Thursday, July 29, 2004

Solano remains most affordable of nine Bay Area counties

Article Published: Saturday, July 24, 2004

Record sales prices

Solano remains most affordable of nine Bay Area counties

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Real estate sales sizzled in Solano County in May and June, as they did in all Bay Area counties.

The median price paid for a home in the Bay Area for June hit a record $516,000-plus, according to DataQuick Information Services. Buyers also committed to an average monthly mortgage payment of $2,450.

But Solano County remains the most affordable in the nine-county area, where the median price for a home peaked at $358,000 in June - an 18.5 percent increase from the $302,000 median in June of last year.

Early July indicators show sales are cooling off somewhat, said Elizabeth Fry, Vacaville broker and owner of Showcase Properties. But that's because the real estate market tends to be cyclical, she said.

"The market took off after the first of the year, we had an upsurge, and around the first of June it seemed to continue on, but it's leveled off," said Fry, a 23-veteran in the industry.

But the demand in the upper-end market remains strong, and that's encouraging, Fry said.

"The public has become aware of this area as being a really nice place to live," Fry said. "We have a lot of people calling from Napa who want to move into this area because it's gone up a notch in prestige. Before, they used to snub their noses."

DataQuick reported in early spring that $1 million home sales in California jumped to record levels, with sales in nearby Ross in Marin County reporting virtually all home sales in the $1 million category.

DataQuick is a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates. It monitors real estate activity nationwide through county recorders' records.

In Solano County, high end housing that hasn't been available in the past is now, and the clients are demanding those luxury homes, Fry said.

"If it's over a million, it's a tighter market, but they're still selling. There are a pool of buyers that can afford up to $1 million," Fry said. "I have several homes listed right now over a million dollars, and we've sold three of them within the last three months."

While sales of lower-priced homes are leveling off, that's not unusual following the buying frenzy of early spring.

"Anytime you get a rapid increase in prices, it decreases the affordability level and it hits a certain point where people tend to back off and kind of wait and see," Fry said.

When people watching the market see the prices skyrocketing, they sometimes put their houses on the market for higher prices.

"There's a lot of overpriced listings offered, but the ones that are priced at the current market value are selling quickly, that's the key," she said.

And it's hard to find a reduced-price home in today's market, unless the seller is motivated.

"When it reaches a price point people are not just jumping into, when they're hesitant, then the sellers are forced to adjust their prices to the level they will sell," Fry said. "They'll push it up and at some point the demand will level off. If they're not motivated, they'll just keep them higher."

Dianne Mahanes, director of communications for Bay Area Real Estate Information Services, attributed June's real estate market to great interest rates. People wanted a good deal, she said.

"When it started to look like interest rates were going up, people thought, 'I really need to buy,' " she said. "Now, we have a lower inventory than we had last year at this time, but homes aren't staying on the market very long."

Fry said she does not anticipate the market dying out.

"I think it's going to continue at this level because of the demand here we have in Vacaville, and all over Solano County."

Barbara Smith can be reached at

North Village Boosting the Housing Inventory

Article Published: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Boosting the housing inventory

North Village finally moves ahead to provide much-needed homes

It has been a long, slow journey for a cast of would-be developers who would make something out of the dry grasslands in north Vacaville on a plot known as North Village.

A couple of commercial buildings sprang up across a parkway from Genentech's huge manufacturing plant a few years ago, raising hope that the city's last major housing tract would get under way.

Snagged in a web of environmental restrictions and a poor economy, the project started and stopped. The project was approved by the Vacaville City Council in 2001.

Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted final environmental approval to the North Village project and grading on the site will begin. It's an important project for several reasons.

First, it will add more than 2,000 homes to a community that desperately needs new inventory. Housing prices are rising 10 percent to 20 percent a year, because of high demand and almost nonexistent supply.

Second, there is a commercial component to North Village that will help add some space for new businesses that want to cater to the Browns Valley and North Village residents.

And third, the project will comprise a new Solano Community College campus, the first institution of higher learning to make Vacaville its home. The project will provide essential infrastructure the campus needs to get under way. Although state funding for the campus is not guaranteed, the initial planning is happening. The start of the North Village project could spur movement on the campus.

Seeno Construction Co. originally was given permission to build about 2,500 homes. Instead, the developer will build around 2,200 to 2,300 homes. Seeno withdrew plans for 300 homes during negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers to provide additional acreage for habitat.

Clearing the final environmental hurdles is a welcomed breakthrough.

More New Homes will come to Dixon Sooner

July 29, 2004

Dixon council eases growth restrictions

By Yasmin Assemi

-- More new homes will come to Dixon sooner now that the City Council has relaxed the city's strict growth controls for certain developers.

Measure B, an ordinance passed by voters in 1986, limits the city's growth to 3 percent a year over a five-year average. With changes endorsed by the council Tuesday, Southwest Homebuilder's Group and Brookfield Homes can build more houses some years, balanced by fewer in others, to achieve the same growth goal by 2014.

In exchange for building in Dixon's Southwest Specific Plan area, the homebuilder's group will pay $2,754 per house "that may be used by the city in its sole discretion," according to one agreement the council backed Tuesday. The developers will also help pay for a road to be built crossing the railroad tracks.

A second agreement deals with an offer to the school district from Brookfield Homes.

In April, Brookfield Homes proposed giving the school district 40 acres of land east of Highway 113 and north of Parkway Boulevard and paying for part of the infrastructure costs for the new Dixon High School in exchange for permission to build a residential neighborhood with 400 homes and 120 senior units.

The offer would save the school district $4 million in infrastructure costs. If the development is approved, Brookfield Homes will begin construction in 2008.

Reach Yasmin Assemi at 427-6953 or

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Office Developer Eyes Green Valley Location

Developer eyes Green Valley location

By Matthew Bunk

-- Doyle Wiseman jumped into the Green Valley development fray with plans to build a three-story office building on 2.3 acres near the Green Valley Corporate Park.

Wiseman, owner of development and brokerage firm The Wiseman Company, LLC, said space in the 50,000-square-foot building will be designed to accommodate small- to mid-sized service and professional businesses, including a top-flight restaurant that he envisions as the main attraction on the ground floor.

"A white-tablecloth restaurant is something that would benefit our other tenants," Wiseman said. He said several restaurants have shown interest but none have signed a lease yet.

In fact, no tenants have been secured as the project is only in the design stage, Wiseman said. But the idea of a fashionable restaurant complements what he has planned for the rest of the building.

Even though the details could change quite a bit before construction begins, the concept will remain building a home for prestige businesses, Wiseman said.

Stone floors, a steel frame and an open atrium will be a few of the features Wiseman Broker Kirk Hull said will set the building apart from others in Fairfield.

"We're looking for a different type of businesses," Hull said. "This area has a higher-end development than across the way."

Construction will begin in early spring, with completion expected by the end of 2006.

Given its location along the intersection of Business Center Drive and Green Valley Road, and because a pond planned nearby will add visual appeal, Wiseman swears he's found the sweet spot of Green Valley.

Even though vacancies in office buildings nearby could result in fierce competition for tenants, Wiseman executives said they're offering a completely different product.

Wiseman, who built One Harbor Center in Suisun City and professional buildings in downtown Napa and Woodland, expects its next building to include many of the features of previous projects. Design details have not yet been worked out, Wiseman said.

Once finished with design elements, Wiseman said he'll try to broker deals that would place a bank and two other service-related businesses on the pedestrian level. Professional office users could lease space on the upper floors.

TWM, the architect firm that designed One Harbor Center, will work with Wiseman on its Green Valley building.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Jelly Belly Expands Sugar-Free Line

Jelly Belly expands sugar-free line

By Matthew Bunk

-- Sugar-free Jelly Belly candies now have fewer calories, but a decision to tag them "low-carb" had more to do with marketing than change, a company product manager said.

Fairfield-based candy maker Jelly Belly recently began distributing six new sugar-free candies and changed the recipes for its two existing sugar-free products. On Wednesday, the company added a feature to its Web site that describes the sugar-free candy line and gives nutritional information for each variety.

Jelly Belly made the switch as a result of growing consumer demand for sugar-free and low-carb products, Jelly Belly Senior Product Manger Rob Swaigen said.

"It's a hot market," Swaigen said. "We've definitely seen an increase in sugar-free sales, which certainly was why we decided to expand the line."

The company's Web site touts the sugar-free candies as effective for "weight control, diabetes management or carb-control dietary plans." A sugar substitute lowers calories and "net-effective carbs," while retaining Jelly Belly's trademark flavor, it said.

While the new recipes lowers calories significantly from previous sugar-free formulas, the carbs aren't any lower, Swaigen said.

"The old sugar-free recipe was also low-carb, we just didn't tag it as such at the time," Swaigen said. "Since then the low-carb diets have become much more popular."

The company's sugar-free jelly beans have 37 grams of carbs per 35-piece serving, but Jelly Belly also uses a measurement called net-effective carbs that doesn't consider the effects of sugar alcohols and dietary fibers. Using the net-effective measurement, Jelly Belly says its beans have only 4 grams of carbs.

"That hasn't changed from the previous (sugar-free) recipe," Swaigen said.

The big change was fewer calories, which resulted from using a different sugar substitute, he said. The new sugar-free candies average 40 percent fewer calories than their full-sugar counterparts, according to the Web site.

The switch also makes the sugar-free varieties easier on the stomach, Swaigen said.

"It's much better in terms of taste and for those sensitive to sugar-free products," he said. "A certain percentage of people have stomach problems with sugar-free products."

Jelly Belly now produces sugar-free varieties of its jelly beans, jelly bean sours, fruit slices, spice drops, gummi bears, fruit drops, cola bottles and inchworms. Until recently, only its jelly beans and gummi bears were available sugar-free.

Low-carb diets might be a fad, but not sugar-free foods, Swaigen added.

"I don't know where low-carb is going," he said. "But people have always responded to sugar-free."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Solano County Job Growth Lags Far Behind Last Year's Figures

Local job growth lags far behind last year's figures

By Matthew Bunk

-- Despite monthly employment gains, nearly every industry sector in urban areas of Solano and Napa counties still have far fewer jobs than last year, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

Cities in the two-county region - researchers call it the Vallejo, Fairfield, Napa Metropolitan Statistical Area - gained 400 non-farm jobs in June for a total of 184,200. But it remained 1,400 fewer than the 185,600 jobs in June 2003.

Farm jobs, which gained monthly because the industry gets busier this time of year, also stalled at 8,300 jobs, 500 behind last year's June total of 8,800.

But even though the figures suggested the jobs market was weaker than last year, it continued a steady climb that began early this year. The area added 800 in farming and 400 in other industries for a combined June gain of 1,200 jobs.

Cynthia Solorio, an EDD labor market analyst for Solano and Napa counties, said jobs growth in the region has been "very, very tentative."

"Communities are reacting differently coming back from the recession we had," Solorio said. "It doesn't look like this area has come very far yet . . . but you also have to look at the chunks of jobs that are coming back."

Although jobs are indeed coming back, the rate of job growth has tapered off by 66 percent since the economy added 3,500 jobs in April. The slowdown mimics the national economy, which gained 112,000 jobs in June and discouraged analysts who expected twice that.

But Solorio is encouraged that it's still going in the right direction. She said there are signs that the regional economy will continue to see modest prolonged growth.

As an example, she pointed to the construction industry, which after six months of record expansion leveled off at 500 jobs better than last year. It started with 15,100 jobs in January, and hit 16,200 in June.

"It's not surprising that (the construction industry) is leveling off," Solorio said. "It's still outpacing the last three years, which, of course, is a healthy sign."

The biggest monthly non-farm gainers were the leisure and hospitality sector and a grouping of trade, transportation and utilities industries, which both added 600 jobs. Both remained slightly above last year's marks.

The only other monthly gainer was financial activities, which added 100 jobs.

Manufacturing took a 400-jobs hit and fell to 500 fewer than last year. Educational and health services lost 300 jobs in June and remains 200 below last year. Local governments shed 100 jobs last month.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Solanoe EDC Real Estate Round-up: Business Leaders Mull Housing, Jobs Disparity

Business leaders mull housing, jobs disparity

By Matthew Bunk

-- Urban areas of Solano County have more vacant business park space than last year and 200,000 more residents than jobs, but a panel of real estate experts said those disparities - along with rising home prices - could eventually balance a lopsided growth trend.

One expert even suggested that a pool of workers who would rather work close to home than commute could be used as a tool to bring more businesses to Solano County.

"Is it a curse or opportunity?" Colliers International Broker Brooks Pedder asked business leaders during a Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast Tuesday at the Solano County Office of Education.

"Commuters traveling through Solano have an almost impossible commute and desperately want to stay home," he said. "The result is an overabundance of inexpensive labor."

Because home prices in Solano County have been much less expensive than other Bay Area cities, residential growth outpaced jobs creation. Despite steady gains in recent years, Solano's industry hasn't grown to the point where it can sustain the local workforce.

But that's not all bad, said Fairfield economic developer Karl Dumas. He said Fairfield benefits from its role as a home to those who work around the Bay Area.

"There will continue to be an imbalance of jobs and housing in the neighboring metro areas," Dumas said, "and our area will be looked upon to help solve the housing part of the equation."

Some real estate experts worried, though, that rising home prices in Solano could keep bedroom communities such as Fairfield from competing in a homes market that has thrived on being an alternative.

As far as housing affordability goes: "We lose out to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and all points out of state," Pedder said.

Premier Commercial's Kevin English said generating more housing options, including lower-cost models, would relieve burgeoning demand and send positive signals to outside businesses.

But instead of more outside businesses moving in, Pedder said most of the recent commercial growth has come from native companies expanding within Solano County.

"Expansion of local firms is fueling our recent successes," Pedder said. "We need to do a better job of getting the word out about Solano County."

Business Park vacancy rates rose in every major city in the county with the exception of Vacaville, but the area continues to outperform other Bay Area counties. Solano's combined vacancy of 9.1 percent puts it in better position for recovery than most larger Bay Area cities, many of which struggle with 25-50 percent higher vacancy rates, Pedder said.

Fairfield, which in recent years lost major employers Providian Financial, BP Solar and Fibrebond, has a 7.6 percent vacancy rate, according to Colliers International. That's up from 2 percent vacancy last year.

Vacaville dropped to 18 percent vacancy from 23 percent last year.

Vallejo, still trying to come back from the shutdown of a major military base and the resulting glut of industrial space, is only about half full, said Greg Smith, who works for Colliers International in Vallejo. He said more than three million square feet of industrial space remains vacant, mostly on Mare Island.

Westfield Shoppingtown mall in Fairfield, which has said it lowered tenant vacancy to 2 percent from more than 25 percent since it bought the property from Trizec Hahn Corp. in 1998, teased business leaders by announcing plans to expand without offering details. A Westfield spokeswoman said the company has not yet submitted plans to the city.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646, Ext. 267 or

Westfield Corp to Spend Part of a $1.8 Billion Redevelopment Budget to Build Space for New Stores, Restaurants & Entertainment.

July 24, 2004

Malls consider new strategies, trends

By Matthew Bunk

-- The mall of the future will more likely hold stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot or Target than department stores Sears or Macy's.

And it probably will have more entertainment and dining options, too.

That's because the traditional mall has lost favor with shoppers. People are too busy to spend an afternoon browsing indoors, preferring instead to go someplace they can one-stop shop in a hurry. Plus, some consumers say malls cater too much to the younger crowd.

"It's a hangout for young people," said Vallejo resident Jeanine Cortes, 46, while buying back-to-school clothes for her daughter at Westfield Shoppingtown Solano in Fairfield. "But for some things, like nice clothes, you still have to go (to the mall)."

For now. But declining sales figures in traditional department stores that typically anchor malls, along with sustained revenue growth at discount stores, are inspiring old malls to change their makeup. Having lost loyalty among older shoppers who see malls mostly as a teen hangout, mall operators also are scrambling to add more fine dining and entertainment to their tenant lists.

Westfield Shoppingtown Solano is no exception. The Fairfield mall's parent company, Westfield Corp., wants to spend part of a $1.8 billion redevelopment budget to build space for new stores, restaurants and entertainment.

Work started earlier this year when Shoppingtown Solano put in a double-deck carousel and added to its customer service staff. But that's just the first phase.

The real excitement came on July 13 when Westfield announced plans to add off-mall buildings for new tenants. The expansion might include an upscale restaurant, said Westfield Development Director Cheryl Hines. She didn't elaborate.

But Westfield spokeswoman Catharine Dickey said it's part of the company's Hy-Style campaign intended to redesign malls with elements now popular in outdoor shopping clusters being built in record numbers across the country.

Westfield hasn't officially submitted its expansion plans to the city, and Dickey would only speak about Westfield's corporate growth strategy.

"We've looked at the trends, and we're integrating those into our centers," Dickey said. "There are lots of things that you do to keep your centers vibrant."

Of the 690 shopping centers built last year, only three were large malls and only three more are expected to open this year, according to International Council of Shopping Centers. Thirteen large malls opened in 1999.

But mall owners spent 6 percent more money on construction in 2003 compared to the year before, a sign they're spending more on fixing up existing malls.

"Redevelopment was where the action was," ICSC's top economist Michael Niemira said.

Another reason was that developers concentrated instead on building more lifestyle centers, characterized by outdoor shopping, bookstore and home products anchor stores, as well as rides and amusements. The construction fad resulted from a change in shoppers' attitudes about malls in recent years.

Lifestyle centers became all the rage about four years ago, said David Codding, owner of Montgomery Villages lifestyle center and Coddingtown Mall, both in Santa Rosa. He said the mall has been a steady performer while the lifestyle center has boomed.

"In the last three or four years, Montgomery Villages has really taken off," Codding said.

The popularity of lifestyle centers provoked many mall operators to do something similar. Converting to outdoor shopping might be out of the question for some malls, but even those with no intention of removing their roofs are looking at developing more off-mall retail space.

That's what Westfield wants to do in it's 1-million-square-foot Fairfield mall and other Northern California sites. The whole idea is to integrate trends with traditional mall shopping and department store anchors.

Westfield's Hines also hinted something new may be done with the space currently occupied by Mervyn's. Target Corp. announced earlier this year it wants to sell its Marshall Fields and Mervyn's stores to other retailers. The move isn't surprising because these traditional mall anchors have posted declining sales in five of the past six years.

"It's going to be a challenge - what to do with the space when that department store goes away," Hines said.

However, the changeover doesn't mean Shoppingtown Solano has performed badly. Since Westfield bought Solano Mall - now Shoppingtown Solano - from Trizec Hahn Corp. in 1998, the vacancy rate dropped from 25 percent to 2 percent and General Manager Gavin Farnam said stores have recorded higher revenues since then.

More integration could put mall operators back in the pole position, according to an ICSC study last year that suggested mall operators should take control of the momentum by melding "the best elements of malls, power centers and 'pure' lifestyle centers."

The ICSC study followed 10 consecutive years of falling department store revenues, which bottomed out in 2002 when they generated less than 4 percent of retail spending. In 1992, department stores raised 6 percent of all retail sales.

Shoppers, though, weren't certain they would spend more money at malls if it had an attached Wal-Mart or Home Depot.

"It would be too different," Fairfield resident Dustin Heimgartner, 20, said while shopping at Wal-Mart. "You go to Wal-Mart and Home Depot for completely different reasons than you would go to a mall. I don't think I'd spend any more money at the mall just because I had to go there to get what I need at Wal-Mart."

Mall shoppers agreed. One woman said a Wal-Mart at a mall would take business away from specialty stores.

"I don't think it's necessary to have a Wal-Mart at a mall," said Miranda Wilbon, 22, of Fairfield while watching the carousel at Shoppingtown Solano. "They're not going to close their other locations just because they open one in a mall, so it seems like just more money for Wal-Mart."

Industry research suggests the opposite might be true.

Seven-year sales growth percentages for mall-based department stores were dwarfed by staggering advancements by Wal-Mart, which grew sales by more than 150 percent, and Home Depot, which saw sales increase by about 40 percent. Comparatively, department stores Macy's and Sears reported sales increases of less than 10 percent during that time.

Maybe the success of a discount giant would spill over to other mall stores, rather than suck up consumers, said Katie Brasher, 18, of St. Louis.

"If I was there already I'd be more likely to do more shopping," Brasher said.

Despite mass spending based on a similar theory, Westfield isn't giving up on its anchors just yet. The company endorsed its long-standing department store partners with words that suggested an eternal, and therefore risky, bond between malls and the stores that made them popular in the 1960s.

"Department stores will always be an important component of the mall," Dickey said.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Ledgewood is Growing & Expects to Produce a Company Record 10,000 Cases of Wine This Year

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


A torrent at Ledgewood Creek
By Matthew Bunk

-- Alternating between four glasses of chardonnay and a lab sink, winemaker Larry Lagbehn sips and spits until he's sure one has just the right texture. Then he wants someone else's opinion.

"Now tell me what you think," Lagbehn said.

As head of wine making at three-year-old Ledgewood Creek Winery, Lagbehn genuinely wants feedback. But because he can taste slight variations that other wine drinkers only pretend to notice, he often finds himself in sparse company during the final rounds of product testing.

But as harvest approaches and Ledgewood plans for its busiest production season so far, Lagbehn's work to adjust the viscosity of the mainline chardonnay stands out as the least of the winery's challenges.

As an extension of Ledgewood's 16-year-old grape growing operation, the winery on Abernathy Road is still a relatively new venture for owner Dean Frisbie. Its formative years have been marked by a sour state economy, a saturated market and sobering interstate distribution laws.

Plus, Ledgewood hails from the relatively unknown Suisun Valley, which makes it harder to sell wine. The valley's growers have been trying desperately to brand the area as premium wine country like its northern neighbor Napa, a task that by comparison makes Lagbehn's job seem easy.

Even as he tastes wine in his workspace - which looks very much like a small chemist's lab - Lagbehn admits that selling the wine is the toughest aspect of production.

"We've already got good viticulture and good winemaking," he said. "The challenge right now isn't in the winemaking - it's in the marketing."

Ledgewood, though, is growing in spite of the odds. It expects to produce a company record 10,000 cases of wine this year, mostly because it will use distributors for the first time since it shipped its initial batch of 2,200 cases directly to customers in 2001.

The production forecast for this year represents a 42-percent jump from last year's total of 7,000 cases. Those running operations say its the beginning of what they hope will be a much bigger push that could include developing their wine list.

Ledgewood now sells mostly merlot and chardonney, but it also draws from experimental vineyards to make 11 other varietals in limited quantity. Demand will determine which ones could be developed into full-production wines, Ledgewood General Manager Rick Wehman said.

Wehman isn't squeamish about aggressive growth. He'd like to sell something like 30,000 cases a year, the limit of the winery's current output and storage capabilities.

"That's a significant point for us, because this building will allow us to get there," he said. "Then we'll have a much different problem."

Reaching capacity is a problem that doesn't even show up on the radar for the few wineries in Suisun Valley. Other than Ledgewood, there's Wooden Valley Winery owned by Rick Lanza and a few family-operated wineries that produce in limited volume.

Only two miles from Napa County, Wooden Valley makes more wine than anyone in the valley. It's bigger than Ledgewood, the second largest, both in terms of volume and number of varietals.

Both wineries are adding to their product lines, they both growth their own grapes and, let's face it, they compete. But they share a common goal in making a name for Suisun Valley wines, and there will be enough success for everybody if it works. In fact, part of the plan is to help develop more wineries.

"The idea for the valley to survive is to get enough wineries to do things like wine trains and other tourist activities," Wehman said. "They could spend a day here, come in and taste our wines and then go out and tell people they went to the Suisun Valley."

Wehman says Suisun Valley grapes, and its wines by extension, are just as good as those used to make more expensive Napa wines. Gold medals hanging from bottles of Ledgewood merlot add a level of credibility to Wehman's assertion.

Until wine buyers discover what the judges know, however, Ledgewood might have to continue selling 90 percent of its grapes to Napa wineries that profit from underrated Suisun Valley fruit, Wehman said.

"Napa and Sonoma consider the Suisun Valley a bastard child that produces fruit for them," Wehman said. "You'd be surprised how many people have no idea wine is produced here."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Sutter Readies New Fairfield Referral Facility -17,000-square-foot Fairfield Surgery Center

Article Published: Saturday, July 24, 2004

Cutting-edge medicine

Sutter readies new Fairfield referral facility

By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

With Wal-Mart on one side and the Anheuser-Busch plant on the other, the new $30 million Sutter Fairfield Medical Campus off Chadbourne Road sticks out like a sore thumb.
Conveniently enough, doctors at the campus's 17,000-square-foot Fairfield Surgery Center can fix a sore thumb, a faulty digestive system or blood vessel problems. All of the surgery is on an outpatient basis, and the campus, which is a referral facility, does not offer hospital care.

The surgery center sits on the second floor of the building, holding $2.5 million of high-tech equipment, along with five operating rooms of 500 square feet each.

Dr. Robert Takamoto, Sutter Fairfield's medical director, said having that much space to work with is a huge advantage.

"These rooms are so large - you could do open heart surgery in here if you wanted to," Takamoto laughed.

Downstairs from the expansive surgery center is the campus' Diagnostic Imaging Center - a completely digital radiology department.

The 18,000-square-foot center is home to high-tech machines performing magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, mammography, bone densitometry, fluoroscopy and run-of-the-mill general radiology. James Grosskopf, the campus' lead administrator, said all of the equipment at Sutter Fairfield - most of which was built by General Electric - is top-of-the-line.

"This CT scanner is three times faster than normal quad scanners," Grosskopf said while showing off the $1 million machine.

The best part of the new imaging center, Grosskopf said, is that it is completely digital - no X-ray film, no physical storage, no searching through filing cabinets for patients' records.

"If you don't have film, you don't have storage costs," Grosskopf said. "We also save on our personnel costs."

X-ray images are shot straight from the scanning machines to a central room in the imaging center to be viewed. The digital archives are stored in Sacramento and can be accessed - with proper security clearance - from any Sutter campus.

"There's no personal files to deal with. It's all in there," Grosskopf said, pointing at a computer.

John S. Ray, chief executive officer of Sutter Regional Medical Foundation, said there is another seven acres on which to expand at the site, though the focus right now is on getting the campus up and running. The first patients are expected to walk through the entrance atrium Sept. 7.

The site was chosen by Sutter because of the needs in that part of the county, said Patricia Porras, the regional operations manager for Health Inventures. Health Inventures will provide management services for the campus.

"There are limitations on access to these kind of services in Fairfield," Porras said.

Ray said the idea of a Sutter campus in Fairfield sprang to life four years ago. Sutter operates facilities across Northern California, including medical offices in Vacaville, Rio Vista and Fairfield; medical centers in Sacramento, Roseville and Vallejo; and a hospital in Davis.

Sutter Fairfield will hold a community open house Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Refreshments and tours will be available, as will drawings for free bone-density screenings and lipid blood tests.

Porras said Sutter Fairfield, 80,000 square feet in size, has the potential to serve 3,800 patients per year. With all the surgery outpatient and with no hospital care, Takamoto said, schedules should flow smoothly.

"It's so efficient this way," the doctor said. "Unless a surgeon gets called away, everyone will be operated on right on time."

Tom Hall can be reached at

New Sutter Fairfield Medical Campus Holds Grand Opening For State-of-the-Art Outpatient Surgery & Diagnostic Imaging Centers

Financial file - July 25

Grand opening event today

The new Sutter Fairfield Medical Campus will hold a grand opening and community health faire from 1 to 5 p.m. today at 2700 Low Court, located off Highway 12 at Chadbourne Road.

Attendees will preview its state-of-the-art outpatient surgery and diagnostic imaging centers, a behind-the-scenes look at the new facilities, including the latest in orthopedic and many other surgeries, and diagnostic imaging technology.

Health information tables and local physicians will be on hand to answer questions about diabetes, heart health, women's wellness, lowering risks of cancer, eye care and more. There will be puppet shows, face painting and a bounce house for children.

For more information, call (650) 856-1607.

Convert the Historic Cadenasso Winery into a First-Class Fruit and Candy Stand

Article Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2004

It begins with a dream

Winery's new owner could breathe new life in property

Visionaries are rarely appreciated in their time. The focus of their dreams often is lost on we mere mortals.

But perhaps that will change.

With a little help, a lot of hard work, and much patience navigating the straits of planning bureaucracy, Suisun Valley resident and Jelly Belly Co. Chairman Herman Rowland Jr. hopes to convert the historic Cadenasso Winery into a first-class fruit and candy stand that also promotes the area's agriculture. Mr. Rowland and his family hope the project will be something on the order of what the Nut Tree was in its heyday. It is a bold step for the future of Solano County, one that uses one of the county's economic and traditional pillars - agriculture.

"I have nothing but crazy ideas," Mr. Rowland said last week after it was learned he had closed the deal on the winery property earlier in the month. "All of this is just daydreaming and night dreaming."

But the Rowland family has a history of success with dreams and visions. Last year, Jelly Belly Co., with its corporate headquarters about two miles from the winery property, had net sales of more than $130 million.

While no plans are set in stone - and time and bureaucracy might alter blueprint along the way - Mr. Rowland and his family aim to turn the winery site into a farmer's fantasyland and a gateway to the rest of Suisun Valley.

Visitors to the winery property also would receive a map to other produce stands and wineries in Suisun Valley. Mr. Rowland already has spoken to other farmers and vintners who want to make Suisun Valley a trademark name, such as Napa Valley and Jelly Belly. There is talk of naming the stand The Belly Flop Stop, a reference to imperfect Jelly Belly candies.

The 10-acre property on Abernathy Road in Fairfield abuts Interstate 80 and has easy access. Mr. Rowland would like to have a sign visible to passers-by promoting the fresh produce of the day, and offer "incredible service," a "pristine, clean" environment, and the freshest, tastiest product.

A train on wheels with cars in the shapes of vegetables would meander the property on a winding path and passengers would be able to learn about agriculture.

While it was sad to see one of the county's oldest wineries close more than a year ago, it is hoped that once Mr. Rowland's dream comes to fruition the project will help preserve the legacy of the Cadenasso Winery and promote other agriculture-related businesses.

It would be nice to see more specific blueprint for the very visible property, but, for now, plans for the parcel are just a vision, one we hope comes into focus in next few years.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Campbell plant keeps economy humming in Dixon

Article Published: Sunday, July 25, 2004

M'm! M'm! Good

Campbell plant keeps economy humming in Dixon

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Craving hot tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?

Or just a snack of chips and salsa?

It's likely most American kitchens contain a can of Campbell's tomato soup or any of the company's hundreds of products. But few realize the base for that household staple begins in Dixon's prime agriculture fields and runs through an unassuming plant on the outskirts of town.

It's a plant that keeps growers growing and infuses $35 million a year into the local economy, said Tim Gruenwald, director of agriculture operations for Campbell Soup Supply Co.

Formerly Dixon Canning Company, the plant has been in operation since 1975 and employs about 185 during the tomato-harvesting season. About 6,000 tons of tomatoes are processed there daily.

"This is our largest processing company in California," Gruenwald said.

Solano County's recent Crop and Livestock report found that in 2003, processing tomatoes were a $20.2 million crop in the county, making them the No. 3 ag product in the county, behind nursery stock and cattle and calves.

"And processing tomatoes are the 12th-largest cash commodity in California agriculture," Gruenwald said."It's a fairly important crop."


In early July, the 88-day tomato processing season began, and the serenity of rural Pedrick Road transformed into a hubbub of noise, steam and the tangy aroma of tomatoes.

It's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation of slicing and dicing tomatoes trucked in from about 13,000 acres of land in Solano and Yolo counties, Gruenwald said.

"More than one half million tons from those two counties come to this plant," he said. "We're interested in making sure that we get the tomatoes grown as close as possible to the plant."

Dixon growers Roy Gill and Craig Gnos are among the 40 growers in Yolo and 13 growers in Solano counties who have contracts with Campbell.

In fact, one of Gill's fields of tomatoes is located just across the narrow country road from the plant.

"We roll 'em across over here," Gill joked from his field.

This year, Gnos is growing 920 acres of tomatoes for the plant, and Gill 940 acres.

Gill has been growing tomatoes for 29 years, and his father grew them before him, he said.

"Tomatoes have been grown here for probably 40 to 45 years," Gill said. "Campbell's Soup is really important. ... We take good care of them because they're the only plant left in Solano County," he said.

"Most canneries have either closed or migrated south," Gnos added.

Gill said having tomatoes close to the plant controls transportation costs and the quality of the tomato - a highly perishable fruit.

Fifty acres of tomatoes is worth a gross of about $100,000, depending on the actual yield.

Gill scoffed at rumors that the tomato crop is doing badly in California.

"Overall, the tomato crop looks pretty good," he said. "I'm hearing that up and down the state."

But mother nature can change all of that at a whim, he added.

"Five days of 105 degree weather throws us out of whack, and it's everybody's guess," Gill said.

"And five days of 80 degrees puts us back," Gnos added.

The weather can ruin a crop in a matter of days, agreed Patrick Rooney, agriculture manager for Campbell. So growers in late December are given a fine-tuned schedule and start growing as early as January to keep the tomatoes rolling.

The growers are given a variety plan, delivery dates, and tonnage expected per week. Some growers plant seeds while some tomato plants come from greenhouses and are transplanted.

"So the crops are staggered," Rooney explained.


As the old song says, "you say tomato and I say tomahto" but at the Dixon Campbell plant there are all sort of names for the red fruit

"Bos3155," "Shasta," "AB2," "Peto849," "Asgrow410" and "Campbell179," - a premier variety of tomato - are the names of the processing varieties of tomatoes, said Craig Leathers, senior agriculture representative for the company.

The varieties are for paste and diced tomatoes - not the tomatoes one would find at the farmer's market.

"The supermarkets' products are completely different varieties," Leathers said. "We call these peelers or paste tomatoes," Leathers said.

Paste is used for Prego spaghetti sauce, Pace picante sauce, tomato juice, V-8, tomato soup and more, Leathers said.

Diced tomatoes also are used for different soups like vegetable beef, and Chunky-label soups. And don't forget the well loved Franco-American SpaghettiOs, he said.

In addition, Campbell makes Pepperidge Farms products and Godiva chocolate, Gruenwald said.

Last year, Campbell debuted its first organic tomato juice.

"This is our first foray into organic for Campbell's, and we have increased four-fold our organic products this year," he said. "We're excited about it."


Up to 220 trailers laden with tomatoes trundle into the plant per day under the watchful eye of Mike McEver, plant manager.

"From the time they deliver the tomatoes, they're processed in four to six hours," McEver said. "Everything we run is extremely fresh."

Tomatoes are transported to a conveyer belt that moves up to the top tier of the plant and are washed in a flume. Tomatoes bob up and down under the assault of spraying water until the dirty water is washed away.

After the tomatoes are moved to a secondary flume to be washed yet again, the next step is the conveyer belt, where workers wearing white aprons, white hair nets and latex gloves pick out stems, sticks or whatever bypassed the flumes that's not a tomato.

The next processing step is the "Hot Break System" level, where paste is made.

"Tomato paste is pure tomato with the water taken out," McEver explained. "A raw tomato is about 5 percent solid. We increase the concentration by removing the water five fold."

It takes two hours to make paste, with highly trained personnel monitoring a computerized control panel with gauges and temperatures readings. Heaters bring the tomatoes up to 200 degrees for sterilization, he said.

Next, the paste is transferred into another section of the plant, where it is pumped into wooden bins lined with a layer of plastic and covered with heavy plastic with a thick, metallic coating. Each bin holds about 300 gallons of paste, or 2,900 pounds per bin.

Again, quality and sanitation are critical. Gruenwald said when the empty bins come in, they don't even touch the ground.

The paste is pumped into a vacuum-sealed container holding the processed tomato paste and the final step before shipping is to put a silver seal to plug the filled bin. The plant also processes about 600,000 to 700,000 pounds of diced tomatoes a day.

The ingredient is destined for four major soup plants Campbell has in the U.S. - Sacramento; Paris, Texas; Napoleon, Ohio; and Maxton, N.C.


Tomatoes destined for dicing run up a conveyer belt and fall bouncing into a computer controlled container with high speed cameras. The cameras identify the green tomatoes and plastic paddles swat the green tomatoes out.

Next, they're steamed to remove the skins.

"The steam makes the peels soft," McEver explained. "By the time they head down the conveyer belt, we hope we have no more peels."

Along this conveyer belt, a line of employees in the standard net caps, ear plugs, aprons and gloves check the tomatoes for scraps of peel.

"There's always going to be a little that gets by, but not much. We have our standards to meet," McEver said.

Maria Vera, 44, works the conveyer belt checking for stray peels. An employee with Campbell for 15 years, she said she's held other jobs but enjoys coming back to Dixon each year.

"This is the best place to come - right here," she said.

And the hard work isn't a problem, she added. "I like it here. It's easy."

Gruenwald said the plant has a low turnover of employees.

"We try to make a good working environment for them, and we appreciate their talent," Gruenwald said. "It's nice to have talented and experienced people return every year."

Like Lab Manager Teresa Aguilera, 50, who is working her 20th season at Campbell. She said the seasonal job is perfect for her because it allows her to be with her children most of the year.

"I love it here," Aguilera said. "It's nice to come back here and work a couple months out of the year."

The lab is the last stop for the processed tomatoes, which come in small, vacuum sealed silver bags.

"The lab is like a scorekeeper, it tells us how we're doing," McEver said.

Gruenwald said Campbell has been putting tomatoes in a can since 1869.

"They learned early on about quality," he said. "We have a tracking system that allows us to track the tomatoes all the way from the field to the lab."

MeEver said there are occasions where the tomatoes have to be recycled or - a worst case scenario - destroyed. But not often, he said.

"We focus on quality because we want to be proud of what we've got," McEver said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at


Campbell Soup Company

World headquarters: Camden, N.J. 2003 sales: $6.7 billion

Founded: 1869, by Joseph Campbell, an icebox manufacturer

In 1904, the cherubic Campbell Kids were introduced on trolley car advertisements, and the "M'm! M'm! Good" jingle made its way to television in American homes in the 1950s.

Products: Sold in 120 countries around the globe

Operations: Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia

This year: Campbell Soup Company celebrates its 50th year of listing on the New York stock exchange, while the Campbell Kids turn 100.

Comfort Suites going up in Cordelia Ranch

July 24, 2004

Comfort Suites going up in Cordelia Ranch

By Matthew Bunk

-- A hotel going up on Pittman Road in Green Valley will be one of the first structures at the Cordelia Ranch Commercial Center, a 10-building development plotted to someday include nine other businesses.

The mostly-undeveloped Cordelia Ranch covers the entire block surrounded by Pittman Road and Central Avenue.

The hotel, a Comfort Suites, will hold 67 guest rooms, a meeting room and a breakfast area. It also will have an exercise area and an outdoor pool and spa.

The hotel property will include 11,000 square feet of landscaping, with evergreens, Siberian elms and purple leaf plum trees, and enough parking for 68 cars. The hotel building will be 40,000 square feet.

A gazebo will greet guests at the main hotel entrance, which will be designed with colored and textured concrete on the ground under an overhanging facade. The building's exterior will be stucco and wood trim.

The hotel is expected to be the largest building in Cordelia Ranch. Two retail shops to the west will have a combined 24,000 square feet of operating space. A convenience store, two fast-food establishments, three restaurants and an office will take up smaller spaces along Central Avenue north of the hotel property.

The office building will be 9,500 square feet, and two of the restaurants will be more than 5,000 square feet.

Comfort Suites is part of Choice Hotels International, a chain of eight hotel brands that include Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality, Sleep Inn, Clarion, MainStay Suites, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn. It's a public company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CHH.

Do you drive by a construction project each day and you don't know what it is? Call Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or e-mail him at and let him know what construction project has caught your eye.

Comfort Suites

Address: 315 Pittman Road

Cost: $3.5 million

Owner: Sam Patel

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Solano County decided to lease 45,500 square feet on Executive Court North Providian site

Solano takes Providian site
A sizable vacancy left by Providian Financial when it closed its Fairfield office was filled when Solano County decided to lease 45,500 square feet on Executive Court North.

"This office space was previously occupied by Providian Financial as part of its Fairfield campus, which employed 1,200 people," said Brooks Pedder, a broker for Colliers International, who with his partner, Garrett, represented Garaventa Properties and Solano County.

"The county lease goes a long way toward stabilizing the local office market and economy in the wake of Providian's departure," Pedder said.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Fairfield: Panattoni Development to Construct a 10-building Industrial Campus

East Bay Business Times - July 5, 2004

From the July 2, 2004 print edition
Big spec project challenges market
Katherine Conrad
Panattoni Development is daring to construct a 10-building industrial campus - a project designed to satisfy the market's demand for owner/user buildings - entirely on spec.

Even the broker for the 365,000-square-foot project in Fairfield, Glen Dowling of Cushman & Wakefield, conceded that building any project this close to a recessionary climate can be described as "ambitious."

"If you look at the overall vacancy, there's a tremendous amount of space in Vacaville and in Benicia, as well. To be building in the face of that, it is an ambitious project," Dowling said. "And yet Fairfield is well-positioned to handle this product."

"I don't think you can point to any other project in Solano County where this much square footage has been built all at once and on a speculative basis. It hasn't been done," he said.

Panattoni's bullishness about the Solano County market proved to be justified when Metropolitan Van & Storage of Benicia signed a 10-year lease for a 100,000-square-foot warehouse near the rear of the 27-acre development before ground has even broken on the Solano Commerce Center.

"In our business, you don't get a lot of activity until a building is under construction. And frankly, not until the walls are tilted," Dowling said. "So we're ahead of that game."

Construction is scheduled to begin this month, with the first buildings available in spring 2005. Despite the fact that interest rates are starting to inch up, Dowling believes demand will remain strong when the campus is complete.

"For the last year and a half, owner-users have been looking to own their own real estate. Interest rates are low and SBA (Small Business Administration) financing is available. What they normally pay in rent, they can pay in debt service and own their own building. That is driving the demand," said Dowling.

George Condon, development manager for Panattoni, one of the country's largest developers at 10 million square feet of real estate a year, described the project as unusual because it offers buildings in all sizes - from 5,000-square-foot offices to 126,000-square-foot warehouses and everything in between.

"It's unique in the sense that the front parcels are geared to owner/users looking to buy a freestanding building. The front buildings range from 8,000 to 19,000 square feet," Condon said.

"But it remains to be seen how they will be received. There is no product out there now."

Condon, working in Panattoni's Sacramento headquarters, said his company closed its Walnut Creek office when the economic downturn hit the Bay Area. Now the privately owned company is focusing on the North Bay region and plans to build a 120,000-square-foot business park in Napa County this fall.

Rental rates depend on the type of building and location but range from 45 cents a square foot to 60 cents a square foot. Sale rates range from $95 a square foot to $105 a square foot for an unfinished shell.

Referring to the 13 percent vacancy rates in Fairfield, both Condon and Dowling said the figure is not a fair assessment of the market because the buildings currently vacant are outdated and appeal to very few users.

"We can create a product that appeals to a broad tenant base," Condon said. The demand is coming back. We feel validated by the 100,000-square-foot lease."

While the first tenant came from Benicia, Dowling believes much of the demand will come from Oakland, Hayward and Richmond. And the project, located near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Highway 12, offers access to Interstate 680 as well.

"Where Solano County can pull is the labor pool. If a business owner is leasing in Hayward, his employees live in Solano County. He can't buy a building in Hayward, but he can go to Fairfield and buy a building," Dowling said.

Dowling said he and his partner, Matt Bracco, also of Cushman & Wakefield, are currently chasing a lot of deals, indicating plenty of interest in the product that he predicted will only intensify once construction begins.

Reach Conrad at or 925-598-1427.

© 2004 American City Business Journals Inc.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Travis AFB Fleet May Soon get C-5 Modernization Ugrade

May 6, 2004

Travis fleet may soon get upgrade

By Reporter Staff

U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Solano, announced Wednesday that Travis Air Force Base may receive an additional $42 million to upgrade the fleet of C-5 aircraft at the base.

The added funding could become part of a new Defense Authorization bill that is now in the very early stages of being drafted. Tauscher serves on the House Armed Services Committee, and some related subcommittees.

The congresswoman said in a news release that the funds for the C-5 modernization effort are vital.

"The airmen and women at Travis Air Force Base are doing a heroic job in getting the equipment and people to the fight," she said. "These additional funds will help bridge the gap in our airlift needs."

Also as part of the defense bill, the House subcommittee approved a part of the bill that would urge the Department of Defense to start another plan to buy more C-17 aircraft.

Travis Air Force Base is in line to begin receiving C-17s at the base. The aircraft is considered the future of air mobility, and a boon to Travis.

"Our nation's airlift needs are under severe strain and require a balanced portfolio of both C-5s and C-17s," she said.

Suisun City Wants Lighthouse

May 5, 2004

Suisun City wants lighthouse

By Matthew Bunk

SUISUN CITY -- A project to rejuvinate the west side of Main Street will utilize a throw-back to the old styles that dominated the downtowns of the early part of this century, according to city plans unveiled Tuesday night at a workshop.

Also part of the plan, the city plans to build a 50-foot lighthouse at the head of the harbor to enhance the identity of Suisun City's waterfront. The city has considered spending $500,000 on the lighthouse, said Suisun City Mayor Jim Spering.

The lighthouse could be an icon for Main Street that helps to generate pedestrian traffic in an area of town that has not developed as quickly as city officials would have liked, Spering said.

The city's new vision for a retro atmosphere is based on the goal of creating unique small shops. It builds on the live-work concept of the existing waterfront development that combines retail shops and homes.

The concept would create an uninterrupted row of retail on the ground floor of each downtown block, with one or two stories of residential space directly above, according to plans presented by Roma Design Group.

First the city would build on large parcels of mostly undeveloped land along the marina area of Civic Center Drive. Three distinct land-use options were presented to the public, all calling for a conglomerate of residential and retail development. Two options would leave space for a hotel.

It would be a pilot project to gauge the interest of developers, contentment of residents and financial viability. If successful, the city said it would offer substantial incentives for Main Street business owners to redevelop their properties.

The parcel redevelopment and lighthouse projects could begin within a year, Spering said. It would be the second phase of a city campaign to rejuvinate the central business district and unite two areas of town.

The city will work with private developers to generate funding for a bulk of the project, said Randy Starbuck, Suisun economic development director. He said the city redevelopment agency has enough money to pay for public improvements.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Group that promotes biotech crops finds home in California

Sacramento Bee

-- Starting in July, the University of California, Davis, becomes home to an initiative called the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. PIPRA is a collection of about 20 universities and philanthropic groups that united last summer to overcome the legal barriers that slow development of biotech crops.

PIPRA is funded by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis, Minn., and the Rockefeller Foundation of New York. The cost for the first three to five years of PIPRA is pegged at approximately $1 million.

The UC Davis role, made public Thursday, boosts its already considerable status in the world of ag biotechnology, and campus leaders quickly embraced PIPRA as an important part of the university's educational and research mission.

"We felt we had a public responsibility to this particular program because it would benefit the entire world," said Lynne Chronister, associate vice chancellor for research administration at UC Davis.

UC Davis was chosen from among four possible sites because it offered space, computers and administrative support for the infant operation, along with biotech expertise, said Rex Raimond, who helped manage the site-selection process as part of the consulting group Meridian Institute. The campus' start-up contribution is $75,000.

Alan Bennett, a UC intellectual property guru, was tapped to lead PIPRA during its first year.

"It's a high-profile organization and the campus takes some pride in hosting it," he said. "It's seen as an organization that can solve problems and really address the issues that have been out there."

The newly formed PIPRA advisory board at UC Davis includes Gurdev Khush, one of the world's foremost rice breeders; Kent Bradford, director of the Seed Biotechnology Center on campus; and Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the UC system-wide biotech program housed at Davis.

Biotech crops are rejected in spots around the world because of potential environmental or human health concerns that come with moving genes around in ways not possible in nature. For instance, Mendocino County banned the growing of genetically engineered crops in March.

(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

Cities work hard to keep up 'best-maintained streets'

May 2, 2004

Smoothing over rough edges

Cities work hard to keep up 'best-maintained streets'

By Barry Eberling

-- Spring is here and the time is right for filling potholes in the street.

That's just what Fairfield and Vacaville maintenance workers are doing. They are donning their orange vests, then going out to lay down that sealant and fill up those cracks.

After all, those two cities have a regional reputation to uphold.

Fairfield and Vacaville have among the best-maintained streets in the Bay Area, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's 2003 "State of the System" report. They tied for eighth out of 102 cities and counties.

What this means for residents is some of the smoothest drives in the region - and fewer trips to the mechanic to get their cars put back into alignment.

"The city of Vacaville does put a priority on street maintenance," Public Works Project Engineer James Loomis said.

But there's a huge chuckhole on the road to further improvements - funding for pavement problems in coming years is expected to fall far short of the need.

Transportation leaders estimate Solano County and its cities will need $938 million over 25 years to maintain 1,600 miles of road. About $465 million should be available.

That's half a loaf.

Keeping a road renaissance under way isn't easy. But local cities are going to try, with a slew of projects planned for this spring and summer.

After all, spring is in the air - and so is the smell of asphalt and road sealants.


Fairfield 15 years ago tried a new method of sealing streets with a mixture of asphalt and rubber.

That test area east of North Texas Street is still holding out. The mixture seals the street and is flexible, so it doesn't crack, Fairfield Street Manager Bill Norvas said.

Fairfield in recent years began using the method more. Norvas credits it as one reason for the city's eighth-place Bay Area road rating.

"The life you get out of it is amazing," Norvas said.

Putting down this rubberized chip seal costs $4 a square yard. That compares to reconstructing a street at $20 a square yard.

"It's cost-effective," Norvas said.

The top priority maintenance project this summer is the Travis Boulevard overcrossing of Interstate 80, Norvas said. The overcrossing at Suisun Valley and Pittman roads is also high on the list, he said.

He has a tentative list of further projects, but is uncertain how far the city's money will go. Part of that will depend on the upcoming budget sessions.

"I'd love to be able to do them all," Norvas said. "If we can't, some of them will get done and some of them won't."

Fairfield last summer said it planned to average spending $2.8 million annually on street maintenance through the decade.

But state budget woes may cost the city about $250,000 annually, Finance Director Bob Leland. Grants for major street renovations could also be in jeopardy.

Even that $2.8 million is far short of Fairfield's stated ideal of $4 million annually. This ideal will likely have to wait for better fiscal times.

"That is quite a reach," Leland said.


City road workers divide the city into 12 sections. Each year, they tackle the roads in a few of these sections.

This year, they are repairing streets in the Leisure Town Road area. Loomis isn't expecting any drastic repairs will be needed.

"These areas are fairly new in the city," he said.

Repairs will be done in an area west of Leisure Town Road, east of Nut Tree Road, south of Interstate 80 and north of Alamo Drive, with a few more areas to the south. Work is expected to cost about $800,000.

Vacaville has other road projects planned, as well. It will resurface Orange Drive from Lawrence Drive to Leisure Town Road.

Orange Drive, which is home to the city's auto mall, won't close down, Loomis said. The contractor will keep lanes open, he said.

Other Vacaville road projects have nothing to do with maintenance. For example, the city hopes this summer to reconstruct the Leisure Town Road interchange at a cost of $25 million. It will turn the road from two lanes to six lanes to accommodate a growing population and business district.

Suisun City

Suisun City ranked 75th on the Bay Area roads condition list.

The big road project this summer will be turning two-lane Walters Road into a four-lane segment of the Jepson Parkway. The $5 million project will take place from Bella Vista Drive to East Tabor Avenue.

There had been talk of doing the new road last year, but the project got delayed.

But there's good news for motorist - Walters Road won't be shut down during construction. Workers will build the four-lane road next to the existing two-lane version, with the latter ultimately becoming a frontage road.

Suisun City plans to spend about $600,000 on various road maintenance projects, Acting Public Works Director Gary Cullen said.

One goal is to smooth out Walnut, Maple and Elmwood streets to create better drainage, he said. The streets have settled unevenly.

A similar situation exists on Whispering Bay Lane, where a hump goes across the street and blocks drainage. The city will try to get rid of the hump.

Then there's slurry seal projects in various parts of town. That will probably be done in August and September, Cullen said.

Most slurry seal turns gray over time and people feel like the road is getting old, Cullen said. But Suisun City uses black rocks that stay black.

"It's pretty good for the appearance of the street," Cullen said.


Dixon ranked 29th among Bay Area cities and plans to spend $600,000 this summer on street maintenance.

North Lincoln Street between Highway 113 and Stratford will get sealing work done on it. So will Industrial Way. Various streets in the older, downtown section will get varying degrees of maintenance work.

"Some of them are in fair condition," Associate Engineer Danny Uppal said. "Some are very bad."

Most of the work will be done in the late summer, he said.

Benicia ranked 25th among 102 Bay Area cities and counties in road conditions, Rio Vista 82nd and Vallejo 93rd. The rural county ranked 62nd.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

Constructing Cordelia -- Developments make it the county's 'boom area'

May 1, 2004

Constructing Cordelia -- Developments make it the county's 'boom area'

By Matthew Bunk

-- When the city first decided to harness the commercial potential of the Cordelia area, only a few homes were strewn across the rural countryside. Looking at the area now, after several years of exclusive attention from city planners, it's difficult to imagine a sleepy, undeveloped valley.

Elaborate office buildings are splayed across the countryside and retailers now clamor for prime spots along the freeway. Situated at one of California's most cursed traffic bottlenecks, the intersection of interstates 80 and 680, the core of Cordelia and lower Green Valley has become a pit stop for commuters.

For that reason, and because it has a generous amount of prime residential acreage, the area has developed into a thriving hub.

The commercial structure didn't immediately burst into existence. Instead, it grew deliberately at first and in stages. Mostly it followed residential development, today with a base population significant enough to attract and sustain retail business.

Frenzied construction reached a peak in 2003 as developers put up more than 180,000 square feet of office space. Most major projects were built within the last decade.

Fairfield started to push growth more than 20 years ago by annexing 2,637 acres in lower Green Valley. In July 1983, the city formed a redevelopment district that allowed it to collect incremental taxes and buy land through a redevelopment agency for later commercial use.

The city agency at one time was the largest landowner in the area. It held more than 250 acres of land, which it purchased in separate deals for about $17 million. After selling chunks to developers for two large business parks, the city still owns 78 acres in the Green Valley Corporate and Green Valley Office parks.

Recently, the city agency sold a 1.6-acre parcel to a developer who said it will be used for an Applebee's restaurant, Bank of America, Pet Club and a 10,000-square-foot retail center. The parcel is next to Costco, which also sold some of its undeveloped property in the three-party land deal.

The city agency got $200,000 for its parcel, a strip of land the city planned to use to widen I-80 but later decided against. The redevelopment property generally has been sold at or below market value to developers who conform to the city's tenant and structural requirements. In many cases, the city mandates a time frame for construction.

Although the city doesn't develop land itself, it generally controls what can be built in redevelopment districts, said Joe Lucchio, city economic development project manager.

"The city had a vision for what should go out there," said Lucchio, who has worked on the Cordelia Project Area for almost 10 years. "The whole purpose of redevelopment is to get what you want."

Retailers lured by growth

More retail space will become available when developers get further along in their master plans, which in some cases call for dozens more office buildings and retail centers. But right now, lower Green Valley doesn't have any newly constructed retail facilities waiting to be filled, said Deb Karpo, retail broker for Colliers International.

The next large retail project will be on land bordering I-80 on the north, Karpo said. The property, owned by Harvey Shein, had been a part of a 24-acre parcel occupied by a truck stop. The truck stop was destroyed last year, and the city purchased seven acres for roadway improvements.

The remaining 17 acres has been planned as a mixed-use project, with both retail and high-density residential development.

"The property is very visible," Karpo said. "There's a lot of different options for the land out there, and it's got some great frontage."

Future retail opportunities in the area will be limited only by the amount of land designated for that type of use and the city's insistence on controlling what type of businesses are welcome, Karpo said.

Even so, space has filled fast, she added.

"There are a lot of moving parts right now," she said. "It's hard to announce anything, because everything changes so quickly and some of it isn't nailed down yet."

Office development feels Bay Area slowdown

Developers who lease office complexes have slowed plans to build more office facilities until supply dwindles, meantime concentrating on red-hot retail projects.

It seems a glut of office space in other Bay Area communities has cut off demand for offices here, even in the city's fastest-growing area.

"The leasing market for offices has been slow," said Tim Schroeder, vice president of Quadrangle Development. "The Bay Area economy has impacted us. Vacancies in Concord, Walnut Creek and Pleasanton affect our market here."

Rather than start construction immediately on a third office building on its land in the Green Valley Corporate Park, Quadrangle has decided to put it off until next year, Schroeder said. The company still has empty space in its first multi-tenant office building, although a recent lease agreement will bring their vacancy to less than 3 percent.

Office space will fill first in the Bay Area, then demand will increase in outlying areas, Lucchio said.

"So it's not going to develop here as quickly," he said.

Quadrangle still plans to begin construction of a Marriott-based Extended Stay hotel and a restaurant later this year, Schroeder said. Both buildings have been included in the Green Valley Corporate Park master plan, which calls for more than 20 buildings on 132-acres of land.

Venture Corporation said it will build four buildings for office condos later this year at the Green Valley Corporate Park.

Construction will begin this summer, and the properties are expected to hit the market before winter, said Robert Eves, president of Venture.

"The site plan is complete," he said. "Construction will take six months. We'll just put 'em up."

Selling office space, rather than leasing, gives Venture an edge in the market, Eves said.

Garaventa Properties, owner of the 122-acre Fairfield Corporate Commons, may build another facility later this year, although no plans have been submitted to the city, Lucchio said. Garaventa already has one office building in the Commons, but the next one reportedly will be a retail center.

Homes first, commerce follows

The original smattering of homes in old Cordelia and the early residential developments at Cordelia Villages were miles away from the nearest shopping centers in Vallejo and Fairfield. Residents at the time often complained about commuting for groceries, said Bob Rossi, a spokesman for Seeno Homes, a longtime homebuilder in Cordelia Villages.

"Twenty years ago homeowners were wondering why there were no supermarkets," Rossi said. "But nobody builds a store that size and then hangs a 'For Rent' sign on the door. Until enough people live in the area, a supermarket won't just move in."

Price Club, now Costco, opened in the early 1990s as the first major retailer in the greater Cordelia area. Ethan Allen followed in 1997 as the area's first clothier, and later projects included Safeway, TJ Maxx and several retail stores in Green Valley Crossing.

Napa Tahoe Specialty Development oversaw the 167,000-square-foot Green Valley Crossing project, which reached near capacity within two years. Napa Tahoe also was the purchaser in the recent land deal with the city agency and Costco.

Napa Tahoe immediately sold two of the four parcels, one to Applebee's and the other to Pet Club. It plans to lease one piece to Bank of America and keep one for the retail center, a company official said.

"I'm bullish about (lower Green Valley)," said Richard Heller of Napa Tahoe.

The 4,000 homes in the area should provide a consistent base of shoppers, retailers said. Millions of weekly commuters and the projected creation of up to 4,000 new office jobs provide retailers with plenty of targets, Karpo said.

"Retail has been more stable than the office market," Karpo said.

Dwindled interest in office space hasn't shaken the city's confidence in its painstakingly developed Cordelia Area Project, which has become a pet project of planners. It also has retained favor among brokers as a showcase when trying to sell or lease property.

"It's the boom area of Solano County," said Steve Spencer of Premier Commercial. "It's been touted for years, and all the streets and infrastructure are set for massive growth."

Some residents who bought homes before offices sprouted say they want construction to stop.

"Enough is enough," said Ruth Clawson, a lower Green Valley homeowner for 10 years. "We bought here partly because of the rural nature of the area. We knew then that it would be developed, but this is going to be higher density than we originally were told."

Traffic makes it difficult to get from one side of the interstate to the other, said Monica Brown, a teacher at Green Valley Middle School who has owned a home in Cordelia since 1991.

"Adding office space and retail in Green Valley doesn't help me if I can't get to the other side of the interstate," Brown said. "The practical part of me says it's good because it brings higher paying jobs, but that drives up home prices to the point that our children won't be able to afford to buy a home here.

"The other part of me wants to preserve open space."

When the city first took over the Cordelia redevelopment, the land was considered "blight," a somewhat unfair description for green, rolling hillsides and farmland. Even Lucchio doesn't like to call it that.

"There actually isn't much that anyone could have considered blight in Cordelia," Lucchio said. "What the redevelopment agency did could be called parcel assemblage to make the property usable."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Suisun City's West Side Redevelopment Story

May 1, 2004

Suisun City's west side redevelopment story

By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY -- Residents can learn about the city's plans to rejuvenate Main Street's west side at a public workshop hosted by the Suisun City Redevelopment Agency Tuesday.

City officials wouldn't discuss specifics, but Redevelopment Director Randy Starbuck said "there are a lot of really great ideas" people need to see. Roma Design Group, a consulting firm Mayor Jim Spering has met with, will present a number of alternatives.

The overall goal is to entice private businesses into the second phase of the city's campaign to rejuvenate Suisun City's old town.

An advisory group of homeowners, developers, business members and city officials will discuss the ideas to see which will be the most effective, Starbuck said.

Earlier this year, the agency met with residents and business groups such as the Waterfront Business Improvement District to talk about what they want to see done.

The agency is pushing forward what its leaders call the Downtown Phase II plan to jump-start redevelopment of Main Street's west side.

In the past, the agency poured millions into improving the waterfront area from Victorian Harbor to Main Street in an attempt to bring in new businesses.

Main Street's west side has largely been overshadowed by the extensive waterfront projects with the exception of the Railroad Plaza and the train station.

City leaders had hoped that massive waterfront redevelopment with new buildings, parking lots, a new marina and new businesses would inspire economic growth on the west side.

With few exceptions, that failed despite the repeated agency efforts that largely included offering loans to renovate storefront facades.

The Tuesday presentation will include not only ideas Roma created, but a lot of ideas from residents and the business community, Starbuck said.

Starbuck expects the Downtown Phase II plan will come together quickly because "we want to see some of these things start coming out of the ground in 2005."

Starbuck will look for private sector funding to drive the project forward but said the agency has the money to pay for whatever public improvements are needed.

The Suisun City Council, Redevelopment Agency, Planning Commission, and Parks and Recreation Commission meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Suisun City Council chamber, 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

At a glance

Who: Suisun City Council, Redevelopment Agency, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission

What: Workshop on plans to rejuvenate growth on the west side of Main Street.

Where: Suisun City Council Chamber

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

Info: 421-7309

North Valley Bancorp Acquires Yolo Bank


April 26, 2004
North Valley acquires Yolo Bank

By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD -- Yolo Community Bank, with locations in Roseville, Fairfield and Woodland, will be acquired by North Valley Bancorp, the companies announced April 26.

Privately-hold Yolo Community Bank will keep its name under the agreement and will become a subsidiary of North Valley Bancorp, a company with assets of $730 million.

Yolo Community Bank shareholders will receive $9.5 million in cash and 741,000 shares of North Valley Bancorp's common stock. The deal was valued at $23.4 million for the $105 million Yolo Community Bank.

North Valley's stock was valued at $17.09 a share before the deal was announced. It closed Friday at $16.83.

The company will operate 23 branches with $835 million in assets.

Directors for both companies unanimously approved the deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter of this year, North Valley Bancorp said.

John DiMichele, president and CEO of Yolo Community Bank, will continue in those roles and will become vice president of the Yolo Community Bank holding company, said Mark Day, of Yolo Community Bank. DiMichele said being taken over was not part of the company's original plan.

"Although this is a departure from our original vision of staying independent, we are very excited about this new partnership," DiMichele said.

North Valley Bancorp wanted to open a branch office in Woodland, and this works out better, said Michael Cushman, company president and CEO.

"This partnership is a wonderful opportunity to gain entry into two key markets in addition to Woodland," Cushman said, "and avoid the dilutive affect of a de novo branch."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Solano Community College Plans to Expand Biotechnology Program

May 2, 2004
Teaching to the market's demands--Solano Community College plans to expand biotechnology program
By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD -- Anticipating a need for technicians in the regional biotech industry, Solano Community College has decided to expand its 7-year-old biotech training program, administrators said Wednesday.
The college plans to hire a new biotech professor before the fall semester and is considering offering a second biotech class, said Dave Redfield, dean of math and science. He said the college also has been exploring a partnership with the science department at University of California, Davis, another training ground for regional biotech firms.

The goal is to double the number of students enrolled in the biotech program, said Jim DeKloe, biotech professor at SCC. In recent years, the program has averaged about 20 students a semester.
"We're trying to ramp up," DeKloe said. "Our pipeline hasn't been big enough to meet the needs of regional industry."
Since Genentech, the world's No. 2 biotech firm, announced plans for a $600 million expansion of its Vacaville manufacturing facility, college administrators have been scoping out opportunities to meet the company's future employment needs. Genentech estimated it would need 500 more workers by 2009 when the expansion becomes operational.

Chiron, another Vacaville biotech manufacturer, is also undergoing a $20 million expansion that will increase its workforce capacity.
In all there are four biotech companies in Vacaville, three of which recruit locally. Beyond that, SCC students have unequaled opportunities for job placement in the core of the Bay Area, which hosts the largest biotech cluster in the world.
"Not only are we thinking about how we can put 500 students here in the next five years, but we're looking to the Bay Area," DeKloe said. "A lot of the companies there are moving toward manufacturing, and their needs will be for technicians, not (research and development)."

DeKloe, who has in the past gone on sabbatical to probe the industry's employee needs, said he will be leaving again for a year to study with biotech businesses. He doesn't expect to teach this fall or in the spring semester.
His planned return to SCC next year - he says he has every intention of coming back - will then double the biotech teaching staff, said Dave Redfield, dean of math and science. The name of the new instructor will be released following hiring approval from the college Board of Trustees, Redfield said.

"The idea, while (DeKloe) is doing additional training, is to keep identical curriculum," Redfield said. Any new curriculum would be determined when DeKloe returns, he said.

The biotech curriculum at SCC focuses on production training for students who will go on to positions in manufacturing divisions. The college provides some research and development training, but those positions often require post-graduate degrees.
Some SCC biotech students enroll in the program after earning baccalaureate degrees because they lack technical training, DeKloe said.

"A lot of graduates, some from major universities, have knowledge but no skills," he said. "They get that training here and then go out and find a job, sometimes before they complete the program."

The biotech program adds equipment on an ongoing basis and has started to shift slightly toward research and development instruction. Some of the incubator equipment used in the biotech lab, a smaller version of the kind used by biotech firms, costs more than $200,000, DeKloe said.

"It really does replicate the industry," he said of the program he started in 1997 in what had been the old metal shop at the campus vocational building.
Continuous improvements have transformed the shop into a full-scale lab with room to expand. College spending, corporate donations and grants pay for equipment upgrades that amount to "tens of thousands of dollars" every year, DeKloe said.

Other small colleges have balked at introducing similar curriculum. Price intimidates them, despite more opportunities for student job placement, DeKloe said.
"We've done the obvious, which often is most elusive," he said. "We went to industry and asked what they needed in terms of training. We gave them a clean slate and they filled it."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Solano County County Finances Solid

May 2, 2004

County finances solid -- for now

By Robin Miller/City Editor

Solano's budget is in relatively sound financial condition but caution is the word of the day for county officials.

That's the message being sent to the Solano County Board of Supervisors in a third quarter financial report to be considered at 9 a.m. Tuesday, when the board holds its regular meeting.

The report anticipates a general fund balance for the county of $19,336,180. County Administrator Michael Johnson recommends that the board accept the findings and set hearings for June 28 to debate next year's final budget.

In his report to the board, Johnson said that while the budget situation is sound, there are too many uncertainties at the state level to allow local officials to relax.

"Given the continuing uncertainties surrounding the state's fiscal situation, nothing is certain," he wrote in a report to the board.

He noted that if the county plans for potential shortfalls in state funding, its current sound financial position will help it to address any long-term problems. For example, the third-quarter report assumes that the county will not receive backfill payments from the state for a three-month gap in vehicle license fees. By not counting on those funds, the county will keep itself out of a situation in which it comes up short of funds, Johnson said.

"If we take this approach, we shouldn't have to resort to across-the-board reductions that would continue low-priority programs at the expense of higher priorities," he wrote. "This strategy should also preclude the necessity for the mass layoffs anticipated by other agencies."

Johnson added that during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, most county departments have "performed well in controlling expenditures and are projecting to stay within or very close to their budgets."

Robin Miller can be reached at

Anheuser-Busch sinks $100 million in brewery building revamp

This renovation's for you ...

May 2, 2004

Company sinks $100 million in brewery building revamp

By Mary Lynch/Staff Writer

Two trails of steam rising from Fairfield's Budweiser brewery tell Anheuser-Busch Brewmaster Michael Poley that one beer brewing kettle is on the boil, while another is cooling.

That steam announces, too, that it's beer business as usual at the 700,000 square-foot plant even as it is undergoing a $100 million modernization that will upgrade the brewing and packaging operations of the 27-year old facility.

Though not an expansion, the re-furbishing project signals that the company is committed to the prosperity and longevity of the Fairfield plant that brews more than 4 million barrels of beer annually, employs some 450 people and attracts upwards of 40,000 visitors per year.

"We believe in being a very stable employer," said Kevin Finger, plant manager. "We believe in the future of the Fairfield plant. We're happy with the sales results and the productivity in this area, and in the overall performance of the plant."

Improvements to the brewing operations and to the packaging and warehousing operations that sit on 170 of the sprawling 318-acre Anheuser-Busch campus comprise the two phases of the project expected to reach completion in mid-2005.

Upgrades to the brewing center of the plant, which began last August, are in full swing, proceeding from the inside out, it seems.

Two enormous brewing kettles are already in place - each with a capacity for 800 barrels, or 24,800 gallons, of beer.

A new lauter tub will also be installed, which separates the fermentable liquid from the barley malt grains used in the brewing process, according to Brewmaster Poley.

To the right of the cherry-red Budweiser sign whose glow falls over nearby Interstate 80, a new 85-foot brewhouse is under construction.

The word "Brewhouse" will top the addition and share the front of the plant once construction is complete early next year.

Late this summer, the company will begin improvement to its packaging and warehousing operations. High-speed bottling and canning equipment will be installed, and warehousing facilities will be upgraded.

This, the more expensive phase of the modernization project, is expected to be complete and operational by March 2005, the plant manager said.

"We're always looking for ways to improve the quality and efficiency of our operations," he said.

The equipment switch-over has been carefully planned not to disrupt production or affect quality in any way, Finger assured.

The changes, he added, will not affect employment opportunities at the plant.

"We are extremely proud of our accomplishments here in Fairfield," Finger said. "The modernization project represents a real commitment to the city, to Northern California, and to our employees. It offers increased opportunities for our employees, and it reflects their accomplishments of the past 27 years."

With 450 employees, Anheuser-Busch is one of Fairfield's largest employers.

The Fairfield plant, which began brewing beer in 1976, is one of 12 Anheuser-Busch breweries in the United States, and one of two in California. Daily, 90 trucks leave the plant to deliver beer to Alaska, Northern Nevada, Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

As for possible additional upgrades and expansions in the future, Finger said the focus now is on the current modernization project.

"As a company we always look at our sales and production patterns to look for the right area to expand. We have no plans now for this facility."

Mary Lynch can be reached at

Anheuser-Busch at a Glance

Fairfield Brewery Address: 3101 Busch Drive

Plant Manager: Kevin Finger

Resident Brewmaster: Michael Poley

Employees: 475

Facility Size: 700,000 square feet on 170 acres of 318 total acres

Brands Produced: Budweiser, Bud Light, Natural Light, Busch, Busch Light

Corporate Headquarters: St. Louis, Mo.

Sales: Anheuser-Busch reported 2003 gross sales of $16.3 billion and net sales of $14 billion.

Rank: Anheuser-Busch is the world's largest brewer.

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