Wednesday, December 15, 2010

American Canyon's downtown dream assisted by incorporation of 300 acres

American Canyon's downtown dream assisted by incorporation of 300 acres

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen / Times-Herald

Posted: 12/10/2010 05:08:58 AM PST:

The old Basalt mine property in American Canyon is set to be developed as the city's new downtown after Napa County's Local Agency Formation Commission OK'd its annexation. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

AMERICAN CANYON -- After more than a decade of efforts, this city's vision for a downtown came a step closer to reality this week as the project's proposed site annexation was approved.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, which grants annexation rights, on Monday OK'd American Canyon's request to incorporate some 300 acres of unincorporated Napa County. On it will be built the city's long-awaited Town Center, Mayor Leon Garcia said.

"We've been working on this for a very long time and this is a great accomplishment for American Canyon," Garcia said. "Something like downtown Healdsburg is what's been envisioned -- a mixed use complex with retail, residential, a park... a downtown sense of place for American Canyon."

Part of the residential component will satisfy Napa County's affordable housing obligation, Garcia said.

"This takes the pressure off up-county farmland and vineyards for development," Community Development Director Brent Cooper said. "And there are many benefits to the city."

One such benefit will be the extension of certain streets and bike trails, he said.

Located behind the Napa Junction Apartments on the city's east side, the old basalt cement plant ruins are where developer McGrath Properties is now gearing up to create a downtown for the city, Garcia said.

During Tuesday's City Council meeting where the annexation approval was announced, McGrath spokeswoman Deborah Castles thanked the council and city staff for its hard work thus far.

"We're looking forward to having something wonderful happen on that property," she said.

Though a long process still looms, discussions between city staff and McGrath officials should start soon. In those, details will begin to be ironed out, Garcia and Cooper said.

"The application will likely come to us later on this spring and then there will be a public process to review the plan," Cooper said. "We'll make sure it's consistent with our General Plan and meets the community's goals."

A completion date is still a long way off, both men said.

"I have no idea when it will be complete," Garcia said. "It all depends on what the economy does."

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

Vacaville's Travis Credit Union buys Concord's Metro 1

Vacaville's Travis Credit Union buys Concord's Metro 1

By George Avalos / Contra Costa Times

posted: 12/10/2010 05:09:23 AM PST

Travis Credit Union, a $1.6 billion financial firm, has struck a deal to broaden its footprint in the East Bay by acquiring Concord-based Metro 1 Credit Union, the companies said Thursday.

Vacaville-based Travis said the deal is part of its strategic quest to expand its reach in Northern California and the Central Valley.

"We're excited about this," said Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, president of Travis Credit Union. "This is a great strategic partnership. We're very pleased about it."

Metro 1, founded in 1949, has 49 employees and is a far smaller company than the 450-employee Travis. That credit union was founded in 1951 primarily to serve military and civilian employees associated with Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

"This is going to really benefit our members, which is the bottom line,"

said Tina Fields, president of Metro 1. "Our members will have access to many more branches."

Travis has 19 branches, including outlets in Vacaville, Fairfield, Dixon and six other cities.

Metro 1's five branches are in Antioch, Benicia, Concord, Richmond and Oakley.

"Our members will be able to get better rates on their deposits, better rates on loans, and Travis has been able to cut a lot of fees," Fields said.

At the end of September, Travis had $1.42 billion in deposits and $1.6 billion in total assets, according to a regulatory filing. In that same time period, Metro 1, formally known as First Metropolitan Credit Union, had

$169.4 million in deposits and $177.4 million in assets.

Travis Credit Union was identified as the ideal merger partner because it shares our focus on quality member service, offers multiple regional locations to serve our members, and has a long and proven history of financial stability," Fields said.

In addition, Travis is obtaining a Metro 1 firm that has been losing money for some time.

Metro 1 lost $500,000 in its third quarter of 2010, lost $2.3 million in its second quarter and suffered $600,000 in red ink during the first quarter.

For all of 2009, Metro 1 lost $4.6 million, the credit union's regulatory filings show.

"Metro 1 in its marketplace had heavier amounts of real estate problems and they sustained heavier losses than other credit unions," said Diana Dykstra, chief executive officer of the California Credit Union League. "They were really stuck in a bad area and got hit harder than most others."

Earlier this year, Fields confirmed that Metro 1 was looking for a merger partner.

"This was very proactive on the part of Metro 1," Dykstra said. "They knew their capital levels were slipping, and they were having difficulty turning things around. They sought out a merger partner rather than have the regulators come in and shut them down."

Nationwide, the number of credit unions has shriveled steadily over the decades and in recent years.

In the 1970s, the nation had 22,000 credit unions, Dykstra said. In 2005, the number had dropped to 9,200. Today, the number is closer to 7,500.

"When you have a mature industry or marketplace, consolidations are part of the natural scheme of things," she said.

The deal is expected to close by April. The two credit unions will combine their financial statements effective at the end of December.

It's possible that the deal could lead to job cuts. For example, Metro 1 and Travis have branches across the street in Concord on Willow Pass Road. And Metro 1 had laid off 11 employees earlier this year, Fields said.

"Travis has some openings as well. We are encouraging them to apply with Travis." Van Ouwerkerk said. "Our goal is to keep as many of the Metro 1 employees as we can. But we also really need to make sure we are operating efficiently after the merger."

The expansion efforts by Travis could produce more acquisitions.

"Certainly in the future, we are interested in expanding in the Central Valley, in Alameda County and in Solano County," Van Ouwerkerk said.

"Mergers are part of our growth strategy."

Funding for Lynch Canyon environmental studies OK'

Funding for Lynch Canyon environmental studies OK'd

By Tony Burchyns / Times-Herald

Posted: 12/14/2010 01:01:19 AM PST

A 13-acre reservoir north of Vallejo that supports a downstream ecosystem and stores water for cattle grazing is one step closer to being restored, open space and Solano County officials said Monday.

Funding for the Lynch Canyon environmental studies was approved last week, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

The project centers on restoring Lynch Creek's north fork, including maintaining the reservoir's aging dam. The reservoir supports 3.5 acres of downstream wetlands considered important habitat for frogs, birds and other animals. The area also is enjoyed by bird watchers and hikers on public access days.

"It's a big deal to us because it allows for planning to improve the wetlands in the area and work on making the dam located at the reservoir more safe," Solano County Parks Services Manager Dan Sykes said.

The wetlands not only provide a home for indigenous species, but also protect downstream water quality by filtering runoff and preventing erosion.

This benefits the water quality of the Lynch Creek watershed, and ultimately Suisun Marsh, San Francisco Bay and downstream coastal areas, officials said.

The $35,477 grant is tied to 2005 legislation that in part provides funding for the six "outer continental shelf" oil and gas producing states to protect coastal areas. California has received $5.9 million for related projects since the start of the year.

The county will receive the money once the studies are completed, Sykes said, probably next summer or fall.

The next step will be to find funding for the actual restoration work.

Finishing the studies will help determine how much that phase will cost, Solano Land Trust Project Coordinator Sue Wickham said.

"This is just the next piece of the puzzle," Wickham said. "The studies will determine the regulatory requirements of the project."

The land trust owns the roughly 1,000-acre Lynch Canyon reserve, partnering with the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the county to operate it as a public park.

Wickham said private landowners who own half the reservoir are on board with the project, which may include improving eroded and aging access roads.

"It has to do with having the public at Lynch Canyon," Wickham said. "It took a long time, but we are very happy to get this money."

Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at tburchyns or

(707) 553-6831.

Dredging of Mare Island Strait needed by ship dismantler nearly complete

Dredging of Mare Island Strait needed by ship dismantler nearly complete

By Jessica A. York / Times-Herald

Posted: 12/14/2010 01:01:59 AM PST

The amount of built-up mud and silt recently pulled from in front of Mare Island's dry docks 2 and 3 could fill Vallejo's Corbus Field up about 112 feet high -- which would top an 11-story building.

The lion's share of dredging work needed to deepen Mare Island Strait in preparation for ship dismantling work has come to an end, leaving only cosmetic digging this week, said Cooper Crane and Rigging founder BK Cooper.

"The job went very well," Cooper said. "We worked around the clock ... there were really no anomalies or problems." He added that more "surgical"

dredging, with divers pulling up as much as 800 cubic yards more of mud, is needed around the dry docks' caisson doors so as not to damage external gate valves.

Cooper Crane and Rigging is located on Mare Island, much like the company in need of dredging work, Allied Defense Recycling. Since Nov. 22, between 140,000-150,000 cubic yards of submerged mud has been hauled by some 75 barges from the area, Cooper said.

"The water-based crane which did 99.9 percent of the work is done," Allied Defense Recycling business operations director Jay Anast said. "We're on schedule."

The company was given an extended period in which to dredge by local regulatory agencies. In order to protect local fish life, dredging is usually mandated to end by November, at the latest. Allied Defense Recycling has until Wednesday.

Anast said the company's next step is to get the former shipyard set up. The first of two obsolete federal Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet vessels, as part of a more than $3 million federal dismantling contract, is due for Mare Island delivery at the end of January.

Divers exploring the area around the dry dock doors are able to get a clear look at the mammoth dry docks' exterior "for the first time in years," Anast said. They have discovered blanks -- pieces of metal -- bolted down around exterior drains that will need to pried off, adding some extra preparation work, Anast said.

The doors and seals are protecting former naval inset docks, which ships can be floated into, then drained for contained ship work.

For more information on Allied Defense Recycling, also doing business as California Dry Dock Solutions, visit or call (707) 648-DOCK (3625).

VACAVILLE - What San Francisco is losing will be Vacaville's gain.

Workers' comp carrier announces Vacaville expansion plans

By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | December 13, 2010 16:08


e_insurance%20copy.jpgThe State Compensation Insurance Fund office in Vacaville is expected to receive 422 employees being transferred from the fund's San Francisco headquarters. Photo by Brad Zweerink

VACAVILLE - What San Francisco is losing will be Vacaville's gain.

The State Compensation Insurance Fund is sending 422 employees to its Vacaville facility in September 2011 as part of a reorganization to save money, reduce its real estate footprint and make it a more efficient insurer.

The Fund was established in 1914 and is the state's largest provider of workers' compensation insurance. It has always had its headquarters in San Francisco.

It is moving 755 jobs out of San Francisco with Vacaville getting the lion's share, while Pleasanton will get 293 jobs and Sacramento will get 40. The San Francisco location will keep 75 workers.

'In recent years, we have made strides in improving services, enhancing our customer focus, and making it easier to do business with us. Now we are taking several steps to achieve our goal of greater efficiency and long term operational stability,' State Fund President and CEO Tom Rowe said in a statement.

This news has pleased Vacaville leaders who said it is not much of a surprise.

'We are delighted. It is very good news for Vacaville and the county,' said Vacaville Economic Development Director Mike Palumbo.

Vacaville enticed the Fund to build a campus in Vacaville four years ago and it has built three of the five buildings it planned for the 32-acre campus located next to Genentech.

One of Vacaville's objectives in getting the Fund here was to establish Vacaville as a suitable location for these type of back-office jobs, Palumbo said.

'The more jobs we have, even if these people are not all local people, it helps the economy,' Palumbo said. 'In a sea of not very good news, this is good news.'

The Vacaville facility, which presently has 573 employees, will see 120 of its workers moved to Pleasanton early next summer, before the San Francisco workers come here.

Vacaville became the recipient for so many of the Fund's San Francisco employees 'because our salaries are much more in line with the cost of living in Vacaville than San Francisco,' according to Fund Communications Director Jennifer Vargan.

Once the moves are done, the Vacaville campus' three buildings will be full.

There are no plans for further expansion at this time, according to Vargan.

Just how many of these employees will commute to Vacaville or move to Vacaville is unknown. There is also the question of whether some of the jobs will be local hires.

Our employees are reviewing their options,' Vargan said.

During the next three years, the Fund will also consolidate its regional Claims and Underwriting offices into central locations in Eureka, Redding, Sacramento, Stockton, Pleasanton, Fresno, Bakersfield, Monterey Park, Riverside and Santa Ana.

'We're pleased for Solano County,' said Solano County Economic Development Corporation President Michael Ammann.

'This is not just moving to a lower-cost area. They have had a good experience in Vacaville,' Ammann said.

Ammann said he can also see this as an opportunity to talk to other firms in the back-office insurance business, showing them what prompted the Fund to move here.

'This gives us a run to go talk to similar folks,' Ammann said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Parker Road a 'hidden' gem in Fairfield

Parker Road a 'hidden' gem in Fairfield

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas | | December 10, 2010 19:27

Periodically, we visit the nooks and crannies of Fairfield in search of the unique and innovative. Many readers have probably never had reason to visit some of Fairfield's 'hidden' industrial and commercial areas.

This week, we are visiting a commercial area tucked away in the far northeastern corner of the city: Parker Road. Unless one is associated with Travis Air Force Base (admittedly a large population), many Fairfield residents have probably never visited Parker Road, which is a short, dead-end commercial street immediately west of the main gate on Air Base Parkway. Yet Parker Road is full of interesting restaurants, shops and services which attract far more than just Air Force personnel and contractors.

The first thing one notices when visiting Parker Road is that this corridor contains a mix of buildings representing decades of development. Travis Shopping Center, with its jaunty arrow sign, dates from the 1960s. Some of the older buildings may be a little tired or shabby-looking, but they are an interesting collection of structures that provide affordable space to newer and smaller business.

There has been some new investment as well. The building housing Subway and Fire Wok was completed in 2004. Other buildings were completed during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, contributing to the diversity in the corridor.

Parker Road's main role continues to be serving the Travis community. There are a broad range of services, including a self-storage facility, car and truck rental, auto parts, auto repair, towing, dry cleaners and several barber shops. Interestingly enough, there are three small taverns tucked away in corners of the older shopping centers. There is even an Elks Lodge.

The corridor's commercial zoning allows for this variety of land uses and businesses.

Tenants aren't limited to commercial users. The Word of Faith Christian Center occupies a former supermarket. In addition to the church, it operates a campus of the We 'R' Family Christian Academy for fourth, fifth and sixth grades. At the very end of Parker Road is the Air National Guard facility for Solano County.

Parker Road serves a large population from the base -- and beyond -- many of whom have served overseas where they developed a taste for exotic cuisines.

The corridor offers several taquerias, a Korean barbecue, an Asian market, Southern barbecue and fish, and Ohkura Sushi, a long-time favorite of the area.

We spoke briefly with John Liu, owner of Fire Wok Restaurant at 628 Parker Road. Fire Wok serves carefully prepared Chinese cuisine with an emphasis on healthy vegetables and fresh meat. Fire Wok features an open kitchen, so diners can watch as the chefs prepare their food. And Fire Wok offers the always-popular Mongolian barbecue, where you can put together your meal to suit your own tastes.

Liu noted that about 85 percent of his business is Travis Air Force Base personnel, with the biggest crowds appearing during weekday lunch hours.

When asked what could be done to make Parker Road more successful, particularly in becoming more visible to the broader community beyond Travis, Liu said that 'public investment and improvements, like those completed downtown, might attract new customers.' He wants people to recognize that Parker Road offers a broad range of restaurants and services that will be appealing to the broader community beyond Travis.

One interesting fact is that while Travis has been a developed commercial area since the 1940s, one 4-acre parcel remains vacant. With the existing commercial zoning, this parcel could support a variety of commercial, office and institutional uses.

Hopefully, this column will help get the word out about Parker Road.

Economic Notes is an update from Fairfield City Hall written by Brian Miller and Karl Dumas of the Fairfield Planning and Development Department. They can be contacted at 428-7461 or e-mail at or

Rio Vistan takes over sprint car series, moves office to Solano County

By Susan Winlow | Daily Republic | December 13, 2010 18:49


Cars%20copy.jpgDan Simpson, right, recently acquired the Golden State King of the West Sprint Car series and has relocated it to Rio Vista. Photo by Mike Greener

RIO VISTA - Deep in the Montezuma Hills -- surrounded by Percheron horses and wind turbines -- is a dirt race car track on a ranch owned by Dan Simpson.

It was originally built so Simpson, 67, and his daughter Danielle Simpson, 28, could get in some practice, first for the 360 sprint cars they raced a few years ago and then the more powerful 410s in the 25-year-old Golden State Challenge Sprint Car series. Danielle Simpson jumped into that series last year as a rookie -- knowing nothing, she said -- after having been out of racing for a few years.

'Not a clue,' she said, laughing. 'Fortunately Dad built the (practice) track . . . the first year (of the 410s) was a whole bunch of hard learning experiences.'

Father and daughter often competed side-by side at the various oval tracks affiliated with that series, which average a quarter-mile around.

'When you're 28 and come along as a rookie you're at a disadvantage,' Dan Simpson, 67, said of the sport where racers usually start as youngsters. 'I was a rookie at 62.

But this year it all has an entirely new meaning now that Dan Simpson has acquired the series with the goal of getting it back on its feet.

The head office moved to downtown Rio Vista recently and the series was renamed Golden State King of the West Sprint Car series.

Those who know Dan Simpson well aren't too surprised at any of his endeavors, which include the award-winning Simpson Percherons; manufacturer DES, Inc.; and a downtown Rio Vista gym. He also plans to open a Go Kart facility in the spring.

Simpson could easily be described as a man with no 'off' button. Despite owning the series, he'll still be competing in it, alongside his daughter.

'Somebody had to (take it over) or it was going to be either, we wouldn't have it or it would've crept along,' Danielle Simpson said. 'It's a humongous undertaking but I think it's cool he's doing it.'

Simpson pit crew member Roy Van Connett has been around sprint cars his entire life. His father, Leroy Van Connett, is an eight-time Northern Auto Racing Club sprint car champion.

'They just kind of let it go without promoting it,' Roy Van Connett said of the series.

He said that if you didn't know the schedule and weren't in the 'clique,'

you wouldn't know a race was coming to town.

'Dan wants to advertise . . . let (people) know that (it's) coming to town,'

he said. 'That's something this series has never had.'

Along with acquiring the series, several other changes are afoot. There are some venue changes -- the series will race in California, Oregon and Washington, with the closest tracks being in Antioch, Calistoga, Placerville and Marysville. There will be 27 points races -- working with an overall point fund of $100,000 -- during the season slated to start in late March or early April.

In addition to advertising and prerace track parties, Dan Simpson is also marketing a reality TV show about the sprint car series designed to promote the sport and the drivers. He said he'd like to bring in some big names such as NASCAR standouts Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, who each got their start in dirt track racing.

'(Stewart) and Kasey have been fabulous for this sport,' Dan Simpson said.

'They give back a lot. I'm hoping to get several of them back to race one race with us.'

Simpson has made a commitment to carry the series for the next two to three years, he said. He's in the process of developing a staff, which could number up to eight in the coming months.

'You can't expect a series to come back overnight,' he said. 'I'd really like to see it re-establish itself and have some of these kids from quarter midgets have somewhere to go.'

Father and daughter will also continue to battle it out on the race track.

For more information, go to or

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or