Highlands Air Guard Station Sacramento 40