Friday, September 17, 2004

Solano firm ranked in real estate magazine

Kappel & Kappel Realtors Inc. makes a trade publication's list of top residential sales companies.

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Kappel & Kappel Realtors Inc. joined the ranks of the nation's megabrokers when it was named one of the top 500 residential sales companies for 2003 by Real Trends.

Real Trends, a trade publication for residential real estate brokers, annually ranks the top residential real estate companies in the nation based on closed transactions. The result is an annual Real Trends 500 report. In it, the top 500 companies are listed.

It's a first for any broker in Solano County, said Sue Kappel, who has operated the company since 1972 with her husband, Steve.

"It's like the Olympics of real estate," enthused Kappel. "You start your business, and you look at those guys and you think 'How do you ever get there?' It's really a thrill to me, but obviously a testimonial to my agents and their value systems and the quality of service they provide."

Kappel & Kappel agents number about 140, she said.

"It's the team," Kappel said. "It's not me; it's not Steve. It's obviously the agents. And the older agents set the standards for the new agents."

In the report, the Kappel firm ranked No. 272 in dollar volume and No. 477 in the number of units sold. There are about 80,000 residential real estate firms in the country. The top 500 firms represent less than three-fifths of 1 percent of those companies, according to Real Trends.

"These are the megacompanies," Kappel said. "The No.1 company has 956 offices."

The Kappels operate six offices - five in Solano County and one in Sacramento.

The Kappels first opened a tiny office on Merchant Street in 1972. Shortly thereafter, they opened an office at 355 Main St., today the hub of the brokerage. In 1978, they opened a branch office in Fairfield.

In the 1980s, they established their property management, mortgage and relocation offices in the "Triangle Building" on Main Street in Vacaville.

In the 1990s, they opened a branch office and training center in south Vacaville, and they recently celebrated the first anniversary of a branch in Dixon. And in July, a Sacramento branch headed by the Kappels' son, broker Steven Ted "Teddy" Kappel Jr., was added.

Sue Kappel said she attributes the brokerage's success partly to a training school established seven years ago. That's when she heard that the average real estate agent was 55 years old, while the average homebuyer was 29.

"I could see that we needed to go out there and bring people in the industry to take care of our future," she said. "Bringing in younger agents - that was my turning point, and we just went by leaps and bounds. It was really a labor of love for us."

Kappel got state approval to operate a real estate school and collaborated with Richard Dawson, a 30-year veteran in the business. Dawson serves as the trainer.

"My training office, if it were a company by itself, would be the fourth leading productive company in Solano County," Kappel said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Solano near top in state for housing construction

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Single-family homes are sprouting like mushrooms in Solano County compared to virtually the rest of the state, according to the most recent figures from the California Building Industry Association.
Association spokesperson John Frithsaid the Vallejo-Fairfield region continues to be among the fastest growing in the state, despite a minor slowdown in July.

"Building starts were down 13 percent from June, but up 104 percent from last July," Frith said. "Looks like somebody started a pretty good-sized development out there."

Frith said overall, single-family home production is up almost 56 percent in the area in the first seven months of the year compared to the first seven months of last year.

"Solano County is one of the leading growth areas in the state this year, the reason being that land is still relatively affordable and available for development," Frith said.

The association's latest figures show new home production slowed slightly in July statewide, but that building permits for single-family homes remained more than 10 percent ahead of the first seven months of 2003.

Construction of multi-family homes condominiums and apartments has slowed locally and statewide, according to the association's numbers, with a nearly 38 percent drop statewide from June and a 12.3 percent decrease from July 2003. For the first seven months of this year, permits for multi-family homes were down 10 percent statewide. Multi-family housing starts in the Vallejo-Fairfield area were down 100 percent in July over June, and nearly 74 percent over last year.

However, total housing starts as measured by the number of permits issued through July, were up 4.7 percent from last year statewide. This keeps the state on track to exceed 200,000 housing units in a single year for the first time since 1989, according to association documents. The association also predicts production to exceed 200,000 in 2005. Total housing starts in the Vallejo-Fairfield area were up just over 25 percent.

Despite the record building, Steve Doyle, the association's treasurer/ secretary, says it's still not enough to meet the state's housing demands.

"While production continues to expand, the need for housing is so great that we are still not meeting the demand caused by a growing population," Doyle said. "This imbalance between supply and demand is the largest factor is the continuing increase in California's housing prices, and so long as demand continues to outstrip supply, we will continue to have affordability issues."

The association reports that California's new home market is thriving, with 15 of the state's 28 metropolitan area recording an increase in the total number of housing permits issued compared to 2003.

The association, a statewide trade organization representing more than 6,000 building industry professionals, considers building permits an accurate way to track housing starts in California because builders don't usually pull permits until they're ready to start construction due to the high cost of permits.

E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

Fairfield studies Allan Witt plan

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD -- City leaders on Tuesday expressed hopes and concerns over a proposal to add homes, condominiums and businesses to Allan Witt Park.

The City Council and Community Services Commission met in a study session to discuss the park development proposal and other issues.

Fairfield is talking to Seattle-based Triad about building 532 residences and some businesses in the West Texas Street park. Fairfield would take money from the land sale to build ballfields and an indoor skateboard/teen center at other locations. Part of the park would remain as open space, with such things as playing fields.

The idea has proven controversial. Some people want Fairfield to let the 50-year-old park be. Others say the city plan will help fight crime and graffiti at the park.

"People feel fear when they go down there," City Councilman Jack Batson said. "The average Joe doesn't walk his dog down there because there's fear."

The idea with the development proposal is to bring in people and push out crime, he said.

"If this works, I'm interested in it," he said.

But Community Services Commissioner Maggie Halls said she is torn about what looks like an aesthetically pleasing project. She wondered if this sets a precedent for the city to sell parks when there's a crime problem.

Fighting crime is only one motivation, Assistant City Manager Nancy Huston said. Another motivation is to help business and economic development on West Texas Street, she said.

City Councilwoman Marilyn Farley expressed interest in the proposal. But she wanted to know if Fairfield would merely be replacing what is lost in Allan Witt at other locations, or adding more park and recreation facilities in the long run. She wanted comparisons with Fairfield's existing 30-year park plan.

Also Tuesday, city leaders expressed interest in having Rockville Hills Park someday become part of a regional park district. The 650-acre natural park is near Suisun and Green valleys.

There is a movement to create a regional park district similar to the East Bay Park District in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. It would have its own governing body and be funded by some sort of voter-approved tax.

That raises a possibility: Rockville Hills Park could someday be part of this system, instead of being owned by Fairfield.

"What we have in Rockville Hills Park is a regional park," Batson said. "It draws people from all over."

But council members and commissioners added some caveats: The district, if it forms, must show it can take care of Rockville Hills Park. And there must be guarantees the park would never be developed.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or

Nut Tree master plan approved

Developer says the mixed-use project at the 80-acre site will generate more than $3 million in annual tax revenue and create hundreds of jobs.

By Patricia Valenzuela/Staff Writer

It didn't take long for the Vacaville City Council to approve a Nut Tree master plan Tuesday night.

The council unanimously approved the plan for retail shops, restaurants, office space and housing on the 80-acre site, but also brought forward some concerns.

Larkspur-based developer Roger Snell and April Philips, of April Philips Design Works Inc., have touted the development as a world-class project that will bring back the Nut Tree's reputation as a California landmark.

"This project offers promise for a portion of Vacaville that we highly treasure. I want to see that promise fulfilled," Councilman Steve Wilkins said.

Snell spoke briefly, but highlighted the project's uniqueness and the economic benefits it will bring. Snell said the project will generate about $1.8 million in annual property taxes and $1.5 million in annual sales tax revenue. He also said the project will create 1,300 jobs, along with hundreds of jobs for construction workers.

It is unclear when construction will start.

Construction on the first phase should begin in February, according to the disposition and development agreement Snell has with the city. However, Snell has applied for a construction delay that would place the mandated construction start date in June to allow for additional time obtaining permits.

Snell is hopeful construction could begin in the spring. The city has not granted the request at present time, but is expected to provide the extension, according to Community Development Director Ron Rowland.

The first phase of construction requires a minimum of 20 acres of retail shops and parks. Two parks, a three-acre amusement park and a bocce grove, are planned for the development.

Each councilmember expressed support for the project.

Councilman Steve Hardy reaffirmed his desire to have quality retail shops at the Nut Tree. Later, Vice Mayor Pauline Clancy and Mayor Len Augustine addressed Hardy's concerns by explaining that the city's demographics dictate which businesses will move into Vacaville.

Snell plans to announce the anchor tenants by Oct. 31.

Councilwoman Rischa Slade expressed her concern with the lack of bicycle racks. Slade spoke during the public hearing portion to relay a concern from a constituent who could not attend the meeting.

Only one person spoke during the public hearing.

Norm Weaver asked a question about the access roads to the retail shops. When his question was answered, he complimented the project.

Slade later said she wants the project to evoke memories the way the old Nut Tree did for many generations.

"I am hoping this could be something special. It's going to be beautiful. I know that ... but one of the things I would like to see remain is its charm and distinction," she said.

Patricia Valenzuela can be reached at

Residential housing to anchor Mare Island renaissance

By Chris G. Denina/Times-Herald, Vallejo

Mare Island's about to get a whole lot busier.

In October, developer Lennar Mare Island LLC plans to begin marketing houses on Vallejo's former military base. By 2005, families could once again call Mare Island home.

Lennar also hopes plenty of people will move into about 1,400 homes, including apartments, houses and townhomes planned for the former shipyard, once home to thousands of military personnel and their families.

"I think it's the beginning of an exciting time," said Ken Zadwick, president of the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation.

The nonprofit group, which offers tours of Mare Island, expects tourism will pick up as people move in and others learn about the former shipyard. And business will pick up as more open shop to serve those residents, he said.

"When you drive around Mare Island, you get the feeling there's more businesses all the time," Zadwick said. "The homes will bring a lot more activity."

More than 1,600 jobs have been created on Mare Island, and more than 70 businesses have set up shop there, according to Lennar.

The company envisions even more growth - as many as 8,000 jobs and countless more businesses covering 7 million square feet of commercial space.

Those figures are a far cry from when the Navy closed the shipyard in 1996.

"It was tough economically here in Vallejo," said Dan Donahue, a former two-term Vallejo City Council member. He was on the council in 1995 when the Navy notified the city it was leaving Vallejo.

Military families living on Mare Island moved out. Other Vallejo residents left town.

Many businesses also closed shop after the Navy left. The city drew up plans to reuse the base. And Lennar was named the city's master developer to renew Mare Island.

Today, much work has been done in areas including environmental cleanup, developing new homes and establishing modern infrastructure on the 150-year-old base, said Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian.

"I think today we are witnessing the fruits of the community's labor and the renaissance of Mare Island," Keadjian said.

Other groups also are looking toward the future.

Weston Solutions Inc. is developing dredge ponds on Mare Island's west side. Weston also teamed with Harvest Properties to renew Mare Island's north end, attracting more businesses to that area.

Touro University, a medical school in former Navy buildings, hopes to one day grow its campus and build new structures.

The park foundation, which gives tours of Mare Island, hopes to open a naval museum this month.

Lennar hopes the museum will serve as an attraction to Mare Island's historic core - an older section of the former shipyard where Lennar hopes to create a promenade filled with ships and restaurants.

"I think we're just at the beginning of the big growth," the foundation's Zadwick said.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

NorthBay outscores some peers

By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Fairfield's NorthBay Medical Center scored the highest out of participating Solano County hospitals in an annual California HealthCare Foundation survey measuring patient opinion, while Kaiser Permanente decided to sit the survey out.

The Patients' Evaluation of Performance in California survey, to be released publicly today, rates hospitals in eight categories, ranging from how well the hospital informs and educates patients to the respect shown to patient preferences.

More than half of the state's hospitals participated in PEP-C this year, including NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield, VacaValley Hospital in Vacaville, and Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo.

All three hospitals had a score of two stars, or average, in overall hospital performance. But NorthBay Medical Center, operated by NorthBay Healthcare, did score three stars, or above average, in three areas: information and education, safe medical practices and transition to home.

VacaValley, also operated by NorthBay Healthcare, scored two stars in every category, as did Sutter Solano.

In maternity patient experience, NorthBay Medical Center scored three stars overall, including three-star ratings in information and education, emotional support and safe medical practices. Sutter Solano scored two stars in the overall maternity ratings. VacaValley does not offer maternity services.

All three hospitals scored average ratings in the surgical patient experience ratings.

Sutter Solano spokeswoman Janice Hoss said the hospital is happy with its ratings - which are the same as received by 51 percent of the state's hospitals - but is always looking to improve patient care.

"I think the more we all participate and meet high standards, the better it is for patients," Hoss said. "We will certainly continue to participate in these surveys and we hope others do as well."

The California HealthCare Foundation said that hospital participation in its survey has increased 77 percent since 1999. More than 36,000 patients took part in the eight-week mail survey.

Conspicuous in its absence from the ratings is Kaiser Permanente, which has participated in previous PEP-C surveys.

Meg Walker, a spokeswoman for Kaiser's Northern California region, said that's because Kaiser was selected to participate in a federal pilot survey program - the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Plans Survey. Walker said H-CAHPS uses a variety of testing measures, including the mail-surveying system used by PEP-C.

Walker said continuing participation in PEP-C, along with H-CAHPS, may have caused several patients to be surveyed twice. Walker said Kaiser also does its own internal surveying.

Across California, the category that received the highest ratings was "respect for patient preferences," while "transition to home" scored the lowest marks statewide.

The complete survey results can be viewed at

Tom Hall can be reached at

Area job rate soars

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

More residents of the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa area are employed now than in more than a decade, according to newly released employment figures.

"Right now, the trend shows that in (Solano and Napa) counties, together, the most positive sign is that 276,000 residents are employed, and that's the highest employment recorded in the area in at least 10 years," state Employment Development Department spokeswoman Cynthia Solorio said Monday.

Solorio said part of the explanation for the area's record number of people employed could be its record number of residents.

"When I saw the numbers I wondered if this was a record, so I went back and looked at civilian employment, and there seems to have been steady growth since about 1997," she said.

There were about 207,000 civilian residents in the two counties employed in the summer of 1990, Solorio said. That was down to about 203,000 in 1991, but the totals rose to 207,700 in 1992 and to 210,000 in 1993. There were 209,400 civilians employed in the summer of 1994 in the two counties, but only about 207,000 the following year and just over 206,000 the year after that.

Then, in 1997, when about 213,000 civilians in the area were working, a steady upward trend developed, with numbers rising steadily from 219,500 in 1998, to 229,300 in 1999 and 240,100 in 2000. The trend continued in 2001, when 248,000 were employed; in 2002, when 269,600 were working, and in 2003, when 272,100 civilians were employed.

"The numbers have stayed pretty strong," Solorio said. "Solano County especially, seems to be growing and that's probably one of the reasons. People are finding Solano County is a nice little pocket, here."

The Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa region ranks 18th of California's 65 areas, Solorio said, with a combined unemployment rate of 5.0 percent. That's down from a revised 5.7 percent in July and below the year-ago estimate of 5.4 percent. Separately, Napa County ranks ninth, with a 3.9 percent unemployment rate and Solano County ranks 24th, with 5.3 percent. Both areas numbers are better than the state average of 5.7 percent, and the national unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

Solorio said that beginning in spring, Napa and Solano counties will cease to be lumped together as a metropolitan statistical area. The change is due to increased population in both counties, she said.

According to the most recent EDD figures, the state experienced a net job loss of .4 percent in August over July, which works out to about 700 jobs lost, and a .2 percent job loss, or about 400 jobs, since last August. The largest number of jobs lost were in the farming industry, which fell by just over 11 percent, or 900 jobs, in August over July, and by about 6.5 percent or 500 jobs, over last year.

Government has been another big loser job-wise in the past year. There have been 200 government jobs lost between July and August, and 500 jobs lost this year over last; a net job loss of 1.4 percent since August, 2003.

Leisure and hospitality jobs took a hit in the short term, losing 100 jobs in August over July, but gaining 300 jobs since last year.

On the other hand, manufacturing saw a net gain of 2.6 percent or 500 jobs over last year, mostly due to an 8.3 percent increase in beverage manufacturing jobs.

Overall, Vallejo Chamber of Commerce head Rick Wells said, the trend seems positive, but far from perfect.

"(The numbers) are a promising sign, though we still have a long way to go before we get the unemployment rate locally to where it shows the economy is where we want it to be," Wells said, adding that, as far as the chamber is concerned, a zero unemployment rate is the ultimate goal.

- E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

Strong job growth reported, more expected locally


By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD -- More jobs were created in the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa corridor in August, and the hiring pace for the rest of the year should remain strong, according to two separate employment surveys released Monday.

Statewide, the unadjusted unemployment rate dropped nearly a point to 5.7 percent in August from 6.5 percent in July, according to a monthly report by the state Employment Development Department.

The nation's economy added 144,000 jobs in August, but it was lower than expectations. The increase in jobs fell short of the 150,000 that economists expected. Experts say monthly gains of 150,000 are needed just to keep pace with growth in the work force. Job gains for June and July were revised to add 59,000, but the totals remained lackluster.

The national unemployment rate, a figure that includes only those actively seeking employment, dropped from 5.5 percent in July to 5.4 percent in August. It was the lowest jobless rate since October 2001, although it edged down because 152,000 workers dropped out of the labor market last month.

Unemployment dipped much more significantly in Solano and Napa counties. The unadjusted jobless rate in Solano County fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest point since Sept. 2002. Napa's rate was 3.9 percent.

In the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa corridor, which includes cities along Interstate 80 in Solano and Napa counties, employers added 200 non-farm jobs in August. Despite losses in government and hospitality sectors, the area ramped up on growth in manufacturing, professional and business services, educational and health services, and trade, transportation and utilities.

Though none of the growing industries expanded significantly, it was enough to continue upward movement that began earlier this year. But it followed a down trend that sucked up a lot of jobs and leaves the area with only 100 more jobs than were around in August 2003.

The hiring pace for the rest of the year should be consistent with the past two quarters, which had only minimal growth but were improved from the same periods a year earlier, according to Manpower Employment Outlook survey for Solano and Napa counties.

From October to December, 23 percent of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while none intend to reduce their workforce, according to Manpower spokesperson Greg Gardner. Another 44 percent expect to maintain their current staff levels and 33 percent are not certain of their hiring plans.

"The employment outlook for Solano and Napa Counties is slightly weaker than the third quarter forecast when 33 percent of the companies interviewed intended to take on more staff, while 7 percent planned to decrease head count," said Gardner.

Of the 16,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 28 percent plan to add staff before 2005, while 7 percent expect to reduce their payrolls. Sixty percent said they anticipate no change, and 5 percent were unsure of their hiring plans.

The Scripps Howard News Service contributed to this report.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Monday, September 13, 2004

Future under way as Mare Island hits 150

City had to adapt after Navy closed shipyard in 1996

Erin Hallissy, Chronicle Staff Writer

Mare Island Naval Shipyard racked up a lot of firsts in its 142-year history. The Vallejo Navy base was the first on the West Coast, founded in 1854 by the Navy's first admiral, the storied David Farragut, known for the Civil War battle cry "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.''

Workers on the nondescript island named for Gen. Mariano G. Vallejo's white mare built the first aircraft landing platform for a Navy ship and the first nuclear submarine in the western United States. The shipyard's golf course was the first west of the Mississippi River. Its 103-year-old St. Peter's Chapel, a charming wooden building with 16 stained-glass windows signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the Navy's first interdenominational chapel.

Military history stopped being made there when the Navy closed the base in 1996, one of dozens nationwide shuttered after the Cold War. The pullout, vociferously opposed by workers and city officials, sent property values plummeting and unemployment soaring.

Vallejo's recovery, and Mare Island's conversion to civilian use, has turned that despair into hope. Housing prices are climbing as Vallejo, which offers a ferry to San Francisco, attracts people looking for affordable homes. A plan to bring houses, offices and manufacturing plants to Mare Island is years from completion, but 1,600 workers commute there to build public works projects, recycle steel or ship lumber.

The island's future is beckoning, and former shipyard workers, military personnel and Vallejo residents will gather Thursday and Friday to celebrate its past. On the 150th anniversary of the base's founding, when Farragut chased away squatters, a monument will be dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of civilian and military shipyard personnel and a plaque installed in the chapel commemorating the Navy's Medal of Honor recipients.

Among those who will attend is Capt. John Cavender, the base's last commander. He retired on March 31, 1996 -- the day he closed Mare Island -- after 36 years in the Navy.

"The last day was a very emotional day for a lot of people,'' Cavender, who now lives in Washington state, said in a telephone interview. It capped several emotional years as the Navy scaled back a base he loved.

"I had to tell 8,000 people -- 4,000 were my friends -- that they didn't have a job,'' Cavender said. "It drove me out of the Navy.''

Cavender considers his time at Mare Island "the best thing that ever happened to me.''

Mare Island produced 513 ships, from wooden paddle-wheelers and tall- masted sailing ships to sleek nuclear submarines. During World War I, workers built the destroyer Ward in 17 1/2 days, a record that still stands. More than 41,000 people worked around the clock building and repairing ships during World War II, and the shipyard was for decades Solano County's largest employer.

Its closure was a blow to Vallejo, driving everything from restaurants to stores and video rental shops out of business.

"I fought the closure very hard,'' said Mayor Tony Intintoli. "I knew the impacts over the foreseeable period of time were going to be very difficult to cope with. A shipyard is largely a civilian employment deal. Those jobs are hard to replace.''

Many lost jobs have not been replaced, but Intintoli said the city has bounced back. Ferry service to San Francisco, popular with tourists and commuters, and easy access off Interstate 80 have helped.

"You have a community moving away from (a military town) to something that is more tourist-oriented, more of a bedroom-type community,'' Intintoli said.

A development team, Lennar Mare Island, is converting 650 acres of the 5, 200 acres to civilian use, renovating military buildings for commercial use and starting construction on the first of 1,400 homes. Cleanup is being completed on contaminated areas where lead paint and other hazardous materials collected over the decades, said project manager Todd Berryhill.

Much of the base will remain open space, with development clustered along a channel separating it from Vallejo.

The 150th anniversary may be the last hurrah in Mare Island's naval history, and people like 88-year-old Lou Burgelin of Vallejo who remember what it was like to repair a submarine or build a battleship, are eager to share their stories. Burgelin left UC Berkeley in 1934 at age 18 to work at the base.

"I was going to be an anthropologist,'' he said. "I got a call to go work for the federal government as an apprentice.''

Student teachers at the university asked him how much the job would pay, and he told them 30 cents an hour at first and $1 an hour after he became a journeyman in four years.

"They said, 'That's more money than we're making,' " Burgelin said. "I never regretted it. I wound up as one of the senior managers, not only at Mare Island but at two other bases.''

Burgelin helped plan Mare Island's 100th anniversary in 1954, a gala with Ed Sullivan as master of ceremonies; Navy brass were among the 3,000 people attending a dinner where it was announced that that the base would begin building nuclear submarines.

Other VIPs who visited Mare Island through the years include presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Ronald Reagan visited in 1974 when he was governor, and Vallejo resident Sue Lemmon, who started at Mare Island as a stenography clerk and became the public information officer, remembers making sure she got to serve Reagan coffee.

"I wanted to see whether his flushed face was really flushed, or if it was makeup,'' Lemmon recalled. "He was just a ruddy man.''

Lemmon was ready to retire in 1976 when she "fell heir'' to 27 boxes of old photos that had been shoved under a stairway in the base's photography lab.

"Going into those boxes was the most fun I ever had,'' she said.

Lemmon became the base historian and spent more than two decades going over old photos, letters and files. She wrote three books on the base history, its chapel and its final years. One of her favorite stories dates to 1959 when Alice Roosevelt Longworth came to Mare Island to christen the first Polaris submarine built there, a vessel named after her father, Theodore Roosevelt.

When ships are launched, "you come in the day before, and you see your ship. It was customary to have a little practice,'' Lemmon said. "Alice Longworth decided she didn't need a rehearsal.''

When the time came to smash the champagne bottle against the ship, Lemmon said, "she gets up there and she misses. Then she misses a second time.''

Longworth actually threw the bottle at the moving ship, but fortunately the bottle was attached to a rope held by a sailor, who whacked the bottle across the bow.

Now the base is home to a company that builds aluminum fishing boats, as well as an engineering firm building foundation supports for Bay Area bridge retrofit projects and roof trusses for San Francisco International Airport.

The base hospital is an osteopathic college. Wedding parties can rent St. Peter's Chapel and the 100-year-old mansions on Captain's Row. They are among 502 buildings and other structures that are being preserved as historic landmarks.

Intintoli said the city, which would have preferred that the Navy stay, is making the best of the situation. Still, as the 150th anniversary approaches, he wanted to make sure the past is not forgotten.

"If you forget your history, it's like you forgot your family,'' he said. "It's an opportunity to just pause and say thanks for that glorious past.''



This week's tribute to Mare Island Naval Shipyard will include the unveiling of a monument at Alden Park and a hand-carved plaque for the ceiling of St. Peter's Chapel. There will be two-hour tours of the former shipyard on Thursday for $12, and one-hour tours on Friday for $8.

For more information, call (707) 557-1538 or visit

E-mail Erin Hallissy at

Mare Island - Chronicle/Chris Hardy Posted by Hello

Sunday, September 12, 2004

City Council to hear Nut Tree master plan

By Patricia Valenzuela/Staff Writer

Developer Roger Snell will be one step closer to creating the new Nut Tree if the Vacaville City Council approves a master plan Tuesday.

Last week the Planning Commission approved the master plan after receiving a presentation from Larkspur-based Snell. The presentation was similar to one the council has received in the past, but the news from the meeting was that Snell has requested a six-month extension for the construction start date.

According to the Disposition and Development Agreement Snell signed with the city, construction should begin in February. However, Snell said it is no longer feasible.

"There's no way all of the building permits would be ready," Snell said earlier this week by phone.

Snell has requested an extension that would give him a construction start date sometime in June. Snell, who is a bit superstitious about discussing a specific start date, is hopeful the first phase of construction could begin in the spring.

The first phase of construction would include a minimum of 20 acres of retail space and parks. Snell has proposed building a three acre amusement area and a bocce grove underneath the hackberry trees.

April Philips, of April Philips Design Works, has said the design would allow people to once again create memories at the site by spending time at the parks, shopping at the retail stores, or walking along the pedestrian-friendly 25-foot sidewalks.

"It will become the place to shop and dine in Vacaville," Philips told the Planning Commission earlier this week emphasizing the word "the."

The next step would be a design review with specific building and landscape designs, according to Community Development Director Ron Rowland. Also, Snell is expected to announce the anchor tenants soon. He said an announcement will likely take place no later than Halloween.

Patricia Valenzuela can be reached at

Volunteers hurry for M.I. museum opening

By CHRIS G. DENINA, Times-Herald staff writer

After years of planning a museum about Mare Island's naval history, it's come down to a race against the clock.

Volunteers still need to paint floors, assemble display cases and finish labeling hundreds of exhibit items dating back to the 1800s in time for Thursday's grand opening a banquet celebrating Mare Island's 150th anniversary.

"It's going to be pretty tight," Roger Lambert of Vallejo said Friday, taking a break from unpacking artifacts.

Since August, the retiree's been spending many of his free days at Mare Island's Building No. 46, home of the museum. He expects he'll have to put in even more hours as the deadline approaches.

But once the celebration is over, volunteers' work may likely go unseen but for tours and occasional visits. It won't be until December that the museum opens full-time at least that's the hope of Ken Zadwick, president of the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation, the group behind the museum.

Many of the museum volunteers also pull duty giving tours of the former military base. The foundation will need to find even more people willing to give up their free time to manage the museum, Zadwick said.

For now, volunteers are concentrating on getting ready for the Thursday opening.

Workers have prepared exhibits including photographs and models of submarines and ships built at Mare Island and the champagne bottles used to christen them. The items range from a diving suit from the turn of the 20th century to a computer rack from 1987.

"We're not even at 1 percent of the collection," Zadwick said.

The exhibit covers Mare Island's history from when it was established in 1854 to when it closed nearly a decade ago.

Probably the oldest item on display and among the larger pieces was the prow, or decorative piece of the bow, of the USS Independence, a ship launched in 1814 before Mare Island was established.

The ship served as a receiving station, housing sailors and Marines based at the shipyard, said volunteer Peggy O'Drain of Richmond.

The end of the Navy's presence on Mare Island is represented by a U.S. flag, encased in glass, used in Mare Island's closing ceremony March 31, 1996.

"This is just a hint of what's going to be displayed in the future," O'Drain said.

The museum building itself is historic, she said. The brick structure was built in 1855, a year after the shipyard was established, and first housed a blacksmith shop, later a pipe shop and today a museum. In 2001, its walls were buttressed by steel ribs to strengthen them against earthquakes.

Two years ago, the building was crowded with furniture and supplies. Today, much of the floor space has been cleared, the junk moved upstairs.

On Friday, display tables were stacked as many as three high on one side of the warehouse. The museum smelled of Pine-Sol cleaner, the floors of paint.

O'Drain helped Midge Lund of Vallejo comb through a list of items in the museum, matching the descriptions to the pieces to label them for display.

"It's a monumental job," O'Drain said.

After taking time out to give a tour of the museum, she soon had to get back to work. The clock is ticking.

E-mail Chris G. Denina at or call 553-6835.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Solano now better prepared for a disaster

By Ian Thompson

FAIRFIELD -- Four years ago, a phone call to Fairfield police about a guy with binoculars near a city reservoir probably would simply have been passed off as a bird watcher.

"We now send an officer out to check it out," said Fairfield Police Chief Bill Gresham.

Whether Solano County is any safer than it was three years ago in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is not a question local public safety officials can definitively answer.

"Yes and no," Solano County Undersheriff Rick Fuller said. "Yes, we are more aware of the opportunities out there for terrorists to strike us."

Solano County has a healthy list of possible targets for terrorist attacks, ranging from gas pipelines to Interstate 80 overpasses.

Police keep a closer eye on these, particularly if information about a possible terrorist threat is sent down from the federal government.

They say the county's public safety agencies are more aware of what they are up against and they are more prepared to deal with such a horror if it comes here.

"We are better trained and better prepared," Emergency Service Manager Bob Powell said.

Solano County now has a mobile field force made up of about 60 police officers, picked from the county's different departments, who can be called to deal with any terrorist event.

"We have been together for a year now and can go anywhere to respond to an emergency," Fairfield Police Lt. Paul Bockrath said.

The mobile field force is one example of departments pooling their resources to deal with potential incidents, which Bockrath said no one agency can handle on its own.

Bockrath is also part of the County Terrorism Working Group, which put on several countywide exercises to test Solano's ability to handle large casualty disasters and work out what can be improved.

"This group puts everyone on the same page," Fairfield Division Chief Vince Webster said.

The county is also very close to finally fielding the Solano County Hazardous Materials Team, comprised of public safety personnel from throughout the county who can deal with chemical or biological threats.

"Three years ago, we weren't talking about the hazmat team," Fairfield Fire Chief Mike Smith said.

His department spent the last three years improving its ability to deal with such a disaster with more training and improved equipment as well as working closer with other agencies.

For example, five of Smith's firefighters are part of a county hazardous materials response team.

"We can use them both locally and countywide," Smith said.

The department's fire engines have been uniformly equipped with decontamination equipment, something not done before Sept. 11, according to Webster.

Recent large-scale exercises paid for with federal dollars allowed the county to spot the shortcomings and change its methods.

"The areas we learned lessons in were different from where we expected them to be," Powell said.

For example, firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel each were operating under different procedures on how to deal with an incident. Also, more than one command center was set up, each expecting to call the shots. Both problems are being dealt with.

Solano County collected almost $3 million in grants since Sept. 11, 2001, to better equip itself to deal with terrorism with more funds expected in the future.

The latest came in the form of a new $442,464 mobile command vehicle that was unveiled earlier this summer and will be used by fire and police commanders across the county in emergencies.

The money also helped pay for several large-scale training exercises and paid for equipment ranging from radios and gas masks to protective suits and bullet-resistant helmets.

Solano County is now aiming at getting another large vehicle this fall that will be designed as a mobile hazardous materials laboratory and is expected to cost about $350,000.

"We are now talking to other agencies," Fairfield Police Chief Bill Gresham said.

That ranges from the ongoing effort to purchase communications equipment that will allow all the agencies to talk to each other to working closer with federal agencies such as the FBI, "sharing information up and down the chain on a daily basis," according to Gresham.

Prior to Sept. 11, local agencies and the federal government "were on different pages" when it came to communicating, according to Fuller.

When it comes to working with other fire fighting agencies, the long-standing network of mutual aid agreements created to assist each other battling wildfires gives this area a slight advantage.

"The wildfire threat has caused us to learn how to deal large incidents," Smith said.

Once the training, coordinating and equipping of the county's first responders is in hand, the next goal is to reach out into the community to the general public and groups such as Neighborhood Watch.

"Our next move is to get the average citizen to do more," Powell said, which includes making better preparations for how to deal with disasters, whether they are a terrorist attack or an earthquake.

Powell said the public has already been helpful, being more aware and willing to call in suspicious activity.

"It is the responsibility of every adult to take ownership in this," Fuller said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Photo from State Farm Insurance ground breaking of a new building on Vallejo's waterfront. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

EDD projects that Solano County non-farm employment will climb almost 13 percent - from 118,000 to 134,000 jobs - by 2008.

Article Published: Thursday, August 26, 2004

Area's job growth falls below statewide pace

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Job growth in the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa region has fallen below that of the state in the past year, according to a recent study.

The Sacramento Regional Research Institute study shows employment has not grown much in recent months locally, but it hasn't lost ground, either.

If Employment Development Department (EDD) predictions are right, however, the reported slow-down is temporary.

Anita Hawkes, Vallejo Chamber of Commerce director of marketing, said she thinks the recent numbers are an anomaly.

"I'm surprised," Hawkes said. "I would think it's temporary. There's a lot of construction going on, and I can't imagine why the numbers are flat right now. I expect that to change. With all the development locally, we expect growth. I have faith in our city."

The Sacramento area also has fallen below that of the state, the study said.

But unlike the Sacramento area, which is likely feeling the effects of government job cuts, Solano County's job base is more diverse and will continue to grow, said Solano Economic Development Corporation President Mike Ammann.

"Our internal growth is still fluid, and I think, overall, the California business climate, because of the uncertainty with the recall (of former Gov. Gray Davis) and (Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger's restructuring, hasn't come out of that slump yet," Ammann said. "We'll be fine. Structurally, our economy is very sound."

In September, the unemployment rate in the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa area was 5.3 percent, better than the rest of the country, according to a California EDD study. Unemployment in Solano County last month was 6.1 percent, while it was 6.5 percent statewide. Statewide in July, unemployment was highest in Imperial County at 26.7 percent and lowest in Marin County, at 3.6 percent, the EDD reports.

Last year's institute report showed jobs in the Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa region rising slightly, 0.9 percent, over the previous year. The institute's most recent study shows the average employment growth rate for the first six months of 2004 in the Vallejo area was just 0.1 percent the same as the Los Angeles-Long Beach area, and just below the Stockton-Lodi area. The Inland Empire's employment rate grew 2 percent and San Diego's grew 1.2 percent, while the Bay Area's declined 1.5 percent.

According to the EDD, though, Solano County non-farm employment will climb almost 13 percent - from 118,000 to 134,000 jobs - by 2008. Most of those jobs will be in service, trade and government, the EDD says. The EDD predicts business services will add 2,300 jobs mostly in help supply and building maintenance services, while health services will add 1,200 jobs in offices and clinics. Other services like social services, residential care, individual and family services and legal services are also expected to grow, in response to the needs of the burgeoning local population, according to the EDD Web site.

The EDD forecasts 4,200 new trade jobs will be created in Solano by 2008, most of them in retail, mostly due to the county's growing population. It predicts more than 2,000 new government jobs, nearly 2,000 construction and mining jobs and more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs will be created countywide by 2008. It also forecasts some 200 new transportation and public utilities jobs and the loss of some 600 jobs in the finance, insurance and real estate industries, according to its Web site.

Ammann said he thinks there will be significant growth in construction and skilled tradesmen jobs, as well.

"Genentech is expanding, Solano Community College is expanding. There will be a lot of construction jobs. Skilled laborers will be busy," Ammann said.

Retail sales and cashier jobs will see the greatest numerical gains, while percentage-wise, computer-related jobs will see the most profound growth in the next few years in the county, EDD reports. Computer software engineering jobs are expected to grow by more than 61 percent, computer support specialist jobs by 59.4 percent and network and computer systems administrator jobs should grow by almost 43 percent in the county by 2008, according to the EDD.

Ryan Sharp, the institute's research director, said Southern California and the Inland Empire (Riverside-San Bernardino) regions experienced the largest job growth during the past year.

Fairfield-Vallejo-Napa statistical area ranked 17th out of 200 of the nation's top-performing large metro areas for job and salary growth in 2003

Area ranks 17th in job growth

The Fairfield-Vallejo-Napa statistical area ranked 17th out of 200 of the nation's top-performing large metro areas for job and salary growth in 2003, according to the Milkin Institute, an independent non-profit economic think tank.

The Fairfield-Vallejo-Napa area fell two notches after finishing 15th in 2002. The rankings were based on long- and short-term job growth, as well as salary and wage increases.

Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, an Arkansas metro area, ranked first after coming in 22nd the year before.

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