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McClellan Air Force Base

    On March 24, 1999, the 1998-1999 Sacramento County Grand Jury toured McClellan Air Force Base (the Base), located north of Sacramento adjacent to North Highlands. This is the first time that a Sacramento County Grand Jury has toured the Base since its closure was announced in 1995.


    McClellan has had a diversified history since its groundbreaking in 1936. On November 15, 1938, the Sacramento Air Depot began to repair aircraft, engines, and flight instruments. The Army Air Corps' Materiel Division, at Wright Field in Ohio, gave the Sacramento Air Depot responsibility for aircraft logistics in the western states and Alaska; in the event of any war, Sacramento was to be the hub of aircraft logistical support for the entire West Coast. On December 1, 1939, the War Department changed the installation's name to McClellan Air Force Base in honor of Army aviation pioneer Major Hezekiah "Hez" McClellan, who died while testing a PB-2A aircraft outside of Centerville, Ohio. McClellan has been an Air Force supply depot for 61 years.

    In 1995, McClellan was placed on the federal government's base realignment and closure list. The Base is scheduled to close on July 13, 2001. The addition of McClellan to the list brought the total of Base closure "hits" to three for the Sacramento area; Mather Air Force Base and Sacramento Army Depot were the other two. However, because of the large civilian workforce at McClellan, its closure will have the most significant impact on the County's overall economy.

    The County has apparently applied the lessons learned from converting Mather to establish a joint Air Force/Sacramento County conversion office, located on the Base. This has allowed close coordination and cooperation between the various agencies within the federal and County governments. Even so, the Grand Jury observed a disconnect on what could be useful utilization of various buildings being vacated at McClellan and requirements for office/building space by Child Protective Services, Bureau of Family Support and other County agencies, for instance.

    The Grand Jury learned there is a Base operating support services contract with Boeing Aircraft to maintain the Base facilities until they are transferred to the County's control. This service contract is funded by the federal government.

    The Grand Jury was told that the transfer of the responsibility for Base utilities and infrastructures from Department of Defense (DOD) to the County has already begun. Sacramento Municipal Utility District has already taken over operation of electrical distribution. Eventually gas, water, and telecommunications will be the responsibility of Pacific Gas and Electric (gas), Northridge Water District (water) and Pacific Bell (telecommunications).

    Part of the re-use plan for McClellan is to see what federal agency offices can be brought to the Base. However, the Base facilities are being marketed in a "business oriented" mode, including the availability of the airfield for use by commercial tenants and firms.

    The Grand Jury asked about the plans by the Sacramento County Department of Airports (SCDOA) to NOT utilize McClellan as an active airport. The response was that McClellan is not, and will not be, under the SCDOA's jurisdiction, but will remain independent; therefore, the SCDOA's position is irrelevant. The Grand Jury found this disturbing.

    The airfield pavements represent a major responsibility and liability and should not be used merely as an adjunct to attract commercial enterprises having an aircraft operations component. The maintenance costs of the pavements are supposed to be borne by future tenants, but it is questionable if this will actually be limited to future tenants and not require some degree of support from the Sacramento County general fund. The Base conversion office's intent to retain the control tower equipment in anticipation of its re-operation is an indication of the conversion team's unfamiliarity with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) criteria for tower operation. However, continued operation of the aircraft refueling facility will probably be required. There needs to be closer coordination between the SCDOA's airfield operation experts and the Base conversion team in this. Too many conflicts appear to exist in this area.

    The Grand Jury was told that the Coast Guard is currently a McClellan tenant and regularly uses the runway for its search and rescue mission flights. There is an agreement between the federal Departments of Transportation and Defense to allow the Coast Guard to occupy the Base until 2004. The Coast Guard is contributing $2 million annually to McClellan's airfield operation until then.

    The conversion staff was asked by the Grand Jury about transfer of security at McClellan after the Air Force leaves and was told that the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department is actively participating and sending representatives to the transition meetings.

    Several buildings are being offered to educational entities to be used as classrooms or administrative offices. Park and recreation departments and districts are looking at using the gymnasium, bowling alley, baseball complex, golf course, and so forth. They are being asked to inspect the facilities before Base closure.

    One downside to this activity is that many of the Base buildings do not meet County building codes. Many of these buildings and facilities will require extensive remodeling and restructuring to make them marketable. The Grand Jury was told the conversion staff is obtaining the "as built" data on the buildings and facilities; this will minimize the costs to bring them into building code compliance.

    The Grand Jury was informed that the Base exchange and the Base commissary will remain open to support the large retired military population. In fact, the commissary has been selected to be the western region office for distribution and business for all commissaries on the West Coast. These two entities will employ approximately 650 people. The Base medical clinic and the dental clinic will also remain open for military retirees.

    The Grand Jury was told that McClellan currently employs 9,000 civilian workers. Since the employees of McClellan are County residents, the Grand Jury was interested as to what employment efforts were being made for the employees who have decided not to relocate. Grant money has been provided to McClellan by the Department of Labor (DOL) for employee retraining and education to help them assimilate into the Sacramento area private sector.

    The Grand Jury was briefed on the environmental cleanup effort ongoing at the Base since 1979, when contamination was first detected. McClellan has the distinction of being the largest Base cleanup effort in the Air Force, with a projected cost of between $900 million and $1 billion. The environmental staff stated that the original estimate for the cleanup was $10 billion; however, with new technological developments in toxic cleanup, the estimated cost has been reduced.

    The Grand Jury was told that the total cost of the cleanup is being borne by the Air Force. Because the Base is a federal installation, Superfund monies are not provided, as in the private sector. (Superfund is a federal program enacted to clean up hazardous waste sites around the United States, and was created under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).)

    McClellan has established a Base Remedial Action Committee cleanup team consisting of representatives of the community, the federal government and the military. The toxic cleanup will be a monumental effort, since more than 40 years of toxic chemicals and other debris has been dispersed throughout the Base's acreage. The Grand Jury learned there are many areas characterized as "hot zones" containing toxic substances. The first suggestion by Base environmental staff was to simply excavate the polluted soil and dispose of it in a licensed landfill. However, upon further scrutiny, it was realized that the resulting pit would be the size and depth of a "gigantic copper mine." Around 1987, the decision was made to contain and control the toxins using environmental engineering techniques until cleanup technologies could improve. The decision to delay cleanup reduced of the most current cost estimate by $200 million, because new soil vapor extraction methods are being used.

    McClellan has become a national test site for toxic cleanup because of the diversity of chemicals and other toxic materials that have polluted the soil and underground water. There is a laudable "partnering" between all affected government agencies involved in the cleanup to aid one another in the aggressive development and use of newer and more cost-effective technologies.

    According to Base officials, when the Air Force determined the severity of the leakage of these contaminants into domestic water wells adjacent to the Base, it entered into an agreement with Rio Linda Water District to supply water for domestic use to the district's residences. The Air Force paid for the installation of a complete distribution system and service hookups for these designated homes.

    One concern of the Base conversion staff was the "Potential Responsible Party" issue. Every effort is being made to clean up the soil and water pollutants and Sacramento County, as the Local Redevelopment Authority, is obtaining environmental insurance to allow occupancy by tenants and businesses at McClellan.

    The Grand Jury was privileged to also tour the McClellan Nuclear Radiation Center (MNRC). Its reactor was built in 1990 at a cost of $16 million. The Grand Jury was told there are no plans to build any new reactors of this type in the United States. The MNRC was originally developed to detect hidden low-level corrosion and defects in aircraft structures through non-destructive inspection. This inspection technique for metals and composite materials provides 3-D imaging using neutron computer tomography.

    The reactor will remain at McClellan, with ownership and operation conveyed to the University of California at Davis. No County funds will be used to turn over responsibility for this reactor; its decommissioning costs will be paid by the DOD. The use of the reactor for new research and education should be very beneficial in recruiting University teaching and research staff as well as students. One biomedical program out of many for which the MNRC will be used is a research project to implement boron neutron capture cancer therapy. The MNRC is the only source in the western United States capable of providing this intense form of neutron technology.

    Update to the Report Since March 24, 1999

    Findings and Recommendations

    Finding #1: At the time of the Grand Jury's tour on March 24, no mention was made of the "partnership" competition among three private industrial and residential development teams that wanted to convert McClellan. Consequently, there are many unanswered questions concerning the acquisition of McClellan by private developers. The Grand Jury is concerned that public knowledge and consideration of this acquisition was limited. Although the explanation of "competition sensitivity" was given to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, the competition itself should have been better communicated to the general public. It is the selection process that was conducted by the County's Base Conversion Office that requires "competition sensitivity," precluding the disclosure of sensitive proprietary information not suitable for public release.

    The successful bidder organization first stated its intention was to construct a blended industrial and residential complex at the McClellan site. Since then, that bidder has stated that the primary use will be residential. This will decidedly affect Sacramento County residents; industrial complexes mean long-term jobs, residential construction means short-term jobs. The Grand Jury feels it imperative that County residents be provided the specific details of the contract between the County and the successful bidder organization.

    In addition, at the time of the Grand Jury's visit, no mention was made of any private developer taking full responsibility for the toxic cleanup effort. This environmental cleanup has been of great concern for many years, not just for the Grand Jury, but all citizens of Sacramento County. Too many specific details are lacking for a project of this magnitude, which, it turns out, was in development for about one year.

    Recommendation #1: The Grand Jury requests a copy of the Request for Proposal (RFP) on this acquisition project, including subsequent competition selection data and all resulting documentation; a copy of the final contract entered into by both parties; and a chronology of all meetings in which the selection process was discussed, including identities of all personnel involved in each of those meetings.

    Finding #2: To the Grand Jury, it appears that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the Base Conversion Team have failed to fully inform the public of the solicitation of proposals for the acquisition of McClellan Air Force Base in its entirety.

    Recommendation #2: The Grand Jury requests that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors provide detailed and specific information to the Grand Jury and to the general public and obtain a more extensive, detailed development plan before entering into a final contract with the successful bidder organization.

    A Response is Required

    The California Penal Code requires the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors to respond in writing to the Grand Jury's recommendations contained in this report, and to submit its responses to the presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior Court by September 30, 1999.

1998/99 Sacramento County Grand Jury - Final Report (Internet Version) June 30, 1999

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