Saturday, October 31, 2009

Solano Inter-city taxi plan unveiled

Inter-city taxi plan unveiled

SUISUN CITY -- If it proves as easy as calling for a taxi when you need a ride anywhere in Solano County, a pilot program could go a long way toward improving transportation services for senior citizens and the disabled.Transit officials unveiled the new inter-city taxi program for senior and disabled riders Friday during the second Senior and Disabled Transportation Summit. Nearly 200 people attended the conference, which focused on solutions to the myriad problems these riders face in using public transportation.
The inter-city taxi service, the first of a multiphase program, could go into effect in early 2010, Vacaville transit manager Brian McLean said. Taxi operators are committed and proposals are being written, he added.
"Why taxi service? Because it's flexible, and it operates 24 hours, seven days a week," McLean said.
In using the new service, qualified riders would call the taxi company in their cities and be transported anywhere in Solano County, McLean said. These riders would pay 15 percent of the regular taxi cab price, he added.
Efforts are also in the works to secure a $250,000 Caltrans New Freedom grant to help fund it, McLean said.
Vacaville senior Russ Cayler liked the proposal, saying it is "badly needed," particularly if people want to go between cities.
The first phase would serve only ambulatory disabled and senior riders, who are certified as disabled by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) but still can get in and out of a vehicle on their own. These riders could continue to use paratransit, or subsidized, services, if they wanted, McLean said.
The second phase would continue to build on existing taxi services and expand to serve riders in wheelchairs and others who need substantial assistance getting in and out of vehicles.
New services would be an improvement over waiting for chronically late buses and paratransit vans, Vacaville senior Erla Frederick said
Fairfield resident Vera Aitemon, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said she looks forward to the new program.
"I hope it does work and I hope it's going to take effect soon," Aitemon said. She said she's had many problems using paratransit, citing a driver who recently left her stranded after a doctor's appointment.
In the new service, riders would not have to engage in cumbersome, often frustrating, advance scheduling, McLean said. Further, they would not have to share vehicles, which can result in long rides and scheduling complications, he said.
A strong marketing plan will be key to assuring the pilot program works, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Elderly and Disabled Advisory Committee member Richard Burnett of Vallejo said.
Friday, Solano Transit Authority officials unveiled the county's first senior and disabled transportation guide -- a one-page pamphlet detailing each city's bus, tax, ferry and taxi services and how to contact them.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Solano, and other speakers encouraged the county to keep transportation improvements on the front burner, but stressed that substantial progress likely would not be made without new funding, such as a sales tax increase.
"You need a sales tax increase or some other kind of mechanism," Wolk said. "There is no other way to do it."
Solano voters last defeated a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation in 2002. STA Executive Director Daryl Halls said there are no immediate plans to try again. Passage would require two-thirds voter approval.

Davis staff searches area to save birds

Davis staff searches area to save birds

By Reporter Staff/

Staff from the University of California, Davis, Wildlife Health Center and its partner organizations boarded boats at the Dubai Star oil spill in the San Francisco Bay on Friday to assess the situation and collect any oiled birds.If oiled birds are eventually captured, they will be taken either to Oiled Wildlife Care Network member organizations in the Bay Area or to a customized rescue trailer -- a traveling emergency room that can be towed from Davis to the spill command post. There, veterinary staff will assess the affected birds' conditions and give them first aid.
The care network is managed statewide by the university's wildlife health center, a unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Once examined, the birds will be taken to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center in Fairfield, where they will receive the world's most-advanced veterinary care for oiled wildlife.
Because of an algae bloom earlier this month off the Oregon coast, the Fairfield center already houses 450 sick birds being cared for by the International Bird Rescue Research Center. UC Davis veterinarian Michael Ziccardi said, however, that it can handle whatever oiled birds are affected during this spill and, if needed, he will send the Oregon birds to sister facilities elsewhere in California.
At the center, the first order of business is not to remove oil from the birds. Instead, it is to warm the birds and nourish them. Once stabilized, they will
be better able to withstand the stresses of being washed.
The Fairfield center is a 12,000-square-foot, $2.7 million facility capable of caring for up to 1,000 sick birds. It is the major Northern California rescue center in the statewide network, which comprises 12 rescue facilities and 25 organizations prepared to care for oiled wildlife on short notice.
As of Friday, a corps of trained volunteers stood by to staff the rescue center, if needed.
Later, if more volunteers are needed, a notice will be posted online at
Jonna Mazet, another UC Davis veterinarian and oiled-bird expert, has estimated that for every oiled seabird that is found washed ashore, an estimated 10 to 100 birds died at sea.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is funded by the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response, a unit of the Department of Fish and Game. The Fish and Game monies come from interest on the $50 million California Oil Spill Response Trust Fund, built from assessments on the oil industry.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The future is green, at-risk youths learn

The future is green, at-risk youths learn
By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Posted: 10/30/2009

Malik Muhammad, a member of Vallejo's Green Team, wipes down the solar panels on the roof of City Hall during a visit Thursday to see how the system works. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

None of them had ever seen solar panels before, so getting up close to the ones on the roof of Vallejo's City Hall on Thursday was a learning experience for the five young men on the Green Team.

Part of Campfire USA Empire Council's Green Flame program, the Green Team aims to help disenfranchised youth make inroads into green tech industries, program director Kalid Meky said. It's "a green lifeline" for these 18- to 24-year-olds, he said.

"We're cleaning the panels and then coming back to do it monthly on a volunteer basis," he said. "The point is the hands-on training. If it gets in the paradigm of their thinking, it's the first step in going toward that type of career."

The next step is to start a solar panel cleaning business, and then to learn to sell and install them, Meky said.

The message seems to be getting through to participants like Chief Bell of Vallejo.

The 24-year-old father of a 3-day-old named Hope said he was laid off from a local refinery and hopes to find a "green" career. "I have to take care of my daughter," he said. "At first it was just about finding a job, but now I really want to help save the Earth. I hope to be able to help do that by getting into a career installing solar panels."

Orlando Johnson, 19, said before he decided to learn about green building technologies, he wasn't really doing much of anything. Now he said he thinks he may have found an appropriate career path.

"I've always been good working with my hands, and it keeps me off the streets," the Vallejo native said.

Vallejo residents Ricardo Savage, 23, and Brandon Kelly, 19, said they were also without direction before signing on to the Green Team.

"I was on unemployment before this, and before that, I worked at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom," Savage said. "I hope this helps me get a career."

Vallejo resident Malik Muhammad, 20, said he's traded "working on my music and hanging out" for learning about green technology, and he has caught the bug.

"Even if this doesn't work, I want to find a green job," he said. "I enjoy this. I like building things and helping the environment."

Public Works supervisor Dwayne Wood gave the team a tour of the converter area in City Hall's basement -- the "brains" of the operation -- where the sunshine hitting the roof is turned into energy. They learned, among other things, that it's a very loud process.

"It powers the building and anything left over can be sold back to PG&E," building maintenance worker Tom Davenport said.

Though that hasn't happened yet, the $2.7 million worth of city-owned solar panels in Vallejo are paying for themselves in savings, Wood said.

There are panels atop City Hall, the John F. Kennedy Library and the Corporation Yard, which helps power the Vallejo Police Department. And there's a small solar farm on Columbus Parkway that helps run some of the water department's pumps, he said.

There are 4,018 panels all told and the city paid under $2 million for the project. The rest came in the form of PG&E incentives, he said.

First installed in 2002, and replaced by the manufacturer last year for free because of an undisclosed flaw, the panels have a 50-year lifespan, Wood said.

Meky and Campfire USA Empire Council board president Maxine Box, who accompanied the group and told the young men not to "let the streets get you," said they believe green technology is the "wave of the future." They said they hope to convince these men and others like them to get in on the ground floor, so to speak. For most, it's a last chance, Meky said.

"I'm telling them to take advantage of this green wave to find a way to support your family," Meky said. "If you can see it, you can be it. If we can imagine society being run in some way other than with drilling dirty oil, then we can do it."

Contact staff writer Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at (707) 553-6824 or

Fairfield sees spike in building projects

Fairfield sees spike in building projects
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | October 29, 2009

FAIRFIELD - Development is up 'significantly' this year in Fairfield, city officials reported Thursday afternoon.

Permits for commercial, industrial and residential projects were up by about 20 percent during the first 10 months of the year compared to the same period in 2008, Community Development Director Erin Beavers said. The unofficial end of the building season has passed and the numbers aren't expected to change much by the end of the year.

'What I think we can pull from this is last year was exceedingly low, well below even your typical low point in a 10-year average (and) this is showing that at least there is a recovery coming out of that, not a continuation of this really depressed level of building activity,' Beavers said.

The total value of the projects increased even more dramatically during the comparison periods. The 903 permits issued in 2009 were worth $98.3 million, while the 749 permits issued in the same period of 2008 were worth $28.5 million.

The biggest growth came in industrial development, Beavers said. He attributed that to major construction projects such as Verizon Wireless' development of a 21,000-square-foot switching station, Meyer Corp.'s 165,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility and Frank-Lin Distillers Products building a 295,000-square-foot bottling plant.

There was also improvement in commercial development, led by Walmart's 188,000-square-foot Supercenter and others.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Real estate market faces long recovery

Real estate market faces long recovery
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | October 29, 2009

FAIRFIELD - They were trying to be positive. Really.

None of the three speakers at a Thursday morning Real Estate Round-up could be described as optimistic, but all three joked that they had tried to make their summaries of the local market as positive as they could.

The consensus was that, despite promising signs, the local commercial, industrial and retail markets still have a long recovery ahead of them.

'The glass is 40 percent half-full,' said Brooks Pedder of Colliers International.

The Solano Economic Development Corp. puts on the annual event, which generally focuses on commercial and industrial real estate.

The commercial vacancy rate is at about 26 percent, Pedder said, a figure he said might be the highest ever.

'Residential mortgage titles, when those shut down it killed us,' he said.

Jose McNeill of McNeill Real Estate Services expressed concern about some larger trends looming over the economy, in particular singling out the threat of inflation driven by a rapid increase of government spending.

He showed a graph showing plummeting consumer confidence, a trend he described as worrisome for economic recovery.

'(Consumer confidence) is really the driver,' he said.

Pedder said Solano County has characteristics that have historically been appealing to companies when finances are tight, such as relatively inexpensive labor and housing and the fact that employees living elsewhere would have a reverse commute to Solano County.

'Everyone here needs to walk and talk and drink the Kool-Aid and support Solano,' he said.

Jim Shepherd with Cornish & Carey talked about the local retail markets, which have been hit hard since early 2008 by a series of bankruptcies and store closures. In Fairfield alone, the list of closures includes Circuit City, Linens N Things and Mervyns.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vacaville biopharm plant gets 1MW solar array

Vacaville biopharm plant gets 1MW solar array
Sacramento Business Journal - by Melanie Turner Staff writer
Wednesday, October 28, 2009, 2:47pm PDT

Swiss drug maker Novartis AG has completed a 1 megawatt solar array that will supply 20 percent of the electrical needs for its biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Vacaville, the company announced Wednesday.

The $7 million, five-acre power plant is the group’s single largest solar energy investment. It more than triples the total solar power generated by Novartis (NYSE: NVS) facilities worldwide. The Vacaville power plant is one of five solar projects Novartis has completed around the world.

“Today’s dedication signals our continued commitment to the environment and to initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency) Climate Leaders Program and our own U.S. energy program.”

The Novartis solar system eliminates the production of more than 1,400 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year, according to the company. A first phase, 30-kilowatt parking canopy was completed last December. The larger 970-kilowatt array was up and running in mid-September, a month ahead of schedule, the company said.

Benicia chooses to go green for recreation, social center

Benicia chooses to go green for recreation, social center
By Tony Burchyns
Posted: 10/26/2009

BENICIA -- City leaders are envisioning a totally green community center, designed with recycled materials, environmentally friendly paint and efficient plumbing and lighting.

Architectural drawings also reveal a warm and colorful interior for shuttered Mills Elementary School, which the city plans to convert into a recreation and social center by spring.

"The project uses all existing windows, doors and roofs," Noll & Tam architect Elizabeth McLeod told the Benicia City Council last week, describing green practices meant to help earn federal LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

"There will be 50 percent to 60 percent reuse of existing walls, ceilings, lighting, sinks and doors," McLeod added.

The $610,000 first phase also will include low-flow toilets and energy-saving, mostly florescent lighting controlled by timers and motion sensors.

Several rooms will have kitchenettes stocked with Energy Star microwaves and refrigerators. The federal program certifies the energy efficiency of certain appliances.

Interior-finish materials will be either reused, high in recycled content, locally extracted or manufactured, low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or responsibly grown woods.

"We're using recycled lumber for the trellises, linoleum flooring, carpeting that has recycled content, ceramic tiles and stainless steel ... which uses a high amount of recycled content," McLeod said.

The reception desk -- a main focal point -- will feature bamboo trim and a recycled-glass countertop.

McLeod said all paints will be environmentally friendly, too.

The project's greenness won't compromise its looks, the architect said, adding the theme is "fun, playful and colorful."

"It's an opportunity to do something interesting with these materials," McLeod said. "The city really wants a space that reflects the groups of people who will be in there ... They want to take away the institutional, school feeling."

The first phase will provide a year-round home for local boy and girl scouts and two rooms for the Kids Kaleidoscope after-school program, city officials say. It also will make space for the Summer Adventures Day Camp.

The project is slated to go to public bid Nov. 2.

Vaca business unveils solar array

Vaca business unveils solar array
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | October 28, 2009

VACAVILLE - Novartis' Vacaville facility joined the club of local solar-friendly companies when it unveiled its one-megawatt solar array Wednesday afternoon.

'This sets an example for the rest of the community,' Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine told a gathering that included students from Browns Valley Elementary School.

The solar array located next to Cessna Drive is expected to supply 20 percent of the facility's overall electrical energy needs, Novartis President Robert Pelzer said.

The array covers 5 acres and consists of 4,100 solar panels that will produce one megawatt of power.

This is one of six sites where the international pharmeceutical firm has installed solar arrays, but the Vacaville location will produce triple the energy of all other site sites combined.

Novartis is also involved in other energy-saving measures that include using geo-thermal and bio-gas energy, as well as a campaign to switch the company's 6,600 cars to hybrids, spokesman Joseph Culley said.

Blustery winds kept the fourth-grade students from teacher Dave Northrup's class from touring the array Thursday, but Northrup stated they will get another chance.

'This is still a great hands-on experience for them,' Northrup said.

Novartis joins a growing number of Vacaville businesses who are using solar arrays that include ALZA Corp., the State Compensation Insurance Fund and the Mariani Packing Co.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vacaville landfill to take part in methane capture program

Vacaville landfill to take part in methane capture program
Daily Republic staff | October 20, 2009

VACAVILLE - The Pacific Gas & Electric Company is contracting with San Francisco-based Recology to be part of the firm's methane capture project located at a landfill near Vacaville.

Recology, formerly known as Norcal Waste Systems, is the first major solid waste and recycling company to become part of PG&E's ClimateSmart program.

ClimateSmart members pay a separate amount on their energy bill which PG&E invests in projects proven to reduce or absorb greenhouse gas emissions such as Recology's project.

Recology's project is expected to be completed by late 2009 to deal with methane gas which is considered a potent greenhouse gas.

'Capture of methane at landfills is a key step in the fight against climate change,' said Recology Vice President Paul Yamamoto said in a press release.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Solano EDC looks ahead with Real Estate Round-Up

Solano EDC looks ahead with Real Estate Round-Up
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | October 25, 2009

FAIRFIELD - Real estate experts will gaze into their crystal ball Thursday when the Solano Economic Development Corp. hosts its 2009 'Real Estate Round-Up.'

A panel of industry experts will discuss Solano County's position in the commercial and industrial real estate markets and forecast the future.

'They will talk about the past year's activity and any trends and what those trends represent for our present market and our future,' said Sandy Person, vice president of the Solano EDC.

The speakers will be Brooks Pedder of Colliers International, who will talk about business and industrial parks throughout the county. Jose McNeill of McNeill Real Estate Services will talk about global trends in real estate and Jim Shepherd of Cornish & Carey will talk about retail markets.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Courthouse closer to renovation

Courthouse closer to renovation
By Reporter Staff
Posted: 10/16/2009

Solano County's historic - and long vacant - courthouse in downtown Fairfield moved another step closer to restoration this week with the selection of the architectural firm of Hornberger and Worstell for restoration of the pillared courthouse structure, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The stately 1911 structure has not been used for judicial proceedings for more than 35 years, and has been vacant since 2005 when county offices housed there moved to the new County Government Center across the street.

The restoration plan, estimated at $26.9 million, is aimed at returning the granite Beaux Arts structure to its former grandeur as a courthouse, complete with three civil courtrooms. A legal museum, focusing on the history of law in Solano County, also has been proposed for the old courthouse.

Restoration, ranked as an "immediate need" in the state judicial branch's capital outlay plan, is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2012.

The San Francisco-based Hornberger and Worstell architectural firm counts among its projects the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite, San Francisco's Olympic Club, Ghirardelli Square and San Diego's landmark Hotel Del Coronado.

"This project is not only critically needed by our court, but it also will be an important addition to Fairfield's civic community and an infrastructure effort that will provide economic benefits for years to come," said Presiding Solano County Superior Court Judge Ramona Garrett.

Renovation of the old courthouse is among the first of 41 such projects funded by Senate Bill 1407 for court construction, renovation and repair statewide.

PG&E station will generate clean energy

PG&E station will generate clean energy
Solar in Solano
By Melissa Murphy
Posted: 10/17/2009

Crews from Silverwood Energy lift one of nearly 9,700 solar panels Friday at the PG&E Vaca-Dixon Solar Station. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

Pacific Gas and Electric Company is heating things up with a new solar station in Vacaville.

The new Vaca-Dixon Solar Station is currently under construction off of Midway Road in Vacaville and is a pilot project that uses solar panels to generate clean solar energy for PG&E customers.

Construction began in August and the station is scheduled to be completed in November. The company hopes to have it online in December. The pilot project utilizes 9,672 fixed-tilt, 53-pound, ground-mounted solar panels.

"This shows the progress of a major facility moving toward renewable energy," said Spencer Smith, business development manager for SOLON Corporation, the Arizona-based company responsible for producing the solar panels. "This is a really clean source of electricity."

The Vaca-Dixon Solar Station is the first step in a proposed five-year program to develop 500 megawatts of solar power throughout northern and central California -- 250MW will be built by PG&E and the other 250MW by independent developers.

PG&E is still waiting for approval from the California Public Utilities Commission for the entire project. If approved, the program is expected to deliver more than 1,000 gigawatt hours of solar power each year by 2015, equal to the annual consumption of about 150,000 average homes. In all, according to PG&E officials, the program would meet more than 1.3 percent of PG&E's electric demand.

Where feasible, such as the one in Vacaville, projects developed and owned by PG&E would be built on land already owned by the utility or near its substations to minimize the cost and delays of interconnecting them to the power grid.

PG&E Technical Lead Consultant Bill Gittler explained that because of it's proximity to the substation -- it sits directly behind the facility -- no one has to be on site to run the new solar station, but only on occasion for maintenance reasons.

Jesus Arellano of Silverwood Energy fastens a solar panel in place at the PG&E Vaca-Dixon Solar Station south of Midway Road in Vacaville. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

Salvation Army buys Suisun aquatic center

Salvation Army buys Suisun aquatic center
Published by The Reporter
Posted: 10/27/2009

The Salvation Army has formally announced the purchase of the once operating community and aquatic center next to Hall Park in Suisun City.

The center, once rented by the YMCA, has been vacant since early 2008.

The purchase agreement received a unanimous vote from Suisun City's City Council recently, a move that won the plan applause from the audience consisting of city residents and members of the city's Ad Hoc Committee and Citizen's Advisory Committee.

"It is absolutely tremendous to return this essential asset to the Suisun City community, particularly during a time when community services are needed more than ever," said City Manager Suzanne Bragdon. "The Salvation Army brings the experience, focus, dedication and resources to make this an extremely successful operation."

The Salvation Army is committed to providing a wide range of community programs at the facility, including:

* Fitness and recreational activities like weight and cardio machines, market driven fitness classes, multi-generational aquatics programs, basketball leagues, dance instruction and intramural sporting teams

* After-school tutoring and recreational programs

* Summer day and away camps

* Christmas assistance

* Youth and senior services

* Worship and fellowship services

The Salvation Army will use a graduated membership structure to allow low and moderate income residents to access these important services.

The organization plans to invest in upgrades to the facility including buying new workout equipment, refurbishing pools, exterior work on the building, locker room and office upgrades and upgrading the gymnasium floor.

For more information, call Captain Fred Rasmussen-North Bay Counties Coordinator at 332-3209.

A grand ceremony touts Fairmont school

A grand ceremony touts Fairmont school
By Kimberly K. Fu
Posted: 10/27/2009

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, speaks at Fairmont Charter SchoolÕs grand opening Monday. (Rick Roach/

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell popped into Vacaville on Monday to celebrate students, teachers and the community in general at the grand opening ceremony for Fairmont Charter Elementary School.

"People know, if you want to invest in the future, then you invest in education. You have," he told the crowd. "This school really is a model. I've heard about it up and down the state. ... You should be commended."

O'Connell touted the "fully green, fully sustainable" two-story school with its water-recycling capability, solar panels, advanced technology and more.

"All of the students and the staff here will experience this technology through a new lens," he said. "This really is a bright light."

The school, located in the 1300 block of Marshall Road, is an updated version of the "old" school, which was built in 1968. Plans began in 2007, and ground was broken in July 2008.

Looking toward a "green" facility, officials met weekly for a year to develop a school that would serve students and staff for generations to come.

The new Fairmont, which opened on Aug. 13, embodies that, officials said. With features that are at least 30 percent more efficient than minimum state standards, the school has even become the first in Solano to garner a LEED Silver designation. LEED is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System.

The school cost $21 million, officials said, with $15 million from Measure V Local General Obligation funds, $4 million from development impact fees and $2 million in anticipated state funds.

On Monday, local and state dignitaries descended on the school to wish students and staff well.

Sixth-graders Tyhesia Celestine and Harvey Guerra led the audience in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and then a collection of fourth- and fifth-grade students serenaded everyone with a rousing rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag."

Teachers, staff and honored leaders expressed their joy with the brand-new facility and excitement for the future.

"We're so thrilled to be here," said Fairmont's Principal Rochelle Sklansky, emphasizing the increased opportunities for students. "After all, they're what it's all about," she said.

Jay Speck, assistant superintendent of Human Resources with the Solano County Office of Education, agreed.

"The building gives a message: You're important. We care about you. We want you to be comfortable and safe," he said. That message, he said, will speak to future generations, as well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Benicia OKs marketing contract

Benicia OKs marketing contract
By Tony Burchyns
Posted: 10/24/2009

BENICIA -- The City Council has unanimously approved a marketing contract aimed at bringing more people to the city.

The contract for roughly $280,000 was awarded Tuesday to Wolf Communications for a 20-month marketing campaign to promote Benicia's scenic waterfront, historical sites, lodging, glass and fine art studios, shopping and other attractions.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said Thursday in a release, "I am pleased to be moving forward" and "the agency will help us attract more people to spend 'A Great Day by the Bay.' "

Council members have defended use of taxpayer money during hard economic times as a chance to spend money to make money. They say the plan is tied to economic development goals.

"This decision doesn't come without risk ... but there is more risk in doing nothing," Councilman Mark Hughes said Tuesday.

The cost of the contract includes advertising buys, such as magazine ads and drive-time Bay Area radio spots.

Wolf also will provide content for the city's tourism Web site (, design an array of visitors' guides and work with other Benicia groups to promote the city.

"Over the next 20 months, Wolf Communications will be working closely with the city and other stake holders to spread the tourism message and increase the revenue to the city," Benicia Economic Development Manager Amalia Lorentz said.

Traditional and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, will be used to reach potential visitors, and results will be tracked, Lorentz added.

Wolf was one of 12 firms to submit marketing proposals. The Benicia Economic Development Board majority backed Wolf after interviewing six finalists.

The firm has experience in developing tourism marketing campaigns for clients such as the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, Calistoga Chamber of Commerce, Santa Rosa's Economic Development Department, Santa Rosa Main Street and other local agencies and groups.

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

Suisun City bike path bridge dedicated

Suisun City bike path bridge dedicated
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | October 22, 2009

SUISUN CITY - Officials thanked all those involved in improving the city's network of bicycle and walking paths when they formally dedicated the new bridge at the Denverton Curve Thursday afternoon.

'It took hard work and long hours to overcome all of the infrastructure challenges,' said City Councilman Mike Segala, who has long championed adding bike and pedestrian paths.

The 140-foot span crossing the small creek next to the Denverton Curve was put in place during the summer.

Residents started using the bridge a couple of months ago, but use of the pathway east of the bridge was interrupted when Pacific Gas & Electric tore up part of it for construction work.

The half-mile segment closes the last gap in the city's 3-mile portion of the Central County Bikeway that now allows residents to ride from one end of Suisun City to the other without needing to use major streets.

'This gives is a safe route along Highway 12,' Segala said of the network that links the city's neighborhoods with its schools and businesses.

The project cost $1.3 million to build with the funds coming from a dozen state and local transportation grants and programs.

The project is a very important part of a growing network that will eventually allow people to ride from Vallejo to Davis, said Daryl Halls, Solano Transportation Authority executive director.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Harbor Plaza sites on track for November openings

Harbor Plaza sites on track for November openings
By Ian Thompson | Daily Republic | October 23, 2009

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City residents might dine in the Cast Iron Grill and Bar as soon as early November, owner Bob Tooke said.

The waterfront's newest restaurant and a major tenant of Harbor Square has hired a chef and is finishing up interior improvements to the eatery, located across Solano Street from the Harbor Plaza.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Benicia OKs major push to reduce energy use

Benicia OKs major push to reduce energy use
By Tony Burchyns
Posted: 10/22/2009 02:14:17 AM PDT

BENICIA -- The City Council has unanimously OK'd green measures meant to reduce the city's carbon footprint, develop a possible renewable-energy power plant and save hundreds of residents money on their energy bills.

One program approved Tuesday night includes in-home energy audits that could cut energy use as much as 20 percent in participating homes, translating to projected annual savings of between $200 and $1,350 per household, city officials say.

The other project is a comprehensive study meant to lower energy use at public facilities. The city also will seek advice from a consultant on developing a "micro utility" -- possibly a wind or solar power plant -- north of Lake Herman Road.

The measures are tied to Benicia's recently approved, so-called Climate Action Plan, and are intended to help the small city meet greenhouse-gas reduction goals with funding from an unlikely source -- the Valero oil refinery.

The city-subsidized, in-home energy audit program is expected to be rolled out next year.

An added 100 audits, city officials said, are reserved for a future solar financing district, which would resemble a loan program for residents wanting to install solar panels.

The initial audits will be free for most households, city officials told the council, with the exception of homes of more than 5,000 square feet. Those home owners would have to pay a $200 fee and would only receive credit for $75 worth of energy-saving lights and other upgrades.

Which homes will be offered participation in the voluntary program has not been announced.

Mountain View-based Ennovationz, Inc. has been selected to conduct the audits.

The firm plans to partner with Benicia High School to train and hire students (for about $10 an hour) to help conduct in-home water conservation audits in the community, under adult supervision.

Students also will be given an opportunity to participate in a public relations campaign to raise awareness about energy and water conservation.

The project's $140,000 budget -- funded by the city and the Benicia Unified School District -- is coming from a $14 million out-of-court settlement between Valero Inc. and the community over disputed upgrades to the Benicia refinery.

In other action Tuesday, the council approved hiring a consultant to help lower its own energy consumption at public facilities. The consultant also will advise on developing a small renewable-energy power plant that could further reduce city energy bills, city officials say.

Chevron Energy Solutions Company, a division of Chevron U.S.A., Inc., will be hired to do the work, including a four-to-five-month energy-use study and recommendations for future green projects. The construction of those yet-to-be-determined

projects would take several years -- and require future city contracts -- to complete.

The city will pay Chevron $50,000 by the city to begin the work, with the contract to be financed through energy savings over several years. There is no upfront cost to the city, city officials told the council, unless the city opts against pursuing future recommended, agreed-upon projects.

The consulting services regarding developing a renewable power plant come at a cost not-to-exceed $15,000.

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

Green measures

A look at Benicia City Council OK'd-programs meant to lower the city's carbon footprint:

* In-home energy audits: Pilot program will be offered to 250 households at no cost to most residents, city officials say. The program, to be rolled out next year, will include home inspections, energy-saving tips and mostly free, same-day fixes such as efficient lighting, plug strips and light-switch timers. Projected annual savings per household? Between $200 and $1,350, city officials say.

* More energy-efficient public facilities: The city will conduct a comprehensive study to lower energy use at public facilities. The city also will hire a consultant to advise on the development of a "micro utility" -- possibly a wind or solar plant -- north of Lake Herman Road. The project has two phases and would continue over several years during which time the city hopes to recoup its costs through savings.

SCC teams with Brandman University to help transferring students

SCC teams with Brandman University to help transferring students
Times-Herald staff report/
Posted: 10/22/2009 02:14:03 AM PDT

FAIRFIELD -- Solano Community College students may be accepted into Brandman University in Fairfield once they receive a two-year degree and participate in a new program called "Early Advantage Educational Partnership."

"This agreement (with Brandman) gives Solano Community College students another opportunity to move forward in the face of statewide budget cuts," Solano College President Jowel Laguerre said.

Solano College students enrolled in the Brandman Early Advantage Program will be able to transfer credit online and receive career counseling while at the community college.

Brandman will waive student transfer fees using an early admission program.

Students also will have access to advising services, information sessions, technology support, academic catalogs and educational plans.

Solano College students can enroll in the new program now, and can take transferable coursework in the following programs: Applied Studies, Business, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, Legal Studies, Liberal Studies/Multiple Subjects Teaching, Organizational Leadership, Psychology, Social Science, and Sociology/Social Work Emphasis.

For additional details, visit or call (707) 864-1758, or contact Brandman University at (707) 863-0990.

Brandman University is at 4820 Business Center Drive, Suite 100, Fairfield.

Touro dean chosen as president of osteopathic internists group

Touro dean chosen as president of osteopathic internists group
Times-Herald staff report
Posted: 10/24/2009 01:00:44 AM PDT

Touro University's College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean Michael Clearfield has been elected president of the American College of Osteopathic Internists for the 2009-10 year, the Vallejo university announced.

Clearfield is a general internist and a nationally recognized expert on lipids, cholesterol and hypertension management. He has served on the American College of Osteopathic Internists board of directors since 1999, and was elected to the top seat by members at their annual business meeting Sunday.

Clearfield assumed his Touro position in August 2006. He began his teaching career at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine/University of North Texas Health Science Center in 1979, also serving there as chairman of the department of medicine and co-director of the Heart Disease Prevention Clinic.

Clearfield also has served nationally on the American Osteopathic Association Council on Research and the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners, and as a representative to the National Cholesterol Education Program.

He received his doctorate in osteopathy from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1975 followed by a residency in internal medicine.

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Vacaville expands its solar power capabilities

Vacaville expands its solar power capabilities
October 21st, 2009

VACAVILLE — The town already noted for its efforts to turn sunshine into electricity is getting even more solar.

Novartis' Vacaville biopharmaceutical facility plans to dedicate a one-megawatt solar array on Wednesday that is expected to fill at least 20 percent of its Vacaville facility's power needs.

“We are seeing an incredible benefit, especially during the day. It is performing great,” Novartis spokesman Joe Culley said of the array that was completed last month.

This follows less than two weeks after PG&E showed off its new two-megawatt Vaca-Dixon Solar Station on Midway Road that will be completed by December.

These additions are expected to boost the Vacaville area's total solar power output past the 8 megawatt mark.

The solar power company Solon of Tucson, Ariz., started building PG&E's solar station in August. So far, all of the support structures and 25 percent of the solar panels are up.

PG&E will then start more, larger projects once it gets the go-ahead from the state Public Utilities Commission, said Bill Gittler, PG&E's technical lead in power generation in fossil and renewable energy.

The Vaca-Dixon Solar Station is a pilot project for a five-year program that aims to develop 500 megawatts of solar power throughout Northern and Central California.

PG&E plans to build facilities to generate 250 megawatts and collect another 250 megawatts from facilities built and owned by private developers.

Once up and running by 2015, the solar network is expected to supply more than 1,000 gigawatt hours of power a year, enough to power about 150,000 homes, meeting 1.3 percent of PG&E's demands.

“It will give us more clean, renewable power,” Gittler said.

The solar power will initially be more expensive “but there is a lot of work underway to streamline our costs,” Gittler said.

“Hopefully, the cost will continue to go down,” Gittler said.

Vacaville was recognized by the Northern California Energy Association in July for ranking second among medium-sized cities for the total amount of wattage generated by solar panels in town.

This comes from the city's solar panels at City Hall and its park-and-ride lots, as well as large solar arrays put up by Mariani Packing Company, ALZA Corporation and the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

The City Hall solar array “not only takes care of all our (electric vehicle) refueling needs, but lowers our utility bill by $6,500 a year,” said Ed Huestis, the city's electric vehicle program manager.

The city also plans to put more powerful electric vehicle rechargers in city park-and-ride lots that will be capable of repowering an electric vehicle within half an hour, Huestis said.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

CSU applications pour in at Vallejo's California Maritime Academy

CSU applications pour in
Students seeking nod for 2010 fall semester
By Sarah Rohrs
Posted: 10/24/2009 01:00:36 AM PDT

Student applications continue to pour into the California State University system for the 2010 fall semester.

The CSU chancellor's office reported 111,140 prospective students applied through the Web site,, from Oct. 1 to 14.

In the same two-week period last year, 62,520 students submitted applications, the office said.

At Vallejo's California Maritime Academy, one of 23 campuses in the CSU system, the number of early applicants is about 35 percent higher than last year, director of admissions Marc McGee said.

"We have about 194 applications for fall 2010," McGee said. "On the same date last year, we had 144."

Freshmen applications are about 38 percent higher than last year, and transfer applications are about 29 percent higher, McGee said.

CMA will likely stop taking applications on Nov. 30 for some majors, including the school's most popular, marine transportation, McGee said.

Student applications for other Cal-Maritime majors will likely be accepted through May, he added.

"We don't know if we've just done a great job of encouraging students to apply early or if the trend will continue," McGee said.

Some students are racing to apply in an effort to get admitted before CSU closes enrollment altogether. The system is attempting to reduce enrollment statewide overall by 40,000 students in the next two years.

Community college students who want to transfer into four-year institutions represent the largest increase
Queen of the Valley Medical Center
in student applications, the CSU chancellor's office said.

More than 48,000 two-year college students applied for upper-division transfer for fall 2010, a nearly three-fold increase from last year.

More than 62,000 applications have come from first-time freshmen, more than 50 percent above last year's number.

Contact staff writer Sarah Rohrs at or (707) 553-6832.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009



The full-service, commercial real estate firm utilizes popular online networking tool to provide tenants with community benefits

09.30.2009 – Imagine having a meaningful conversation while waiting for the elevator, closing a business deal with a company five feet outside your door or being privy to enviable discounts on wine, food or services all because well, you are a neighbor. These are the kind of interactions The Wiseman Company, a developer and operator of Class A commercial properties in the Napa, Solano and Sacramento areas, is creating through an innovative community building program. Within and across their properties, they are using LinkedIn, the popular social networking tool, as the catalyst and virtual meeting ground for tenant interaction.

“We wanted to provide the businesses and individuals who work in our buildings with an experience that’s sadly unfamiliar in most office buildings, community. All too often businesses remain secluded in their respective suites, not knowing their neighbors nor of the potential alliances that could be built by engaging them. We thought we could do better,” explains Doyle Wiseman, CEO of The Wiseman Company.

As the most successful social networking tool for professionals, LinkedIn was the first choice to host the project. Businesses in the Wiseman Community register their companies and their personnel on LinkedIn and then join The Wiseman Company group. There they receive updates from the property management team and learn about their neighbors through company profiles and postings. They pro-actively engage in and host discussions about business trends or regional news, as well as posting questions, exclusive discounts and community building ideas.

So, why the departure from a traditional community newsletter?

“Social networking is not just a fun tool for college kids and celebrities anymore. With the ability to communicate across previous gaps in geography, language and access, companies now have a new arena to conduct business. It’s a place that’s relevant, adaptive and facilitates the formation of new profitable relationships,” says Paul Mabray CEO of VinTank, a tenant in one of The Wiseman Company’s buildings who understands first hand the idea of community. A “think tank” for the wine industry, they have hosted events in their Wiseman office in Napa where fellow tenants and outside interested professionals can come to network, taste wine, brainstorm and relax.

“The Wiseman Company has created a unique business community by interconnecting 1,500 professional men and women and over 100 businesses that work and office in Wiseman buildings. Ranging from gourmet cupcake purveyors to regional law firms, these companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to pitch their products and services and to interact with the members of the Wiseman Community,” says Doyle.

“This is just the beginning. As we continue to grow this community, we are focusing on companies that will provide and receive synergistic benefits. Just as two heads are better than one, image an entire community of them. Through this we are dedicated to bolstering the success of our community as a whole.”


University of California, Davis
October 21, 2009


Intent on helping the world's poorest people break out of a persistent cycle of poverty by producing and marketing high-value crops, the U.S. Agency for International Development has selected the University of California, Davis, to lead a new $15 million, five-year global Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program.

The new program will select and support U.S. and international partners as they undertake research, training, curriculum-development and outreach activities in the neediest countries, most located in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and Latin America.

The collaborative research effort will be responsible for developing and leading a broad range of activities that demonstrate how horticulture can help reduce hunger and malnutrition, and raise the incomes of the rural poor.

"This is not an easy task," said Jim Hill, associate dean of International Programs in UC Davis' College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "In seizing this opportunity we are committing ourselves to making sure that the rural poor have access to appropriate technology, markets, resources, training and supportive government policies.

"We are excited about the opportunity that USAID has provided," Hill said. "Our focus now is on jump-starting the program so that we can fund research and implementation projects in the near future."

The new program will be housed in the college's Department of Plant Sciences under the leadership of Professor emeritus Ron Voss, a recognized vegetable and small-farm extension specialist.

There are eight other existing USAID Collaborative Research Support Programs around the nation, including a global livestock program led by UC Davis. Like the older programs, the new horticulture program will provide funding to foster collaboration among U.S. land-grant colleges and universities and institutions in developing countries.

(Land-grant institutions, including the University of California, were designated in the mid-1800s by the federal government to focus on teaching agriculture, science and engineering.)

The newly created horticulture program will address priorities that were identified in the USAID-sponsored Global Horticulture Assessment, conducted and written in 2004-2005 by a team of international horticultural and development experts led by Patrick Brown, a UC Davis plant science professor.

Voss noted that in the developing world, women provide as much as 90 percent of the labor for production of horticultural crops, yet often have limited access to resources, receive lower wages and have less stable jobs than men. Gender equity will, therefore, be one of the overarching themes of the new horticulture program. Other areas of emphasis will be innovative technologies and information accessibility.

Research topics will include improving germplasm or plant genetic material; local plant varieties; and sustainable production methods in horticultural crops that will ensure success in the marketplace.
Because as much as 40 percent of the food grown in the target countries never reaches the table, there will be a special focus on reducing postharvest losses. Training aimed at decreasing the incidence of food-borne illnesses also will be provided.

Other key priorities will include developing and strengthening private-sector relationships, particularly related to markets and marketing, as well as improving local support for horticultural producers through short- and long-term student and professional training.

The results of research projects funded by the new horticulture program will be made available through a readily accessible database of information and training tools. All research projects in the program will include outreach and evaluation components to provide farmers, horticulturists, marketers and consumers in the developing world with the tools they need to improve their horticultural crop production, as well as their livelihoods, nutrition and health.

"Those improvements will translate into enhanced nutrition and human health, as well as improved social and economic conditions, for poor
-- mostly rural -- communities, and especially for women in those communities" Voss said.

"By harnessing the research, training and outreach expertise of the land-grant universities in the U.S. to work with local developing country partners, we are confident that we can improve their knowledge generation and horticultural capabilities in much the same way that the land-grant system helped to revolutionize American agriculture," he added.

Media contact(s):
* Jim Hill, International Programs, (530) 754-9600,
* Ron Voss, Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program ,
(530) 754-0275,
* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,

Monday, October 19, 2009

From Davis fields to Dixon plant, Campbell's product is local

From Davis fields to Dixon plant, Campbell's product is local
By Jonathan Edwards | McNaughton Newspapers | October 16, 2009 23:24

DAVIS - If Campbell's Soup had to pick one of the 3,141 counties in the country most important to making its iconic Tomato Soup, it probably would choose Camden County in New Jersey, where the soup was born more than a century ago.

Yolo County, however, would be a close second -- maybe even No. 1 -- because it plays a key role in nearly every step of production from seed to spoon, as the Campbell's folks like to say. Here in Yolo (and its borderlands), researchers invent the tomato seeds; farmers grow the crop; factory workers process the tomatoes, ship the paste and label the can; and people eat the soup.

Davis is of particular importance. The processing, or canning, tomato -- churned by processors such as Campbell's into tomato paste, which is then used to make everything from pizza sauce to salsa -- got a new life mid-century, when UC Davis plant breeders invented a variety that could stand up to mechanical harvesting.

Before that breakthrough, farmworkers walked the rows, hand-picking tomatoes multiple times as the fruit ripened over what might be a 30-day season. The advent of the super tomato -- dubbed VF145 -- cut the time down to one day by condensing the window that tomatoes in any given field would ripen. As they ripened together, a mechanical harvester could pass through in a single day and harvest everything at once.

The invention revolutionized the industry, said Gene Miyao, vegetable crops adviser for the Yolo County UC Cooperative Extension program. Before the mechanically harvested canning tomato came out of UCD, California was a major player in processing tomatoes, Miyao said. Today, it still dominates the nation's canning tomato industry with 90 percent of the market share.

'California became the real leader,' said Miyao, who is known as 'Mr. Tomato.'

A decade before mechanical harvesting got going, Campbell's already had decided to make California's Central Valley, not New Jersey, ground zero of its tomato farming operations.

So, in 1948, Campbell's built its Agricultural Research Center on County Road 104, just south of present-day city limits. Sixty years later, it's still there, its workers trying to create the perfect seed to make the perfect tomatoes for the perfect paste that will make the perfect soup.

Campbell's is more than a soup, however. It's an idea, an icon made famous by Andy Warhol's pop art, by longevity and by 112 years of eating and advertising. People see Campbell's and they think childhood; they think their children; they think 'M'm M'm good!'

Which is good for Yolo County, whose cash crop -- processing tomatoes -- brought the county $105 million last year.

But that figure is just for the raw crop; an entire industry orbits the canning tomatoes.

'Those tomato growers are doing business with the fertilizer company and the tractor supply companies,' said Tim Gruenwald, director of agriculture for Campbell's. 'And we're doing extensive business with transportation networks and local warehousing facilities.'

By buying tomatoes, Campbell's pumps $70 million to $80 million into the Sacramento Valley, Gruenwald said. That, he added, 'has a huge trickle-down effect on the local economy.'

Inventing seeds

The Agricultural Research Center seems almost an accident, tucked away on a two-lane road south to nowhere. But it's been there the better part of a century, sitting at the front end of a years-long process to make the perfect soup tomato.

It starts not with seeds, but with 80 million tomato flowers each year; flowers that workers hand-pollinate, crossbreeding and crossbreeding and crossbreeding to find a super tomato that can, among other things, tough it out in the bottom of a big rig, fight insects and mold, balance a soup with a high fruit-to-juice ratio, and taste great.

Pollinated flowers yield 300 to 500 new tomato breeds. Campbell's ultimately picks one -- maybe two -- to test in the field. The variety known as 'CXT55' made the cut because it produced high yields while weathering wet, sunny field conditions for long periods of time without rotting. CXT55 also packed high solids for processors, which makes the best paste.

But an untested lab seed doesn't go straight to the field, or even to commercial-scale production in a greenhouse. The new variety must prove itself in real-life conditions -- small plots carved out and surrounded by farmland. There are a number of trials going on in Yolo County right now, Gruenwald said.

The hopeful seed must hurdle one last test. Looking at data, researchers at the center team up with Gruenwald to yay or nay distribution to Campbell's farmers.

If the seed gets the OK, Campbell's starts handing it out around mid-December. Some go to farmers to plant directly. The vast majority, about 80 percent, make a preliminary stop at a greenhouse, which uses the seeds to start growing tomato plants. Farmers then move these 'transplants' out to fields and stick them in the ground. The two-step process, Gruenwald said, saves money and reduces the amount of pesticides required to kill weeds.

Growing tomatoes

Not all transplants go out to the field at once. Campbell's, like processors around California, contracts with different growers to harvest crops at different times. Because a cannery can handle only so many tomatoes at one time, processors stagger plantings -- some as early as February, others as late as May -- so they can keep a steady, but not overwhelming, crop flowing to their plants.

'It's an orchestration,' Gruenwald said.

Aug. 19 was the magic day for Tom Galindo and his 140-acre field just south of Davis, less than a mile from the Campbell's R&D center. He farms about 1,000 acres of tomatoes for Campbell's, with whom he's worked 30-plus years.

Over the chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk whirring of the harvester, which lifted and lobbed tomatoes into a tractor-trailer at its heel, Galindo talked about harvest like he's taking his team to the postseason.

'This is our business time of year,' he shouted over the harvester. 'This is what it's all about. You work all year to get to this point.'

Later, Manuel Estrada, a farm laborer for Galindo, stood guard on the harvester, looking for rejects as tomatoes zipped by.

'Any dirt, moldy tomatoes,' Galindo explained, 'we don't want.'

Getting the tomatoes off the ground and up to Estrada is easier than ever because of crossbreeding, said David Viguie, who, like Galindo, farms about 1,000 acres for Campbell's. To demonstrate, Viguie pulled off a tangle of vines. He held the mass up and let it drop slightly before yanking upward.

Dozens of red, ripe tomatoes fell to the earth. That, Viguie concluded, makes harvesting easy, and it's all the result of creating seeds like CXT55.

Campbell's created a breed where 95 percent to 100 percent of the tomatoes in any given field ripen simultaneously. And when they do, they fall off the vine.

'We expect a lot out of these tomatoes,' Gruenwald said. ' (They're) tough.'

Processing tomatoes

That means they can withstand the 8-mile jaunt to Campbell's cannery in Dixon. After catching the tomato rain dropped by Galindo's harvester, a Valley Farm Transport tractor-trailer pulled off a dirt road and turned south on County Road 104.

Two miles later, the truck took a right turn onto Tremont Road, where it passed tomato and safflower fields. Six miles later it hit Sparling Lane in Dixon, a frontage road running parallel to Interstate 80. Other tomato trucks whizzed by. Then, hauling its 25-ton load, the big rig pulled into Campbell's processing plant.

A water gun attacked, hitting tomatoes and pushing them off the truck and into a steel chute.

The Dixon cannery combines Willy Wonka's chocolate factory with the board game Mouse Trap. Inside and out, a maze of chutes, pipes, tubes, tumblers and conveyor belts moved tomatoes, their juice and tomato paste from one end of the 13,000-square-foot complex to the next.

Tomatoes flowed down steel rivers and dropped out of sight, crept up conveyor belts, dancing and jiggling, and were picked up and dropped by a tireless wheel of buckets. Anonymous workers in white sanitary caps hovered, spotting and pulling rejects.

And then there was the noise. Things whirred; things dinged -- something bonked. And over everything the constant hissing roar dominated the building like one endless jet takeoff.

The whole process is designed to take a tomato off the truck, wash it a couple of times, remove the seeds and peel and mash it into juice. In between, a tomato goes through 'hot break,' where heat fixes the amount of tomato's pectin, which determines how thick the resultant tomato paste will be. When a product like Prego pasta sauce calls for a richer, heartier sauce, the paste needs more pectin. On the other hand, the small amount of pectin in V8 juice thins it out into a drink.

Then Campbell's reduces the juice over low heat to turn it into paste. After a $23 million renovation last winter, the Dixon plant boosted the amount of tomatoes it can handle by 15 percent. At the height of the season, the plant now receives 240 to 270 truckloads a day, or between 12 million and 13.5 million pounds. In a 90-day season, that's as much as 1.2 billion pounds.

Those tomatoes make between 76 million and 86 million pounds of tomato paste each year, which huge filler hoses squirt into 55-gallon drums or 300-gallon bins. The containers get sealed, loaded on to trains and trucks and shipped across the country.

Making soup

After the paste leaves processing plants like the one in Dixon, Campbell's ships it to 'thermal manufacturing locations' throughout the United States and Canada, including one in Sacramento. There, workers and machines transform the paste into, among other things, tomato soup. They can the soup, striping it with the label made famous by Warhol and recognizable to the 25 million people that, according to company numbers, buy Campbell's tomato soup regularly.

Some paste goes to Tom Helsel, Campbell's senior research chef in Camden, N.J.

Helsel and his team use it to create new soups. His biggest project in the last couple years, however, has been making the old new, while, at the same time, trying to keep it old. Campbell's wanted to make a healthier tomato soup by reducing salt by 32 percent. But -- and this is key, Helsel said -- Campbell's didn't want to change the taste.

So Campbell's trucked in sea salts from around the world -- from the Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean and Himalayas -- hoping one would add flavor while decreasing sodium. Some, Helsel explained were too chalky, too metallic or left too strong an aftertaste. He eventually found one he liked -- whose origin is a secret. Despite making healthier soup, Campbell's is keeping the change quiet.

'You can't change what has become an icon,' Helsel said, 'because no one's banging on the door saying, 'You've got to change this.' '

Eating soup

By the time Sharon Cain went to the South Davis Safeway to pick up a half-dozen cans of Campbell's tomato soup in late September, the low-sodium version already was on the shelf.

She hadn't noticed a change in taste; she's still a big fan. Over the years, she's found Campbell's tomato soup versatile. Throw it over some meat loaf to moisten it up, or toss some fresh vegetables into the soup to give it some texture.

It's practical, sure, but it also brings back the snowy Saturday mornings of her Midwest childhood. After a hard couple of hours sledding down the rolling hills in Ohio, she would be called inside by her mom, Cain said, smiling, staring back decades.

A warm, steaming bowl of tomato soup was waiting. 'It's homey; it's comforting; it's really good,' Cain said. 'It just makes you feel warm inside.'

Reach Jonathan Edwards at or (530) 747-8052.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sale of Shuttered Community/Aquatic Center Goes to Suisun City Council

Suisun City News

Sale of Shuttered Community/Aquatic Center Goes to City Council
Posted: 15 Oct 2009 08:05 PM PDT


SUISUN CITY — The Suisun City Council will consider on Tuesday selling the shuttered Community/Aquatic Center next to Hall Park to The Salvation Army, which is committed to upgrading and reopening the facility for a broad range of community services.

Once the agreement is approved by both parties, The Salvation Army will lay out its timeline for renovations and a Grand Re-Opening. The Salvation Army Board of Directors (Western Territory) approved the agreement on Monday, October 12, 2009.

“It is absolutely tremendous to return this essential asset to the Suisun City community, particularly during a time when community services are needed more than ever,” said City Manager Suzanne Bragdon. “The Salvation Army brings the experience, focus, dedication and resources to make this an extremely successful operation.”

The City Council will consider selling the entire facility, including the gymnasium, offices, community rooms, workout space, locker rooms and swimming pool, to The Salvation Army for $3 million. Because improvements to the facility would be funded through donations, The Salvation Army requested to purchase the facility rather than operate the City-owned facility.
Approval of this project by The Salvation Army is a testament to the opportunity this Community/Aquatic Center presents.

“In spite of current economic challenges, The Salvation Army believes that the residents of Suisun City and its surrounding communities are sufficiently committed to the health, fitness and future of their families,” said Major Douglas F. Riley, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army’s Del Oro Division. “We are looking forward to working together and making this a positive outcome for all.”

City of Fairfield post office to stay put for now

Fairfield post office to stay put for now
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | October 15, 2009

FAIRFIELD - Despite Fairfield's hopes for a bigger post office, the local branch will likely stay put at 600 Kentucky St. at least through March 2016.

Solano County owns the property and is the U.S. Postal Service's landlord. County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a new lease.

Fairfield had hoped the post office would move to a bigger building when its existing lease expires in March 2011. Now March 2016 is the new target date.

'We had great hopes for being able to move it,' Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said Thursday. 'It's just not going to happen, given this market. But that doesn't mean we'll give up on our concerted efforts to convince them the need exists.'

Price wants a big enough post office so letters mailed in Fairfield don't have to get routed through Oakland, even if the recipient is in Fairfield.

'It's very frustrating, for businesses especially,' Price said.

The U.S. Postal Service will initially pay the county $253,953 annually under the new lease, with the amount increasing 3 percent annually. That's slightly less than the rent called for under the present lease, but county officials noted the real estate market has declined. A county report called the deal 'the most beneficial terms for the county that the United States Postal Service is willing to accept.'

Fairfield built the Kentucky Street building in 1981 for $1.1 million so it could rent the property to the Postal Service. The post office had previously been located across the street for 20 years in a building about half the size. Fairfield had 58,000 residents at the time and wanted a bigger post office.

Almost 30 years later, Fairfield has about 104,000 residents and again wants a bigger post office. At one point, it tried to convince the U.S. Postal Service to move onto the old Fairfield Bowl property. It sold the Kentucky Street building to Solano County in 2006 for $1.8 million.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Architect hired to restore old Solano County courthouse

Architect hired to restore old county courthouse
By Jess Sullivan | Daily Republic | October 15, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - The effort to restore the shuttered old courthouse in downtown Fairfield has received a major boost.

The state has hired an architect to spearhead the $26.9 million project, according to a press release issued Thursday by the state's Administrative Office of the Courts. The San Francisco-based architecture firm of Hornberger & Worstell will take on the project, which ranked as an 'immediate need' in the judicial branch's budget.

The 1911 building on Texas Street at Union Avenue served as a functioning courthouse until the 1970s when the county administration and other offices took it over. It has been vacant since 2005 when county staff moved to the new government center across the street.

'This project is not only critically needed by our court, but it will also be an important addition to Fairfield's civic community and an infrastructure effort that will provide economic benefits for years to come.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Tax credit, low interest rates spur home sales

Tax credit, low interest rates spur home sales
Carolyn Said, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

(10-15) 12:13 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A home-buyer tax credit and low interest rates helped spur a modest increase in Bay Area home sales in September, according to a real estate report released Thursday.

At the same time, the median price edged up, with fewer bargain-priced foreclosures to drag it down and more high-end home sales to buoy it.

A total of 7,879 new and resale houses and condos changed hands in the nine-county Bay Area last month, up 8.4 percent from September 2008, according to MDA DataQuick, a San Diego real estate research firm. Existing-home sales stood at 5,705, up 4.7 percent from last year.

The median price paid for an existing single-family home was $380,000 last month, down 5 percent from $400,000 in September 2008 and a notch above $375,000 in August.

Although home sales usually drop after the summer, the new and resale total was up 4.8 percent compared with August. Real estate experts said first-time buyers' eagerness to take advantage of an $8,000 tax credit due to expire Nov. 30 fueled some of the increase.

"That's caused a last-minute frenzied panic-buying mode in people's minds," said Doug Sager, a Realtor with ZipRealty in the East Bay.

The real estate industry would like nothing more than to see the tax credit continue. On Thursday, the Senate floated a proposal to expand the tax credit to all buyers, not just first-timers, and to extend it until June 30.

While the market shows some signs of stability, another foreclosure deluge could easily swamp it, experts said. Revisions to option adjustable-rate mortgages and growing delinquencies as unemployment spreads could unleash new rounds of bank repossessions.

"What will be key is how many more foreclosures we see and the timing of when they hit the market," said Andrew LePage, a DataQuick analyst. "We're still climbing our way out of a deep recession."

He and others said the market continues to diverge depending on prices. Low-end homes - most of them foreclosures - spur multiple offers from investors and first-time buyers, and sell for more than the asking price.

See the complete story at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Waste Connections expands renewable-energy operations

Waste Connections expands renewable-energy operations
Sacramento Business Journal
by Melanie Turner Staff writer
October 13, 2009

Waste Connections Inc. has entered into an agreement to expand its gas-to-energy operations at the Potrero Hills Landfill in Suisun City, the company announced Tuesday.

Under a 25-year agreement with DTE Biomass Energy of Ann Arbor, Mich., a subsidiary of DTE Energy (NYSE: DTE), Waste Connections will convert landfill gas into renewable electric power, enough to power about 7,000 homes.

“We currently have 17 renewable energy projects either operating or in development that are expected to produce almost 40 megawatts of power and 10,000 cubic feet per minute of pipeline quality gas,” said Jim Little, Waste Connections’ senior vice president, engineering and disposal. “We also have more than 15 additional landfills that either qualify, or could qualify, for carbon emission credits and potentially be developed into future renewable energy projects.”

Waste Connections (NYSE: WCN) of Folsom last spring agreed to buy the Potrero Hills Landfill from Republic Services Inc. (NYSE: RSG). The companies did not disclose terms of the deal, which closed in April.

Waste Connections serves about 1.8 million customers in 23 states.

Deal to turn methane into watts

Deal to turn methane into watts
By Danny Bernardini
Posted: 10/13/2009

Garbage trucks from Solano and San Mateo counties dump their loads at the Potrero Hills Landfill in Suisun in September. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

The folks at Potrero Hills Landfill have signed an agreement to turn waste into watts.

After signing a 25-year contract with DTE Biomass Energy, Waste Connections Inc. on Monday announced it would eventually start converting methane gas into electricity that will power about 7,000 homes per year.

It isn't known exactly how long it will take to get the operation up and running, but the Suisun City landfill should be producing energy in two or three years, said Worthing Jackman, chief financial officer for Waste Connections.

He said the effort falls right in line with California's goal of becoming a leader in renewable energy. He said it also helps the landfill, which is responsible for getting rid of the methane gas one way or another.

Waste Connections operates 17 renewable energy projects across the country.

"This is one of the avenues between wind and solar," Jackman said. "You do it anyway because it makes sense. Clearly it's a more established business lately."

Most of the details, above harvesting the gasses, will be handled by DTE and it is believed the energy would ultimately be generated by turbines. Those turbines would be fueled by the collected gas, which is now burned off as waste, said Steve Bouck, president of Waste Connections.

Bouck explained the process as beginning with sinking wells into the trash heaps. That can only be done at locations that have had trash stored there for a significant amount of time so enough methane is produced. Damp conditions also increase the amount of gas created.

The gas is then piped upward into headers, before being forwarded on to mechanisms provided by DTE. It goes through chemical processes before being condensed enough to ignite and power the turbines, which charge a generator.

"You're mining it out of the landfill. There is a series of steps it goes through to make it a fuel," Bouck said.

DTE will make a deal with power companies to transmit the electricity, completing the transition. "They will be responsible for getting that into the grid," said Bouck.

DTE, with headquarters in Michigan, has been in the landfill energy business since 1988, operating 25 sites in 14 states.

Using the methane to create electricity is a responsible thing to do, Bouck said, explaining that the methane gas has to be disposed of anyway, before it leaks into the environment. The normal method, he said, is to burn it in a process called "flaring."

"Methane was actually a problem, it would leak off site. It was an issue," he said. "Initially people collected it to flare it. Now you have a wonderful energy source you are flaring."

Monday, October 12, 2009

New 102-room hotel opens in Suisun City

New 102-room hotel opens in Suisun City
Published By Times Herald
Posted: 10/12/2009

SUISUN CITY -- The new 102-room Hampton Inn & Suites Suisun City Waterfront Hotel has opened at 2 Harbor Center Drive.

The hotel is part of the Hilton family of hotels. It was deverloped for Basin Street Hospitality, a division of Basin Street Properties, a commercial and mixed-use property investment firm in Northern California and Northern Nevada.

A full list of amenities at the new hotel can be found online at

Outside funds to pay for Benicia bridge

Outside funds to pay for Benicia bridge
By Tony Burchyns
Posted: 10/12/2009

BENICIA -- The city may build a much-needed foot and bike bridge over Interstate 780 without spending a dime of local money, officials say.

That's because Benicia received more federal money for the proposed project last month, covering $62,000 that would have had to come from city funds, acting city engineer Mike Roberts said.

That means the entire $3.3 million bridge is expected to be paid for by outside sources.

"It's great news," Roberts said. "I've been doing this work for more than 20 years and I haven't seen a project of this magnitude that hasn't cost a local agency any funds."

With City Council approval expected later this month, the project could be completed by November 2010, Roberts said.

The project aims to solve a decades-old problem -- the lack of a safe freeway crossing in east Benicia for children and adults on foot and bikes. Southampton residents also would benefit from direct access to the Benicia State Recreation Area.

The bridge would be more than three football fields in length -- about 1,000 feet -- with a 12-foot-wide multipurpose path. It would connect Rose Drive north of I-780 to the state park's existing trail network.

The crossing would be located next to theRose Drive overpass, where there is no sidewalk.

"Not only will it connect north and south Benicia, but it is regionally significant because it will eliminate the gap in the (Bay Area) Ridge Trail and the Bay Trail Project," Roberts added.

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

Rio Vista festival all about the bass

Rio Vista festival all about the bass
By Talia Sampson | Daily Republic | October 12, 2009

RIO VISTA - As wind stirred the current and gently rocked the dock near Main Street, Theron Hylton, 14, calmly watched his fishing line for any sign of a bite Sunday.

'Fishing is my life because it's the best thing in the world and if I had no school, it's all I would do,' Theron said.

Theron, of Stockton, joined almost 1,000 fishermen of all ages competing in the 62nd Annual Rio Vista Bass Derby.

The derby is a three-day fishing competition with catfish and striped bass fishing competitions for children 15 and under and striped bass fishing and sturgeon fishing competitions for adults.

Fairfield resident Twan Nguyen won the $2,000 grand prize for his 33-inch, 14.18-pound striped bass.

Nguyen said the secret to his success was that he was 'just in the right place at the right time.'

Stockton resident Paul Koval won the $1,000 grand prize for his 58-inch, 53.85-pound sturgeon.

Koval is the pastor for Springs Christian Fellowship in Stockton, but played hooky Sunday to compete.

'This whole thing is totally cool,' Koval said. 'I'm going to have to come back next year to defend my title.'

He said he was drawn to the competition because he had only recently taken up fishing for sturgeon and was encouraged by friends and family to give it a shot. He attributes his success to the advice he received from local bait shops and the Isleton/Delta Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association, one of the event's sponsors.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.

Work on Sunset begins this week

Work on Sunset begins this week
By Reporter Staff
Posted: 10/11/2009

A $700,000 project to rehabilitate Sunset Avenue from Highway 12 to Railroad Avenue in Suisun City will begin Tuesday morning.

The work, conducted by Ghilotti Construction Co., under contract with the city, will be coordinated to ensure at least one lane in each direction is open for traffic at all times, and to minimize effects on local businesses and residents.

During the day, from about 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., crews will conduct work that is anticipated to have little impact on traffic, including:

* Removing and replacing accessibility ramps at corners and related sidewalk improvements.

* Grinding street surfaces in preparation for repaving.

* Removing concrete sidewalks at Merganser Drive and Sunset Avenue.

* Repairing road base failures.

At night, from about 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., crews will do most of the actual repaving that is expected to cause temporary closures of shopping center driveways and other accesses. Indirect access to the Sunset and Heritage Park shopping centers will be maintained at all times.

Weather conditions may require some paving to be performed during the day. Motorists are encouraged to pay attention to signs in the construction zone and follow workers' instructions. If possible, use alternate routes to avoid the construction zone.

The Sunset Avenue Rehabilitation Project is expected to take approximately nine weeks to complete, depending on the weather.

The project will result in a new road surface for the entire length of Sunset Avenue through Suisun City. Earlier this year, the Public Works Department reconstructed the Sunset and Railroad avenue intersection, which widened the roadway, added sidewalks and bike lanes, and significantly upgraded vehicle and pedestrian safety at the Union Pacific Railroad crossing.

The Sunset Avenue Rehabilitation Project is funded by a federal stimulus grant provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was designed to preserve jobs, spur economic activity and invest in long-term economic growth.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kaiser's ER welcomes first patients

Kaiser's ER welcomes first patients
By Kimberly K. Fu
Posted: 10/07/2009

Vacaville resident Susan Lyons (left) rests Tuesday inside the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center as Don Holman, R.N. (center) and Stanley James review her electronic medical record. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)

As Solano residents rubbed the sleep from their eyes on Tuesday morning, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Vacaville opened the doors to its brand-new emergency care facility and welcomed its first patient, albeit a bit early.

Officially slated to open at 8:30 a.m., the emergency center instead began operations at 8:06 a.m., when staff saw a young man waiting outside.

"We didn't want to tell him, hey, you have to wait 24 minutes," Kaiser spokeswoman Joanie Erickson joked.

No doubt the 18-year-old patient was grateful. He was ushered in and treated for a condition described as "not serious."

In fact, of the 17 patients received by 3 p.m., none were considered acute cases. A good thing all around, though officials noted that the state-of-the-art facility stands at the ready for anything that comes its way. At least three doctors and around 15 staff members were on duty, according to Linda Goble, the emergency room director.

An afternoon visit to the emergency room revealed a relatively calm atmosphere, unlike the stereotypical chaotic scenes usually shown on late-night television. A handful of people sat quietly in the airy, cheerfully-painted waiting rooms; doctors, nurses and other staff bustled through long hallways tending to patient needs; and patients, themselves, nestled in cozy rooms either awaiting or recovering from treatment.

Susan Lyons of Vacaville reclined in her hospital room around 3:10 p.m., watching the activity outside her room and responding to questions posed by various staff members who frequently checked in on her.

Early that morning, the 41-year-old had come in due to a shortness of breath. She later left to go to work, then returned when her condition didn't lessen.

Having just signed up with Kaiser in March, Lyons said the service she's received thus far has been excellent. Used to going as far as Richmond for treatment, she described the Vacaville location as more convenient, especially in cases of emergency.

"I'm very thankful that this is here," she said. "It's been great. Everyone's been really nice and informative. ... I'm impressed."

No stranger to hospitals, Lyons said that seemingly small details -- from a friendly smile to a "how are you doing" -- can make a hospital stay better.

"The staff is so great," she added. "It makes a big difference."

Leisa Johnson of Suisun agreed.

"The nurses were all very attentive," she recalled. "This was just a different pace."

Seeking help for chest pains, Johnson checked in at 12:30 and was undergoing testing. Her husband, Harold, said his wife was a little anxious and tired, likely due to a lack of sleep.

"We have 24-hour jobs," he said, explaining that the couple has eight children.

Usually, the two seek care at Kaiser's Vallejo facility.

"This is just convenient for us because it's closer," he said. "It's no knock on Vallejo -- we've gotten good service there."

"We've had two children there," his wife added.

Kaiser officials said the feedback thus far, mostly gleaned from Saturday's open house, has been positive.

"I got a lot of, 'It's been a long time coming,' '' ER director Linda Goble said.

Chris Brazil moves a portable electronic medical record station to a patient's room inside the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Vacaville. (Rick Roach / The Reporter)