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<i>What's New With Mather?</i> Redevelopment strong in medical sector, stalled on cargo front

Sacramento Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, with more than 800 employees, is one of Mather's biggest employers. Operated by the federal government, the facility provides medical, surgical, mental health and diagnostic services to some 1,300 veterans from throughout Northern California every day. (Photo by Susan Wolbarst)

Sacramento Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, with more than 800 employees, is one of Mather's biggest employers. Operated by the federal government, the facility provides medical, surgical, mental health and diagnostic services to some 1,300 veterans from throughout Northern California every day. (Photo by Susan Wolbarst)

SACRAMENTO, CA. -- Since 1993, Sacramento County, the local redevelopment agency for the former Mather Air Force Base, has been transforming Mather into a regional employment hub. In 1988, the economy here received a blow when the military base was targeted for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The base closed in 1993, erasing about 7,600 jobs and some $150 million in annual income from the Sacramento area.

Located partially in unincorporated Sacramento County and partially in the city of Rancho Cordova, Mather currently houses 54 businesses and government agencies, an enormous regional park and 18-hole golf course, more than 1,200 single-family homes, a cargo-focused airport and other amenities. An estimated 4,192 people work there.

Much of the property at the former base (about 4,188 of 5,717 acres total) is still owned by the Air Force and will eventually be deeded to the County. The airport and parks are owned by the Air Force and leased to Sacramento County until the property is deeded to county ownership, according to Doug Fortun, BRAC Environmental Coordinator.

The old base hospital has been converted into an administrative building and outpatient clinic, adjacent to a $48 million five-story hospital completed in 2002. Both are part of the bustling Sacramento Veterans' Affairs Medical Center at Mather - operated by the federal government on land located within the city limits of Rancho Cordova -- a city incorporated years after the former base closed. Some 1,250-1,300 veterans from throughout Northern California visit the Medical Center every day for medical, surgical, mental health and diagnostic services, according to Beverly Atherton-Pierce, executive assistant to the director. The complex includes a 60-bed hospital, which provided inpatient care to an average of 49 patients per day during the 2010 fiscal year. The Medical Center is one of Mather's biggest employers, with more than 800 workers, Atherton-Pierce said.

Across the street, the former Main Base area is now known as the Mather Commerce Center, about 600 acres of business development located within Rancho Cordova city limits. One large employer is Sutter Health and Sutter Health Information Services, employing about 700. Blood Source moved to Mather about a year ago, setting up an administration building and lab collectively employing 250. Most businesses lease buildings at Mather, although the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) bought property from the county and constructed its own building, where about 330 employees work.

Another large employer is TRACON, the Federal Aviation Administration's Terminal Radar Approach Control, which employs 300 people at a Douglas Road location outside city limits.

Mather Airport, operated by the Sacramento County Department of Airports, reopened as a civilian airport in 1995. With two parallel runways and a 24-hour air traffic control tower, the airport has attracted general aviation, commercial air cargo, military use and air taxis. Cargo, in particular, was seeing rapid expansion through 2008, before the current recession applied the brakes. One major cargo carrier, UPS, still operates at Mather. Formerly, there were several. Some 81.7 million pounds of cargo was shipped in and out of Mather in 2009, a 46.8% decrease from the 2008 total.

Despite the economic downturn, more than 50,000 flights went through Mather Airport in the year ending in August, 2010. In addition to other attributes, the airport has over 800 acres available for industrial development. An Airport Master Plan, a blueprint for improvements over the next 20 years, is currently under review by the FAA. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will consider the plan next, possibly by spring of 2011.

An adjacent sports center run by the Cordova Recreation and Park District provides the public with recently-renovated facilities such as a state-of-the-art softball complex, a huge new skateboard park, an all-weather soccer field, a gym, racquetball courts, a weight room, aerobics classes, an outdoor jogging trail, lockers and showers. Nearby is Mather Community Campus (MCC), a two-year transitional housing program for the homeless run by Volunteers of America. According to Ellen O'Neil, campus director, "We have 44 families -- approximately 90 children and 175 single adults." These students, as program participants are known, are taught skills needed for self-sufficiency. In June 2010, the program graduated 51 formerly homeless men and women to new jobs and safe homes. About 80 employees work at MCC, O'Neil said.

In the south part of the former base, dilapidated military housing was demolished and replaced with 1,271 attractive homes comprising a community known as "Independence at Mather." Proximate amenities include the 1,434-acre Mather Regional Park, with an 18-hole golf course and a lake stocked with bass and trout. Hikers and picnickers enjoy the area, and vernal pools - with their seasonal displays of wildflowers - attract thousands of visitors in spring.

Another big draw is the annual California Capitol Air Show, which attracted a record 120,000 viewers to Mather in September 2010.

In the background of Mather's commerce and redevelopment is the environmental cleanup overseen by the Air Force Real Property Agency. The military used chemicals, including fuels, solvents and oils at Mather in support of national defense activities from 1918 to 1993, although there were several breaks in service. In 1979, contamination was detected in water supply wells. Environmental cleanup began in the 1980s, years before Mather closed. The cleanup primarily includes removing contaminants from the soil and groundwater beneath the land surface.

Progress made in the environmental cleanup effort has been a successful platform for the redevelopment of Mather, ensuring the safety of those who live and work at the former base. Early transfer of some property from the Air Force to the county about 10 years ago allowed development to proceed while the Air Force continued cleaning up the former base.

"The Mather cleanup program is progressing very well. Our state-of-the-art soil and groundwater remedial systems are in place and running smoothly. The treatment systems have removed over 1 million pounds of volatile organic compounds and petroleum products from the ground. Altogether, the systems treated over 12 billion gallons of groundwater," according to Doug Fortun, Mather's BRAC Environmental Coordinator. "The Air Force completed cleanup at nearly 90 percent of contaminated sites. We will be here until the cleanup job is finished," he added.

The Air Force Real Property Agency is responsible for remediation and property transfer at 40 former Air Force installations throughout the United States under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. At the height of BRAC, AFRPA managed 87,000 acres - about 137 square miles of property. Since the first BRAC in 1988, the agency has transferred 88 percent, or more than 116 square miles of land, to local communities for public use - twice the area of Washington, D.C.

Media Contact: Linda Geissinger, AFRPA, Public Affairs Officer, (916) 643-6420 x109
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