Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Community in Alameda, California

August 13, 1993

Thank you very much, Secretary Perry, Admiral Ruck, Admiral Briggs, Secretary of the Navy Dalton, Acting Secretary of the Army Shannon. The other people on this platform with me are essential to the partnership that I seek to establish and continue here today: Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who has been instructed by me to head the administration's efforts to develop a specific strategy to revitalize the California economy; the United States Senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; and your Congressman and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ron Dellums. I am glad to be here with all of them.

To the distinguished military officers to my right and most of all to those of you who are here from the United States Navy, from the Marine Corps, the United States Army, and from the Coast Guard, it is an honor to be here with you in the shadow of this magnificent aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, and just off to my left here, a ship that I helped to launch, the U.S.S. Arkansas, back in a former life of mine. It's wonderful to see the ship again and to see the flag of my State and the flag of my country waving there.

I come here, first of all and foremost, to thank all of you, those of you in uniform and those of you who have worked to support those in uniform, for being genuine patriots, for helping to win the cold war, for making a difference in the lives of all Americans and billions of people around the world. You have done the right thing by your country.

As a result of that, it has become possible, indeed it has become necessary, to downsize the defense establishment of the United States and to, more importantly, reorganize so it can maintain its dominance in a world that is new and different but still quite dangerous and very much uncertain.

The one thing we must never do is to lose the ability to recruit and maintain the best trained, the best educated, most highly motivated men and women in the Armed Forces in the entire world. The other thing we must never do is to lose our capacity to train them and to give them the finest, most technologically advanced weaponry of offense and defense available in the world.

In order to accomplish those tasks, it is inevitable that as we downsize defense, we must not only reduce the numbers of people coming into the Armed Forces, not only reduce some of the money we have been spending on weapons systems, we have to reduce the base structure of our Armed Forces. If we do not do it at an appropriate level, we will wind up underspending on the education and training and support systems for the men and women in the service, underspending on the important research and development and weaponry we must have in order to maintain our own national security and our capacity to lead the world.

Nonetheless, when a base closing is announced, it means a difficult transition for the people in uniform and, very often, even more for the people in the community. I know that because I have been through a very traumatic one in my own State, when an Air Force base was closed in a community that had 15 percent unemployment when the closing was announced.

I come here today not only to say what I have said about why these things are happening but also to talk about what we can do together to help all of you cope with this change and to help this place and all these people come out winners in the end.

The wave of change that has washed over our shores has caused this shifting military structure. It has also opened up dramatic new opportunities in a global economy, if we have the vision and courage to seize those opportunities.

One of the things that we have not done very well is to frankly face the future and to plan aggressively for change, to give every person in this country a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential even in the face of change. You heard Secretary Perry quoting President Kennedy, "Those who think only of the past and the present will miss the future." That has happened. In a world that is changing as rapidly as ours is, people lose the opportunities they now have not just because of defense cutbacks but because of other changes in the global economy. It is absolutely critical if we are going to secure a better future for these young boys and girls that the Navy and the Marine Corps have helped to get off to a better start in life, to stay off drugs, in school, to be learners. We have got to learn to adapt to change and plan for it.

Let us first say clearly what you already know. This base and others like it, announced in the last round of base closings, will not actually shut down for several years. But if we wait until then to plan what happens to the people in and out of uniform and to the resources here, we will absolutely ensure a period of economic dislocation that need not occur.

Those of you in the military face the uncertainty of relocation. Others are wondering whether they will find a new job or what the future will bring. As I said, as Governor I went through this when we lost several thousand jobs in the Arkansas delta, which was the poorest area in the United States with the highest unemployment rate. I can report to you that if there is a good, aggressive partnership, good things can happen. There are hundreds of new and different and higher paying jobs in that community today because of what the local folks did working with the State and making the most of what we were given by the National Government. But I think we can do even better.

I make this pledge to you. The men and women who won the cold war will not be left out in the cold by a grateful Nation. If we are smart, imaginative, and creative, if the Federal Government listens to people at the grassroots level and moves this vast national bureaucracy in the interests of the people rather than the priorities and the prerogatives of those who govern the bureaucratic levers, we can move forward.

Nobody knows better what kind of future you can build than your own people. Just this morning, I found imaginative ideas in your local newspaper for urging the base to form closer ties to the growing economies of Asia. That's a good idea, the fastest growing region of the world.

Our plan for reusing military bases is community centers. The vision for the future is up to you. Our job is to give you the tools to build a future, whether you are individual service men and women who deserve a right to a good relocation or, if you leave the service, an adequate opportunity to increase your skills, your income, and your future, or whether you're staying behind here in this community and you want to grow the economy and find opportunity.

Last month, as Secretary Perry said, I announced a five-part, $5 billion action plan to help to turn closing military bases into engines of economic opportunity. We will respond rapidly and spend money wisely. We will not just give speeches. We will act.

Indeed, before I came here today I met with your local community commission devoted to revitalizing the economy of the area, and I listened to them. Presidents would do better if they spent more time listening to people at the grassroots levels. And that's one of the lessons I'm trying to learn and teach to Washington.

When a base closes, henceforward our first priority will be to create jobs and promote economic development. Every one of the changes will be directed toward providing jobs for the people who live here and their neighbors. Believe it or not, putting jobs first is a change in Federal policy. Even though we have been downsizing the defense establishment since 1987, that has not been the priority until this administration passed a new policy.

Right now, believe it or not, the law actually requires the Government to charge communities full price for a closed military base if it is used for job creation and economic development. But the Government can give away a military base if it's used for recreational purposes. Well, people who are out of work have too much time for recreation. Let's put people to work first and then provide for their recreation.

Earlier today I met with this community commission representing you so well and announced an example of our jobs-first policy. For years the port of Oakland has been trying to lease 200 acres of Navy property at the Oakland Naval Supply Center so that it could expand. For years there was a stalemate. Today I announced that that property will be rented out, much of it for $1 a year. That will create hundreds of good jobs.

To make the port a magnet for shipping and commerce we must deepen the channel. For years environmental concerns have slowed this process. I have directed the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, and all other concerned agencies to get on with it and to act as quickly as possible to resolve the issues so that we can dredge the channel and bring more opportunity to the people who live here.

Under the leadership of your Congressman, Ron Dellums, the people who formed the East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission, with whom I met this morning, are already planning for a better and a brighter and a much more different future. Our administration has already provided $70,000 to hire staff and start the work of this commission. Now we can say that we will provide up to $3.5 million to plan for the East Bay of tomorrow. And we will begin now. We will not wait until the dislocations occur.

We've got to avoid the problems that others have faced in the past, problems that I faced when I was a Governor. Environmental cleanup is often dragged on for years. But my EPA Administrator, Carol Browner, has already met with this commission and has set firm deadlines for the cleanup. We've appointed local coordinators here in the East Bay to bust the bureaucracy, to slash through the redtape.

The East Bay has the potential to be a magnet for technology, for aviation, for manufacturing. Alameda County is the home of some of the world's finest research laboratories, Lawrence Livermore, Lawrence Berkeley and the University of California at Berkeley. We have a technology reinvestment project for defense conversion that is already drawing high-tech firms into partnerships with these institutions. If we succeed, this military axis could be transformed into a thriving, high-tech commercial hub, a hightech gateway to Asia and beyond.

Here at the Naval Air Station you already have a wealth of facilities that can be converted into commercial use: an aircraft painting facility that meets Federal and State pollution rules. Now they paint fighter jets. Why not commercial planes? You have a state-of-the-art hush room used to test jet engines. Why not private jet engines? If we use our imagination, our energy, our creativity, this naval base and those around it now serving our freedom can and will thrive in the pursuit of commercial excellence.

In the technology reinvestment initiative, we have already received over 8,000 new proposals to put the American people to work in a peacetime economy, and almost 3,000 of them have come from the State of California alone. The future is out there waiting for us, if we have the courage and vision to seize it.

Within 60 days after the Congress finalizes the base closing list, the Departments of Labor and Commerce will have a SWAT team on the ground here in Alameda, specialists whose marching orders will be to work with people, train them, counsel them, and help them find a future. When the time comes, we will put into place a reemployment center here on the base to help with everything from job training to resume writing, to create a new jobs data base so that for the first time people can actually call on a computer and find all the jobs available in the near area. And they will make sure that you have access to as much training in hightech fields as you need.

I have directed the Navy to hold a special west coast conference here in the Bay area on October 26th and 27th to help community leaders plan for base reuse in their future. At that meeting there will be leaders from communities throughout the country which have already gone through base closures and have actually come out creating more jobs than they have lost. And they did it without the kind of support that we are now providing.

None of these changes will be easy, but we only have one choice. We can make this work to help people, or let the future take its course. I think the choice is clear. The world of global competition which we now face requires us, in order to make our next century a great one, to put our economic house in order. That means we live in an economy where capital, money, is mobile—can fly all over the world in a second—where commerce is global. Our wealth depends more than anything else on the skills of our people and our ingenuity in working together and investing in areas of high return.

That's why I fought so hard to get control of our economy again by the record deficit reduction package that the Congress passed last week. That's why I will propose a health care plan next month to provide affordable health care and security to all American families, because it's bad for business for us to spend 35 percent more on health care than any other nation in the world, insure 40 million fewer of our people than we would if we had any other system in the world, and constantly risk the security of millions of families and at the same time put our business in bad shape. In the private sector most American workers have given up their wage increases for the last several years just to hold on to their health benefits, and it will happen for 10 more years unless we have the courage to change the system. It's good for bringing the deficit budget down. It's good for the American economy.

That's why I will fight for expanded trade opportunity, to secure by the end of the year a world trade agreement through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that every analyst says will add hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs to America by the end of the decade, and why I can say today, finally, that we have concluded what I believe is a very successful negotiation with the Mexican Government on the North American Free Trade Agreement, one that will now guarantee that a port city like Oakland will be able to send everincreasing quantities of American-made goods to sell in Mexico and beyond.

I am pleased that the United States, Mexico, and Canada have reached this agreement and have done it in a way that for the first time ever in a trade agreement requires another nation, in this case Mexico, not to use lower environmental standards, not to use lower labor standards just to get jobs here at America's expense but to actually have mutual trade based on increasing environmental standards, increasing wages and incomes in Mexico, and fair trade between the two nations so that both of us can win, create more jobs, and build a better future. That's the kind of future we all need.

My fellow Americans, I am determined not to let the American dream founder. What a tragedy it would be if the aftermath of winning the cold war were a legacy that we left millions of Americans who won that war out in the cold. What a tragedy it would be if because we did not have the discipline and will to change, we hung on to outmoded ways of doing things under the guise of being good to our men and women in uniform, and we wound up weakening our national security because we didn't have the money to invest in continued technology and training in support of the men and women in uniform.

There is another and better way. And it is the way we are pursuing here. I do want this county, I do want these facilities, I do want this area to be a national model.

On the surface you have paid an enormous price here. The largest impact of the last round of base closings came in the Bay area and in northern California. Everybody knows that. But if you look around you at the people, if you look around you at the resources, if you imagine the future toward which we are tending, if we do the right thing, it means a better future for our people. It means a brighter future for this area, and it means a stronger, stronger America.

I thank you again for your service to your Nation. The best way we can demonstrate honoring your patriotism is to take steps now that are aggressive, tough, unrelenting, and worthy of what you have done for your country. I will do my best to do just that.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. at Wharf #3 at the Alameda Naval Air Station. In his remarks, he referred to Rear Adm. Merrill W. Ruck, USN, Commander, Naval Base San Francisco; and Rear Adm. Steven R. Briggs, USN, Acting Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Community in Alameda, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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