Friday, February 27, 2009

Copart opens new S.C. operation on brownfield site

Copart opens new S.C. operation on brownfield site
San Francisco Business Times - by Albert C. Pacciorini
February 27, 2009

Auto salvage giant Copart Inc. has opened a new operation in Greer, S.C., its second in that state and its 147th site worldwide.

Marla J. Pugh, Copart communications manager, said the 22-acre brownfeld site will serve the northwest corner of the state, decreasing cycle times and reducing storage and fuel costs for customers.

Copart (NASDAQ: CPRT) CEO and founder Willis J. Johnson said “This new facility allows us to be closer to our customers in another part of South Carolina and expands our national footprint.”

The Fairfield company, which was founded in 1982, acts as a middleman, auctioning vehicles for the public and business for parts and reuse to dismantlers, rebuilders, used vehicle dealers and exporters through daily online auctions.

It had 2008 revenue of $784.8 million and employs about 3,000.

enXco Dedicates the 150 MW Shiloh II Wind Project

enXco Dedicates the 150 MW Shiloh II Wind Project
Thu, 26 Feb 2009

ESCONDIDO, Calif. - (Business Wire) enXco – an EDF Energies Nouvelles Company (PARIS:EEN) officially dedicates the Shiloh II Wind Project today marking the completion of development and construction on California’s newest wind project located in the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area of Solano County. The 150 MW project is six times larger than the only other wind project built in California in 2008. Commercial operation was declared earlier this month.

Shiloh II Wind Project, developed and owned by enXco, consists of 75 REpower 2 MW turbines, and is the largest global installation of the REpower MM92 turbine. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) will purchase the power generated under a 20-year power purchase agreement providing approximately 74,000 customers with clean electricity. The project stretches over 6,100 acres of farmland, 98% of which remain usable for farming and ranching. enXco Service Corporation will provide operations and maintenance services.

Shiloh II comes as a result of four years of dedication and collaboration by enXco, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Solano County, and Travis Air Force Base; as well as landowners and the community leadership of Rio Vista. "Shiloh II represents some of our best work as a team, and recognition goes to enXco's Development and O&M employees, PG&E, Mortenson, REpower, the State of California, and local communities and landowners for making this project a reality. We further extend our gratitude to our financial team and partners whose diligent work brought this notable transaction to completion, even during these turbulent times in the financial sector,” stated Tristan Grimbert, president & CEO of enXco.

Shiloh II is enXco’s most recent contribution to California’s clean energy future. “With a strong pipeline of wind and utility-scale solar projects, enXco is the most active renewable energy developer in California and we look forward to partnering with CA utilities to meet their obligations under the aggressive 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard,” stated Mark Tholke, director of enXco’s southwest region. enXco developed over 60% of the total new installed wind capacity since the 2002 passage of California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

"Wind energy plays a significant part in PG&E’s objective to build a diverse renewable portfolio for our customers," said Roy Kuga, vice president of energy supply for PG&E. "Over 20% of our future energy deliveries are contracted to come from renewable resources, and we will continue to aggressively add renewables to our power mix, drawing on a variety of clean resources and technologies."

Steve Dayney, CEO for REpower USA, adds "REpower is pleased to have been chosen to participate on the Shiloh II project. We'd like to thank our employees and the rest of the team that worked on this project and appreciate being able to contribute to California's renewable energy goals."

The official dedication ceremony will take place today at 12:30pm at the Shiloh II Wind Plant in Rio Vista, CA with special guests General Wesley K. Clark (ret.), California Senator Alex Padilla, California Senator Lois Wolk, California Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes, and Michael R. Peevey, President of the CPUC, as well as local officials and representatives from enXco, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Repower, and Mortenson. Turbine tours available for the press start at 11:00am or at the conclusion of the ceremony at 1:30pm.

A teleconference with Mark Tholke, director of enXco’s Southwest Region will take place from 3:00pm- 3:30pm PST for print media reporters. 888-344-6895 passcode: 4436666

About enXco, an EDF EN Company:

enXco ( - an EDF Energies Nouvelles Company ( develops, constructs, operates and manages renewable energy projects throughout the United States. For more than two decades, we have been a leader in wind-energy focusing on large-scale wind projects. Today enXco’s portfolio includes solar and biomass technologies, in an effort to help drive our nation’s transition to a sustainable energy economy. enXco is a significant owner and developer of wind-energy installations in the United States, and is the leading third-party operations & maintenance provider for wind farms in North America.

Wind energy still slow in California

Wind energy still slow in California
By Matt Nauman
Mercury News
Posted: 02/26/2009

Wind energy had a banner year in 2008, as 8.3 gigawatts worth of turbines — enough to power 2 million U.S. homes — was added to the grid nationally.

But the company behind one of the two wind energy projects completed last year in California, which formally dedicates the project today, doesn't expect more than a handful of these projects to be built in California in the near future.

Blame the credit crunch, a frustrating state permitting process, and the lack of transmission access in places where the wind blows best in California, said Mark Tholke, director of Enxco's southwest region. Enxco is a division of the French company EDF Energies Nouvelles.

"There will be a disappointingly small number of projects built here in 2009 and 2010," he said. "I don't think more than two or three."

Shiloh II, along Highway 12 near the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City, took four years and $300 million to complete, Tholke said. Three hundred workers built the wind farm, and eight people will operate it.

But even as Shiloh II neared completion in late 2008, there were worries that its turbines would interfere with radar at nearby Travis Air Force Base. Another issue: the 6,100 acres of farmland it used for its 75 turbines is home to a threatened species, the California tiger salamander.

Add to that the credit crisis that blew up in September, and the project's final few months were "dicey," Tholke said. Cooperation with the military, Pacific Gas & Electric and California's Department of Fish and Game helped see the project through, he said.

With wind farms at capacity near Palm Springs and continuing concern over the number of bird deaths at wind farms at Altamont Pass in Alameda and San Joaquin counties, two regions have emerged as potential growth areas for wind energy in California, Tholke said.

One is Tehachapi, which has good access to transmission lines, and the other is Solano County, in what is called the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area. Tholke said more progress could be made if the state's permitting process was less onerous. In November, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the state to streamline the permitting and environmental-review process for renewable-energy projects, but "so far I haven't seen any evidence that it has worked," Tholke said. "It's too early to tell (if it'll improve), but it hasn't yet."

Other states are eager to provide wind energy to Californians. A consultant's report presented to the California Energy Commission in late 2008 noted that large wind farms in Wyoming, Washington, Utah and Oregon are emerging as sources for municipal utilities seeking to meet state renewable standards.

Contact Matt Nauman at (408) 920-5701 or

Wind farms provide energy - and work

Wind farms provide energy - and work
Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

Employees at Enxco, developer of the 75-turbine Shiloh II wind farm near Suisun City, are among the growing ranks of "green collar" workers. President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package devotes funding to expand renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Like the first blades of grass in scorched earth, a new crop of wind turbines in Solano County will be generating not only electricity but steady income for refugees of the ravaged housing and automotive industries.

The beneficiaries include Anthony Perales, a 28-year-old father of three from Stockton, who was squeezed out of jobs framing houses and detailing new cars. He's now a "windsmith" trained to climb the 262-foot-high towers and maintain the turbines.

Then there's Julie Walton, 48, an escrow officer in Oakley who arrived at work one day to find her title insurance company's office abandoned, with no notice or final paychecks to employees. She now handles land deals for Enxco, the developer of the new wind farm near Suisun City.

Joining Walton is Jeremy Imbesi, who said he was making a six-figure income as a mortgage lender for a major bank in Modesto until the cascade of foreclosures drowned his business. He now leases large swaths of remote desert and ranchland from eager property owners for future wind farms.

The three Enxco employees are among the growing ranks of "green collar" workers that President Barack Obama references in his plans to lift the nation's economy through investment in clean energy.

Nearly one-tenth of his $787 billion stimulus plan that Congress just approved is devoted to expanding renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and investments in energy efficiency – including high-speed rail and weatherizing homes.

In his debut address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Obama also called for a market-based cap on carbon pollution to drive the production of renewable energy.

"This will allow renewable energy to compete on level playing fields with oil and coal," said Phil Angelides, a Democrat who lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger in the last gubernatorial race and is now chairman of Apollo Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes green jobs.

Wind power has been growing for years, thanks in part to generous federal and state tax credits for renewable energy investments.

Those credits and California incentives for meeting its mandate for generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010 has allowed Enxco to buy land and build turbines even in the depths of the recession, said Mark Tholke, the company's director of development in California and the Southwest.

That puts Enxco in the enviable position of hiring from a hungry pool of skilled workers.

"It's gratifying to see refugees from the housing and other failed industries coming over to renewables," Tholke said Thursday after an opening ceremony for the company's 150-megawatt Shiloh II Wind Plant Project near Suisun Bay.

Perales, the newly hired windsmith, said the job opening came none too soon. He was laid off last fall for the second time in as many years with no other income to support his wife, their 11-year-old daughter and 23-month-old twins.

"It did a number on me," Perales said. "We had to borrow money – a lot, actually. It was scary."

A tip from a friend landed him the $14-an-hour job at Enxco a week before Christmas.

"This is the best job I ever had," Perales said earlier this week as he strapped on a climbing harness to demonstrate his tower-scaling equipment.

Perales had experienced working at heights during his housing construction jobs, but nothing like this.

"I never even heard of a windsmith," he said.

He was trained to climb with rope supports up narrow ladders inside the towers supporting the turbines. The ordeal included a mock helicopter rescue.

Walton said her 24 years experience in the title insurance industry is paying off at Enxco, where she researches property records of ranchers, farmers and others interested in leasing their land for wind energy and reaping royalties.

She had no notion of what a "green" job or "green" power meant until she started working at the firm's regional office in San Ramon.

"I looked up at these giant blades and thought, 'This is all it takes to generate electricity?' " Walton recalled. "I imagined only plants with smokestacks and hideous wires everywhere."

Imbesi, too, never pictured himself on the front lines of an environmentally lauded pursuit.

"I come from banking," he quipped, hinting at the black eye that profession received from collapsed financing and big federal bailouts.

"It feels good to be associated with something so positive," he said.

Call The Bee's Chris Bowman, (916) 321-1069.

Life science industry to be 'golden'

Life science industry to be 'golden'
By Richard Bammer/
Posted: 02/27/2009

Striking notes against the ongoing thrum of sour economic news, the leader of a Bay Area business consulting firm said Thursday the life science industry is booming and poised for "golden" growth in Solano County and cited robust corporate earnings, rising incomes for local employees and increased federal research grants to make his case.

The industry -- especially clustered in Vacaville, with companies such as Novartis, Genentech and ALZA making drugs, biotech products and medical devices -- "is growing faster here than in other areas," at an annual rate of 35 percent between 2000 and 2006, far outpacing the rest of the Bay Area, generally regarded as the industry's leader, said Doug Henton, chairman and CEO of Collaborative Economics.

As head of a firm that develops regional indexes and advises civic leaders throughout the world, he said the county likely will play an expanding role in the industry's "explosion of growth."

But Henton, speaking Thursday at a Solano Economic Development Corp. breakfast in Fairfield, advised area business leaders and local elected officials about what they could do to make sure the industry keeps up its rosy profit numbers, job gains, research and development grants and plans for expansion.

Speaking in front of a theater-size screen filled with projected graphics and figures, he quickly ticked off a list of suggestions, chief among them providing adequate "R&D and manufacturing space."

Large biotech and drug companies need water and infrastructure to grow and prosper, he continued, alluding to the state's ongoing drought.

Additionally, he suggested city and county leaders "consider how tax policies could support continued growth of life science companies," then added that "tax policies must be sensitive to industry need."

"We want them (the companies) to invest and innovate, so tax policies need to take those needs into consideration," Henton told some 100 people gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn.

He also stressed the need for local firms to develop relationships with major research institutions -- such as the University of California, Davis and Berkeley in particular, Touro University on Mare Island -- "to spur innovation and business start-ups" and to develop training programs. He also cited Solano Community College's biotechnology program as a source of future employees, especially those seeking to be biological or chemical technicians.

Aside from his major points, Henton, referring to his firm's life science cluster report, noted that employment in the industry is 60 percent higher in Solano County, with some 40 companies, than it is elsewhere in the state, where the Bay Area is a "global force" with a concentration of high-tech firms.

He held out hope for additional federal funding for research and development in the recently passed economic stimulus bill, noting that, between 2002 and 2008, the county received $3.4 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health, a 68 percent increase in funding over the previous seven years.

Henton said the average wage growth in the industry in Solano County has risen 30 percent since 2000, with $78,300 as the annual average income in 2006 (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars). Still, Solano's average annual wage was well below the Bay Area and state averages, at $112,900 and $95,600, respectively.

Toward the end of his remarks, Henton told the business and civic leaders that the industry's long-term "growth opportunity is golden."

Wind farm provides clean energy

Wind farm provides clean energy
By Danny Bernardini/
Posted: 02/27/2009

Kirk Garlick, Shiloh II Wind Project's operations manager, stands beneath a wind turbine along Highway 12. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

Standing beneath the towering wind turbines along Highway 12, the sound of the swooping trio of blades as they cut the air is enough to alert you to the size and stature of the structures above.

The 360-foot tall turbines near Suisun City were on display Thursday as enXco's Shiloh II Wind Project was dedicated, making it the largest project of its kind built last year.

City, county and state leaders met at the National Railway Museum for a ceremonial flip of the power switch, although the project has been in operation since earlier this month.

Consisting of 75 turbines cranking out two megawatts each, the 6,100-acre wind farm is said to provide 74,000 customers with clean energy. Kirk Garlick, operations manager, said he's seen wind farms all over the world, but Shiloh II is his favorite.

General Wesley K. Clark (Ret.) speaks Thurs-day at the Shiloh II Wind Project dedication ceremony. The project covers 6,100 acres in Solano County. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

"This site, it's the best," Garlick said. "It's the weather. The wind. It's how the wind blows. It's steady here."

Project leaders and elected officials spoke at a luncheon held for the dedication and many focused on the teamwork, vision and cooperation needed to get such a large project completed.

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-San Fernando, said he hoped state leaders could work together on issues similar to those in Solano County that made the project happen.

"This represents cooperation needed in California. I wish we could do what you all did, take it and bottle it," Fuentes said. "Please help us replicate this throughout the state."

Senator Lois Wolk, D-Solano, said she's proud of Solano County leaders for bringing the project to reality and hopes to see similar ones in the future.

"There aren't enough positive headlines, and today is definitely positive," she said. "We have great ambitions. We're up for the task and ready to go."

Also on hand was Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who is involved with a Dutch wind power company. He said as the world continues to fight over fuel and energy, renewable energy will become more important.

He also said California will likely be the state that leads by example.

"This is about the economy, but it is also about national security," Clark said. "It's such a glorious sight. It says a lot about California. California sets the tone for the rest of the country."

Many of the speakers alluded to the roadblocks and issues that faced the construction of the wind farm. The proposal for the project was before the Solano County Planning Commission off and on for more than a year as enXco and Travis Air Force Base discussed the issue.

Travis officials originally protested the project because of fears the new turbines would affect a new radar system being installed at the base.

Those complaints were later called off after enXco offered up to $1 million to help fix any possible effects on the new radar system. The project then went to the Solano County Airport Land Use Commission in March, where it was approved.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 2009

Table of Contents
- Real Estate Roundup (January 2009)
- Featured Company – Dixon’s New Tech and R&D Center – Efficient Drivetrains Inc.
- Did you know?

Real Estate Roundup (January 2009)

- 495 Edison Court, Suite A, Fairfield – 5,200 SF lease to European Closure Industries
- 400 Crocker Drive, Vacaville – 95,750 SF lease to Pacific Cycle
- 871 Cotting Court, Vacaville – 6,240 SF lease renewal to Baby Signs, Inc.
- Building 117, Mare Island, Vallejo – 9,256 SF lease to Olde World Mill & Cabinets

Colliers International (
- 7297 Chevron Way, Solano County – Leased ±10,000 s/f to Asbury Environmental Services, Inc.
- 7297 Chevron Way, Solano County – Leased ±2,000 s/f to Wellington Energy, Inc.

Premier Commercial (
- 1249 Illinois St, #1-A, Fairfield - 3,700 SF leased to Hank Dominquez

Dixon’s New Tech and R&D Center - Efficient Drivetrains Inc.

Dr. Andy Frank and a Research Vehicle

On February 6th, 2009 Efficient Drivetrains Inc. in Dixon held the opening of their technology research and development center at 1150 Business Park Drive. EDI is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and electric vehicle technology provider based out of Palo Alto. The City of Dixon has entered into a $150,000 business loan agreement with the firm through Dixon's Community Development Block Grant Program.

"We hope to help Dixon carve out a little larger space on the map, as we also help to expand the concepts behind green vehicles around the world," said, Dr. Andy Frank, founder and chief technology officer of Efficient Drivetrains.

The City of Dixon was enthused to welcome EDI to its community, adding to its ‘green’ resume.

"The City of Dixon is excited about the business expansion and quality technology jobs associated with Efficient Drivetrains," said Mark Heckey, economic development director for the city. "We look forward to their success and future expansion of Dixon's role in the movement toward the new Green Technology Industrial Sector."

Mayor Jack Batchelor agreed adding "The Dixon business community is very excited that Efficient Drivetrains has chosen Dixon as the home for its technology research and development center for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles." "This company's products will bring forth a new breed of vehicles that will significantly reduce carbon emissions and provide clean and efficient transportation, while providing local employment."

EDI is one of the latest R&D operations to set up shop in Solano County.

"It's really the future coming to Solano County," said Mike Ammann, president of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. "Most people have no idea about plug-ins and we'll have a top-notch researcher here in Solano County."

Did you know?

Q: What was the first Solano County Business that was certified as a Green Business?

A: Triangle Digital INX Company in Dixon holds the honor to be the first and second certified Green Business in the County. They have two locations, a manufacturing plant and a shipping warehouse, that are both independently certified. Vineyard RV Park in Vacaville was the third.

The Solano Economic Development Corporation’s mission is to enhance the economic vitality
and quality of life in Solano County communities through the attraction,
growth and retention of business and industry.

Solano EDC Team

Mike Ammann, President (
Sandy Person, Vice-President (
Pat Uhrich, Office Manager (
Andy Turba, Special Projects (

Solano Economic Development Corporation
360 Campus Lane, Suite 102, Fairfield, CA 94534
Phone: (707) 864-1855 Fax: (707) 864-6621

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Solano economic group to explore future of life sciences Feb. 26

Solano economic group to explore future of life sciences Feb. 26
Monday, February 23, 2009

FAIRFIELD – The life sciences industry in Solano County and how to expand it will be the topic at the Feb. 26 Solano Economic Development Corp. meeting.

Solano is currently a key player in the Bay Area’s life sciences sector, with pharmaceutical, medical device, biotech and medical R&D and testing labs among the companies locating there.

Doug Henton, president of Collaborative Economics, will present his firm’s life science findings as part of the ongoing county Index of Economic and Community Progress.

Sponsored by Novartis - BPO Vacaville, this Thursday’s event will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield, beginning at 8:00 a.m.

For information on cost and registration, call the EDC at 707-864-1855.

Industrial Marketwatch: Sacramento CA 4th Quarter 2008 CBRE

Vacancy finished the year at 8.3%, up from 8.0% in 2007.

Net absorption is 500,000 square feet, down from1.6 million square feet in 2007.

Optisolar’s lease in McClellan Park is responsible for 500,000 square feet of net absorption.

Demand from smaller users, especially those that occupy less than 4,000 square feet, has diminished significantly in 2008.

Large distribution users are more likely to locate in California’s Central Valley or Reno, Nevada due to competitively priced land and fees.

Construction slowed throughout the year; there is a significant disconnect between market lease rates and new project proformas.

Asking lease ease rates held relatively flat throughout the year, but in most cases leases are being done at 10-20% below asking rates.

2009 will see vacancy increase only slightly due to a limited supply of industrial buildings and a lack of new construction.

While asking lease rates may decline slightly in 2009, in many cases, leases will continue to be signed at 10-20% below the asking rate.

Net absorption will be minimal in 2009.

With an abundance of small buildings on the market, the ability of large users to locate cheaply in the Central Valley or Reno, non-competitive fees, and high costs, new construction in 2009 will be minimal.

There will continue to be a large inventory of small owner/user buildings available in 2009. As financing continues to become more difficult, there will be less qualified buyers in the market. In addition, until prices drop considerably, most small buildings will not pencil for investors. Expect to see some bank owned owner/user buildings in 2009.





Interstate 80 finally getting needed improvements

Interstate 80 finally getting needed improvements
By Sarah Rohrs
Vallejo Times-Herald
Posted: 02/21/2009

As a major artery cutting a wide swath through Solano County, Interstate 80 is impossible to ignore. But despite its prominence, the freeway has long been neglected, say transportation advocates and commuters.

So they are relieved the rubber has finally met the road, and the corridor is getting some long-overdue attention through rehabilitation work and high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.

Solano County commuters, like Suisun City resident Bob Ritchie, are pleased I-80 work has made a dent in needed improvements. But they want more done for commuters tired of sitting in traffic every day.

Ritchie is in a vanpool that includes three Vallejo riders headed for San Francisco International Airport. He said I-80 HOV lanes being built near Fairfield are welcome, but they also should be added in Vallejo, where afternoon eastbound gridlock is notorious.

A carpool lane on the Carquinez Bridge to allow those in vanpools and carpools to bypass the toll plaza is also needed, he said.

"It's starting to take shape," Ritchie said of the work along I-80.

"There's been a lot of hard work on the part of Caltrans and the state to make everybody happy. I hope they continue. The only real disappointment is Vallejo," he added.

Caltrans has designated more than $150 million for current I-80 improvements in Solano County. HOV lanes in Vallejo between the Carquinez Bridge and Highway 37 are being studied, but no funding has been identified for them, officials said.

Further, more I-80 projects are being reviewed, everything from landscaping and artwork to ramp metering and the latest in congestion relief — HOT lanes, which are HOV lanes accessible to solo drivers who pay a fee.

"The I-80 corridor is the lifeblood for Solano County," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission member Jim Spering of Suisun City, also a Solano County supervisor. "It's probably the No. 1 transportation issue for Solano County."

The busy I-80 freeway in Solano requires continuous work to ensure it's safe and efficient for commuters, Spering said.

Nearly 127,500 drivers pass over I-80 in both directions in Solano County each day, the California Department of Transportation reports.

The MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority, its sister agency, have agreed to invest up to $200 million in state bonds to finance transportation projects threatened by the state's budget crisis.

Caltrans' HOV lanes in Fairfield, and the pavement rehabilitation work spanning the county, should be completed by year's end, spokesman Ben Edoktayi said.

The I-80 work includes new pavement and barriers, wider inside shoulders and HOV lanes between Red Top Road, just west of Cordelia, to East of Air Base Parkway in Fairfield.

The federal stimulus package could result in more I-80 improvements, Edoktayi said.

Further down the road, I-80 could see more sound walls, new landscaping, message boards, signs and other amenities to help move traffic more efficiently and help drivers make good choices. These are being studied by Solano Transportation Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other agencies.

With I-80 running through many counties, a regional and cooperative approach is being used to study future improvements, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said.

"What is particularly unique about the I-80 corridor is that it's part of a growing mega-region," Goodwin said, adding that the Bay Area and Sacramento regions are slowly merging, with the freeway running through and connecting both.

To identify trends and future I-80 needs, an upcoming report will examine population growth, demographics and commercial developments in Solano, Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties, Goodwin said.

Reducing air pollution, exploring an expansion of the Capitol Corridor train system and forging stronger links between transportation and land-use planning are other goals of the report, said Matt Carpenter, Sacramento Area Council of Governments' director of transportation planning.

Dealing with increased truck traffic on I-80 and coordinating future highway investments among a wide range of players are also important aspects, Carpenter added.

The draft report spotlighting I-80 in the Bay Area and the Sacramento regions will be released in April at a UC Davis summit, Goodwin said.

Meanwhile, efforts also are in the works to improve portions of I-80 from Sacramento through the Nevada border — a critical safety issue, Spering said.

The focus on I-80 between Solano County and Sacramento and beyond could improve commutes for many Vallejo and Benicia residents who work in Davis or the state capital.

Vallejo's Ward Stewart, who has commuted to UC Davis for the last 28 years, said Caltrans' current I-80 work in Solano has made a big difference.

A number of I-80 improvements are also identified in MTC's draft Transportation 2035, a long-range plan which calls for an estimated $226 billion to restore and maintain the Bay Area's roadways, improve rail and bus systems and shore up aging infrastructure.

Fixing one of the biggest headaches for I-80 drivers — the bottleneck at the I-80/I-680 interchange in Cordelia — is identified as a priority project in the MTC 2035 report, though just when it will be done is anyone's guess.

The project has a $487.9 million price tag. However, Spering said full funding has not been identified. A companion to that massive project is the $100 million effort to rebuild and relocate the Cordelia truck scales.

Despite lack of funding for many crucial I-80 improvements, transportation and commuters and Caltrans and so many other agencies efforts for the freeway are encouraging.

"For so many years, there has not been a focus on I-80. It's long overdue," said Solano Transportation Authority director of projects Janet Adams.

STA Advocates for Solano Transportation Priorities in Washington DC

STA Advocates for Solano Transportation Priorities in Washington DC

Suisun City, CA – The Solano Transportation Authority (STA) Board of Directors sent a contingent to Washington, DC this week to advocate for Solano’s top transportation priority projects. Led by STA Board Chair Jim Spering (Solano County Supervisor and Solano County’s representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission), representing the STA Board were Pete Sanchez, Vice Chair (Suisun City Mayor); Harry Price (Fairfield Mayor); Len Augustine (Vacaville Mayor); and Tom Bartee, Board Alternate (Vallejo Councilmember).

The STA Board approved the 2009 Legislative Priorities and Platform which sets the guiding principles for the legislative discussions. Solano is submitting the following requests for the Fiscal Year 2010 Transportation Appropriations Program:

1. Travis Air Force Base North Gate Access Improvements - $5 million
2. Alternative Fuel SolanoExpress Bus Replacement - $2 million
3. State Route 12 Major Investment Study - $0.5 million
4. Fairfield Transportation Center - $2 million
5. Vacaville Intermodal Station, Phase 2 - $2 million

The STA also shared its policy on new federal authorization, a change the STA would like to see made to the current “earmark” SAFETEA-LU program (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – a Legacy for Users), and urged members to support increased funding levels in the Federal Economic Stimulus package currently moving
through Congress.

A full schedule of meetings with Solano’s Congressional members and staff also included discussions with neighboring representatives. Meetings were held with:

• Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bridget Petruczok, Legislative Assistant
• Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ryan Hunt, Legislative Assistant
• Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA)
• Congressman Gerald McNerney (D-CA)
• Office of Congressman George Miller (D-CA): Justin Hamilton, Deputy Chief of Staff
• Office of Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA): Paul Schmid, Legislative Assistant
• Office of Congressman Dan Lungren (R-CA): Sandra Wiseman, Legislative Assistant
• Office of Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA): Gabe Horowitz, Legislative Director

“These are challenging times for the STA Board with California in the midst of a significant state budget crisis and the fiscal uncertainty for near term federal and state transportation funding,” said STA Board Chair Jim Spering. Solano County has worked hard in recent years to obtain limited federal funds for projects such as the I-80/680/SR 12 Interchange, the I-80 Truck Scales Relocation Project, Travis Air Force Base Access Improvements, the Jepson Parkway, I-80 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes, SR 12 East Safety Improvements, Vallejo Baylink Ferry Facilities, and expanded express bus service along the I-80/680/780 corridors. “We have our work cut out for us advocating for federal economic stimulus funds and transportation appropriations this year, as well as urging our legislators to seriously consider reforming the nation’s infrastructure funding authorization process,” said Spering.

The STA was created in 1990 through a Joint Powers Agreement between the cities of Benicia, Dixon, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Suisun City, Vacaville, Vallejo and the County of Solano to serve as the Congestion Management Agency for Solano. The STA is responsible for countywide transportation planning, programming transportation funds, managing and providing transportation programs and services, delivering transportation projects, and setting transportation priorities.

The “STA’s Priority Projects” booklet can be downloaded from the STA website at The booklet contains the Fiscal Year 2010 Federal Appropriations Requests as well as the STA’s priorities for Federal Economic Stimulus and New Federal Authorization. For further information about the Solano Transportation Authority’s legislative program, contact STA Executive Director Daryl Halls or STA Marketing and Legislative Program Manager Jayne Bauer at (707) 424-6075.

Chamber members hear how economy is costing cities

Chamber members hear how economy is costing cities
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | February 23, 2009

FAIRFIELD - The economy will cast a pall over everything in the foreseeable future, even as the Fairfield and Suisun City governments try to go of day-to-day business.

That was the inescapable conclusion as leaders of both cities delivered their annual 'state of the cities' presentation to the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce on Monday morning.

But as Suisun City leaders said they believe they can weather the recession without job losses and a minimum in cuts, Fairfield has already cut millions of dollars from its budget and the job outlook is bleak.

'Unless the economy turns around very dramatically, there will be major personnel cuts next year,' Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said.

Suzanne Bragdon, city manager of Suisun City, also talked about economic changes on the horizon for her city, many of which are centered downtown. The largest and most visible project, the Hampton hotel, is scheduled to open in September.

Bragdon said the recession has turned what used to be Suisun City's curse -- a minuscule base of sales tax -- into a mixed blessing.

'We don't have the significant tax base that you have in Fairfield and Vacaville, so we didn't have that to lose,' she said. 'We had to make the hard decisions in the 1990s.'

A major focus this year in Suisun City will be a marketing effort, Bragdon said, to attract attention to the city.

'When you survey people, it is amazing the number in Fairfield and Vacaville who don't know how Suisun City has changed over the years,' she said. 'They still think it is an industrial slough.'

Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn emphasized economic development, noting that 2009 and 2010 promise the arrival of both a Walmart Supercenter and a Mercedes Benz dealership.

The dealership is projected to generate about $1 million in sales tax annually for the city, Quinn said.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

Rancho Solano named best value

Rancho Solano named best value
By Mike Corpos | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 22, 2009

FAIRFIELD - Local golfers have known for a while now that Rancho Solano is among the best places to play golf and get your money's worth in the process.

Turns out locals aren't the only ones paying attention.

In January,, a 35,000-member online golf community, named Rancho Solano as its Best Value Worth the Green fee in all of Northern California.

The award is just part of the fruits of six years worth of reinvesting in the golf courses by the city of Fairfield under the direction of general manager Rich Cessna of KemperSports.

'Six years ago when I arrived in the city of Fairfield, I told city staff and the city council that they have very nice facilities, but they're not meeting their potential,' Cessna said. 'I said they needed to reinvest in the golf courses, and in a couple of years we've made tremendous strides.'

Cessna said the city has spent about $1 million just on drainage at Rancho Solano to make the course playable year round.

'The course sits on top of natural springs, and it stays wet,' he said. 'Early on it was unplayable in the winter, now we can play it 12 months a year.'

Now, being named best value in the region, Cessna said it shows that the efforts of the city and the golf course staff are paying off.

'It's exciting for everybody, not just those at the golf course,' he said. 'It tells our client, in this case the city of Fairfield, that we're doing everything we said we'll do. It also tells our customers that we're doing something to continue to win these kind of awards.'

Cessna said that despite the current economic recession, the city's golf courses are doing well compared to the rest of the country.

'A hundred courses closed in the United States in 2008, and the forecast is for more closures in 2009,' Cessna said. 'But In January both Rancho Solano and Paradise Valley (were) playing more rounds than we did last January. We've had better weather, but it still says that golfers could choose other courses but they are still choosing Fairfield golf.'

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6979 or

Monday, February 23, 2009

More people taking advantage of free system

More people taking advantage of free system
By Melissa Murphy/
Posted: 02/15/2009

Computers were busy Friday with patrons at the Dixon library. Library staffers report an increase in the number of people using the county's libraries. (Rick Roach/

The slumping economy means more business at Solano County libraries.

Library staffers are seeing an increase in the number of people taking advantage of library services.

Ann Cousineau, director of library services for Solano County, said library use has jumped 15 percent.

She explained that more families come in to use the DVD collection because borrowing them from the library is free.

Using the computers has always been popular, but lately they're being used more for creating resumes and filling out job applications.

"We also see a jump in borrowed books," she said. "Instead of buying them at bookstores, they come here."

Gregg Atkins, district librarian for Dixon's Public Library, agreed.

"The economy drives people to the library," he said. "We're a safety net."

Although the library in Dixon is comparatively small, its circulation numbers and patron count is up. The library has seen a 30 percent increase in circulation and walk-ins are up 15 percent, the highest numbers the library has seen.

Atkins added that it's sad people use the computers to fill out their Employment Development Department forms for unemployment compensation.

"Everything is done online now and some of those people don't have Internet," he said.

Borrowing from SNAP, the Solano Napa and Partners library system, which allows patrons at one library to borrow books from a partnering library, is up 20 percent.

The economy accounts for the increases, but Atkins insists it's more than that.

He explained the library offers more programs and events and they've established a good brand for the Dixon Library.

Unfortunately, the libraries for elementary and junior high schools in Dixon have been closed. That means instead of being the second choice if schools didn't carry a particular book, the Dixon Library is now the first choice.

"The classes come to us now," he said. "We used to be the backup and now they're coming to us first."

Bacteria could be savior in Travis clean-up

Bacteria could be savior in Travis clean-up

Travis' Environmental Restoration Program has enlisted a new, very small ally in its war to clean up soil contaminated by solvents decades ago.

Actually, lots and lots of little allies -- naturally occurring bacteria that can break down those solvents.

The bacteria are a key component in an experimental contamination treatment process called a bioreactor which the base is now testing.

For years, the Air Force base has used a large network of wells to pump out contaminated groundwater that was then treated above ground.

As more and more groundwater was treated and most of the contamination was dealt with, it had become tougher to get to the residual contamination that has remained.

This was an especially tough problem for Travis because of a large amount of less-porous clay in the soil that traps the contamination. Regular pumps have a hard time reaching it.

'This is the hard stuff that drags on groundwater treatments for years and decades,' Anderson said. 'The solvents down there are really hard to pull out.'

Early last year, members of Travis' Environmental Restoration Program heard about an experimental way to leech out that remaining contamination called a bioreactor.

A solar-powered pump pulls contaminated water out of the ground which is sprayed over a buried chamber full of mulch and a mixture of gypsum and iron sand.

The decomposing mulch creates a population explosion in bacteria which breaks down the contamination in the water. Iron sulfide, created by the water and the iron sands, also helps the process.

'We are encouraging naturally growing bacteria to break down the contaminants,' Anderson said.

The water, which now has organic carbon from the mulch in it, percolates back into the soil. The carbon-rich water helps deal with contamination in the soil itself.

In summer 2010, Anderson and the other Restoration Program members will examine the bioreactor to see how much of a difference it has made in eliminating the contamination.

The bioreactor could potentially reduce the time taken to clean up contamination from decades to months. Given the fact it is solar-powered, the process would be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

'If it can work in this environment, it can work in a lot of places,'Anderson Said.

Mike & Gayle's restaurant says goodbye to shoreline

Mike & Gayle's restaurant says goodbye to shoreline
By Tony Burchyns/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 02/14/2009

BENICIA -- A downtown institution will serve its last Sunday brunch this weekend.

After 30 years on First Street -- and nearly a decade in the historic Tannery building -- Mike & Gayle's Shoreline Restaurant is closing shop Sunday before moving to new digs.

"It's bittersweet," said Mike Ioakimedes, who runs the American cuisine eatery with his wife, Gayle. "We've always been a downtown business. It was a tough decision to leave."

The restaurant will reopen in April at the Southampton Center where Country Waffles used to be.

The name will change to Mike & Gayle's.

"We have been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and it's always been on First Street," Gayle said. "I really feel like my whole adult life has been downtown. I never would have volunteered to leave."

The Tannery building's owners have plans to remodel to accommodate a larger restaurant, forcing the

couple to relocate, said Mike Ioakimedes, who serves on the Benicia City Council.

Over the years, the family business -- which features an early 1900s soda fountain that belonged to Mike's grandfather -- has gone through several variations. It started as a deli in the

historic Washington House, just up the street from the Tannery.

Mike launched the operation with family members, later meeting Gayle, a Benicia native, after hiring her as a cashier.

Within a few years, the owners expanded the kitchen to serve hot lunches.

"We were one of the first businesses on lower First Street," Mike Ioakimedes said. "There were no condos, no marina ... it still had a very industrial flavor."

Although Gayle Ioakimedes said she's sad to leave First Street, she said it hasn't always been easy to watch the main drag change.

"We had a drug store on First Street, a dime store, a clothing store ... it wasn't just boutiques and gift shops," she said.

"We don't even have a hardware store anymore," she continued. "All the necessities have moved out to Vallejo or Concord. I guess it's just part of evolution."

Not everything will change when the couple reopens the grill. The soda fountain will make the move with them, along with many of the same menu items.

"We hope to keep our same business model," Mike Ioakimedes said.

Although business has cooled in recent months due to a sagging economy, Gayle said she is confident of rebound.

"If we thought things would stay slow for a couple of years, we wouldn't be moving," she said. "We've been through hard times before."

Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at (707) 553-6831 or

Jelly Belly banks on bikes to promote products

Jelly Belly banks on bikes to promote products
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | February 21, 2009

Jelly Belly cycling team members go for a ride with a sales GT sales rep in Fairfield before the start of the Tour of California. The company is celebrating its 10th year of sponsoring the riders. Photo by Chris Jordan

FAIRFIELD - As its team of eight riders pedals through the last stage of the Tour of California today, the Jelly Belly Candy Co. is racing toward a milestone of its own.

This year is the Fairfield-based company's 10th as the title sponsor of a professional cycling team, the longest-running sponsorship in the United States.

The sponsorship has proven to be an effective marketing tool for Jelly Belly, said Stephanie Scott, the company's events marketing manager who works closely with the team.

Scott was in Clovis on Wednesday for the finish of Stage 4 in the nine-day tour. Thousands of spectators lined the streets to see some of the world's top riders.

'Any time you can associate yourself with something like this, where people are just having a good time, it is the place you want to be,' she said.

In a race boasting the likes of Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, Jelly Belly's team did not enter the tour expecting to contend for the overall title. In the competition for fan interest, however, Scott said the company is holding its own.

'We have the longest line from any booth here,' she said.

Although it may seem like an unusual way to measure success in a competitive sport, marketing and positive exposure to customers is ultimately why Jelly Belly entered the world of professional cycling.

The foothold in professional cycling proved crucial when the company launched its Sport Beans line. The beans are loaded with vitamins and electrolytes -- as well as good, old-fashioned sugar -- and are Jelly Belly's answer to the sports gel market, snacks that provide a burst of energy for endurance athletes.

'Because of our investment in professional cycling and the length of our investment, it really opened up the bicycle dealers' channels of trade,' Scott said. 'It is much easier for us to get Sport Beans out into the marketplace because we are already invested in the sport.

'If you want to sell into that particular industry, you really do have to align yourself with a professional organization to get the credibility.'

As a sponsor, Jelly Belly officials keep tight reins on the riders, visiting them during their annual training camp to prepare for radio and TV interviews and scheduling bike safety visits to schools.

During competitions, riders eat Sport Beans and often toss packages of Jelly Bellys to the crowd.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Turbines continue to raise concerns about Travis radar system

Turbines continue to raise concerns about Travis radar system
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 20, 2009

Windmills spin off of Birds Landing Road in Solano County. Photo by Brad Zweerink

FAIRFIELD - Solano County must wait a little longer to find out if its city-sized wind turbine area in the Montezuma Hills has the potential to become an even bigger boomtown.

Renewable energy is getting a big push in this age of global warming concerns, from President Barack Obama to the California Energy Commission. Eastern Solano County's windswept hills are one of the best places for electricity-generating turbines in the state.

There are 700 turbines in an 18-square-mile area in the Montezuma Hills.

Questions remain, however, about whether those whirling turbine blades will continue causing problems for Travis Air Force Base radar. Base officials have said the turbines make difficult for the radar to detect small planes.

'This definitely needs to be taken care of,' county Planning Manager Mike Yankovich said.

The base installed an upgraded radar system last fall that wind turbine companies had hoped would solve the problem. How much a difference the upgraded system makes remains uncertain, base officials said in January.

That may not be known until after April, Yankovich said.

Solano County made its position clear in its recently approved General Plan, which states 'wind turbine generators shall not be located in areas that conflict with the mission of Travis Air Force Base or other air operation facilities.'

Everything doesn't necessarily hinge on the upgraded radar system. Yankovich said other possibilities include using an additional radar site.

Those 700 turbines in Montezuma Hills generate enough power for 15,600 homes, enough for a city the size of Dixon. Many more turbines are planned, so many that they may spill over from the south side of Highway 12 to the north side in the next year.

County supervisors during the 2008 General Plan sessions struggled with the aesthetics of a landscape covered with turbines.

'I see them as visual blight,' Supervisor Jim Spering said at the time. 'There's a right place to put them and a wrong place to put them, even if the wind is there.'

Annie Mudge, representing the wind farm companies EnXco and Shiloh II, took a different view of the white, galvanized steel towers.

'I happen to think they are majestic and stunning,' she said.

The supervisors created rules to govern turbine placement. A turbine must be at least three times its height from any property line, road or railroad. It must be a quarter-mile from a roadway classified as 'scenic,' such as Highway 12.

Solano County is listed by the California Energy Commission as being among five primary wind resource areas in the state, but it's hardly the largest. The Altamont, Tehachapi and San Gorgonio areas produce 95 percent of the state's wind-generated power.

There are 4,788 turbines at Altamont and 3,444 in the Tehachapis, and about 11,600 turbines in the state.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or

New county crime lab in the works

New county crime lab in the works
By Brian Hamlin/
Posted: 02/21/2009

An artist's rendering shows the plans for Solano County's new forensics lab. (Artist's rendering)

In October the Solano County District Attorney's Office plans to launch what may eventually become CSI Solano, a local, centrally-located forensics laboratory.

The lab, on the second floor of the county's new public health building under construction in the Solano Business Park, will begin with blood, alcohol, drug and toxicological analysis and identification, serving law enforcement agencies throughout Solano County.

For several years, those services have been provided on a contract basis by the Contra Costa County Crime Lab in Martinez.

"We're going to be able to do all the things the things that we're currently contracting with Contra Costa and we'll have direct control of the lab and the timing," said Solano County District Attorney David Paulson.

Forensics results will be quickly available to local lawn enforcement agencies and the DA's Office without the delay associated with courier services and lab backlogs in the neighboring county.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Kathy Coffer said that although the doors are expected to open in October, there will be a state-certification period for alcohol-related testing -- primarily related to drunken driving cases -- before the lab becomes official. The certification period, she said, is expected to be roughly four months.

The 6,000-square-foot forensic facility off Watney Way, Coffer said, initially will be staffed by a director, two criminalists, a lab assistant and an office assistant.

"We're going to start out small for Phase I of the lab," she explained.

Out-of-county lab work, Paulson said, is currently costing Solano County roughly $800,000 annually. No significant cost savings are expected with the initial phase of the new lab, but Paulson believes the increased efficiency will be dramatic.

Today, a delayed lab test can mean valuable time lost in the prosecution of a crime or the trial of defendants. When evidence is unavailable or out-of-county criminalists are temporarily unavailable, court schedules get backed up, trials have to be postponed and cases grind to a halt. With an already overburdened court system, one delayed case can affect dozens of other scheduled hearings, a perennial problem that has been decried by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, as well as the general public.

With lab results, evidence and expert criminalists located just across town from the courthouse, Paulson hopes unexpected delays will decrease.

"There will be an increase in efficiency and we hope to have more direct administrative control," Paulson said. "It's going to be a small facility with a small staff, but it's going to be a big plus for the criminal justice system in the long run."

The new forensic laboratory, Coffer said, is similar to other county-operated facilities in Sacramento, Orange and Kern counties that operate under the auspices of their district attorney's offices.

"We've spent some time at the lab in Sacramento and we'll be going back there in March," Coffer added.

The local lab eventually will grow beyond drug and alcohol testing, providing a broad range of forensic services to local law enforcement and the DA's Office.

In Phase 2 of the project -- probably within three to five years depending on funding and anticipated state fees -- the lab will add DNA testing and analysis services. In a subsequent Phase 3, Paulson hopes the lab will be performing a variety criminalistic services -- crime scene response, firearms and ammunition analysis (ballistics) and evidence gathering as well as fingerprint examination and comparison.

Ballistics analysis, now performed for the county without charge by the state Department of Justice, will be a critical element of the lab in the future.

With increased use of firearms in violent crimes, including gang-related slayings, quick and accurate identification of guns and ammo will be a must, Paulson said.

Although the state Department of Justice now performs this testing free, it's anybody's guess when state budget requirements will necessitate fees for counties using the service.

'Life sciences cluster' promises potential

'Life sciences cluster' promises potential
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | February 22, 2009

FAIRFIELD - Solano County's business community will shed a little more light on what has already been one of the area's brightest spots.

The Solano Economic Development Corporation will hold a meeting Thursday to discuss the 'life sciences cluster,' an industry that was singled out as the most promising area for future growth by the 'Index of Economic and Community Progress' in 2008.

The Solano EDC will present a report on the industry during a breakfast event at 7:30 a.m. Thursday at Hilton Garden Inn, 2200 Gateway Court.

'One of the things we want to see happen is to move into more research and development as well as manufacturing,' said Doug Henton, chairman and CEO of Collaborative Economics, the firm that prepared the index. 'The idea is to focus on this industry, which has great potential for the region.'

The term 'life sciences' refers to any business dealing with pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biotechnology. Solano County has far outstripped the growth rates of the rest of the Bay Area, which itself has a stronger life sciences industry than the rest of California.

From 2000 to 2006, the life sciences industry in Solano County grew an average of 35 percent a year, while the industry statewide contracted slightly. As of the end of 2006, the most recent year included in the index, the industry employed 2,300 people in Solano County, about double the concentration statewide.

For more information or to register, call 864-1855.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Suisun City park takes shape

Suisun City park takes shape
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 18, 2009

Rebecca and Dillon Mince play on the Geopp Park slide as Valentino Jiron, 3, and his mother Corrine John look on. Renovation on the adjacent grass field has recently been completed and once the vegetation has taken root, park officials hope to have it open to the public within 90 days. Photo by Mike Greener

SUISUN CITY - Fences around a renovated Samuel W. Geopp Park won't come down for a while, but the wait is a small price to pay for all the new grass and other landscaping, officials said.

'It will be open as soon as we feel the plants are all rooted in,' said Mick Jessop, director of the city's Recreation and Community Services Department.

That could be 90 days away, 'but we are looking into the possibility of lessening that,' Jessop said.

The contractor is expected to finish all the improvements and sign off on the project in a week.

Once the chain-link fences are removed, residents will get a park with a smooth grassy surface, two half-court basketball surfaces and two new baseball backstops.

The courts have been moved to a location more visible from the streets, making it less likely they will be vandalized and making the area much safer for youth.

Teachers at Dan O. Root Elementary School are also looking forward to using the park.

'It is going to be really nice,' Assistant Principal Linda Barrow said. 'It has been evened out and we are looking at being able to take P.E. classes out there.'

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Seeno makes concessions to win another chance

Seeno makes concessions to win another chance
By Tony Burchyns/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 02/19/2009

BENICIA -- Planning for the controversial Seeno business park will move forward, but the Benicia Unified School District is still demanding answers to health and safety concerns regarding one elementary school.

Late Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously rescinded its November denial of the industrial mixed-use project. Last fall, a council majority had rejected the project in part due to public concerns over increased auto traffic and pollution.

When completed, the Seeno development is expected to cover more than 200 acres of Benicia's open space.

Tuesday night's vote was a major victory for developer Albert Seeno III, whose family owns the property in northeast Benicia. Project supporters hope it brings high-paying jobs and more green-tech industries to the area.

The victory also included a switch by Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, a longtime Seeno and project foe.

Patterson secured key developer concessions that she says will help protect Benicia's environmental and economic interests and involve the city in every step of the project.

"I am not happy, nor am I content," Patterson said. "But I am pleased with the resolution to establish what I consider the Holy Trinity of planning and development ... a specific plan, an environmental impact report ... and a development agreement to give certainty to how we are going to do all this."

Patterson went on to say, "I am pleased Mr. Seeno kept his word, that he was willing to take a risk (on a new city-led planning process), and was willing to respect the citizens."

Benicia school officials at the meeting, however, were not as satisfied. They said the school board was denied an opportunity to meet about the critical developer concessions before the council acted.

Environmental impacts on Robert Semple Elementary School have been a key concern for residents and district officials. The proposed development would be built less than a mile away, along East Second Street and Lake Herman Road, with a major roadway to the site passing by the school.

In response to public concerns, Seeno's Discovery Builders Inc. of Concord will be required to pay for more environmental, traffic and economic studies anda so-called specific plan to determine if, when and how any development can proceed.

A council-appointed oversight committee and a city-appointed project manager funded by Discovery Builders also will monitor the planning process.

One school district bone of contention is Seeno's reluctance to reimburse the district for 10 months of legal expenses, totaling abut $46,000. District officials say the money paid for expert advice on environmental risks to the school.

"I am really concerned about what (negotiating in) good faith really means with that company, and with him personally," school board president Rosie Switzer said of Seeno's Discovery Builders.

On Wednesday, Patterson expressed confidence that the developer will help the district offset its legal costs.

A new 18-month planning process could start in March, leading to initial construction in 2012. The likely would take more than 10 years to complete.

Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at (707) 553-6831 or

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kiewit grows in Fairfield

Kiewit grows in Fairfield
North Bay Business Journal
Monday, February 16, 2009

FAIRFIELD – Omaha, Neb.-based construction, engineering and mining service provider Kiewit Corp. inked a deal to build a 30,000-square-foot administrative office on 3.37 acres at 4700 Business Center Dr. in Fairfield.

The company is designing the building but hasn’t announced when it would be built, according to Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn.

Kiewit has its Northern California district offices in Concord to oversee plants in Antioch, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. The company has been heavily involved in Bay Area Rapid Transit projects and the new western span of the Bay Bridge.

Officials hope Tesla will provide 'green' -- in cash and cars

Officials hope Tesla will provide 'green' -- in cash and cars
By Jessica A. York/Times-Herald staff writer and Richard Bammer
Posted: 02/16/2009

Vallejo is aggressively working to attract a "green tech" car manufacturing plant to Mare Island, though a different location may already be a foregone conclusion.

"We've had contact with them as recently as a week ago," said Jason Keadjian, spokesman for master developer Lennar Mare Island.

"Clearly, Mare Island offers a number of competitive advantages, including large buildings and infrastructure, the ability for expansion and a skilled work force, as well as a tremendous location within the Bay Area," Keadjian added.

The San Carlos-based Tesla Motors is one of many companies the developer's broker has been in contact with, Keadjian said. In fact, Tesla is a company it has been "aggressively pursuing since 2006," he said.

In January, Tesla, which produces electric-powered cars, announced that its search for a new California site would begin again after a San Jose site was rejected for economic reasons. That city was the second recently contemplated by company officials, who had first looked to a New Mexico site in 2006.

Tesla's business, which allows car owners to drive without fueling up at gas pumps, would fit nicely with Vallejo's reputation for using solar energy, Vallejo City Councilmember Stephanie Gomes said.

"It would really be fantastic for us and Mare Island," she said. "Maybe that could work into a niche for us."

Mike Ammann, president of Solano Economic Development Corp. in Fairfield, would hardly be surprised if Tesla Motors officials were again eyeing Mare Island as a possible site to develop.

He said Tesla, while considering Vacaville and San Jose, had previously scouted the former naval shipyard, with its dozens of airplane hangar-sized buildings, as a possible place to set up a manufacturing facility.

Ammann said details of the Obama administration's Economic Recovery Act, which the president wants to sign today, will factor into the company's decision to locate at Mare Island -- or at another abandoned military base in California, such as Alameda Naval Air Station in Alameda or Castle Air Force Base in Atwater.

He said Tesla officials are seeking $300 million to $400 million in start-up costs but cautioned the Bay Area-based firm, while a leading contender for the cash, is competing against several other electric vehicle companies for largely the same amount of taxpayer money.

"If Tesla takes the federal dollars, the location would have to be what's called a 'brown field,' an old military base, like Mare Island," said Ammann, adding, "It's more than likely" that the federal government will encourage, if not require, companies to locate on the old military bases.

"There will be some kind of criteria, if they take the money," said Ammann. "Obviously, Mare Island and others will be in the game."

He said Vacaville and San Jose are considered "green enterprise zones" and are unlikely though possible sites for a Tesla plant, given the federal guidelines.

Vallejo Community Development Analyst Annette Taylor said city officials renewed their efforts to attract the company last month after hearing that San Jose site was "not feasible, given current economic conditions and poor venture capital environment."

"Because Tesla is a desirable company, the city is doing whatever we can to bring it to Mare Island," Taylor said.

In early communications, company officials indicated they were looking for a site very close to their South Bay home base. Keadjian, of Lennar Mare Island, said he did not know if that plan had changed.

Recent news reports have indicated that the company is closing in on a favored site, though a Tesla spokeswoman reached Friday would not disclose any details.

"(Tesla) have not gone back out to the market since they announced that their previous commitment in San Jose had fallen through," Keadjian said Friday. "So, we have updated them with information about Mare Island ... We're not taking anything for granted; it has been announced that they were close to making an agreement in the past. It's not over 'till it's over."

The San Jose Mercury News contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or

Friday, February 13, 2009

Commuter toll lane system gets STA vote

Commuter toll lane system gets STA vote
By Danny Bernardini/
Posted: 02/13/2009 01:01:24 AM PST

It likely would be years before drivers get to use them, but Solano County leaders are backing a plan to bring High Occupancy Toll lanes to interstates 80 and 680.

Known as HOT lanes, they provide drivers the option of paying to drive in the "carpool" lane no matter the time of day or how many people are in the vehicle.

Such lanes exist in Southern California and other states -- and two trial lanes are being built in the Bay Area -- but the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) dream of creating a uniform, regional system.

And after Wednesday night, those groups have the vote of the Solano Transportation Authority (STA). The STA voted unanimously to support the creation of a HOT system that would run from Solano County throughout the Bay Area and all the way to Santa Clara County.

"We saw I-80 as a good candidate. It's a good way to contribute to its improvements," said Daryll Halls, STA executive director. "This is the starting point, but it shows we want to be part of the process."

Halls said revenue from those using HOT lanes would go a long way toward improving and maintaining HOV lanes as well as help getting more HOV lanes in Solano County.

Similar to FasTrak, a device would sit in the dash of a vehicle and respond to signals along the road. Drivers would essentially be charged per mile. That charge would fluctuate given the time of day and how many other vehicles are on the road at the time.

Andrew Fremier, BATA deputy executive director, said the regional plan for unifying HOT lanes is a cornerstone of the 2009 Regional Transportation Plan. A new plan is created every four years.

There are currently two experimental lanes being built in the Bay Area. One is near the Sunol Grade on I-680. The other is near Livermore, on I-580. They should be open by the end of 2010, said Fremier.

While those projects and many in Southern California only let drivers use a portion of a road, the regional plan will allow someone to use the lane for an entire trip.

"It's been a concept for quite a while and really has got its legs in the last six months," Fremier said. "Our concept is taking that idea and multiplying through the whole HOV system."

One major obstacle is that California law prevents this from happening. Exceptions have been made for the current HOT lanes, and it would take similar actions to allow the regional project. Fremier said getting support like the STA is important for that process.

"Although you need to get the law changed, there is a lot of support for it," he said. "We can walk in as a region and say we have support."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Copart adds fourth Alabama location

Wednesday, February 11, 2009, 1:48pm PST
Copart adds fourth Alabama location

San Francisco Business Times - by Albert C. Pacciorini
Auto salvage giant Copart Inc. has opened its fourth Alabama site, in Montgomery, and its 146th site worldwide.

Copart (NASDAQ: CPRT) said the 20-acre site will serve the southeast corner of the state, decreasing cycle times and reducing storage and fuel costs for customers.

“Combined with our existing facilities in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, this new location will allow Copart to take on additional business in Alabama,” Copart CEO and founder Willis J. Johnson said in a statement.

The Fairfield company, which was founded in 1982, acts as a middleman, auctioning vehicles for the public and business for parts and reuse to dismantlers, rebuilders, used vehicle dealers and exporters through daily online auctions.

It had 2008 revenue of $784.8 million and employs about 3,000.

Westamerica Bank has taken over operation of County Bank

Note: WestAmerica has a backoffice operation located in Fairfield, CA within Solano County.

Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009
Westamerica has history of prudent decisions
Bay Area firm hasn't been caught up in roiling economy.

The owner of now defunct County Bank, Westamerica Bancorporation, shares much in common with its recent acquisition.

The San Rafael-based bank opened its doors five years before County Bank, in 1972, and has roots in lending to local small businesses and farmers.

That's where the similarities end. Unlike County Bank and many other failed financial institutions, Westamerica Bank held a conservative tack through much of the boom times in recent years.

Westamerica Bank has taken over operation of County Bank, which failed last week. With a tradition of conservative business practices, the bank has weathered the financial storms that have driven other institutions, like County Bank, onto the rocks.

That fiscal seamanship has kept it afloat in today's rough financial waters.

"Our stock price has performed well in these weak economic times," said Rob Thorson, the company's chief financial officer.

The acquisition of County Bank is part of a pattern of expansion for Westamerica, yet it is an unprecedented move. As the company's first failed bank purchase, the move is irregular, but as a part of a three-decade trend of growth is business as usual.

But consolidation is the bank's only bow to industry trends. Otherwise, its conservative approach to banking has gone against the grain.

With more than $4 billion in assets and 86 branches across Northern and Central California, Westamerica, the seventh-largest California-based commercial bank, according to its Web site, has weathered the financial storm quite well.

Westamerica was born when three regional north Bay Area banks consolidated, one with a charter that went back to 1886, according to a company profile by St. James Press. The first National Bank of Mendocino, the Bank of Sonoma and the Bank of Marin constituted the original triad of banks that came together in 1972.

The cautious growth of the bank from then on expanded one county at a time. By the early '80s it had acquired banks in Napa and Solano counties. What followed in the next two decades was further acquisitions of more than seven additional banks, spreading its presence into the Central Valley and the foothills.

For much of this time from the late 1980s, current chairman and president David Payne, whose grandfather was chairman of one of the bank's acquisitions, has been at the bank's helm.

Thorson attributes the bank's measured approach to lending as a direct result of Payne's personal outlook. "It's conservative practices; it's being very careful," he said.

Thorson said the bank moved to buy County Bank because it wanted more of a market share in the Central Valley. While it just bought a failed bank, Westamerica hasn't emerged from the financial troubles unscathed.

Westamerica saw a loss in 2008 of $57 million from its Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stocks, which plummeted. But, still, it made a profit of $60 million in 2008.

Thorson says it didn't fall prey to the same trap as much of the rest of the industry for several reasons. The bank kept its loan-to-debt ratio higher than other banks. For every dollar it had on hand, it only lent out 75 cents. The usual ratio in the industry, said Thorson, is to loan out more than you have.

When it bought securitized mortgage bundles -- the ones many other banks lost out on -- it acted prudently. The bank basically did the same thing that it always did when lending: check for good credit and make sure that people had put down payments for home loans.

"We did a lot of due diligence in looking at (securities)," he said.

Analyst Aaron Deer, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, said Westamerica "is regarded as being one of the absolute best underwriters in the industry. They have been extremely cautious and selective in the types of loans they have underwritten over the past several years."

But one trend Westamerica has been a part of, admitted Thorson, is banking consolidation, which contributes to an ever-centralizing banking system.

Shawn Kantor, professor of economics at UC Merced, said consolidation is very much a microcosm of what's happening on the national level:

"So we have tremendous financial institutions that the feds have had to bail out or force other banks to take over. So we are sort of getting the same thing here. The fundamental problem is not being addressed -- the creation of bigger banks -- so we still face the potential problem down the road."

But Westamerica's growth hasn't always been good for everyone.

In the company's profile by St. James Press, Westamerica's history of mergers didn't always augur well for the employees of the banks they bought. "Westamerica shut branches which did not meet profitability and growth benchmarks," the book said. "Acquired and existing branches which overlapped were closed. Back-office operations throughout the system also were consolidated."

That doesn't exactly make calm bedtime reading for former County Bank employees.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fairfield Economic update

Fairfield Economic update

Sean Quinn, Fairfield City Manager

AAA Northern California announced recently that it plans to relocate 225 employees from current San Francisco and Fairfield offices to a larger office at 5251 Business Center Drive in Cordelia. According to the press release, the relocation should be complete by June 2009.

FedEx Ground Package Systems Inc. recently signed a 10-year lease at 5191 Fermi Drive in Fairfield for 330,750 square feet of high-ceiling warehouse space. According to a recent article in the San Francisco Business Times, this lease was the largest industrial East Bay lease in 2008. The site is one of Solano County’s largest industrial properties, and is triple the size of the company’s current space in neighboring Benicia. FedEx intends to build additional office space on the site and to increase the number of loading doors. Spring 2009 is the planned target move-in date.

Another recently announced transaction is the development of a new 30,000- square-foot office and administrative center on a 3.37-acre parcel at 4700 Business Center
Drive for Kiewit Corporation, an Omaha-based provider of construction, engineering and mining services to clients nationwide. The company is developing plans and designs for the new structure, but has not yet announced a timetable for construction or occupancy.

Big boost for energy efficiency

Big boost for energy efficiency
By Sylvia Wright

Chevron Corp. has given UC Davis $2.5 million to create a permanent leadership position for the campus’s Energy Efficiency Center.

The person appointed to the Chevron Chair in Energy Efficiency will direct the center, which was established in 2006. The world’s first university center of excellence in energy efficiency, its primary objective is to speed the transfer of energy-saving products and services into the homes, businesses and lives of Californians.

The new Chevron gift brings the center’s funding total to more than $7.5 million. The center’s start-up funding of $1 million came from the California Clean Energy Fund, a public benefit corporation dedicated to making equity investments in clean energy companies. UC Davis matched the CalCEF grant with $1.3 million in operating and research funds, faculty time, and office and laboratory space.

Other key funders include Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., Edison International, Sempra Energy, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Goldman Sachs.

Speaking Tuesday at an event announcing the new Chevron gift, UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said: “Chevron’s endowment will ensure long-term strategic leadership for the Energy Efficiency Center. By bridging long-term research with real-world applications, the director will guide the center in its goal of commercializing groundbreaking technologies, powering economic progress and helping to conserve resources.”

The campus will conduct a national search for the person to hold the Chevron Chair, who will expand the impact of the center’s research programs through interdisciplinary collaboration, education, outreach and commercialization of technologies. He or she also will continue developing strong links with state and federal government, as well as with international programs.

“Advancing energy efficiency, which is the cheapest, cleanest and most abundant form of new energy, is critical to the challenge of meeting the world’s growing energy needs,” said John McDonald, Chevron vice president and chief technology officer.

“California has been a pacesetter in energy efficiency, so it’s fitting that one of the state’s leading universities and California’s largest company should partner on the next generation of energy efficiency.”

The endowment for the Chevron Chair complements Chevron’s ongoing support for UC Davis, which includes a $500,000 gift in 2008 for the Energy Efficiency Center and a $25 million biofuels research collaboration begun in 2006 to develop technology to convert nonfood agricultural waste into next-generation transportation fuels.

Yesterday, one of the Energy Efficiency Center’s affiliated technology centers, the California Lighting Technology Center, debuted a new lighting system for parking areas that uses about 20 percent of the energy of conventional parking lighting systems, yet provides better safety, reduces light pollution and makes less toxic waste.


By Clifton B. Parker
January 16, 2009

The California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis has developed new ‘smart’ lighting that gives parking areas better light with less energy. The lights use efficient LED lights and motion sensors. On Tuesday, Michael Siminovitch, director of the lighting technology center and a professor in the design program, demonstrated how the new lights switch from low power to high when they sense that someone is walking or driving nearby. More information is available on the UC Davis news site: (Press Release Below).

New 'Smart' Lighting Makes Parking Greener and Safer
January 12, 2009

Parking lots and garages light up the night: Daytime users drive home and nighttime users are few, but for safety reasons, the lights stay on.

Michael Siminovitch, director of UC Davis' California Lighting Technology Center and a professor in the Design Program, says seeing all that wasted light "makes you jump out of your seat and say 'Stop!' "

And that's what Siminovitch and his lighting-center team have done, in collaboration with UC Davis facility managers, California energy regulators and providers, and a handful of key firms in the lighting industry.

The innovative result, unveiled today in a UC Davis parking garage after two years of development and field testing, is a highly efficient and innovative package of technologies.

The system uses about 20 percent of the energy of conventional parking lighting systems, yet provides better safety, reduces light pollution and makes less toxic waste.

This bi-level lighting, part of UC Davis' Smart Lighting Initiative, is already serving six UC Davis sites (three parking areas, one pathway network and two building exteriors), as well as Sacramento State University and Arcade Creek Park in Sacramento.

It is also being exported to other users via a new effort called LED University. Early adopters include: UC Santa Barbara; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; Tianjin Polytechnic University in China; University of Notre Dame; North Carolina State University; and University of Arkansas.

The new system includes:

-Light-emitting diode (LED) lights: LEDs give off bright white light but use little electricity. Each lighting fixture, called a luminaire, has three light bars containing 60 LEDs. Compared to conventional metal-halide lights, LED lights take less electricity (85 watts vs. 175 watts), last longer and contain no mercury.

-Motion sensors: Sensors detect the motion of a person or vehicle within about 35 feet. When no motion is detected for a designated period of time (30 seconds to 30 minutes), the sensor switches the LED light from its high level to a low level that uses half the energy. Even low level is bright enough to provide plenty of light for people entering the garage. And the switch from low brightness to high signals to people using the garage that there is another car or person moving nearby -- and gives that information to security personnel, too.

“Switching to LED lights and adding bi-level activity-sensing technology yields energy savings for the project of 50 percent when the lights are at full power and 80 percent when they are in low mode. As for maintenance savings, we project they will be 42 percent of what we spent on the fixtures that were replaced," Siminovitch said.

"Even at half power, the LED fixtures are delivering plenty of light to the space. We may be able to cut levels further, saving even more electricity and lengthening fixture lifetimes."

UC Davis' external partners in the Smart Lighting Initiative are:

-PG&E, which offered incentives as part of a University of California systemwide energy initiative and supplied partial funding based on demonstrated energy savings.

-Ruud Lighting/BetaLED of Sturtevant, Wisc., which supplied the LED light fixtures; and

-Watt Stopper/Legrand of Santa Clara, Calif., which supplied the occupancy sensors.

About the California Lighting Technology Center

Part of the Design Program at UC Davis, the center is a research and education facility that focuses on the application of energy-efficient lighting and daylighting technologies through research, development, demonstration, outreach, and education in partnership with utilities, manufacturers, end users, builders, designers and governmental agencies. The center was established through a collaborative effort of the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program and UC Davis, with support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to Sacramento, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system, and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from five professional schools: Education, Law, Management, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine. The UC Davis School of Medicine and UC Davis Medical Center are located at the Sacramento campus.

Additional information:
California Lighting Technology Center

Media contact(s):
• Sylvia Wright, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-7704,