Friday, January 27, 2006

Solano EDC Speaker Stresses Progressive Thinking

Solano EDC Speaker Stresses Progressive Thinking
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - As the keynote speaker at Solano Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting, Ian Stuart didn't pull any punches when summing up Solano County: The average daily commute here is worse than in San Francisco and housing is the 14th most expensive in the country.

Speaking to a banquet hall of about 275 business leaders, politicians and regional planners, Stuart with Colliers International addressed the pitfalls of what he called "sub urban" development.

He urged attendees Thursday to think outside the box.

Stuart said if the county didn't find a solution to its commuting problem, the area would experience the dreaded gridlock of Orange County within two decades.

Part of the problem is Solano County's high percentage of so-called bay divers - who commute west for higher paying jobs in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties.

More high-paying jobs need to be created in Solano County to reduce the number of commuters. And improvements to transportation such as a commuter rail are needed to relieve those who continue to commute, Stuart said.

Stuart outlined his solutions: Education, development and commute.

A strong education system is needed to attract businesses to the county, he said.

"Employers are aware of the importance of community college," Stuart said, adding Solano Community College needs to be one of the best in the country because it will provide the labor force that will do the leg work for large corporations such as Genentech. The biotech company, which recently was named as Fortune magazine's top company to work for, has a major manufacturing facility in Vacaville.

Under development, Stuart proposed Solano County think progressively.

Traditional suburban growth gobbles up land and leads to more traffic congestion and longer commutes.

Mixed-use projects, which provide retail, office and residential space in one development, offer the advantage that people can walk to work and the grocery store from home.

"Mixed-use is the solution," Stuart said.

Fairfield Mayor Harry Price adamantly agreed.

"Mixed-use is a concept Fairfield has been following," said Price, who recently attended a public policy forum at Harvard. "Everything he told us today were things we discussed at Harvard."

Stuart also championed improving rail lines through Solano County, not just for commuters but as an alternative to semi trucks.

"If you build a bigger road you just put more traffic on it," Stuart said.

Stuart, who is English, noted that if France and England could agree to build a very expensive train line connecting the two countries, Solano County could manage to help push through a politically challenging commuter rail project.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

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