Talk about explosive housing market!
Exploding cows. That’s what a Roseville developer argued last week as he defended his planned 5,100 “new town” on 2,900 acres east of Beale Air Force Base last week.
It seems the only hurdles standing in the way of the project known as Yuba Highlands are a couple of hundred cows and an unknown number of explosives that might be buried beneath them.
The land is part of the former Camp Beale, an 87,000-acre, World War II-era Army base. The Army’s 13th Armored Division used the camp to do a little target practice, perhaps placing German helmets on the cows and marching them in single file while the artillery and tanks zeroed in.
It was our country’s first foray into the Hamburger Helper industry.
In 1948, Camp Beale became Beale Air Force Base, and its mission then was to train bombardier navigators in radar techniques.
Many cows were lost by errant bombs as the navigators were still learning how to navigate. “Dang! Missed again. Poor cow.” It was long before the cows fell under the Protected Bovine Species Act, so they were considered expendable in the interest of national security. You need a $100,000 environmental impact statement to blow up a cow today.
In its typical timely fashion, the government is just now thinking about retrieving the unexploded bombs it left behind a half-century ago. That’s the trouble with our government, it never takes its bombs home.
A couple of retired bombardier navigators were sitting around one recent afternoon reminiscing about the good times they had at Camp Beale blowing cows up when one of them suddenly shouted, “Holy smokes! Did you grab the bombs when we left?”
“Nope,” replied his pal. “I thought you grabbed them.”
So they got the Pentagon to kick in $200 million to help find the explosives, and unless there’s another war in the next week, the Army Corps of Engineers will get around to it in another three or 50 years.
Meanwhile, lots and lots of commuters have been pushed farther and farther from Sacramento, and they need places to live, bombs or no bombs. Cows or no cows.
The government sold much of the old Camp Beale property in the 1960s through quit-claim deeds. Some of the new property owners were told about the possibility of “unexploded and dangerous bombs, shells, rockets, mines and other charges.” Others were simply told it was “God’s country.”
Gary Gallelli, the brains behind the Yuba Highlands project, knows about the explosives and the cows, and has been waiting for the Army to handle the bombs so he can start selling cows and building homes.
Unfortunately, those darned environmentalists are now threatening to torpedo the whole deal.
“If OE (ordinance and explosives) is mishandled or if appropriate safeguards are not in place, there is potential for tragic results to occur,” an official with the California Environmental Protection Agency warned last week. Leave it to a California bureaucrat to state the obvious.
“After much review and years of study, we have determined that bombs are not good for the environment and that they can hurt when you strike one with a shovel.”
The developer tried to use the classic “Exploding Cow” defense in arguing for his project.
“There’s been cattle grazing on most of these areas since the end of World War II,” he told the environmentalists. “My 1,200-pound cows, if there were any minefields, they probably would have blown up by now.”
He probably can’t say for certain that a cow thought to be missing wasn’t in fact blown to pieces after stepping on a mine. “Has anyone seen Ellie lately?” the rancher might have asked. “I found this bell and it sure looks like the one she used to wear around her cute little neck.”
With housing prices the way they are, many would-be Yuba Highlands residents might prefer living with a bomb rather than a mortgage that could bury them just as fast.
If given a choice, they’d probably prefer splitting the $200 million the government plans to spend looking for the bombs. That would come out to around $39,000 per homeowner. Plenty enough to buy a metal detector and shovel.
“Okay, kids,” they’d shout. “Start digging!”
Talk about your explosive housing market. “Move in now and you’ll get a metal detector, shovel and $38,343 cash.”
Until then, let’s hope the cows tread gingerly.
Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears each Tuesday.
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