Despite good signs, economic gloom prevailed
Record foreclosures and unemployment dominated 2009, though there were some bright spots and interesting developments in Vallejo's business and financial world this year.
Unemployment rates reached double-digits in Vallejo and American Canyon, as they did in the state and the nation in 2009.
By the end of November, unemployment in Solano County seemed to have turned a corner, dropping to 12 percent from 12.1 percent in October. Though it was just a slight improvement, the fact that it improved at all made some experts hopeful that a downward trend had begun. In Napa County, however, unemployment was at 10 percent in November, up from 9 percent the previous month.
In October, a regional economic forecasting center predicted Solano County's economy will be among the Bay Area's last to recover from the recession, despite having been one of the first and hardest hit.
Home foreclosures, which exploded in the area in 2008, continued in 2009, though at a slower pace. The easing was based partially on a foreclosure moratorium implemented by many banks, as the precipitous drop in housing prices here sparked something of a buying frenzy.
By August, more than 60 percent of all Solano County homeowners were "under water" in their mortgages -- paying on homes worth less than when they bought them. But the percentage of people able to afford the median priced home here also rose significantly.
Local housing prices began the year in free fall, but by spring they'd stabilized and by December, they'd begun to rise as the available inventory shrank. The median price of homes sold in Vallejo had reached a low of $117,000 in April, but had risen to $150,000 by October. In Benicia, the median sold home price in October was $374,000, up from $300,000 at its lowest point in February.
The drop in the number of available homes for sale was especially sharp in Vallejo, which burned through more than 71 percent of its inventory this year. Many of the sales were to investors, leaving many first-time home buyers struggling to break into the market.
On the local business front, the year got mixed reviews.
The Vallejo Chamber of Commerce hosted its first international intern this year -- Temur Rakhimov of Tajikstan -- but lost its long-time president and CEO when Rick Wells resigned in November to take a similar position in San Rafael.
Also this year, Vallejo business owners faced audits by a collection firm the city hired to ensure proper business license fees were paid. Meanwhile, building permit fees that even city officials agree are too high, remained that way in 2009, despite promises to the contrary.
A protracted contest between Vallejo-based Medic Ambulance Service and Colorado-based American Medical Response for the Solano County service contract was decided in August in favor of the local firm.
Several businesses opened locally to replace some that closed last year, including Bed, Bath & Beyond, which opened in November where the Linens 'N Things had been. Work started in June on the Solano 80 Center -- otherwise known as the Rite Aid Center -- and by December, the Harbor Freight and Taco Bell were operating in new buildings there. A final stage, which includes a Mi Pueblo market, is expected to follow.
A second Dollar Tree opened in the Vallejo Corners shopping center in August and Vallejo's Vargas Mexican Market opened at its new site at the corner of Mini Drive and Sonoma Boulevard in November.
Escrow was closed in the fall on property for a Lowe's in northeast Vallejo, and Ghiringhelli Specialty Foods, which opened in Vallejo last year, expanded by some 50 employees in 2009.
In December, the Ford Motor Company selected a winning bidder on the former Cornelius Ford site, though the firm has not yet announced who was chosen.
The year began with a new lease on life for the Good Day Café, which moved into what had been downtown Vallejo's Georgia Street Grill in January, about two years after a fire destroyed its Admiral Callaghan Lane location.
And though Touro University in March backed out of a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art cancer treatment center on Mare Island, in September, former Berkeley bio-tech firm Murigenics moved to the island. That firm followed Alstom, which in August opened on the island with plans to refurbish 66 Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains.
Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at
(707) 553-6824 or firstname.lastname@example.org.