Monday, February 28, 2005

Booming Vacaville plans for more growth

Booming Vacaville plans for more

By Claire St. John

VACAVILLE - Under a deluge of new projects, the City Council and department heads rolled up their sleeves and sank their teeth into plans for even more.

Some of the major goals talked about at a strategic plan meeting Friday were a fire and police training facility, beginning work on the Nut Tree development, a streamlined approach to preventing and reducing crime and various methods of maintaining and revitalizing the city.

Participants frequently paused during the four-hour meeting to praise staff, compliment council members and give congratulations for work completed, but Mayor Len Augustine said everyone deserved it.

"We have placed great demands on you through (the previous two-year) strategic plan and somehow you've always rallied," he said. "We're sometimes embarrassed about always bragging about you at council meetings, but we really feel that way."

Since the last strategic plan two years ago, Vacaville has undergone major changes. A new police department is being built and downtown's storefronts are almost all open for business. Executive housing is on the way now that the Lagoon Valley project, with 1,025 homes, was approved last week and an affordable housing study has been completed.

"I think we can be proud of the last two years," City Manager David Van Kirk said.

Potential problems lay ahead in the next two years, and to ensure they'd be just as proud in 2007, the council made goals to keep abreast of increasing health care and retirement costs, to find methods of funding 220 miles of slumping storm drainage and make sure the police and fire training center gets built.

Councilwoman Pauline Clancy said she wanted land ready if an industry's eye lands on Vacaville, as it did when Mercedes briefly considered the city.

"In 10, 12 years we're going to be close to buildout," Clancy said. "We have to start looking for land for industry. I would like to keep enough land set aside instead of building homes all the way to Dixon."

But Clancy and others said they didn't want Vacaville's booming growth to get in the way of its "hamburger and milkshake" feel, as Don Schatzel, director of community services, said of Vacaville's small-town character.

"These sessions are so important because they really allow us to plan for a future," Councilman Steve Hardy said.

Reach Claire St. John at 427-6955 or

Construction begins on new buildings in Vacaville Corporate Center

02/26/2005 09:01:22 AM

The Latest Buzz...
Construction begins on new buildings in Vacaville Corporate Center

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer

Work continues on the framing for the foundation of new office warehouse buildings off Vaca Valley Parkway and Interstate 505 in Vacaville. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

The scarcity of large office space in Vacaville should be somewhat relieved following the planned summer opening of a two-level professional center in north Vacaville.

Sacramento-based Buzz Oates Enterprises is building the Vacaville Corporate Center in the Vacaville Business Park - a 105,307-square-foot 'Class A' building on 8.27 acres at the northwest corner of Vaca Valley Parkway and Cessna Drive - just off Interstate 505.

Kevin Ramos, president of Buzz Oates Real Estate, a division of Buzz Oates Enterprises, said the firm has been building in the park for years and has owned the land for some time. The explosion of growth in the northeast sector had much to do with the firm's decision to build now, he said.

"We felt it was the right time for an office building on that land," Ramos said. "It's a higher profile location, and we wanted to put some nicer buildings up in that area."

And Vacaville doesn't have much office space available, he added.

"It's a building that can be office space, it can accommodate very large users that want cost effective space, it can also accommodate smaller users," Ramos said. "And it can accommodate the biotech industry, which Vacaville has its fair share of."

The $15 million project should be completed in July, Ramos said.

Mike Palombo, Vacaville's economic development manager, said while there is smaller office space scattered around the city, what is lacking is the larger space. In a sense, the Buzz Oates building will be the largest "spec" building in Vacaville, he said.

"There is a demand, but very limited supply to fill it, and much of that demand is currently local," Palombo said. "There have been over the past year and a half about five different inquiries made about office availability. and since we didn't have any space that was sufficient size available, those inquires went on to other locations."

Vacaville has seen some large buildings open up including two on Mason Street - one the recently opened Gateway office building. But most of the spaces in those buildings were leased before the buildings were even competed, Palombo said.

"We have very limited amount of office space, and even those we have are limited because of the way they are developed," he said.

Other companies simply build their own large space, such as the Travis Credit Union building overlooking the city.

"When a company comes in and wants a significant amount of space, they have to build it," Polombo said. "So this (the Buzz Oates development) is a welcome development because it will give us something that we have not had which is available office space of quality and quantity."

Square footage offered in the Buzz Oates buildings can run from as small as 3,000 square feet to more than 25,000 square feet, according to the plans.

"Government or private sector, big users or smaller users, we try to keep in it pretty flexible," Ramos said.

This is the 10th time the firm has built the same rectangular building in the region, Ramos said. There are four in Sacramento, one in Rancho Cordova, one in Folsom, in Cypress, Stockton and one in Davis, which can be seen from Interstate 80 and is home to two labs.

Lease rates are $1.85 to $2 a square foot, Ramos said.

Additionally, Buzz Oates has plans to break ground in July and August on five other buildings between Cessna Drive and Beechcraft Street in the same business park.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lagoon Valley Plan benefits Vacaville by bring thousands of much-needed, good-paying jobs and long-term business activity

Lagoon Valley Plan benefits Vacaville
Reporter Editor:

The new development plan for lower Lagoon Valley includes substantial benefits for the city of Vacaville and its residents, today and in the future.

The development plan will restore Lagoon Valley Lake, which was once a community asset, but has unfortunately degraded. The development plan will preserve 80 percent of lower Lagoon Valley as open space and dedicate more than 70 acres of new open space between the lake and the freeway.

Development in the area will bring thousands of much-needed, good-paying jobs and long-term business activity. The plan also will generate millions of dollars to the city's general fund that can be used to enhance public services for residents throughout the city.

This is a development plan Vacaville can be proud of. One would be hard-pressed to identify any other development project in the city's history that came with so many benefits without costing taxpayers a dime.

Steve Dawson, Vacaville

Report: Fairfield winning war on potholes

Thursday, Feb 24, 2005 - 11:57:37 pm PST

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Take a drive around Fairfield and you'll be on some of the Bay Area's smoothest roads.

That's the verdict of the latest "Bay Area Transportation State of the System" report. Fairfield's war on potholes met with a fair amount of success in comparison with the region's other communities.

Fairfield ranked ninth among 106 Bay Area counties and cities in pavement quality, with the top spot being the best. The data is for the year 2003.

"We're just trying to keep up with the areas that are old and deteriorating," Fairfield Street Manager Bill Norvas said.

City inspectors look at the roads each year. The information is fed into a computer, which calculates condition on a scale of one to 100, with 100 the best. This is the same scale the "State of the System" report uses.

Fairfield's score for 2003 is 80. The city with the best roads in the Bay Area, Oakley, had a score of 87.

Among the street maintenance projects Fairfield wants to do this year is Second Street from Texas Street to Utah Street, Norvas said. The road is bumpy because of trenches dug for water and sewer line replacements, he said.

Another is Neitzel Road going to Costco, Norvas said. This road gets a lot of truck traffic, he said. Heavy trucks cause wear and tear on pavement.

Fairfield's goal is to spend $4 million annually on street maintenance and resurfacing. The latest city budget, completed two years ago, shows Fairfield spending an average of $2.8 million annually through the decade.

Even this might be a hard goal to meet. As in other cities, Fairfield officials have talked about possible budget cuts in coming years. The city is looking at putting a local sales tax measure on the November ballot.

"I don't know what's going to happen when we hit 2005-06," Norvas said. "We just have to wait and see."

MTC estimates a $2.9 billion backlog in the Bay Area for street repairs. That's how much it would cost to improve streets to the point where they are cost-effective to maintain.

Vacaville also ranked high in the pavement ratings. Its score of 73 placed it 25th among Bay Area cities and counties.

Vallejo ranked lowest in Solano County and among the lowest in the Bay Area. Its score of 54 ranked 100th among Bay Area cities and counties. The lowest-ranked community is rural Sonoma County, with a score of 47.

MTC described scores of 75 to 100 as pavement that has no distress and requires preventive maintenance. Scores of 45 to 74 show pavement that offers acceptable rides, but the roads are worn to the point where work is needed to prevent rapid deterioration.

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

Fairfield eyes changes for downtown

Don Friedman looks over mail at the Fairfield post office. Fairfield wants to build a parking lot on that piece of property. (Photo by Mike McCoy)
By Matthew Bunk
FAIRFIELD - A government land swap is in the works that could transform the post office into a garage, the county courthouse annex into a parking lot and the county Hall of Records into a three-story building for apartments, offices and shops.

None of the changes, currently under negotiation at the staff level, have been approved by Solano County or the city of Fairfield. But pending those approvals, the downtown area is in for another round of redevelopment and identity makeover, city and county staffers told the Daily Republic.

The plan to move most county offices into fresh digs at the six-story Solano County government center will leave surplus space in other county-owned buildings. So county and Fairfield officials began looking at ways to best use the soon-to-be vacant space.

"It's a joint city-county project in some ways," said Darby Hayes, assistant county administrator. "We've been working on this with the city for a long time.

"If it happens, it would give the entrance to downtown a much different look."

Meanwhile, Fairfield planners decided they would like to see a three-story mixed-use project where the Hall of Records now stands on the corner of Texas and Jefferson streets. And it just so happens they found a developer who shared their vision and who already owned the empty bank building next door.

So here's what downtown would look like if the deal happens:

n The county's fleet vehicles, now stored at a former service station on Texas Street, would be stored at the post office on Kentucky Street. That would also leave vacant the current fleet station, which city planners said could then be redeveloped for retail use.

n The county courthouse annex, home to the tax collector, auditor-controller, assessor-recorder and other county offices, would be torn down to make room for a parking lot. The parking lot in the back of the building would remain, as would the lawn facing Texas Street and most of the trees.

n The Hall of Records and the vacant bank building next door would be demolished to make room for a three-story commercial and residential building. The existing alleyway behind the Hall of Records would be covered by part of the building if the city can figure out what to do with the underground utilities beneath the alley.

The result of these desires is a loosely organized deal that would put the post office in the hands of the county, the Hall of Records building in the palm of a downtown developer and the courthouse annex in the grasp of the city.

So far, all parties involved seem to like the arrangement, but some pretty big questions remain. For example, where would the post office go?

"We've been working to get the post office into a larger facility," said Curt Johnston, Fairfield's assistant director of planning and development. "Right now they're looking at several different sites."

One place the post office could go is the vacant building on North Texas Street that once was home to a bowling alley. That's where it was set to go a few years ago until the agency pulled the plug on any new building for budget reasons. Another idea would be to expand the size of the Suisun City post office and then move the Fairfield post office to a smaller building.

But none of that is likely to happen until 2011, when the post office's lease with the city would expire. The current lease runs through 2006, but the federal government has an option to extend it for another five years, which the city expects it to do.

The other components of the project could get moving a little sooner, however, as the city and downtown developer John Costanzo are anxious to redevelop the block of buildings across from another ongoing Costanzo project, MacInnis Corner, which will soon include new business tenants such as Starbucks Coffee.

Although Costanzo said he didn't want to talk about the project until it gets final approval from the city, planning documents reveal the name of the project would be Stonefield Corner.

A residential-on-top-and-retail-on-bottom building would take shape on the corner, according to city planning documents. The middle level would have space for professional offices.

But that development faces a few problems as well that could hold up progress. Not only would the city have to work with Pacific Gas and Electricity to find an alternate place for the underground utilities that would be disturbed, it also would have to remove soil contaminated when the property was used as an auto lot for storage and repairs.

The city already received a state grant to investigate the contamination, but the alley and utilities may present a bigger problem.

"Closing the alley would be one major issue," Johnston said. "The redevelopment agency wants to close the alley so the proposed three-story building would front the plaza next door, but we're still working with PG&E."

Costanzo, in buying the Hall of Records building from the city, would likely be on the hook for costs of putting a parking lot where the county courthouse annex now stands, Johnston said. The added parking would complement Costanzo's nearby commercial holdings by providing parking for downtown shoppers.

As for the courthouse annex, it's too old to be of much use anyway, Hayes said.

"It would take a lot more money than it's worth to bring it up to modern standards," he said. "It was built in the 1950s and doesn't meet a lot of code requirements, and the roof leaks."

The county would lease the parking lot to the city for 10 or 15 years and then possibly reclaim it to construct a new county building if the need arises, Hayes said. Right now the 300,000-square-foot government center across the street fills all of the county's needs, but it might need to expand in the future.

"The plan is to put future county buildings there," Hayes said.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Vacaville City Council approves four items regarding Triad Communities' plan for Lagoon Valley; final map OK awaits.

02/23/2005 07:51:21 AM
Project at lagoon given 'go'City Council approves four items regarding Triad Communities' plan for Lagoon Valley; final map OK awaits.
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

"It was almost eerily quiet," said Councilman Steve Hardy.

His dais-mates agreed: The night wasn't supposed to go this smoothly.
The meeting of the Vacaville City Council ended just two hours after it began Tuesday night, much to the surprise of many.

Expecting another marathon debate on the merits and faults of a planned development in Lagoon Valley, the council got exactly the opposite: a half-hour lovefest for the project.
Of the dozen residents and officials who spoke during the relatively short public hearing, only one - a Lagoon Valley resident - said he opposed the project. That's a striking difference from prior hearings held during the past 15 years on the same issue, when the opposition has been the vocal majority.

With one vote, the council unanimously approved all four items up for consideration regarding the project. That vote was followed by a raucous round of applause from supporters in the audience. Following the meeting, the council seemed shocked at the meeting's brevity.
"I can't believe it's three after 9 and we're out of here," Mayor Len Augustine said.
Marian Conning, an outspoken critic of the project and the spokeswoman for Friends of Lagoon Valley, said that the surprising silence wasn't planned.

"Our group is very grass-roots and it's very difficult to orchestrate anything - even cleanup after a picnic," she said. "People know where we stand."

Along with a subdivision map and a planned development permit, the council approved an obligations agreement that specifically outlines everything Seattle-based developer Triad Communities will give to the city in exchange for final approval.

Among those obligations are 71 acres of open space adjacent to Lagoon Valley Lake, a fully equipped fire station and roughly $4.5 million for the restoration of Lagoon Valley Park.
The development still awaits a final map approval from the city, which should come in 16 to 18 months, said city planner Scott Sexton. Leading up to that, the developer and city staff will work together to map out the project's infrastructure, including the water system.
In its current form, the development would create 1,025 homes on 860 acres in Lower Lagoon Valley just south of Interstate 80, along with a 240-acre golf course and a business village. The project would be markedly smaller than previous plans for the area had allowed for.

Tom Hall can be reached at

Hearn Construction joins prominent Napa company in a move to take advantage of regional growth.

Article Launched: 02/23/2005 12:23:21 PM

Vacaville construction firm on cusp of merger
Hearn Construction joins prominent Napa company in a move to take advantage of regional growth.

By Reporter Staff

One of Vacaville's largest commercial construction firms will become even bigger in a merger with a prominent Napa company.

Hearn Construction of Vacaville and James Nolan Construction of St. Helena said Friday they will "combine resources as part of a combined growth strategy, and to build an even stronger construction organization designed to serve the rapidly growing Napa and Solano counties and beyond."

Combined revenues of the two companies is projected to be $65 million for 2005, according to Fred Hearn, CEO of Hearn Construction.

The construction companies will retain their own names, culture and identity, while sharing resources, talent, equipment and capital, Hearn explained.

The Vacaville firm's most prominent projects include the two-story office complex that sits atop the hill overlooking Brenden Theatres, the Vacaville Skating Center and the rest of the former site of Basic Vegetable Products at Davis Street at Interstate 80.

In addition to renovating and occupying the former Basic Vegetable office building at 411 Davis St., Hearn Construction renovated the old Opera House on Main Street.

Under terms of the soon-to-be-finalized agreement, a holding company will be established to provide administrative services to both firms.

Gordon Stankowski will continue to serve as president of Hearn Construction, and James Nolan will continue as president of James Nolan Construction Inc.

Hearn Construction, a general contracting and full-service construction management firm, was established more than 25 years ago. It provides design-build and construction management services for a variety of commercial, hotel, multifamily residential and medical projects, as well as tenant improvement services.

Some recent projects include work for Six Flags Marine World, Holiday Inn Express El Dorado and the Lincoln Theatre in Yountville. The company currently has 10 projects valued at more than $42.5 million under way in several Northern California communities.

James Nolan Construction was established in 1986. Over the years, the organization specialized in commercial projects and high-end residential estates. Commercial work has been performed for a number of high-profile projects, including Cardinale, Cuvaison, Nickel & Nickel, Harlan Estate, Franciscan Estate, Darioush, Laird Family Estate and Pine Ridge. Projects currently under way include Groth and Kapscandy Wineries. The company currently has eight projects under way valued at more than $22.5 million.

The two firms share similar ethics and a commitment to quality, Nolan explained. "We serve two different geographical areas, have a diverse client base and a wide range of skills and talents between us. This merger allows us to fill gaps within our existing organizations. We may have different strengths, but a common goal."

Hearn added, "As a part of our growth strategy for the combined organizations, it becomes critical that we branch out into new markets to include the greater Sacramento Valley, and the north and the south Bay Area."

The timing couldn't be better, Hearn insisted. "Solano County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and the high-end residential market is also experiencing substantial growth. We see the residential opportunities in Solano County."

Hearn said combining organizational resources will prove especially beneficial, as the companies "have grown substantially over the past few years, and internal growth is difficult. This move will create additional opportunities for both of our organizations."

Kaiser moves ahead - Council approves map changes for hospital

02/24/2005 07:53:21 AM

By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

It's been a long time coming, but a Kaiser hospital officially is on the way to reality in Vacaville.

The City Council approved map changes Tuesday night that will allow Kaiser Foundation Hospitals to build a 380,000-square-foot hospital next to its existing medical clinic in the Vaca Valley Business Park.

The council lauded the project. Mayor Len Augustine said the positive ramifications don't end at the city limits.

"This hospital will also benefit Dixon, Davis, Fairfield and even Vallejo as they get their new facility," Augustine said. Kaiser is planning on building a new hospital tower in Vallejo, which is where the only Kaiser hospital in Solano County currently exists.

The council approved a 60,000-square-foot expansion of the medical center build-out, which will allow increased medical office space and a central utility plant.

Kaiser currently has developed 23.5 acres of the 50-acre site. After the 200-bed hospital is complete, the majority of the site Kaiser owns will be developed.

Currently, the medical offices are situated in the middle of the development area. The expansion will push the campus north toward Vaca Valley Parkway and west toward Ackerly Drive. Parking also will be expanded.

While the health insurance provider currently has campuses in Vacaville and Fairfield, the nearest Kaiser hospital is in Vallejo. Kaiser also has two Sacramento hospitals and one in Roseville.

When the existing Vacaville medical center was opened in the mid-1990s, a hospital was planned. Because of several issues, Kaiser hasn't moved forward with that plan until recently.

Kaiser representative Hollis Harris said the hospital should open by early 2009. She added that the goal is for groundwork to begin in May and construction to start in December.

Dr. John Hills, who oversees Kaiser's Vacaville medical center, said the city has more than 30,000 Kaiser members within its borders. He said the staff is excited about that project because of the expanded level of care the company will be able to give its local customers.

Councilman Steve Wilkins said the new hospital will increase the efficiency of local paramedics, who won't have to deal with Interstate 80 traffic.

Tom Hall can be reached at

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dixon officials say the best is yet to come

Article Launched: 02/19/2005 09:01:49 AM

By Michael Joyce/Staff Writer

Eat, drink, and be merry was the mood in Madden Hall at the Dixon May Fair grounds on Friday at the annual "State of the City" address by Dixon Mayor Mary Ann Courville.

While community members and business leaders ate breakfast and drank coffee, city officials told those gathered in the dim-lit dining room that Dixon was in strong standing and has a bright future.

"It's such a good place to live, work, play, and raise a family," Courville told the crowd. "We are always working to better this community."

Following a brief overview of 2004, Courville turned the podium over to Police Chief Don Mort, who outlined crime statistics from the past year and talked about plans for the future.

He told the crowd that violent crimes were down from 2004 and that the police department would work to decrease domestic violence, and increase hours of operation in the future. These changes would help to continue to decrease crime, he said.

"One of our dreams in the city of Dixon is to have a safe community," Mort said. "I feel we're living our dream in the city of Dixon."

From safety and law enforcement, the address moved to community development and engineering. Director of Engineering Janet Koster and Community Development Director Rebecca Van Buren separately addressed projects and proposals such as Dixon Downs, the Flying J truck stop, the Milk Farm renovation, the Brookfield residential development, and the new high school.

"2004 was a job well done," Van Buren said of projects begun and finished. "But in 2005 we're going to be looking beyond our boundaries and make decisions that define the city and give it character like no other city."

Continuing with the theme of growth, Economic Development Director Marshall Drack spoke briefly about the numerous projects and proposals in Dixon.

Drack asked the crowd, "Why are all these projects here in Dixon?"

He answered, "To me, Dixon is a great place to do business."

Wrapping up the address, City Manager Warren Salmons painted an exciting future for the city.

"Just fine, thank you very much." Salmons told those gathered of the city's health. "We are in a very good state."

Salmons concluded by saying that numerous opportunities, options, and choices all make Dixon a dynamic place to be.

"This isn't a place where we wait for something to happen," he said. "It's up to us as a community to decide what we want to do with these choices."

Michael Joyce can be reached at

Columbus Salami Company Seeks Fairfield Approval

Salami company seeks approval

A proposed salami company in Fairfield will be the subject of a public hearing when the Fairfield Planning Commission meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council Chamber, 1000 Webster St.

The hearing will cover a request for the commission to find that the proposed Columbus Salami meat processing facility be approved as a "Conditional Use" and allowed to operate within city zoning laws.

Mare Island warehouse that once sheltered ordnance, now houses wines

Article Launched: 02/20/2005 09:19:50 AM

Bombs away
Mare Island warehouse that once sheltered ordnance, now houses wines

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald, Vallejo

Wines Central warehouse manager Glenn Coats rides through the Mare Island facility recently. (David Pacheco/Times-Herald, Vallejo)

In a Mare Island warehouse where once torpedoes and military ordnance were kept secure, a new precious commodity has found safe harbor.

San Rafael real estate developer and entrepreneur Jack Krystal is hoping to fill a growing need in the region by transforming the concrete building to a wine storage warehouse.

Krystal chose the 710 L St., Building 627 location on the former Navy shipyard's northwest end to house his new Wines Central, LLC because he believes the rapidly changing Mare Island is the perfect location.

"I thought this would be a much better use for it," Krystal said. "It's construction and layout is perfect for this."

Rumored to have once briefly housed atomic bombs during World War II, the building's layout does indeed offer everything a storage operation needs. It features huge, movable cranes, thick concrete walls, floors and ceilings and heavy steel doors that open to allow rail cars entry.

And Krystal is no stranger to the Vallejo area, having developed several projects there including the Fairgrounds Holiday Inn and a number of homes in south Vallejo.

"Vallejo has been dear to my heart for the past 30 years," said the 60-something father and grandfather originally from Argentina.

Krystal said his love of wines was born in his Argentinean childhood.

"In Argentina, it's like Italy and France. You drink wine with lunch, with every meal," he said. "It's like Coca Cola out here."

Krystal leaves the day-to-day operation of Wines Central to Debbie Polverino, of St. Helena, its general manager who has been with the 3-year-old firm for slightly more than a year.

Polverino said she didn't hesitate when Krystal offered her the job.

"He liked the building and he knew it would be great for storing wine. It's near the Napa Valley. Wine storage and distribution is a big business in this area," she said.

Polverino said there are several local warehouses devoted to the industry, though Wines Central is the only one in Vallejo. The city's access to all forms of shipping options from truck to rail to sea, makes the Mare Island location especially desirable, she said.

And Polverino, 42, should know. She was practically born into the wine business.

For the past 25 years, she has worked in the industry, managing warehouses and wineries. She grew up in the Napa Valley, where her family settled after her grandparents emigrated from Spain.

As familiar as she is with the various aspects of the wine business, Polverino said she immediately recognized the potential in Krystal's idea to store wine in a Mare Island building.

"Land in the Napa Valley is very expensive, so most of it is used to grow grapes. There are very few storage or distribution facilities there," she explained.

Polverino's vast knowledge of the various aspects of the wine industry permits Krystal to leave Wines Central's daily operation in her capable hands and she has been busy marketing the facility.

"I talked to people I knew about this great, safe building, the great prices. The police department and fire department are nearby. It's a great location for shipping," Polverino said.

Polverino said Wines Central now has about 80 winery clients and some 40 private collectors storing their precious bottles and barrels in its facility's various sized locked cages.

"Our clients include small collectors, marketing companies, overflow warehousing and wineries' library collections, which are the history of the winery by vintage examples," Polverino said. The Francis Ford Coppola brand of pastas and sauces, C&H Sugar, specialty olive oils and a variety of other merchandise is stored in the always chilly, Wines Central's climate-controlled environment, as well.

Wines Central employs eight local people and expansion is planned, Polverino said.

Besides storage of wines, bottled water, specialty food items and other materials on a lane address system, Wines Central processes orders, arranges shipping and distribution for clients and provides them space to do special projects like special holiday labeling.

Everything is organized on a computerized software system designed specifically for the wine storage industry, Polverino said.

Polverino and Krystal said they especially like being involved in changing Mare Island's military image into a more peaceful one.

"I like that they're taking the old military buildings and converting them to civilian use like this," Polverino said.

Krystal said he hopes his new enterprise will add to Mare Island's renaissance.

"I hope it becomes an indispensable service business for small-to medium-sized wine makers, right at the front door to Napa and Sonoma, and helps make Mare Island an oasis of productivity and jobs for Vallejo," he said.

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

Economic outlook bright in Solano

Economic outlook bright in SolanoArea growth outpaces rest of the Bay Area, a new study asserts By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHENTimes-Herald staff writer

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - Solano County is economically outpacing the rest of the Bay Area, according to a recently released study, which shows much of the region is "lagging in a slow recovery."

The Association of Bay Area Governments' (ABAG) Regional Economic Outlook report for 2005-06 shows Solano County besting other counties in nearly every area measured.

Solano County still has the region's lowest average annual income and the highest unemployment rate, but the gap is closing, the study shows.

Solano County Economic Development Corporation President Mike Ammann, said the report's results don't surprise him, but he can't adequately project the changes coming to Vallejo in particular.

"In the next three to five years, there will be a dramatic change in Vallejo. With downtown revitalization, what's going on on Mare Island - there's a medical school (Touro) with some 500 students and growing - with Triad, with the Mills Corporation's (Fairgrounds) project. I see all kinds of things happening.
"People who aren't paying attention, will look up in a few years and say, Wow, what happened to Vallejo?' " Ammann said.

Countywide, Solano's 20 percent general growth between 2002 and 2003 far exceeded any other Bay Area counties, with Napa coming in a distant second at less than five percent growth. The other counties registered declines, with Santa Clara reporting a nearly 30 percent drop.

The study shows Dixon experiencing the greatest progress, at nearly 100 percent change between 2002 and 2003. Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville showed about 20 percent growth, and were among only a handful of cities that hadn't lost ground. Ammann said much of this is explained by Dixon's shift from an agricultural-based economy to a more commercial one with new housing development.

Ammann attributes Solano County's relatively good ABAG showing to its diverse economic base, as opposed to the more technology-dependent areas like Silicon Valley. In fact, the charts indicate that the farther a city is from Silicon Valley - "ground zero for the IT bust," the better they're doing, Ammann said.

Even Solano County's higher-than-average unemployment rate can be seen as a positive, because even with a fast-growing population, it's remaining stable at about 5.5 percent, Ammann said.

"It means we're creating jobs," he said. "Solano is the only Bay Area county with a net overall increase in jobs in 2004."

The report shows that Bay Area incomes are expected to grow slightly more than inflation in the next two years.

"But look where we've come in the past 20 years," Ammann said. "We went from a primarily agricultural and military-dominated economy to a much more balanced one, which makes Solano County well positioned to withstand pretty much whatever happens, even if the governor blows up the box."

Karin Moss of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce attended the recent Oakland conference at which the study's results were released. She said it made her even happier she's come to Vallejo.

"I'd gone to that summit two days before I started officially working for the chamber, and I came out of there with a thumbs-up, saying to myself this is a great time to be moving to Solano County,' " said Moss, a business recruiter for the chamber.

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

Solano at front of pack - County is in position for boom, study finds

Article Published: Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Solano at front of pack

County is in position for boom, study finds

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Solano County is better positioned to take off economically than most of the region, according to the second independent study in two weeks to make the claim.

The new study shows Solano County suffered less and recovered faster from the nation's recession earlier this decade than much of the rest of the area. The report, released by Sonoma State University's Center for Regional Economic Analysis, mirrors the findings of an Association of Bay Area Government economic forecast last week.

Solano County is on an upward economic trend, the new study shows.

A variety of current and predicted economic trends "show Solano County on the upswing, that the economy is moving toward a boom," center director Robert Eyler said.

Like ABAG's analysts, Eyler said Solano County's diverse economic base and its less expensive real estate likely explain how it escaped the worst of 2001's economic downturn. The recession hit hardest areas like Silicon Valley that rely heavily on high-tech industries.

But even Solano County's economy has slowed in the past five months, Eyler said.

"Employment grew faster in the beginning of 2004 than at the end of it. It's still positive, but slowing," Eyler said. "Solano County is still moving a little faster than other counties, and the forecast for Solano County is probably the best of all the counties I study."

Eyler has studied Solano, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties' economies for the past three years, though this is the first time he's published the results, he said.

Eyler analyzes economic indicators including notices of default and bankruptcies, residential building permits, help-wanted ads, initial unemployment insurance claims, an agricultural price index and the U.S. Leading Economic Indicator. He also compiles local data on non-farm employment levels, county taxable sales and county personal income levels.

Solano County can become the standout North Bay county, if it plays its cards right, Eyler said.

"I think people don't recognize the potential of Solano County, which is starting to show its face. Solano and Sonoma counties have the most balanced economic bases in the area, though the others are catching up. It's a survival issue," Eyler said. "You have to look at these counties like countries. They don't want to export their incomes into other counties.

"Marin, for instance, gets a lot of its employees from Solano because of its cost of living, which means it's exporting a lot of its income dollars to Solano County, which benefits retail-wise, and they pay property taxes in Solano."

County economies not only compete, they also depend on each other in what Eyler calls "an interesting symbiotic relationship."

"Solano County is growing steadily and didn't experience a huge downturn during the recession," Eyler said. "Compared to other counties I study, it's seen continued growth, while others were hit a little harder in 2001 and 2002.

"In general, Solano County is one of the more dynamic local economies, for sure," he said. "People mistake Solano County for places like Lake and Mendocino counties - places you drive through to someplace else - but it's bordered by many other dynamic local economies and is poised to be a hub if it grows the right way. The seeds are there."

Eyler said if Solano County can attract a major player in some high-tech industry like communications or bio-technology, it can "develop around it."

"The challenge," Eyler said, "is to develop an economic profile of what the county is and what it wants to be, develop a plan, and act on that."

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

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

North Bay Bancorp profits climb 16%

By Reporter Staff

North Bay Bancorp, parent of The Vintage Bank in Napa County and Solano Bank in Solano County, reported Monday that profits grew by 16 percent in 2004.

Strong loan demand, excellent deposit growth and a stable interest margin were among the reasons for the higher profitability, according to a press release.

In 2004, loans grew 23 percent to $374 million, deposits grew 19 percent to $484 million, the net interest margin was virtually unchanged, return on equity increased 64 basis points, and the efficiency ratio improved by 217 points from a year ago.

Net income increased to $5.1 million in 2004 compared to $4.4 million in 2003. Fourth-quarter profits increased 21 percent to $1.6 million, compared to $1.3 million in the fourth quarter 2003.
Other highlights include earnings per diluted share increased 13 percent to $1.29 million, and revenues increased 20 percent to $27 million.

Solano Bank, now a division of The Vintage Bank, has offices in Vacaville, Fairfield, Vallejo and Benicia.

Wines Central warehouse manager Glenn Coats rides through the warehouse on a golf cart at the Mare Island wine storage facility. Photo: David Pacheco/Times-Herald Posted by Hello

From war to wine

Storage facility is part of the changing face of Mare Island

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Grapes aren't the only thing growing in the Napa area. There is also a need for wine storage warehouses growing in the region - a need Jack Krystal aims to help fill with his new Wines Central, LLC facility on Mare Island.

Krystal, a San Rafael real estate developer and entrepreneur, was advised that wine-storage is a growing industry, and that the rapidly changing Mare Island is the perfect place to operate such a business. The building Krystal chose, 710 L St., Building 627 on Mare Island's northwest end, once had a very different purpose.

"I fell in love with the building, and I was informed it used to be used to store torpedoes and ordnance. And I thought this would be a much better use for it. It's construction and layout is perfect for this," Krystal said.

Wines Central's warehouse manager Glenn Coats, 47, said rumors among some Mare Island old-timers has the building storing either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki atomic bombs briefly during the war. The building's layout - huge, movable cranes, thick concrete walls, floors and ceilings and heavy steel doors that open to allow rail cars inside - seems to lend some credence to the possibility.

"Several people told me that, and I saw something about it on a documentary once," said Coats, who spent much of his childhood in Vallejo. "It's quite a facility."

Krystal said he's known Mare Island for many years, having developed several projects in Vallejo, including the Fairgrounds Holiday Inn and a number of homes in South Vallejo.
"Vallejo has been dear to my heart for the past 30 years," said Krystal, a 60-something father and grandfather originally from Argentina. "I go back to the days when Vallejo had 50,000 people; to the days when the mayor was Florence."

Krystal said his love of wines was born in his Argentinean childhood.

"I've been drinking wine since I was a child," he said. "In Argentina, it's like Italy and France. You drink wine with lunch, with every meal. It's like Coca Cola out here."

Krystal leaves the day-to-day operation of Wines Central to Debbie Polverino of St. Helena, its general manager who has been with the 3-year-old firm for just over a year. Krystal explained his business plans to Polverino and offered her the job. And it was a perfect fit, she said.

"He liked the building and he knew it would be great for storing wine. It's near the Napa Valley. Wine storage and distribution is a big business in this area," Polverino said. She said there are several area warehouses devoted to the industry, though Wines Central is the only one in Vallejo. The city's access to all forms of shipping options from truck to rail to sea, makes the Mare Island location especially desirable, she said.

Polverino, 42, said she was practically born into the wine business.

"I've been in the wine business for 25 years," Polverino said. "I've been the general manager of warehouses and wineries. I'm from the Napa Valley, so my history in the wine industry goes all the way back to my grandfather growing grapes. My whole family grew up in the wine industry. It's our life. We've never done anything else."

Polverino said her grandparents immigrated to the United States from Spain in the early 1900s. Wine has proverbially been running through her veins for three generations on her father's side, and even longer than that through her husband's, she said.

"It has to do with history - the evolution, the change in the community, the passion. I remember as a child playing in the vineyards," she added. "It's all there was. I love the vineyards, they're the most beautiful in the world. That's why you live here - because you love the wine and it's a passion. I love everything about it. Everything I've ever done has to do with the wine industry. I love that I'm involved in it. It's not hard to love this."

As familiar as she is with the various aspects of the wine business, Polverino said she immediately recognized the potential in Krystal's idea to store wine in a Mare Island building.
"Land in the Napa Valley is very expensive, so most of it is used to grow grapes. There are very few storage or distribution facilities there," she said.

Her vast knowledge of the various aspects of the wine industry permits Krystal to leave Wines Central's operation in Polverino's capable hands, she said. While whipping the place into shape after being hired, she engaged her marketing skills and contacts to let people know that the perfect wine storage facility was open, she said.

"I talked to people I knew about this great, safe building, the great prices. The police department and fire department are nearby. It's a great location for shipping," Polverino said.
Polverino said Wines Central now has about 80 winery clients and some 40 private collectors storing their precious bottles and barrels in its facility's various sized locked cages.

"Our clients include small collectors, marketing companies, overflow warehousing and wineries' library collections, which are the history of the winery by vintage examples," Polverino said. The Francis Ford Coppola brand of pastas and sauces, C&H Sugar, specialty olive oils and a variety of other merchandise is stored in the always chilly climate-controlled environment.

Wines Central employs eight local people and expansion is planned, Polverino said.
Besides storage of wines, bottled water, specialty food items and other materials on a lane address system, Wines Central processes orders, arranges shipping and distribution for clients and provides them space to do special projects like holiday labeling.

Everything is organized on a computerized software system designed specifically for the wine storage industry, Polverino said.

Polverino and Krystal said they especially like being involved in changing Mare Island's military image into a more peaceful one.

"I like that they're taking the old military buildings and converting them to civilian use like this," Polverino said.

Krystal said he hopes his new enterprise will add to Mare Island's renaissance.

"I hope it becomes an indispensable service business for small to medium sized wine makers, right at the front door to Napa and Sonoma, and helps make Mare Island an oasis of productivity and jobs for Vallejo," he said.

For information, visit , or call 551-7000.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

City's growing economyJob-producing firms result from long-term plans

The Reporter

That rumbling sound is not too far in the distance. In fact, the sound of economic revival is upon the community.

While the national and state economies continue to idle or simmer, it is apparent that Vacaville is on the verge of some very important progression - in the public and private sector equally.

This makes it a bit of a madhouse at times within City Hall as planners, engineers and inspectors hustle to keep pace with the building activity that nearly overwhelms them. On Sunday, our City Hall reporter, Tom Hall, outlined in fastidious detail what will be a $2 billion investment explosion in Vacaville in the next two years.

And at the rate new projects are being proposed, that figure could increase significantly and quickly.

The city's redevelopment agency is finishing up two big projects critical to the downtown
district - the Town Square and the new Police Department headquarters. With Caltrans, the city is in mid-project for an essential traffic improvement enterprise - a new and larger Leisure Town overpass to Interstate 80.

Genentech is expanding to become the world's largest biotech manufacturing plant to create the company's flagship in Vacaville. Alza is another biotech giant that is growing, becoming the city's largest private-sector employer. And Kaiser Permanence is going ahead with a new hospital.

A new auto dealership, a half dozen new large restaurants, a new supermarket and a host of other new businesses are coming or already have their doors open.

The impressive note on the city's progress report is the fact that the new investment is job-producing businesses. The city no longer is simply building houses. There are a trio of projects on the horizon - North Village, South Town and Lagoon Valley. Still, the most impressive facet of development is tax-producing, job-growing businesses.

This did not come overnight. It reflects a city management that a decade ago had the foresight to plan and put in place a foundation to let the city grow smart and efficiently. As much as the state wants to rob the city of revenue, the city has fortified its fiscal stability.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Finding sweet deals for Solano County--Agency touts benefits of moving businesses to the area

By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD - When Mike Ammann goes to business conventions, he loads his briefcase with candy wrapped in packaging that exclaims "Solano's Got It!" It's a way to hold the attention of people he meets while hobnobbing with the movers and shakers of industry - and candy is much more effective than a brochure or postcard, he said." I always offer them a sweet deal," Ammann, president of Solano Economic Development Corporation, said during an interview in his Green Valley office.

For Ammann, whose job is to bring startup or relocating businesses to Solano County, it's all about leaving an impression. So, as he walks the convention floors with company site selectors and corporate decision-makers, he lets them test some of Solano's homegrown products. Specifically, he gives them Jelly Belly beans and chocolate bars made in Fairfield candy factories.

But Ammann's job is much more than handing out sugar treats. The candy is just a way to break the ice before pitching the county as a great place to do business. Every year, Ammann teams up with other economic developers in the county's seven cities to visit cities across the country and the Bay Area. The idea is promotion, and the result, Ammann hopes, is a healthier local economy. "My job is to pull people together," he said. " And to make things happen that wouldn't have otherwise happened."

So Ammann does a lot of traveling. He also makes a lot of phone calls. And all of his efforts are geared toward convincing business leaders that they're missing out if they're not operating in Solano County. His first step is to find "leads," or people vaguely interested in the area, and then to cultivate those leads into "prospects," who are more serious about opening here. At any one conference, Ammann can line up hundreds of leads. If he's lucky, three or four of them will become prospects. "It's like panning for gold," he said. "You have to make sure you're standing in the right stream." You also have to know what to look for. And Ammann has specific goals, such as attracting biotech companies, light manufacturing, all types of office users and producers of specialty foods.

With a yearly budget of about $400,000 - about 60 percent comes from membership dues and 40 percent is paid by local government agencies - and a staff of three, Ammann makes Solano County an option for business leaders. Persistence and ingenuity are key, he said. "We're competing against organizations with much larger budgets," he said. "So we have to do more with less and choose what works best for us. "We believe in relationship marketing and using the Internet. We build those relationships and work the relationships, so when they have a decision to make we're right there."

Last year, Ammann helped reorganize the 20-year-old Solano EDC, which had been called SEDCORP. He built up the Web site, initiated an Internet-based property locator that provides easy access to information about every parcel in the county and formed a consortium of economic developers to promote the region at large conventions. That's the foundation. Now that it's been laid, Ammann has moved on to the next phase - taking the show on the road.

For the past six months, Solano EDC concentrated on national marketing. Now, the attention is turning to the Bay Area, which Ammann sees as Solano County's primary economic driver. Because Solano EDC can do the most for the county's businesses when on the road, some people in Solano County still regard the organization as an enigma. Other than an understanding that it promotes business, some folks simply don't know what people like Ammann do all day.

Robert Simpson, a Jelly Belly executive and member of the Solano EDC Board of Directors, offered his assurance that Ammann is worth his salary and then some. "Under the former administration, there was no clear direction. It kind of floundered," Simpson said. "But this area has a lot to offer, and Mike recognizes that. "I would say the influence of his community marketing is huge."

Another board member, Sue Vaccaro, of Solano Garbage Co., agrees. "It's an exciting time," she said. "Right now we're really charged up. "The most essential element, Vaccaro said, is cooperation with groups with similar economic interests. Instead of several disjointed efforts to market the area, it's all under one roof with Solano EDC. "If we get everyone to the table we have continuity," she said. "Then we can be smart about growth."

The board doesn't hesitate, from time to time, to let Ammann know where he should be focusing his energies. "I always tell people to tap me on the shoulder if I'm going the wrong direction," Ammann said. "Or tap me if they see an opportunity. "I expect a tap every now and then."

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Mike Ammann, president of Solano EDC, wants businesses to move to California, especially Solano County. (Photo by Gary Goldsmith) Posted by Hello

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Blueprint for growth

City prepares for predicted housing boom

By Barbara Smith/Business Writer, The Reporter

Creativity may turn the key to affordable homeownership in Vacaville as the city braces for a predicted population boom.

Vacaville's 2005 Affordable Housing Study explores nearly a dozen options city leaders will consider in planning for housing development in a region with a relatively stable apartment vacancy rate, but a sales market that may lock out lower income buyers.

Maureen Carson, senior planner, said a look at affordable housing is part of the city's strategic plan adopted in 2003. The current study primarily deals with affordable housing.

"The council's intent really was to look at what the city can do to encourage construction of affordable ownership housing," Carson said. "That was kind of the narrow focus of this report."
The study includes a report from the Association of Bay Area Governments - "Projections 2005" - which predicts that the nine- county Bay Area will be home to about 7.75 million by the year 2015. That's an increase of some 657,000 new residents and 235,630 new households.

City staff has concluded the lack of affordable housing in the greater Bay Area is why employees and their families are moving to cities like Vacaville.

According to ABAG's report, Solano County's seven cities will bear the brunt of the population swell, with an additional 80,700 people during the next decade - mostly moving to Vacaville, Fairfield and Vallejo.

And, Solano is also projected to be the Bay Area leader with the highest job growth between 2000 and 2015 due to the availability of land designated for commercial and industrial development. The county is projected to add more than 39,160 jobs between 2000 and 2015, a percentage increase of 29 percent.

In Vacaville's next decade, 16,000 people could be added in 5,290 new households - an average annual growth rate of slightly more than 529 households per year. The number of local jobs in Vacaville is projected to increase by 11 percent by 2010, from 28,880 to 31,920 jobs.

Those figures can't be ignored by city officials. State law requires each city and county prepare and adopt a housing element for its general plan every five years. The state determines what is expected in statewide growth, then tells ABAG what the growth will be in the nine-county Bay Area. ABAG then allocates housing target numbers to each city.

Vacaville's 2001-06 housing element was certified easily and reviewed recently, Carson said.
"We pretty much breezed through the state review process, and they were satisfied that we met the laws," Carson said. "If you look at Vacaville compared to other similar cities, we're doing at least as well or better than other cities our size."

ABAG assigned Vacaville for the 2001-06 window 5,365 units for a mix of housing at income levels ranging from "very low" - below $36,950 annual - to "above moderate" - $88,700 annual - income. Vacaville's remaining need is 2,137 units.

The median household income in Solano County is projected to increase by 13 percent during the next 10 years, from $73,900 to $82,700 - $18,500 below the projected Bay Area average of $101,200.

A citywide apartment rental vacancy and rental rate survey conducted in October found the overall vacancy rate is 6.4 percent - the highest vacancy rate since 1986 following the 1980s apartment construction boom. While rental rates have increased since 2000, the actual increases have been fairly low.

Carson said staff has come up with some 11 options for the City Council to consider to encourage the development of affordable homeownership.

"Some of these options are simply tweaking or amending existing programs or policies that we have, and some ideas are new for them to consider," she said.

New options include promoting infill development by partnering with developers to construct new affordable housing.

"The city's actually got a pretty good track record of partnering with developers to do multifamily rental housing, but we're looking at maybe taking that to the next step to do ownership housing," Carson said.

Another idea is to include duets in new subdivisions. Gramercy Park, a subdivision built in south Vacaville in the 1970s, has a duet on every corner, Carson said. That's something that the city may want to incorporate in its larger projects, she said.

Also, the City Council is being asked to look at secondary living units, commonly referred to as "granny flats."

"The owner not only has the home they are buying, but they have a secondary living unit for a family member, or for a rental," Carson said.

But first, the council may amend current constraints in place for granny flats including impact fees.

"Our fees for the secondary living units are fairly high, so we're asking the council to look at our fee structure. That might by itself encourage construction of secondary units, and be more feasible for residential builder," she said.

Another option is to require smaller lot sizes and smaller floor plans in new subdivisions.
"Generally, over the past few years, we've seen home sizes - the floor area - increase substantially, even in small lot subdivisions. What would normally be entry level housing, the homes are fairly large.

"What we'd like to suggest is we may want to have a requirement that there be a floor plan or two that would be on the smaller size, so it would make it more relatively affordable."

Carson said the housing element law does not require the city to construct the units, but requires cities to make sure there is enough land zoned to accommodate its fair share, while requiring cities to look at existing policies to encourage development.

"It also requires us to look at what constraints there are that we have control over that we may be able to change," she said. "Some examples are are our fees excessively high? Are there any other factors that the city has control over that we can change?"

Without a certified housing element, a city could be subject to lawsuits from developers or housing advocates. Being out of compliance also could jeopardize the city's eligibility for certain state grants.

The City Council is likely to begin a new strategic planning process later this month, Carson said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

Friday, February 11, 2005

Copart to expand online technology beyond junk cars

By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD - Internet auctions helped Copart Inc. to its most profitable year in 2004, and now the auto salvage company wants to take its online auction technology to other industries.

For more than a year, Fairfield-based Copart watched sales and profits jump after converting from a live auction format solely to Internet sales. Using that method to sell junked cars kept operating costs down and opened the sales to buyers worldwide, instead of just those who showed up in person at one of Copart's 107 auto lots across North America.

Copart now sells salvage vehicles to repair shop owners as far away as Europe and the Middle East. In its most recent financial report, Copart said 20 percent of the cars sold during the quarter were shipped to buyers outside the U.S.

The company, which for the first time topped $400 million in sales last year, said its recent success was due to its proprietary online auction technology, Virtual Bidding Second Generation, or VB2.Now Copart executives are trying to show VB2 can grow sales in industries outside the salvaged auto genre.

Last month, the company facilitated an online auction that included items such as electronics, contemporary art and sporting goods. It was a way to showcase VB2, Willis Johnson, CEO and chairman of Copart, said in a statement.

"Just as we have revolutionized the salvage vehicle auction industry with VB2, we will continue to explore opportunities to apply VB2 to other businesses," Johnson said. "We believe VB2 is ideally suited to industries with a large number of goods for sale, with no fixed price.

"While selling jewelry and DVD players can seem a stretch for a company whose expertise is clearly in the auto industry, Copart executives are taking small steps to push VB2 beyond junked cars. One of those first steps is to sell used cars, damaged or not, to dealers and other bulk buyers, which the company started to do almost two months ago.

Copart hopes to become a bigger player in the wholesale used car market, which is about four times larger than the salvage vehicle market. Right now, it's a small player up against giants such as Atlanta-based Manheim and Carmel, Ind.-based ADESA.

Also, Copart is working with 44 wholesale vehicle auctions to provide its technology for their use. And the company is integrating VB2 with other vehicle auction software to widen its base of users and potential buyers.

There's no doubt VB2 led to higher profits for Copart's salvaged vehicle business, but leaders in the used car industry wonder if people will clamor to buy used cars without first inspecting them up close.

Kicking the tires and getting a whiff of the interior's essence have long been a key part of choosing a new car, critics argue, and buyers might shy away from cars they can't touch and smell first.

Though Copart still allows people to inspect vehicles parked at its lots prior to making a bid, it might be impractical for someone, say in Florida, to go to a Copart lot in Montana to look over a batch of cars. Pre-visiting a far-away car lot, in any case, would detract from the convenience intended with the implementation of VB2.

Trusting the Internet, with its digital pictures and brief disclosure statements, might be easier with a grading system being developed by the National Auto Auction Association.

While a grading system might not mean much to individual consumers, Copart hopes it will be enough to convince wholesale buyers that they can profit from turn-around sales of Copart vehicles.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Rosy outlook for Solano in new report

By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD - Solano County will lead the nine-county Bay Area in taxable sales growth for the next two years, according to a forecast by the Association of Bay Area Governments.As the Bay Area's economic outlook improves, it's expected that business investment will rise. And Solano County is expected to lead the way.Taxable sales, a measure of economic growth, rose at an average 5.6 percent in the Bay Area in 2004 and will grow about 5 percent in 2005 and 2006, according to ABAG analysts. Solano County is expected to exceed that with 6.5 percent growth in 2005 and 6.2 percent growth in 2006.Napa County will follow with a 6 percent increase both years. Most other counties will see that figure grow by less than 5 percent.The Bay Area's recovery is "still slow, but improving," according to an ABAG report. Projections show the region will add about 40,000 jobs in 2005 and another 61,000 in 2006.

Have a newsworthy business item or event? Call the Business desk at 427-6934 or e-mail

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Counties like their growth numbers

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Solano County business people are more hopeful about the economy than elsewhere in the Bay Area - where economic confidence is also rising, a new survey shows.

The Bay Area Council's quarterly survey, which polls more than 500 top executives, found overall confidence continuing on an upward trend that began nearly a year ago, council spokesman John Grubb said. Even so, it will be a while before the region can make up for jobs lost in the past few years, he said.

For about three years, confidence was steadily declining, Grubb said. The Bay Area experienced a net loss of 415,000 jobs between 2001 and last month, he said.

"That's how many (jobs) we need to make up to draw even. It's a deep hole, but we're digging out," Grubb said.

The reason survey respondents most often cited for the overall confidence rebound is an improved Bay Area economy, Grubb said. This is particularly true in the East Bay, which, for the council's purposes, includes Solano County.

Vallejo Chamber of Commerce chief Rick Wells and its new business recruitment director Karin Moss said the results echo reports they've heard.

"It's good news, but not surprising. We've seen increasing confidence in our members over the past year," Wells said.

"I attended the Bay Area Economic Summit in Oakland recently," Moss added, "and Solano County is off the charts in growth."

The survey showed 59 percent of Solano and Contra Costa county top executives think the local economy is better than it was six months ago. Regionally, that number is 52 percent. The study shows a moderate increase in confidence over last year at this time.

About 30 percent of regional and local executives plan to hire more people in the next six months. Locally, only 4 percent plan to let people go, compared to 7 percent regionally. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents plan no workforce changes, the study shows.

"So, in the Solano County-Contra Costa County area, they are a little more optimistic," Grubb said. "This may be because we've seen the greatest job growth in the Bay Area in the past year in the East Bay, including Solano County."

Grubb said this may be partially due to the region's diverse economic base.

"The companies in the East Bay are more diverse and less tech-dependent than other counties like Santa Clara, the most tech-dependent county, which lost jobs in the past year," Grubb said.
Santa Clara lost nearly 10,000 jobs in 2004, compared to a net gain of 14,000 jobs in the East Bay, Grubb said.

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

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Bio-Energy Systems employee Esbin Pelechu of San Rafael assembles an MK 600 processor, which processes vegetable oil into biodiesel, at the Mare Island plant. Photo; David Pacheco/Times-Herald Posted by Hello

Bio-Energy Systems employee Esbin Pelechu of San Rafael assembles an MK 600 processor, which processes vegetable oil into biodiesel, at the Mare Island plant. Photo; David Pacheco/Times-Herald Posted by Hello

Mare Island firm produces clean fuel

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

Revolutionizing the world's fossil fuel-driven economy may be a somewhat ambitious goal, but Vallejo's Bio-Energy Systems founder/owners say they're doing just that.

Jacques Sinoncelli and Michael Brown, partners in the Mare Island firm, say the idea is radical yet simple: Convert vegetable oil into diesel fuel and almost everybody wins.

"We take (nearly any type of) vegetable oil and process it for use in any diesel engine," Sinoncelli said. "The diesel engine was originally designed to run on vegetable oil, and was later adapted to run on diesel fuel, which was at the time a by-product of gasoline. So what we do is modify the vegetable oil so it mimics the density of diesel fuel to run in today's diesel engines." The firm uses mostly oils rejected for human consumption by the USDA, he said.

Sinoncelli said his firm could easily produce enough clean-burning, non-carcinogenic energy that is "less toxic than table salt," in its Mare Island facility to power the entire city of Vallejo. The plant now produces 7,000 gallons of bio-diesel daily, he said.

Sinoncelli, a 51-year-old San Anselmo resident, said he invented a hybrid production system based on a European model, using a microchip "brain" that monitors vegetable oil's viscosity and adjusts it "on the fly," producing a fuel of just the right consistency to power diesel engines.
"The idea is to do a process to remove the glycerine in vegetable oil and replace it with an alcohol. It's too thick otherwise," said Sinoncelli, a Paris native who moved with his family to San Francisco as a child.

The advantages are legion, Sinoncelli said.

"Diesel engines are more efficient than gas engines, the cost of fossil fuel production, from pump to pump, is much higher compared to vegetable oil's cost from planting to pump," Sinoncelli said. "You get three times more energy produced per unit of energy used. And with recycled oil, you get even more - seven times more than (regular) diesel."

Other advantages include that vegetable oil, unlike fossil fuel, is a renewable resource and often is a biodegradable by-product of food production.

"We hope biodiesel will start diminishing our dependence on foreign oil," Sinoncelli said. "It's grown here in the U.S. And it's a very green' fuel, producing 93 percent less particulate matter than diesel."

One byproduct of the bio-diesel process is methane, which can be used to run gas-powered engines, he added.

Though he could be mistaken for one in conversation, Sinoncelli is not a rocket scientist or even a biochemist. But, he said, he's a man with a deep interest in transportation and the environment.
A married father of one, Sinoncelli is a commercial pilot and has been a commercial bus driver and a marine captain, he said. He also worked on system designs for amphibious transportation projects, he said.

"I love to travel and I love getting into the energy aspect of it," he said. It's a long-time interest.

"My father died when I was very young. My mother was a professor of languages and loved traveling, and we traveled around the world as children," Sinoncelli said. "I played with (transportation) toys as a child. The fascinating thing was to take them apart and see what made them tick. I noticed that all these transportation methods were tied to fossil fuel, and I could see how this was starting to impact the environment and the political and economic landscape."
Sinoncelli said that in his travels, he's seen dependence on fossil fuel seems to keep some third-world countries impoverished. He said he thinks that bio-energy would permit these nations to grow and produce enough of their own energy to improve their population's living standard.
"This is great for farmers, independent producers could spring up, distributors," he said. "Independent power generating companies could develop and take some of the load off the power grid.

"A city like Vallejo could collect used vegetable oil from restaurants and run its own bio-diesel plant and fuel all its vehicles and maybe run the whole city on the fuel it produces itself," he added.

Sinoncelli said his interest developed as he investigated alternative fuels and transportation methods.

"When I was looking at electric cars a few years ago, I liked the idea, but the battery technology was lacking. There wasn't enough range in what was available to make it practical in the Bay Area. So I got interested in what technology is available right now, and biodiesel came to the forefront," Sinoncelli said.

Sinoncelli said he found an extensive program under way in Europe, and began looking into ways of launching a similar program here. He based his apparatus' design on what he learned in Europe, creating a patented dry, hybrid process. After five or six years of intense research, he was ready to give it a shot.

He contacted Brown, another commercial pilot and friend, and the two decided to team up on the project. They chose Mare Island because the facilities possessed the right attributes, such as size, access to rail, land and water shipping, and reasonable prices, Sinoncelli said. They moved to their new headquarters in November 2003 and began building a production facility. It's been operational for several months.

Brown, a 54-year-old married father of two living in San Francisco, said his "fierce environmentalism" is what fueled his interest in Sinoncelli's plan.

"I didn't know it, but this is a lifelong passion," Brown said. "I didn't know this stuff existed, really, until a couple of years ago."

Once he heard about it and comprehended its far-reaching implications, Brown wanted in on the action, he said.

"I was very excited about it from the get-go. I had always told myself that when I'm 50, I'd do something else. All I knew is that whatever it was, it was going to be quality. It took me a day or two to realize this was it," Brown said.

Both men said they hope the idea will catch on, and they plan eventually to open a chain of fueling stations when it does.

"When we started, we were only the 12th operator licensed by the EPA, and the only one in Northern California," Sinoncelli said. "We are now one of only three in California."

The fuel the firm produces is sold to Northern California wholesalers and the firm also designs and builds production systems for clients wishing to produce their own fuel.

"We sold one to a firm in Seattle, and one in Mississippi, and a small, compact unit is going to a Michigan soy bean farm co-op, which will make them completely self-sufficient, and provide them a way to contribute to the power grid," Sinoncelli said.

Bio-Energy Systems employs seven local people, and there are plans to expand. "We feel like we're on the edge of a new frontier," Sinoncelli said.

- For information on Bio-Energy Systems, call (707) 649-9100.

First Northern Bancorp reports record profits

By Matthew Bunk

FAIRFIELD - Rising interest rates helped First Northern Community Bancorp record profits in the fourth quarter of 2004, company officials said in a statement. First Northern Community Bancorp, a Dixon-based holding company for First Northern Bank, also reported growth in deposits, assets and overall market share in the fourth quarter." We are quite pleased with the company's performance in the past year," said Owen "John" Onsum, president and chief executive officer of FNCB. "The rise in interest rates this past quarter has had a positive effect on our margins and they are beginning to move back to more normalized levels." Besides the improvement in our interest margins, we continue to experience steady growth in market share and healthy gains in assets, deposits and loans."

Net income for the fourth quarter was $1.97 million, up 43.8 percent from $1.37 million earned in the fourth quarter of 2003. The company opened a bank branch in Roseville recently as part of an effort to expand the franchise. That investment led to growth in assets of $70 million to a total of $628.7 million for 2004. Higher profits and earnings-based investments helped soften the impact of expansion costs and "monumental" expenses associated with compliance with federal Security and Exchange Commission laws, Onsum said. On Jan. 27, the company's board of directors declared a 6 percent stock dividend, the 40th consecutive year the company has paid a stock dividend. It will be payable March 31 to stockholders of record as of Feb. 28. The company's stock, tagged FNRN and traded on the Over the Counter market, was unchanged Tuesday at $32 a share. First Northern Community Bancorp is an independent community bank headquartered in Solano County since 1920. It has 11 branches in Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado counties.

Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or

Company spreadsheet:
Other highlights from First Northern's 2004 fourth-quarter financial report:
  • Year-to-date net income of $6.71 million on Dec. 31 was up 9.8 percent from $6.11 million a year ago.
  • Annualized return on average assets was 1.14 percent, down slightly from 1.18 percent a year ago. Annualized return on core equity of 14.8 percent was down compared to 15.25 percent a year ago.
  • Loans in 2004 increased 52.9 million, or 14 percent, to $432 million.
  • Deposits for the year were up 11.7 percent to $557.2 million.
  • Diluted earnings per share were up 42.8 percent to 50 cents.

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