Thursday, January 26, 2012

Solano Economic Development Corp. guest discusses future of California's growth

by: Richard Bammer,

Longtime Bay Area and state public servant Sunne McPeak said Solano County and California are making a comeback from the Great Recession, but, to maintain economic growth, political and business leaders must be "focused on outcomes" and work together.

The president and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund and a former Contra Costa County supervisor, McPeak, speaking Wednesday at a Solano Economic Development Corp. meeting in Fairfield, wondered, "Is California going to be a global leader again?"

The county and state boast "amazing assets to build upon" in the lingering wake of the most serious recession since the Great Depression, she said at the noon luncheon marking the EDC's 29th annual meeting, held at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Speaking to more than 200 area government, business and education leaders, McPeak quoted President Woodrow Wilson to support an assertion that the key to political and economic success, whether it be at the county or state level, is for stakeholders to bridge ideological divides.

"The most efficient form of government is the spontaneous cooperation of its citizenry," she said, quoting the 28th president and an allusion to ongoing political gridlock in the halls of the state Capitol and on Capitol Hill in Washington.

McPeak, who served for three years as secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, cited the state's multibillion-dollar agricultural industry, life-science research and high-tech companies as reasons to be optimistic about the future. But the key to any successful economic strategy, she said, "is to play to your strengths."

Saying California has historically relied on a "research base" laid down by biotech firms, the military and universities, McPeak, who earned a master's degree in health education and medical care administration, said it provided "an added value" to the state's economy found nowhere else.

As the chief of CETF, a statewide nonprofit group with a mission to close the so-called "digital divide" among underserved communities, she called California "a natural leader in broadband connectivity."

McPeak said California, once ranked relatively low among states in broadband service, has emerged in the last five years as a national leader in the field, recognized by bureaucracies "in the Beltway," a reference to regulatory agencies in Washington.

The private and public sectors work best when their goals are mutually beneficial, she noted. While the private sector may be the source of most jobs in the United States, economic development in communities "is determined by the environment of the public sector," she asserted.

California can regain "its place in the sun," said McPeak, when leaders in Sacramento and Solano County focus on outcomes, forging plans that declare "here's where we're going and this is how we'll get there."

To be competitive in the global economy, state and local leaders must encourage innovation, improve quality of life, govern effectively and forge a culture of accountability, she asserted.

McPeak noted that the Government Performance and Accountability Act will be on the November ballot. If approved, it requires that policies, programs and fiscal decisions by local and state governments be driven by data that indicates what is or is not working.

Solano EDC meeting has encouraging words for tough times

Solano EDC meeting has encouraging words for tough times

Sunne McPeak, president of the California Emerging Technology Fund, gave the keynote address to the Solano EDC annual meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn Wednesday morning in Fairfield. (Mike Greener/Daily Republic)
Sunne McPeak, president of the California Emerging Technology Fund, gave the keynote address to the Solano EDC annual meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn Wednesday morning in Fairfield. (Mike Greener/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD — Solano Economic Development Corp. members on Wednesday heard some encouraging words amid a still-struggling economy.

The occasion was the group’s 29th annual meeting. About 270 people came to the lunchtime event at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Sunne McPeak gave the keynote address. McPeak is a former Contra Costa County supervisor, former secretary of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and president of the California Emerging Technology Fund.

“Those of you sitting in the room are the key to Solano’s success,” McPeak said, adding people in their positions are at the heart of whether California becomes a global leader once again.

Both local elected officials and people from local businesses were in the room. McPeak called the area’s public-private partnerships its great strength.

She mentioned other Solano County strengths as well, from its proximity to such research institutions as UC Davis, to such natural features as Suisun Marsh and San Pablo Bay.

“Any successful economic strategy, you already know, you play to your strengths,” she said.

McPeak labeled the state’s successful effort to end redevelopment agencies, which cities such as Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville used for economic development, as “insanity.”

“There needs to be a replacement soon,” McPeak said.

She had harsh words for state government in general, but for the structure rather than legislators. At one point, she had people involved with private enterprise in the room stand.

“We want to thank you for being patient with this state,” McPeak said.

McPeak talked about a movement called California Forward, of which she is a part. Among other things, it would base state budgeting on results that can be measured. She mentioned five criteria: reducing crime, improving education, reducing poverty, improving health and increasing employment.

“That is absolutely common-sense government,” McPeak said.

She also talked of the California Emerging Technology Fund, which the state Public Utilities Commission formed in the wake of telecommunication company mergers. AT&T and Verizon gave a total of $60 million to the fund, McPeak said.

The group’s goal is to close what it calls the digital divide by having 90 percent of California households with broadband connections by 2020. The number stands at about 70 percent today. McPeak said communities with high-speed Internet access get more investment.

McPeak urged the Solano County Board of Supervisors to hold a summit on the broadband issue with Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

Solano County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Linda Seifert attended the Solano EDC lunch. She noted after the event that Solano County already teams with neighboring counties on certain issues, such as the recent agricultural economic summit with Yolo County and work on tribal issues with Napa and Sonoma counties.

Seifert said Solano County would have to look at which counties it would partner with on broadband issues, if it decides to go in that direction. McPeak during her presentation didn’t say why she mentioned Contra Costa and Alameda counties, as opposed to other regional counties.

Solano EDC President Sandy Person also addressed the luncheon gathering. She mentioned success stories in the county and its seven cities in 2011 and challenged people in the room to spread the message.

“Let’s make some magic happen in 2012,” Person said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Vacaville council to ask legislators to delay end to redevelopment

VACAVILLE — Vacaville is joining other California cities that are asking their representatives in Sacramento to delay the state’s elimination of redevelopment.

City Hall is asking for more time, saying the state law eliminating redevelopment has already killed one Vacaville business and could threaten others that have leases and agreements connected to the city’s redevelopment agency. The law also threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the city’s contracts with its employee groups, the letter states.

The letter, which goes to the council for approval Tuesday night, contends there are too many unanswered questions and discrepancies within Assembly Bill 1X26 that need time to be ironed out before redevelopment agencies are done away with and their assets disposed of.

Vacaville City Council
  • What: Approval of letter asking state legislators to delay imposing law eliminating redevelopment
  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Vacaville City Council chamber, 650 Merchant St.
  • Info: 449-5100

The council is also scheduled to vote on whether to serve as the successor agency to the city’s redevelopment agency and preside over the disposal of Vacaville’s redevelopment funds and assets.

This vote follows a week after the Suisun City and Fairfield city councils approved their intention to become successor agencies for their redevelopment agencies.

Late in December, the state Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have the power to eliminate redevelopment agencies and use their money to fund education.

Vacaville drafted the letter at the request of the California Redevelopment Agency to ask state legislators to create legislation to delay implementing AB 1X26, according to a report to the council from Public Information Officer Mark Mazzaferro. Vacaville expects to lose $4 million a year in redevelopment funds.

If approved, the letter will go to state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, who represent Vacaville in Sacramento.

AB 1X26 and the subsequent lawsuit have already damaged Vacaville’s economy, according to the letter.

“One of the more popular businesses in downtown Vacaville has fallen victim to the end of redevelopment, as the Creekside Bar and Grill has closed. Because of the rules implemented prior to the Supreme Court decision, the city was unable to exercise an option to extend their lease,” according to the letter.

The letter contends other leases and agreements will be “called into question” and could affect groups such as the Downtown Business Improvement District.

City contracts with employee groups also face problems due to the legislation, according to the letter. Vacaville has used redevelopment money in almost every city department and it pays parts of the salaries of a large number of employees.

“The law calls for invalidating employee contracts at the end of January. However, such a provision is infeasible, as our labor negotiations require proper notice of layoffs,” the letter states.

While City Hall agrees redevelopment as it is now is over, the city is asking for time to create what the letter describes as “a more fair and reasonable process.”

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or

Fairfield updates possible redevelopment agency losses

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield has provided the latest information on how much money it is owed by its soon-to-be-defunct redevelopment agency — $82.3 million.

The previous figure of $87.6 million came from a state-required redevelopment agency report for the 20110-11 fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. The City Council approved the report at its Dec. 20, 2011, meeting. The updated figure released late Wednesday goes beyond the end of the fiscal year, after some of the money got paid back.

In addition, the city reported that this $82.3 million owed because of city loans breaks down to $19.9 million in principal and $62.4 million in interest. City officials fear that this money will be lost with the demise of redevelopment agencies, prompting further cuts in the city’s day-to-day operations.

Fairfield loaned this $19.9 million to its redevelopment agency over the years to jump-start development in the Cordelia redevelopment project area. This project area, formed by the city in 1983, has yielded such development as the Costco store, the Copart building, the NorthBay Healthcare building and Homewood Suites. The agency has bought and sold land for development and made such improvements as building Westamerica Drive.

The city made the loans to the agency at various interest rates over the years, such as 12 percent. Fairfield had been counting on the agency repaying $54.8 million of this money through 2018-19 to keep its general fund in balance.

But the state is dissolving the 400 or so redevelopment agencies in various communities as of Feb. 1. Fairfield officials fear the city will lose the annual loan repayments to the general fund for the $82.3 million. That threatens to lead to further general fund budget cuts.

In addition, the city could lose $2 million to $3 million annually in redevelopment money used to help pay city staff in such areas as economic development and housing.

City Councilman John Mraz at Tuesday’s meeting said the situation is dire.

“I’m not so concerned about redevelopment as I am about the jobs that are attached for the people who work for the city,” he said.

City Manager Sean Quinn said that the city will present a plan for dealing with the situation at the City Council workshop Jan. 28 and Jan. 29.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Fairfield takes deeper look at redevelopment agency loss

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield ‘s ailing general fund could lose more than $7 million annually because of the state’s successful bid to dissolve redevelopment agencies.
City Manager Sean Quinn gave the City Council the news at Tuesday’s meeting. The city uses $2 million to $3 million of redevelopment agency funds for salaries and programs, he said. Its general fund also receives about $5.8 million annually from the agency to repay loans that the city made to the agency over the years.

Affordable housing program takes a big hit with redevelopment loss.

All of that could be gone with the end of redevelopment, with the redirection of an unknown amount of some property tax income making up only a fraction of the loss.

“We’re going to be faced with some very difficult decisions over the next six months,” Quinn told the council.

City Councilman John Mraz said the city could be looking at layoffs.

“If you think things were bad last year — stand by, they’re going to get worse,” Mraz said.

Meanwhile, the Fairfield City Council will discuss redevelopment when it meets for a workshop Jan. 27 and Jan. 28. Quinn said city officials will present the council with a plan on how to proceed.

“Stay tuned, folks,” Mayor Harry Price said. “These are difficult times.”

Fairfield formed its redevelopment agency in the 1970s. The agency spends subsequent property tax increases within adopted redevelopment areas to improve those areas. Those property tax increases can be used to finance loans to build roads and other infrastructure to spur development and to clean up blight.

The city over the past three decades has used its redevelopment agency to help spur such development projects as Westfield Solano mall, the Green Valley corporate and commercial areas and Solano Business Park. By law, it must set aside 20 percent of its redevelopment funds to promote affordable housing.

California last year moved to dissolve the 400 or so redevelopment agencies in the state to redirect that property tax money back to schools, counties and special districts, as well as cities. The state Supreme Court last week ruled that the state indeed has the power to make this move.

Even though the agencies are to be dissolved as of Feb. 1, agency bonds and other loans must continue to be repaid by property tax income. But, city officials said, loans made by a city to a redevelopment area after the second year of the area’s existence are not considered an “enforceable obligation.” Fairfield’s redevelopment agency owes the city $87 million in principal and interest and city officials fear this money will be lost.

The general fund pays for such day-to-day expenses at police, fire and recreation services. Fairfield estimates its general fund will be several million short in revenues over expenses each year through most of the decade and is counting on $54.8 million in redevelopment agency loan repayments to help fill the gap.

City officials on Wednesday couldn’t give the mix of principal and interest that the agency owes the city for the loans. In past years, the interest has comprised more than 50 percent of the total amount.

Fairfield has a long history of loaning city money to its redevelopment agency. The City Council authorized one of the first loans Oct. 16, 1979. It was looking for ways to move Highway 12 from the downtown on Texas Street to today’s route.

At that time, the council had yet to even form the Highway 12 redevelopment area. But it authorized $3.6 million in loans for the project, in case a planned bond sale was delayed, with future redevelopment agency property tax money to repay the loan at 8 percent interest.

Then-City Councilman Manuel Campos said at the time that the Highway 12 bypass project “is one that the city wants and needs badly.”

The redevelopment agency repaid various Highway 12 project loans by the end of the 1980s. Meanwhile, the city made other loans to its redevelopment agency over the years, many of them to help jump-start the commercial and business development in the Green Valley area. Some of these loans were made at 12 percent interest.

Quinn said the city will pursue legislative and legal means to get the loans repaid.

Meanwhile, some in the state are pushing for redevelopment to be reborn in some other form. The state had given communities the option of keeping a stripped-down version of their redevelopment agencies by paying a fee — in Fairfield’s case, a one-time payment of $11 million and annual payments of $2.6 million — but the Supreme Court ruled this violates Proposition 22.

The California Redevelopment Association isn’t giving up.

“The legislative record is abundantly clear that the legislators did not intend to abolish redevelopment,” association president Julio Fuentes said in a news release. “We hope to work with state lawmakers to come up with a way to restore redevelopment.”

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Solano County office has more to do due to loss of redevelopment agencies

By Melissa Murphy / The Reporter Posted: 01/04/2012 01:03:45 AM PST

The death of city redevelopment agencies means more work for the Solano County Auditor-Controller's office.

A California Supreme Court ruling last week upheld Assembly Bill 1X26, legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that effectively kills redevelopment agencies.

Brown proposed dissolving the agencies and then transferring their property tax revenue, of about $5 billion a year, to cities and counties that controlled the agencies. They would then use the money to repay redevelopment debt and distribute money to cities, counties, special districts and schools, saving the state about $1.7 billion this year.

Controlled by cities and counties, redevelopment agencies initially existed to restore blighted neighborhoods. Through the years, the money has been used to finance big box retailers, sports complexes and other projects that critics say run counter to the agencies' original mission.

Locally, funds from the agency helped renew Vacaville's downtown, including Town Square, CreekWalk and Andrews Park, and the Nut Tree. The police station and newer freeway overpasses were also made possible by redevelopment agencies. The city of Dixon, according to Economic Development Director Mark Heckey, will have $1 million taken away from housing, have to cancel a major drainage project downtown and money for emergency home repairs for seniors will be gone.

For a while, the agencies were given an option in the form of Assembly Bill 1X27 to opt into diverting a specific amount of property tax revenue to schools and other services. However, redevelopment agencies were hit with another significant blow when the ruling also eliminated that option.

It also put a kink in the plans at the office of Solano County Auditor-Controller Simona Padilla-Scholtens, who had been planning for months that redevelopment agencies were going to still exist.

Padilla-Scholtens explained that the court's ruling "threw a curve" at the plans.

"We began to put together guidelines, outlining rules and regulations because the agencies opted to continue existing, but now they don't have that option," she said.

She explained that the California State Association of County Auditors is looking at the legislation to come up with a better plan to adhere to the court's decision.

"We'll have to regroup statewide," Padilla-Scholtens said. "The auditor-controller's office will play a key role in the dissolution of the agencies."

She explained that they've always played a role handling redevelopment agencies by calculating property taxes and ensuring proper pass through agreements, but now that role is different.

"It adds to the complexity of what we do," Padilla-Scholtens said.

There is a lot of work on the horizon, including an audit. The office will also have to validate the numbers by determining the agencies' indebtedness and committed allocations. Additionally, a timeline will be created so that needed information can be given to the county in a timely manner.

She added that there will be a fiscal impact to both the county and cities, but true numbers are unknown at this point.

Follow Staff Writer Melissa Murphy at ReporterMMurphy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

'It's a black day,' Vacaville mayor says about court's redevelopment agency decision

By Melissa Murphy / The Reporter Posted: 12/30/2011 01:04:05 AM PST

It isn't good news for cities that California is taking more than $1 billion in redevelopment money from their budgets, and local city leaders say they must now look to the future to try to figure out how to get out of a financial mess.
"It's a black day," said Vacaville Mayor Steve Hardy of a decision Thursday by the state Supreme Court to allow the state to dismantle redevelopment agencies. "There is nothing we can do but stay focused to get the city through the next year. It's frustrating that the state government has chosen this path."

Elimination of the redevelopment agency in Vacaville is an impact to the general fund of nearly $4 million. This news comes at a time when the city was already projecting a $1.2 million deficit for next year's budget, according to City Manager Laura Kuhn.

The city will still be able to pay any debt associated with current contracts that involved redevelopment funds, but that source of revenue has essentially stopped.

Redevelopment has helped renew Vacaville's Town Square, CreekWalk and Andrews Park, and the Nut Tree. It also made it feasible for the city to attract major employers like State Compensation Insurance Fund, Kaiser and Genentech. The police station and newer freeway overpasses also used redevelopment funds.

In other words, many of the things that have resulted in the high quality of life Vacaville residents enjoy can in one way or another be attributed to redevelopment, city officials said.

Projects like Opportunity Hill and affordable housing will have to be put on hold until other funds are available.

Hardy said the state's decision will have "catastrophic" consequences for all of California.

"How this will play out is left to be seen, but I believe no good will come from it," he said. "There was no thought given to this as far as I'm concerned."

Kuhn shared similar sentiments.

"I already felt like my hands were tied, now they've tied my legs," she said. "There is an extreme level of frustration on our part."

Still, Kuhn said the city has a good team that will look carefully at every possibility to make sure the city is financially whole.

For Suisun City, Thursday's Supreme Court decision brings it the "worst-case scenario."

Marketing Manager Scott Corey said in a press release that the elimination of the Redevelopment Agency will require cutting the current Suisun City budget by $1.4 million, which the City Council has discussed in theory for several months. Because the option to pay annually to retain the Redevelopment Agency was eliminated, Suisun City stands to lose approximately $13 million in additional cash and assets, he said.

"We're still digesting the court's decision," said City Manager Suzanne Bragdon. "But from reading the basic background provided by the court, it's clear that those not at the local level -- people not on the ground -- miss the whole concept that redevelopment provides tools to make new development and new projects happen that wouldn't happen by private investment alone.

"Instead, they describe redevelopment as a big shell game that allows cities to grab property taxes from other entities, rather than a tool to grow the overall property tax pool -- not to mention the creation of other tax revenues and jobs -- which benefits everyone, including schools and the state," she continued. "This decision has severely limited future business development in a community like Suisun City."

Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, D-Solano, said in a prepared statement that now is the time to work together to ensure that more cuts aren't made.

"We've turned the page on redevelopment as we once knew it," she said. "The state's difficult choices under a continuing no-new-revenue environment forced us to prioritize and work to prevent further cuts to education, healthcare and public safety. Let us resume our discussions in the new year and find ways to support communities that struggle with blight and the need for affordable housing."

Although Solano County doesn't have an immediate fiscal impact since it doesn't have a redevelopment agency, Supervisor Mike Reagan said the "sad saga" of the state trying to solve its problems at the local level continues.

"It's another example of the state ignoring the will of the voters," he said. "They (voters) clearly wanted this money to stay in city hands. This was the last remaining tool (cities) had to spark job creation and boost the economy."

Cities seek compromise to stop state from killing redevelopment

By Judy Lin / Associated Press
Posted: 12/30/2011 01:05:17 AM PST

SACRAMENTO -- The California Supreme Court on Thursday gave Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers the right to eliminate community redevelopment agencies in a crucial decision that impacts the state budget.

But the fate of the more than 400 redevelopment agencies remains unclear as cities -- and even many lawmakers -- vowed to seek a legislative compromise next year that would ensure the agencies' survival.

The court affirmed the state's authority to dissolve the agencies, calling it "a proper exercise of the legislative power vested in the Legislature by the state constitution." Doing so means more of the property taxes generated within redevelopment zones will go toward schools, law enforcement and other local services, freeing up as much as $1.7 billion in the state general fund during the current fiscal year. The money now is returned to the agencies to spend on future redevelopment projects.

Lawmakers and the mayors of several large cities said Thursday they were inclined to work out a compromise after the justices issued their split decision. While they affirmed the Legislature's authority to dissolve redevelopment agencies, the justices in a unanimous decision invalidated companion legislation passed last summer that was intended to keep the agencies operating by forcing them to direct a certain amount of property tax revenue to schools and other services.

The majority said that law ran afoul of voter-approved Proposition 22, which prohibits the state
from raiding local tax money.
"I intend to work closely with leaders in Sacramento and across California to develop a responsible path forward that invests in our schools, our safety and puts the 14 million unemployed Californians back to work," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. "This includes new legislation to provide economic tools to communities most in need."

Redevelopment agencies were authorized by the Legislature shortly after World War II as a way to restore blighted neighborhoods and are largely controlled by cities and counties to promote construction projects. They have been credited with revitalizing blighted districts such as the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, downtown San Jose and Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

Critics, including Brown, say some have become little more than slush funds for private developers. They want property taxes generated by new developments to be diverted from the agencies to local services that now must be funded by the state.

Redevelopment money in the past has been used to finance big box retailers, sports complexes and other projects that critics say run counter to the agencies' original mission.

"Today's ruling by the California Supreme Court validates a key component of the state budget and guarantees more than a billion dollars of ongoing funding for schools and public safety," the governor said in a statement.

The ruling was highly anticipated because it was a key component of balancing this year's state budget. The state is heading into the new year with a $13 billion deficit over the next
18 months, and a ruling against the state would have widened the shortfall.

The governor proposed dissolving redevelopment agencies in January, then transferring their property tax revenue of about $5 billion a year to the cities and counties that controlled the agencies. They would then use the money to repay redevelopment debt and distribute money to cities, counties, special districts and schools, saving the state about
$1.7 billion this year.

State lawmakers inserted a compromise in last summer's budget that allowed the agencies to keep operating if they made additional payments of about $400 million annually to schools and other local services starting next year. The court invalidated that piece of legislation, calling it "flawed."

The court opinion was written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and signed by five other justices. The seventh, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, agreed but wrote a separate opinion saying she would have upheld the compromise law that would have permitted agencies to continue if they shared revenue.

The decision means schools can expect more than $1 billion each year in additional property tax revenues, but a firm figure won't be released until Brown presents his spending plan next month, said finance department spokesman, H.D. Palmer.

Local government officials say it does not make sense for the state to eliminate redevelopment agencies, which contribute $2 billion a year in economic activity. They say because the Legislature did not intent to eliminate local economic development efforts, agencies should be reshaped.

"We do know that the governor will be a tough nut on this, but at the end of the day, his primary challenge is to help balance the state budget," said Jim Kennedy, interim executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, which filed the lawsuit along with the League of California Cities.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders called it a "sad day" while San Jose City Attorney Richard Doyle called the ruling a disappointment but not a total surprise, given the judges' reactions during arguments in November.


Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Economy, hospitals top the list of top buisiness stories for 2011

By Reporter Staff
Posted: 01/01/2012 01:03:58 AM PST

In Vacaville and elsewhere in Solano County, the top business story of 2011 was the ongoing housing crisis, namely a staggering number of home foreclosures that continue unabated, coupled with stubbornly high jobless rates as local, state and the United States economies begin a fragile recovery in the lingering wake of the Great Recession.
But there were many other significant stories, too, and here is a top 10 list as compiled by Reporter editors and writers:

No. 1 Continuing economic struggles. Solano County's economy is crawling northward, but isn't expected to reach prerecession levels for several more years, according to a projection by the University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center.

California's economic outlook also is gradually improving, but the gap between the Sacramento and Silicon valleys is widening, according to center officials, who released their projections in April.

No. 2 Hospital wars. A fall 2010 announcement by NorthBay Healthcare, stating it planned to open Solano County's first trauma center, launched a new front in the battle with Kaiser Permanente for local hospital market share.

Battle lines were drawn in January 2011 at a meeting of the Solano County Emergency Services Cooperative, the agency that sets criteria for establishing trauma centers. Cooperative members were reviewing the application process for creating a Level III trauma center at NorthBay's Fairfield, when Kaiser Permanente officials confirmed they had hand-delivered a letter of intent just days before, announcing their interest in establishing a Level II trauma center at their Vacaville hospital.

Ted Selby, Solano County's Emergency Medical Services administrator, explained that while there isn't a limit on the number of Level III trauma centers a county can have, the number of Level II centers. By year's end both hospitals had opened Level III centers as the race for a Level II center continues.

No. 3 Shock's owners sublease their store. Saying "it's a family decision," Stacey Powers, longtime owner of Shock's The Home Comfort Store in Vacaville, in June announced she planned to liquidate her stock and sublease the business (opened by her father, James Shock, in 1976) to another furniture merchant on Oct. 1.

Plans were for Powers and her husband, Bud, a retired school teacher, to relocate to Jacksonville, Ore., in the fall.

No. 4 Longtime jeweler Thornton retires. It was a sight and sound never seen heard before at Thornton & Sons jewelers in Dixon: the front door closed and locked for the last time.

Store owner and namesake Jerry Thornton in May announced his retirement after nearly 50 years in the trade, 40 of them as a small-business owner whose stores have long been recognized as a mercantile institution in Solano County.

The closing of the Dixon store leaves one family-owned store in operation, in Nut Tree on East Monte Vista Avenue in Vacaville, remnant of a one-time small jewelry empire that, in its heyday in the early 1990s, boasted five storefronts countywide, including two in the Factory Outlets complex, with annual sales exceeding $6 million.

No. 5 Fresh & Easy opens. With fresh fruits and vegetables, ready-to-go meals and plenty of choices, a new grocery store in Vacaville lived up to its name, Fresh & Easy, and opened its doors in March, the first grocery to open in the city in many years. The store, a 10,000-square-foot space on Elmira Road, is among the first of 13 that the retailer, a unit of England-based supermarket behemoth Tesco, plans to open in the region.

No. 6 Mercedes comes to Fairfield. Long equated with luxury and quality, Mercedes-Benz cars are "exceptional," said David Long, general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Fairfield, which quietly opened Nov. 1 on the city's Auto Mall Parkway.

Owned by Thomas A. Price and Adam Simms of the Price-Simms Auto Group, which also owns Ford Fairfield and other Bay Area dealerships, the newest player on the city's auto row might also be noted for the exceptional building housing some of the world's most stylish and well-made vehicles. The 41,000-square-foot structure, completed in October after more than a year of construction, is a two-story, glass-and-steel affair with a curved frontage, sleek, modern and largely naturally lighted inside, and will eventually be powered entirely by solar panels.

No. 7 EDC chief Mike Ammann leaves; Sandy Person picked as replacement. Mike Ammann, longtime president of the Solano Economic Development Corp., in May accepted the top job at San Joaquin Partnership in Stockton, an organization similar to EDC, and left his $100,000-a-year post in Fairfield on June 14.

EDC Vice President Sandy Person was named interim president at the nonprofit business that promotes the county's economic interests, and, in October, was named president.

No. 8 Westrust acquires remaining Nut Tree parcel. Westrust, the Mill Valley-based developer of Nut Tree and other properties statewide, in July acquired the final 35 acres of the 96-acre master plan for Nut Tree, giving the company primary control of the project.

"I think it's great for the city of Vacaville," said Ricardo Capretta, managing partner of Westrust, which controls 71 acres of the project, including retail space, the Nut Tree Theme Park, commercial office space and land for more than 200 multi-family units.

No. 9 Borders Books closes. A U.S. Bankruptcy Court in July approved Borders Group's plan to sell off its assets, the final nail in the coffin for the 40-year-old chain, which included a store in Nut Tree in Vacaville. With its closure, which resulted in job losses for 30 full- and part-time workers, the owner of the East Monte Vista Avenue shopping complex, Westrust, leased 10,320- and 9,499-square-foot spaces to retailers ULTA, a purveyor of beauty products, and Kirkland's, a purveyor of home decor, respectively. The retailers plan to open in the first quarter of 2012.

No. 10 Travis Credit Union honored. Vacaville Chamber of Commerce leaders in June formally recognized Travis Credit Union, among the largest credit unions in California, as business of the year.

TCU, led by longtime president and CEO Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, was cited for its chamber involvement and support, community involvement, financial literacy programs and business standards.