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Traffic patterns change at Beale Air Force Base

With new airmen arriving to serve the MC-12 mission, reserve squadrons in flux and the military bracing for budget cuts, Beale Air Force Base is in a time of change.

And apparently, so is the base's off-site population. Reflecting apparent changes in where its airmen live, the Wheatland Gate, on South Beale Road, is now the one open 24 hours a day.

Though the base wouldn't provide specific numbers, a study in December and January found 400 more vehicles went through the Wheatland Gate daily than at the gate on North Beale Road, or what's called the Schneider Gate, according to Tech Sgt. Eric Petosky.

The latter serves largely those living in Linda, Marysville and Yuba City, while the Wheatland Gate is preferable for south Yuba County or even Placer County residents stationed at Beale.

At the time, the Wheatland Gate was open mostly during daylight, while the Schneider Gate was open continuously. After the switch, according to Petosky, the trend toward the Wheatland Gate only increased.

"Now, on average, after the gate hours changed, the Wheatland Gate sees approximately four times the number of vehicles than Schneider Gate," Petosky said in an email.

Melissa Sorensen, a RE/MAX Realtor in Yuba City, said she sees where the trend comes from. More than half of the 22 to 24 homes she sells annually are to Beale airmen mostly buying in Wheatland, Plumas Lake and Edgewater, all fairly close to the Wheatland Gate.

The most recent study suggested about 60 percent of all those stationed at Beale live in either Yuba or Sutter counties.

Some also look at points south, Sorensen said, such as Lincoln and Roseville. But many subdivisions there have Mello-Roos taxes on the homes, or have homeowners' associations, scaring some buyers off, she said.

"If you're from out of the area, you're going by what you're told," she said, adding she often has to educate buyers on the true nature of some neighborhoods in Yuba County, which may not have a great reputation.

Edgewater, for example, gets lumped in with lower-income neighborhoods in Linda, even though its homes are far newer, she said. If she can convince a buyer to drive through there, often he or she is swayed.

But she added she ultimately follows what her clients want, wherever it might be.

Change doesn't surprise Yuba County supervisor

Yuba County Supervisor John Nicoletti was not surprised by the shift in which gate Beale Air Force Base airmen use.

"So many people have had to move off base," Nicoletti said, noting only recently did base officials make plans to add new homes on the base. New missions are expected to bring more airmen and their families than the new base housing can serve, while the bulk of the new housing in Yuba County in recent years has been built in Edgewater and Plumas Lake.

The changes suggest there's a need to think about what makes sense for Beale, both in terms of its gates and its land, said Nicoletti, who came to the area in the 1960s when his father was stationed at Beale.

At one time, Beale's entrance was near present-day Linda. And when it was originally conceived as a US Army camp, the base needed thousands of acres for munitions testing and other functions.

"There's a surprise now when you first come to Beale because it's so remote," he said, adding other West Coast Air Force bases such as Nellis, near Las Vegas, or Travis, near Fairfield, are much more at the borders of their respective communities.

Because Beale's main mission is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which are more technologically-based, its 23,000-acre footprint is oversized in comparison, he said.

In the long run, it might make more sense for Beale to shrink and close one gate, to bring the base's costs down, he said.

"It requires so much infrastructure for so relatively few people," he said.

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