Monday, July 31, 2006

Golf Tourney Set

Golf Tourney Set

The Solano Economic Development Corporation's 17th annual Golf Classic at Green Valley Country Club is scheduled for Monday,

August 14. Registration begins at 10 a.m., a barbecue lunch begins at 11 a.m. and the "shotgun start" is at 12 p.m.

The cost per golfer is $175, which includes lunch and dinner, as well as free use of the driving range, green fees, golf cart, two mulligans, tee prizes, entry in a putting contest, closest to the hole contest and long drive contest.

To reserve your foursome call Pat at 864-1855 or e-mail her at with the players' names, company, address, phone, and estimated handicap. You can also golf as a single and get paired up with a foursome.

Brewer Helps Local Teachers

Brewer Helps Local Teachers

The Anheuser-Busch Fairfield brewery recently donated $20,000 to the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, in order to assist more than 18 local teachers in obtaining National Board Certification. Research has shown students instructed by National Board Certified teachers make far more significant gains in academic achievement than their counterparts.

"Supporting the communities in which we serve has always been a part of the Anheuser-Busch tradition, and a local tradition at the Fairfield brewery for nearly thirty years," said Kevin Finger, plant manager of the Anheuser-Busch Fairfield brewery. "Many of us at the brewery either attended or have children who attend the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, so we're thrilled to support the district's goal of hiring, training and retaining the best teachers available."

California Gets Cleaner Diesel Ahead of Schedule

California Gets Cleaner Diesel Ahead of Schedule
Sacramento Business Journal - July 28, 2006
by Celia Lamb
Staff Writer

California has met a more stringent new diesel fuel standard four years ahead of the rest of the United States, and most diesel car and truck drivers probably never noticed the difference.

The lower-polluting formula cuts the maximum concentration of sulfur from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million. California refineries started producing the new fuel on June 1 and sent it trickling down through the pipeline distribution system.

"It's in place and running," said Jerry Engelhardt, spokesman for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP. The company pipes fuel from the Bay Area into the Sacramento region. By Sept. 1, all gas stations in the state must make the switch.

Lower sulfur means less soot and smog. But the fuel change is just a drop in the bucket for air quality protection, industry experts say. Bigger changes will come from advanced emissions control systems that work with the new diesel formula.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum in Frederick, Md., compares the new fuel change to the demise of leaded fuel, which ushered in the demand for pollution-reducing catalytic converters on automobiles. He's excited about the potential technological changes for diesel engines.

"We are standing at the doorstep of a new era in diesel technology," he said.

A quarter of a century ago, there were almost no air quality regulations for diesel-powered vehicles and equipment, Schaeffer said. The 500 parts per million requirement, implemented in California in 1993, was revolutionary enough to garner the title "low-sulfur" diesel. In practice, most refiners had brought the levels down to 150 parts per million.

The 15 parts per million regulation, a tenfold decrease, is called "ultra-low sulfur" diesel. It eliminates almost 97 percent of the sulfur found in raw diesel. Nationally, refiners must switch up to 80 percent of their production in line with California, which already has completely transitioned to the new formula. Out-of-state refiners have until 2010 to complete the transition.

California's fuel is already even cleaner than the federal sulfur limit, said state Energy Commission spokesman Rob Schlichting. That's because pipeline companies operating in the state are asking for 8 parts per million from the refiners just in case the fuel becomes contaminated. Also, California limits chemicals called aromatic hydrocarbons, which release soot particles when burned.

More limits are ahead. In 2010 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to reduce the amount of oxides in nitrogen in diesel, cutting the emissions of smog-forming chemicals.

The average truck driver probably cares more about the price of diesel than its quality. But the price of fuel has been so thoroughly driven by world market conditions that the formula switch in California has gone unnoticed at the pump. Diesel prices dropped in California from June to July, according to the Energy Commission.

"The production has been very high," Schlichting said. "(Oil companies) made the transition very easily."

National projections have estimated the additional costs of ultra-low sulfur diesel at three to five cents per gallon, Schaeffer said. New engine emissions technologies expected over the next few years will hit consumers' pocketbooks a little harder. Cleaner diesel makes it possible to add filters to engines that would further reduce output of soot particles called particulates.

In California, sales of the new engines will start en masse at the beginning of next year. Schaeffer said he has heard cost estimates of an additional $1,000 to $2,000 on a $100,000 truck. Mike Dettloff, a truck engine account manager with Holt of California in West Sacramento, said he has heard the new engines will cost about $7,500 to $9,000 more.

"The real (environmental) benefit comes when that fuel is used in engines with particulate traps," Schaeffer said. "These particulate filters and the fuel have all been optimized as a system."

It's possible to add filters to older engines, but they wouldn't be as efficient, Schaeffer said. Replacing truck engines is a better option.

The EPA has set aside $26 million for changing out the engines in large fleets. California is in a good position to apply for this funding because the cleaner diesel fuel is already here, Schaeffer said. California could also drive the market demand for new models of cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles that use diesel.

New Travis Commander Focuses on What's Important

New Travis Commander Focuses on What's Important
By Ian Thompson

TRAVIS AFB - On the wall of Col. Steve Arquiette's office is a small flight plan map of New York, showing the prominent landmarks pilots can use to check their location.

One of the map's landmarks is the World Trade Center, now gone.

Arquiette, Travis Air Force Base's new commander, remembers flying over the site shortly before President Bush's visit there after it was cleared and cleaned up.

On another wall is a picture of his 7-year-old son, smiling broadly, missing one of his front teeth, and surrounded by a crowd of Air Force servicemembers.

"There is no more important a time than now to wear a uniform," Arquiette said. "I want to make sure those my son's age can enjoy the same benefits that we do now."

A native of rural upstate New York, Arquiette's father was a Marine who served in both Korea and Vietnam, and his brother also entered the Marine Corps.

Arquiette signed up with the Air Force because it promised him education and work in the electronics field.

The choice of service sat well with his father. Arquiette makes a point to pay homage to his father's service by calling him on the anniversary of the Marine Corps' founding "and he calls me when it is the Air Force's birthday."

Arquiette has been in the Air Force since 1979 when he enlisted and worked as weapons system radar technician on F-4 Phantom jets. He earned his commission in 1986 and spent the next six years flying KC-135 and KC-10 air refueling aircraft.

After several staff level assignments that included serving at Air Mobility Command, he stepped up to command the 99th Airlift Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Before coming to Travis, he served as vice commander for the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Arquiette has accumulated 3,400 hours of flying time on aircraft that also include the C-37, C-20 and C-17.

The first C-17 is expected to arrive at Travis early next month, "a very good change" that will fit well into the base's mission of supporting American military and humanitarian efforts around the world, Arquiette said. Travis will eventually be home to 13 C-17s, with corresponding active-duty and Reserve squadrons.

The C-17's ability to land at smaller airfields than other air transports will extend the reach of Travis' contingency response wing to more remote and austere areas.

"That is not just for the warfighting mission, but for the humanitarian missions as well," Arquiette said, pointing to recent humanitarian support to tsunami-ravaged Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina.

"This adds another tangent to Travis," Arquiette said.

During his next two years commanding Travis, Arquiette will work hard to keep the four main pillars of Travis' success strong - the mission, the servicemembers, their families and the community.

"If you focus on and take care of those last three, the mission will take care of itself," Arquiette said.

Part of that means getting out of the office and talking to as many people as possible, talking about the importance of the base's mission and working with them to make Travis better.

Arquiette has met with several community leaders and has made appearances in events such as the recent Fourth of July parade, but he stated he needs to get out more to the community.

"I really appreciate the warmth of the community and the tremendous support we get. It is overwhelming," Arquiette said.

Arquiette said he is proud of leading so many award-winning units and servicemembers.

He faces the challenge of pushing an already high bar higher to help Travis servicemembers to respond faster, work smarter and contribute more to winning the war on terror.

That means planning for the long haul in the War on Terror, taking care of the mission, the people and the families "to make sure everyone is trained, not just on what we are doing, but why we are doing it."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Expanded Port of Oakland draws major 10-year deal

Article Last Updated: 07/27/2006 06:44:18 AM PDT

Expanded port draws major 10-year deal

By Paul T. Rosynsky, STAFF WRITER

APL's 79-ACRE TERMINAL will be rehabilitated over the next 2 1⁄2 years, allowing the company to bring more containers to the Port of Oakland. (Laura A. Oda - Staff)


OVER THE last decade, the Port of Oakland has spent more than $1 billion expanding and modernizing its maritime terminals.

It built two new terminals and a rail yard, and began dredging San Francisco Bay to accommodate a new generation of huge container ships.

The work positioned the country's fourth largest container port to keep pace with the rapid growth of commerce that comes from Asia every day. The more modern the terminals, port officials reasoned, the faster a ship could be unloaded.

Shipping executives took notice and began using the Port of Oakland as an alternative to the gigantic port complexes of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

What was mostly a theory in the early 1990s when the port expansion began started to look like reality Wednesday.

With the unloading and loading of containers in the background, port officials with representatives from shippingfirm APL announced a new deal that will keep APL at the port at least 10 more years.

"We need to have more than one gateway," said John Bowe, president of the Americas Region for APL. "It's not a question of Oakland versus (other ports), it is a question of needing both."

The new deal will add at least $10.2 million a year to port coffers and a vote of confidence in the organization's future from one of the largest shipping companies in the world.

In exchange, the Port of Oakland agreed to spend more than $55 million modernizing APL's terminal on Middle Harbor Road, which hasn't been improved for decades.

"This type of investment is not an easy decision for a company to make," said Port Executive Director Jerry Bridges. "This is a testament to my predecessors at the port who saw the vision of what was coming."

Modernization of APL's terminal has been a long-time desire of both the company and port officials. Originally two separate terminals, the 79-acre yard is a hodgepodge of roads, container storage sites and electrical outlets for the refrigerated containers.

Its design is flawed, as containers are stored vertically to docking ships rather than horizontally. As a result, the movement of those containers is slowed, backing up the process of loading and unloading a ship.

"This is a very difficult place to operate in," said Stephen Hessenauer, director of terminal operations for Eagle Marine Services, a subsidiary of APL. "It delays the transactions and really screws up how fast you can unload a ship."

The APL Philippines, one of the last remaining container ships still sailing under a United States flag, is serviced at the port. (Laura A. Oda - Staff)

With modernization the terminal's configuration will change, increasing both its capacity and efficiency.

Currently, the terminal can hold roughly 4,000, 40-foot-long containers and move about 2,500 of them through its gates a week. After the 2 1/2-year construction project is completed, it will hold more than 6,500 containers and move almost 7,500 through its gates in a week.

Adding to the capacity increase is the port's plan to build a new rail yard on the former Oakland Army Base and convince Union Pacific to add a new track along the Donner Pass.

And, as more containers move through Oakland, more money and jobs will be generated for the area, port officials say.

"It's all about efficiency," Bridges said. "It continues the path of modernization at the port."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Genentech Invests in Inotek's Inhibitors

Genentech Invests in Inotek's Inhibitors
By Reporter Staff

Biotech leader Genentech has entered into an exclusive global collaboration to develop new cancer treatments with Inotek Pharmaceuticals Corp. The deal, announced Tuesday, could be worth as much as $625 million to Inotek.

South San Francisco-based Genentech - which has a manufacturing facility in Vacaville - will pay the Beverly, Mass.-based firm $20 million upfront, and up to an additional $405 million in milestone payments based upon successful completion of various clinical development and regulatory events.

The two companies will work together to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize inhibitors of a nuclear enzyme, poly polymerase (PARP), that repairs damaged DNA, which is Inotek's lead program.

"We are thrilled that Genentech has taken such a significant interest in our company and our PARP Inhibitor Program," Andrew Salzman, Inotek's president and chief executive officer, said in a written statement.

"We have built a strong expertise and reputation in small molecule drug discovery, as well as a deep pipeline of novel PARP inhibitors.

"We believe that these capabilities and assets combined with Genentech's proven experience and success in oncology drug development and commercialization will create a powerful collaboration for years to come," Salzman continued.

As part of the deal, Genentech will pay royalties based upon sales of Inotek's lead PARP inhibitor. Genentech will also provide funding to utilize Inotek's small molecule chemistry expertise as part of a multi-year collaborative research program, and will pay for all future clinical development costs of PARP inhibitors in cancer.

Additionally, Genentech retained an option worth as much as $200 million in additional payments to Inotek, allowing it to develop and commercialize Inotek's PARP inhibitors to prevent cell death and complications associated with various acute cardiovascular conditions .

In a written statement, Hal Barron, Genentech's chief medical officer and senior vice president of development, said PARP inhibition represents an exciting field of biology.

"We are intrigued by the potential of this novel mechanism to address unmet medical needs in oncology and acute cardiovascular conditions," he said.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New sewer plant will allow Rio Vista to expand

July 17, 2006

New sewer plant will allow Rio Vista to expand

By Mike Corpos

The new waste water plant in Rio Vista is set to handle 1 million gallons of raw sewage per day, but has room to expand. (Zachary Kaufman/Daily Republic)

RIO VISTA - When a town grows, everything grows with it, including the amount of sewage generated.

To accommodate such an increase, construction crews in this town of about 7,000 are putting the final touches on the city's new wastewater treatment plant.

Built north of town, near the junction of Church and Airport roads, the new plant gives the city nearly double the waste-treatment capacity of the current plant, which is nearly 30 years old.

The plant should be online by the end of July, and it should begin treating its first sewage in early August, said construction manager Larry Timmer of Harris and Associates, an engineering and management firm.

Originally budgeted at $24.7 million, the project will likely run closer to $26 million when completed mainly because of skyrocketing costs for construction materials.

Once completed, the new plant will provide Rio Vista with the ability to treat up to 1 million gallons of wastewater per day, nearly doubling the 600,000-gallon-per-day capacity of the existing plant on Beach Drive.

"The old plant's too small to treat all the sewage," Timmer said, adding the new construction leaves space for expansion up to three times the initial capacity.

"It will enable us to continue with community growth," Vice Mayor Ron Jones said. "All the other projects would not be possible without the new plant."

At its initial size, the new plant will be able to serve about 5,000 homes. It will start serving the Trilogy housing development and another subdivision now under construction. Eventually, the city will phase out Beach Drive plant.

At that point, the new plant will take on the whole city's sewage and the old plant will be converted into a lift station, pumping sewage across town to the new plant.

Before the plant can be brought online, it needs to be "seeded," meaning a small amount of sewage will be brought in and allowed to sit while colonies of bacteria that break down solid waste are allowed to develop, Timmer said.

Employing newer microfiltration technology, the new plant will be one of the more cutting-edge sewer plants in the area.

"It's not a conventional plant - they're usually much bigger," he said.

Along with new treatment facilities, the new plant will have state-of-the art electronics, touch-screen controls and monitoring systems, housed in the new office and lab building, just to the west of the main treatment facilities.

"In the lab, they'll do all the in-house testing to make sure the water quality meets the permit requirements," Timmer said.

After the wastewater is filtered, it is sent to a pair of ultraviolet disinfection units to kill off any remaining bacteria.

"Nobody likes chlorine these days, even though it's very effective," Timmer said, noting the UV units do pretty much the same job without added chemicals. "All of the water here can actually be reclaimed."

Although the discharged water is cleaner than most drinking water, using reclaimed wastewater is still a hard sell in communities.

"The water we'll dump will actually be cleaner than the water in the Sacramento River," Timmer added.

Once the plant is done purifying the wastewater, it will be pumped through a $2 million pipeline, about 300 feet out into the Sacramento River.

In case of backup, the plant also has a 2 million gallon holding pond to store untreated wastewater.

On the south end of the property are several greenhouses which will be used to dry out the solid waste sludge. Once that sludge is dry, Timmer said it will be trucked to landfills.

When construction is completed, the city has contracted Houston-based Veolia Water, which currently operates the Beach Drive plant, to run the new plant.

Construction began in December 2004. The plant will begin processing sewage in August.

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6977 or

Suisun City Council approves plan to build housing on lot

July 19, 2006

Suisun City Council approves plan to build housing on lot

By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The Suisun City Council gave their stamp of approval Tuesday night to turning the vacant Crystal Middle School site into housing.

Crystal Middle School was approved to be sold to Main Street Partners for $2.5 million. With extra charges to help pay for the lighthouse and for fees, the final price tag is $2.8 million.

The only opposition came from city council watcher George Gwynn who voiced concerns over seeing one developer get so much of the action for development in Suisun City's Old Town.

Main Street West was chosen early this year to be that area's master developer and given control of a dozen Redevelopment Agency-owned vacant parcels to develop as commercial, mixed use and residential developments.

Mayor Jim Spering defended the saying the process to chose Main Street West was very competitive and that it was a cost effective approach to move the Old Town area's economic redevelopment efforts forward.

The city's Redevelopment Agency made a deal with the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District last year to sell the site for the school district by the end of this summer.

If the agency didn't find a buyer by that time, it would have to pay the school district $2.25 million, the site's appraised value at that time.

The Crystal school site now joins more than a dozen other pieces of property located in and around the Old Town area which Suisun City expects Main Street West to develop.

Main Street West's developer has promised to make its first project a two-story, mixed use anchor project at Main and Solano streets with stores on the first floor and residences on the second.

The developer plans to formally break ground on this project by mid-September.

In other business, Victorian Harbor and Lawler Ranch residents protested what they called a lack of decent landscape maintenance which they are paying money for in landscape maintenance districts.

The residents spoke during public hearing held for a proposal to raise the districts rate to keep pace with the cost of living.

Most of the residents said they didn't mind the increase as long as they actually saw work done instead having to live with deteriorating public landscaping.

The council approved the increases but also told staff to meet with residents by late September to work out solutions to the residents' concerns.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

New homes reflect area's history, style Fitting in on Mare Island

July 19, 2006

Fitting in on Mare Island
New homes reflect area's history, style

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

THESE JOHN LAING HOMES are now available on Mare Island, with three floor plans to choose among. Photo: J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald

An alternative to the expensive old and new mansions cropping up around Mare Island will soon be available with the opening of The Nautilus Collection by John Laing Homes.

Created to emulate the design of the island's historic mansions, The Nautilus contains 27 four-plexes for a total of 108 residential units, according to Laing spokesman Patrick Saumure.

"As the master developer of Mare Island, Lennar Mare Island sold some sites to John Laing Homes for development," said Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian.

"Outside, the homes are made to blend with the historic architecture of the island," Saumure said. "We worked extensively with the city to stay consistent with its heritage."

This is true even in the landscaping, Saumure said, with all trees and plants being of species already on the island.

With Nautilus model homes completed and decked out for visitors, potential buyers are invited to tour the development. A VIP tour was conducted last week and an open house was held Saturday, featuring a guest chef demonstrating how to whip up gourmet delights in the units' high-end stove and oven.

The new townhome/condos come in three floor plans, Saumure said - a 1,700-square-foot, single- level unit with three bedrooms and two baths; a 1,900-plus-square-foot walk-upo flat with three bedrooms and two baths; and a 2,200-square-foot, two-story townhouse with four bedrooms and three baths, including a downstairs bedroom and bath.

Each unit has its own attached two-car garage. The homes are attached not by the walls, but by the truss system, Saumure said. This, coupled with layers of insulation, reduces sound transfer, and contributes to the community's' detached home feeling, he added.

Unit prices range from the upper $500,000s to the low $600,000, he said.

While a number of upgrade options are available, even the no-frills version is "very well appointed" with slab granite countertops, Thermador appliances and Kohler fixtures, Saumure said.

Units also include decks, patios or courtyards, energy-saving dual-paned, eight-foot-high windows and nine-foot

A BARBECUE was held on Mare Island by Lennar to celebrate the opening of The Nautilus Collection of homes. Photo: J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald

ceilings. They also have ceiling fans, recessed lighting, stairway tread lights and hand-set ceramic tile floors in "wet" areas like the bathroom and kitchen.

Options include bamboo and other hardwood floors and "hundreds of tile and carpet options," Saumure said.

Central heating and air conditioning come standard, as does an energy-efficient, heat-producing gas fireplace and a recessed, zone-specific, temperature controlled and activated fire sprinkler system. Each unit also sports a pest-control management system that allows exterminators to plug into an exterior portal and pump chemicals inside the walls.

"It's a very eco-friendly, safe, system," Saumure said. "And the fireplaces offer all the ambiance of a fireplace without the mess."

Each model also includes a "tech center" or office space, equipped with CAT 5 voice and data wire technology.

"It's the first major community in Northern California to offer broadband throughout," Keadjian said.

The Nautilus' first sales will occur August 5, with an estimated construction completion date in time for occupancy by the end of the year, Saumure said. Offers are accepted on a first-apply-first-considered basis, he added.

Buyers select their customizing elements in advance, and are welcome to watch their home constructed, Saumure said.

Arranged in a horseshoe shape, each four-plex shares a common driveway. Owners will belong to a homeowners association which covers hazard insurance and water and takes care of exterior maintenance, including the roof, paint and landscaping.

A dozen units are handicapped-accessible and 15 others are easily adaptable, Saumure said.

As a planned community, there are certain rules to follow and owners aren't free to do just anything with their landscaping or exterior paint, Saumure said.

"There will be no purple units, for instance" he said. "We're offering this as a lifestyle choice."

Established in Britain in 1848, John Laing Homes' first project in Vallejo is The Nautilus, though it's not necessarily its

The developer holds a barbecue to celebrate. Photo: J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald

last, Saumure said.

"Depending on how well it goes, we may purchase more sites and build more on the island," Saumure said. "We felt it was an opportunity to work on Mare Island and in Vallejo and to offer a different lifestyle decision in the area, and we think this is a great location."

Considered a mid-sized builder, Laing has produced 3,000 homes in California and Colorado this year and is the second largest privately held builder in the country, Saumure said.

New Laing communities in Northern California are in various stages of completion in Hercules, Sacramento, Roseville, Lincoln, Elk Grove, Folsom and several other cities.

The Mare Island project has brought 40 to 60 workers to the island daily, who spend money locally, Saumure said, adding that the firm tries to hire as many locals as possible, as well. It's taken on Mare Island Elementary School as its "Civic Pride Program" project, donating money to the school's general fund, he added.

Well over 100 people have already expressed interest in The Nautilus, which is expected to build out in two years, Saumure said.


The Nautilus Collection

Owner: John Laing Homes, Newport Beach

Business Type: Housing

First opened: July 15

Location: 1139 Azuar Drive, Mare Island, Vallejo

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Phone/web: 552-4922

Home prices inch up; rents rise, sales ebb - Solano still most affordable in 9 county Bay area


Home prices inch up; rents rise, sales ebb
High costs -- and interest rates -- cause more people to hit 'the affordability wall'

Kelly Zito, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bay Area home prices are slowing and rents are going up, an indication that the housing market has entered a post-boom era in which buying a home no longer guarantees a profit.

Home prices inched to another record in June, but sales ebbed further and rents around the region have jumped by their largest margin in several years. All this suggests wary consumers are being pushed out of the purchase market and into rentals by stratospheric prices and rising interest rates.

"A few more people are hitting the affordability wall," said Ron Gable, vice president and manager of Alain Pinel Realtors in Half Moon Bay and San Mateo. "And more people are feeling they've seen the (price) peak for the near term and they want to buy at the bottom and sell at the top."

After years of heading in wildly divergent directions, the two halves of the housing market -- purchase and rental -- appear to be moving back into alignment.

"There should be a more accurate relationship between the value of a house and the value of the apartment market," said Caroline Latham, chief executive of RealFacts, a Novato firm that releases a quarterly snapshot of the apartment market. "I expect to see rental prices continue to go up for a while, and we'll probably see housing prices stagnate or go down."

Last month, the median price for a single-family home in the nine-county region hit $689,000, up about 7 percent from the year-ago median of $644,000, according to real estate information firm DataQuick. While that figure set a record for the third month in a row, the annual rate of appreciation has slowed markedly since the go-go days of 20-plus percent appreciation early last year.

In addition, sales transactions slid for the 15th month in a row. A total of 9,892 houses and condos changed hands, down about 24 percent from June 2005.

Gable said his firm sees far fewer multiple offers on properties -- about 30 percent of homes draw more than one bid, compared with about 90 percent a year ago. What's more, the inventory of unsold homes has leaped from a six- to 12-week supply in the past year, according to the California Association of Realtors.

In several markets, prices dipped slightly. For instance, the median price for a detached home in Napa County dropped 1.6 percent in the past year, from $599,000 to $589,000, DataQuick found. Condo prices in San Mateo remained flat at $535,000.

DataQuick's monthly reports are based on filings with county recorders' offices and represent sales initiated 30 to 60 days earlier.

While Gable said sellers of existing homes must trick out their abodes with fancy staging and fresh landscaping to ensure a speedy sale, sellers of some new homes find they must offer even more tantalizing incentives.

Mega-builder KB Home recently began offering consumers $25 gas cards if they visit three of its Contra Costa County developments by the end of July.

And at a 35-unit condo project near Oakland's Chinatown, broker Elena Stone is advertising a $15,000 credit to buyers who close escrow in 30 days. So far, she's sold 10 units -- including five after the credit was announced last month. Stone estimates her project is competing with more than 500 other downtown condos.

"Today's buyers have a lot more choices," she said.

Not so for renters.

From Sunnyvale to Walnut Creek, apartment shoppers are finding rental properties are harder to come by -- and more expensive.

The average for a one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area climbed nearly 7 percent, to $1,218, according to a quarterly report by RealFacts. In Silicon Valley, where the fallout from the dot-com blowout drove rents down by about 30 percent, the average rent ticked up 9 percent to $1,259 amid a strengthening economy and improving corporate profits.

The average mortgage payment Bay Area buyers committed to paying in June was $3,183, DataQuick said.

RealFacts' quarterly reports, which cover more than 1,200 apartment buildings and 215,300 units in the nine-county region, are based on surveys of properties of 50 or more units. In San Francisco, much of the rental stock consists of smaller buildings of four or six units.

Research by other firms, however, also shows that rents in San Francisco have been rising.

There were also some higher-than-average increases on the purchase side.

The median price for a condo in Solano County grew 12.5 percent from $280,000 last June to $315,000 last month.

And in places such as Marin County, the median for a middle-of-the-road house stands at nearly $1 million -- $971,500.

Nevertheless, DataQuick researcher John Karevoll predicts home prices will cool further -- and possibly fall slightly as San Diego's market has -- in coming months. Much will depend on the trajectory of interest rates, employment and foreign investment.

"The big question we started asking years ago was -- is this cycle ending with a crash or soft landing?" Karevoll said. "It's clear now we're in the middle of the soft landing. We had our frenzy and now the sales and appreciation rates are coming down. Now the question is will it go negative or will it approach zero and level off?"


E-mail Kelly Zito at

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Checked by AVG Free Edition.
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Vallejo school district to call M.I. building home

July 21, 2006

Vallejo school district to call M.I. building home

By SARAH ROHRS, Times-Herald staff writer

The phones aren't ringing and the desks haven't arrived, but a Mare Island barracks building is quickly becoming the future home of the Vallejo school district's administrative office.

The once empty, cavernous Walnut Avenue building now has walls, wiring and other improvements for offices, conference rooms, plus storage areas and rooms for training and workshops.

One corner of the former Naval building will be where Vallejo school board meetings will be held.

A jail cell, where wayward ship workers once awaited their punishment, is being preserved to display photographs and memorabilia.

Construction pace has quickened over the summer to meet a Nov. 18 move-in date.

Even if the building is unfinished, a large fleet of desks, computers, filing cabinets and other items will be moved from the district's current Valle Vista headquarters, district adviser Floyd Gonella said.

The current district office must be vacated because the buildings and land will soon be put up for public bid, Gonella said. The district estimates the sale could bring in between $10 million and $12 million to help pay off the $60 million state bail-out loan.

"We've gotten a lot of interest. I've gotten calls from all over the western United States on the property," Gonella said.

Finding a user for a 4,200-square foot section of the second floor is also underway. The district intends to lease out the space and use the proceeds to pay for utilities and other costs associated with running the new district office.

Gonella said the Mare Island marketing firm of CBRE will be showing the space to Realtors and potential users this week.

To make the Mare Island move possible, Lennar Mare Island paid the district $6 million in school fees. Then $4.3 million of that was spent to buy and renovate the building.

An additional $2.6 million will also be spent, $1.7 million will come from Measure A school bond money, and $900,000 will come in after the existing district office property is sold.

The Mare Island building will contain administrative offices, plus space for student services, instructional services, professional development, student health services and the student nutrition division.

Silicon Valley adds 4,000 new jobs in June

Valley adds 4,000 new jobs in June

Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal - 2:56 PM PDT Friday, July 21, 2006

Silicon Valley employers added 4,000 names to their payrolls in June, according to a report released Friday.

California's Employment Development Department reported that the total number of employed in Santa Clara and San Benito counties is 882,900, an increase of a half percent over last June.

Leisure and hospitality picked up 1,900 jobs over the past 12 months, with nearly three-quarters of those in food and beverage services.

Trade, transportation and utilities had a gain of 1,100 jobs. Private educational and health services boosted payrolls by 1,100 jobs, primarily at colleges, universities and professional schools.

Since June 2005, the computer and electronic products manufacturing sector lost 900 jobs. At the same time, a gain of 900 jobs was seen in the Internet service provider and Web search portal sector.

The valley's unemployment rate was 5 percent in June, up from 4.4 percent in May but down from 5.7 percent a year ago.

Monterey County had 202,700 employed in June out of a total possible work force of 214,600. In June last year, the county had 207,000 employed out of a possible 219,300.

Santa Cruz County had 140,300 employed out of a possible work force of 147,800. Last June, there were 139,700 employed out of a possible 147,600.

For the entire state, June's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent compared to a national rate of 4.8 percent.

East Bay unemployment up in June to 4.7 percent from 4.1 percent in May

East Bay unemployment up in June

East Bay Business Times - 12:43 PM PDT Friday, July 21, 2006

Unemployment in the East Bay was up in June, to 4.7 percent from 4.1 percent in May, according to figures released by the state's Employment Development Department on Friday.

The newest figure is below the year-ago estimate of 5.3 percent and compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 4.9 percent for California and 4.8 percent for the nation during the same period.

The unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in Alameda County and 4.5 percent in Contra Costa County.

Between May and June, the East Bay grew by 4,800 jobs to reach 1,063,700.

Construction gained 1,600 jobs, mainly in specialty trade contractors, which gained 1,000 jobs. Professional and business services gained 1,400 jobs and the leisure and hospitality sector added 1,200 jobs. Government, however, lost 1,200 jobs.

Between June 2005 and June 2006, industry employment added 24,500 jobs, or 2.4 percent.

Solar powering up

July 22, 2006

Solar powering up

By Nathan Halverson

Tim McKernan, an installer with Solar Craft, looks over solar panels before a final inspection at a home in Rolling Hills in Fairfield. (Gary Goldsmith/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - David Heacock believes in the power of the sun. Last February, Heacock, a Fairfield resident, had solar panels installed on his home.

"I tell people it is the greatest investment I've ever made," he said. "Just within four months we've already built up energy credits. In the first two months we had a bill of $72. Then the next two months erased that bill and now we actually have a credit of $9."

Heacock is among a growing number of residential or commercial property owners who are taking advantage of government tax credits and rebates. These government incentives have transcended solar panels from being merely environmentally friendly to being economically friendly.

"Of increasing importance, more people are buying on a strictly economic basis. Energy rates are continuing to go up and people are looking for a way to offset their electricity bill," said Richard Bennett, residential program manager of the North American division of BP Solar. "One thing that is driving this are the state rebates and federal tax credits. It's a fairly generous program."

BP Solar is a division of BP, formerly British Petroleum, which is one of the six largest energy providers in the world. BP has invested heavily in solar and now supplies Home Depot, which started a program about 2 years ago.

The federal tax credit program allows homeowners to take a $2,000 tax credit for installing solar panels. For commercial property owners, the tax credit is a much better incentive. Businesses that install solar panels can take a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the installation cost, which for larger installations can range into the six figures.

Also, the state offers a one-time rebate of $2.60 per watt of solar power installed. The rebate has a maximum limit of 30 kilowatts, or $78,000. These state rebates have been extended through 2017, but are expected to decrease 10 percent each year to offset the expected decline in the price of installing solar energy.

Christobal Estelita, a Fairfield resident, had solar panels installed on her house this month. The government incentives reduced her initial cost of $55,000 to $39,000.

"I am paying too much for my electricity and I know it will come down with this," Estelita said about supplying energy to her 3,200 square foot home. "I was paying almost $400 to $500 a month. And this way I can really save."

There is no set cost for solar panel systems, but in general a system will start at $15,000. The size and cost of a system is determined by how much energy a household uses per year. Professional installers determine that amount by examining how much energy a household has consumed during the last 12 months.

"It's not inexpensive, but if you look at it as an investment - the panels usually have 25-year warranties - it's worth it," Heacock said. "You can take out a loan and pay off that instead of paying PG&E."

Most people use a second mortgage to finance their solar panel system. On average, a system will pay for itself in 15 years, everything past that is a return on investment.

"I don't worry about PG&E rates going up anymore, because it doesn't affect me. And that's a nice feeling," Heacock said.

SCC starts unique alifornia Insurance Careers Program

July 23, 2006

SCC starts unique careers program

By Susan Winlow

FAIRFIELD - This fall a unique statewide program called the California Insurance Careers Program will be offered in full at Solano Community College which brings the community college system and the local workforce together.

Offered as a two-year associate degree, the program is unique in that SCC will be the only community college this fall to offer the full curriculum needed - six insurance classes included in the approximately 31 credits plus general education classes - to graduate with a two-year degree in the Insurance Careers Program.

Put together because of an industry-wide demand for qualified entry-level workers, the program is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Labor. SCC is in the forefront in administrating and overseeing the grant for all the California community colleges.

"We're the lead school in developing the insurance careers associates degree program," said John Urrutia, the dean of business and computer science at SCC. "We see a need and we feel that we can have a significant impact in our local insurance community."

The idea of the program at SCC is to provide a model that can be used by any other college in the state, Urrutia said.

"Any community college can grab the curriculum and not have to go through the hoops like we had to do," he said.

The idea for the program came about two years ago.

"We surveyed insurance trade organizations to better understand what are the issues and dilemnas in recruiting entry level workers and what type of skills they wouldn't need," said Jeff Stephens, outreach manager for the California Insurance Careers Program.

The result is a series of six classes, such as classes in property and liability insurance and personal insurance, designed to prepare students for behind-the scenes employment opportunities in the insurance industry. Within the six classes will be a paid internship.

Urrutia said this is not designed to teach students how to sell insurance but rather teach them about back-office functions that the insurance industry has problems finding qualified people to fill.

Trilogy's impact on Rio Vist

July 24, 2006

Jury still out on Trilogy's impact

By Mike Corpos

Mitch and Sandy Reed of Hesperia look at a map of the area while eating lunch at BettyÕs Slider Cafe in downtown Rio Vista. (Zachary Kaufman/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD - Several years after the Trilogy retirement housing development opened in Rio Vista, the community's effect on the rest of the town is still being determined.

Depending on whom you ask, the growth has helped, hurt, or not affected the downtown area.

Some businesses have seen a real boost since folks began moving into Trilogy in the late 1990s, while others have seen little - if any - effect.

Betty Marlowe, owner of Betty's Slider Cafe on Main Street said the Trilogy residents have been a huge boon to this rural town of less than 8,000.

"It definitely brings us more business - and they're very pleasant people," said Marlowe, who's been in business for seven years. "We have a lot of regular business form there. It's been a boost for me."

Marlowe said she's thankful for the Trilogy residents, and added that she feels, "We're going in the right direction."

"Before Trilogy opened, you knew exactly where you were," Marlowe said of the town's rural setting. "There's not much that brings people up here - the bass derby and that whale that came up the river."

"It brings new life to the community," Marlowe said. "It's refreshing to meet new people."

She added that since Trilogy opened, she's seen more businesses open downtown.

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"There's especially a lot more real estate offices - one just opened up across the street," she said. "I think it's boosted a lot of people's businesses."

James Witt, owner of Rio Vista Auto Repair, said he wasn't entirely sure that trilogy has helped the downtown area much.

"It's helped my business," he said. "I've had more people to draw from."

Witt said that while his business has increased, the limited choice of auto shops in town ensures that he'll be busy. He added that he's not sure how much other businesses are benefiting from Trilogy or other new developments in town

"I don't think it's increased things much," he said. "They're good people to work for, though - that's for sure."

Witt added that his wife and mother both own businesses in the Downtown area, and neither has seen much increase in business in recent years.

Witt said he real concern was not so much new housing developments, but rather the potential for new retail along Highway 12.

"My only concerns is that they keep building out there," he said. "The downtown is going to get neglected - especially if they start putting strip malls up out there."

Even with the influx of new residents, Witt said he's concerned that the growth will hurt older parts of town.

"It happened to Fairfield and Suisun," he said.

In his 15 years living in Rio Vista, Witt said he's seen a lot of change. In that time, he's seen the population of Rio Vista double.

"You used to be able to walk across Highway 12 - now you have to run," he said.

A new housing development under construction in the Gibbs Ranch are on the north side of town will only speed up the change, he added.

"That's going to have a big impact," Witt said. "Two other shops have opened up in town, and it hasn't slowed down."

Others think Trilogy has had a decidedly negative impact on the riverside community.

Steven Bissell, a longtime downtown businessman, said the retirement community could contribute more to the rest of the town.

"There's been a major negative impact," Bissell said, noting that a recent golf tournament at Trilogy did not include anybody from other parts of Rio Vista. "It separates the community. They're good people out there though."

If the downtown area is to be preserved, Bissell said the city needs to take a more active role in preserving it.

"If they don't start promoting the businesses they won't stay," Witt said.

Bissell agreed with Witt on the possibility of new retail on Highway 12: "A big store out there would be a major drain on downtown."

Trilogy resident and Rio Vista Vice-Mayor Ron Jones said he feels that the gated community has had an overall positive impact on the town as a whole.

Jones, who's lived in Rio Vista for eight years, said he feels the fact that trilogy is a few miles from downtown, and it's a gated community can give people the impression of two separate communities.

Through his work on the city council, Jones said he's tried to make it clear to residents that Rio Vista is one community.

"We're all from Rio Vista, some of us just happen to live in a development called Trilogy," he said.

As for how downtown has been impacted, Jones said it's been largely a positive impact.

"A lot of businesses in town have increased their patronage as a result of the population increase," he said. "We have more dentists, more real estate offices and agents."

Jones said he didn't think any business has not seen an increase.

"I really think the town has also benefited through volunteerism," he said, adding that because all of Trilogy's residents are older than 55 and most are retired, they have a lot of time to give.

Along with Jan Vick, Jones is one of two city council members from Trilogy.

Others still are neutral on whether Trilogy has changed life in downtown.

Sara Whitton said she's lived in Rio Vista for about four years - not far from the municipal boat launch in downtown.

"I've worked at a bar down here for about eight months," she said. "It mostly just the same old regulars. There also a lot of people from out of town."

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6977 or

State's $3.4 billion solar power bill slated for August vote

State's $3.4 billion solar power bill slated for August vote

East Bay Business Times - July 21, 2006

by Mavis Scanlon

California's solar power industry is one step closer to a $3.4 billion windfall, with only one vote to go.

In January, the California Public Utilities Commission created the California Solar Initiative. The 10-year, $3.4 billion program, the largest solar program in the country, was designed to make solar power a mainstream option for Californians.

A bill codifying the program and making statutory changes to expand the scope of the initiative, is wending its way through the Legislature, and will next go to the Senate energy committee in early August for a vote on amendments made by the Assembly in June. In the latest version of the bill, SB 1, amendments important to the solar industry relating to solar thermal have been reinstated.

The most recent amendments allocate up to $100.8 million in incentives for solar thermal and solar water heating devices, which save fossil fuel, reduce utility costs and produce clean energy.

In previous iterations of the bill, introduced by Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, provisions for solar thermal were taken out.

"It's a major positive development" for the solar industry, said Les Nelson, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar thermal heating systems generally are less expensive than solar electric systems. That means a home or business owner who doesn't have $10,000 or more to spend on solar electric can make a smaller investment - $2,000 to $4,000 - and still realize the benefits.

"It greatly widens the market base," said Gary Gerber, president of solar installation company Sun Light & Power Co. in Berkeley." | 925-598-1405

Major profit for Dixon-based First Northern Community Bancorp

Article Launched: 07/25/2006 07:38:46 AM PDT

Major profit for local bank

Dixon-based First Northern Community Bancorp, holding company for First Northern Bank, announced a 16.9 percent jump in earnings compared to the same period last year.

Year-to-date net income as of June 30 was reported at $4.70 million, up 16.9% over the $4.02 million earned in the same fiscal period last year. Net income for the second quarter, however, was $2.29 million, down 1.3% from the $2.32 million earned in the same period in 2005. (Second quarter 2005 net income was increased through a $265,000, net of tax, recovery of provision for loan losses from a prior period.) The company also announced the opening of its sixth real estate loan office in Folsom.

Open for Business

Open for Business
Green Valley Centerpiece Debuts
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

The exterior of the new luxury offices in Green Valley built by developers Wiseman Co. is shown. In addition to offices, the building will feature Sticky Rice, a Chinese restaurant that overlooks the pond. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

More than 12 months and $12 million later, Green Valley Executive Center is open for business. The 50,000-square-foot luxury office building - the ground floor will be anchored by an upscale Chinese bistro overlooking a large pond - is the brainchild of Fairfield-based developer The Wiseman Company, in conjunction with the city of Fairfield.

"It's really intended to be a signature building at the entrance of the office park, and it fits in nicely with the (adjacent) library," said Curt Johnston, Fairfield's assistant community development director.

Johnston explained that the city - its redevelopment agency owns Green Valley Corporate Park - had long-envisioned a restaurant at the corner of Business Center Drive and Green Valley Road. When The Wiseman Co. proposed an upscale office building which would also house a restaurant, it was determined that the site wouldn't allow for enough parking.

To make the deal work, Johnston said, the original 1.4-acre parcel was expanded by approximately an acre, and the site's retention pond was shrunk and reconstructed.

"The city spent about $800,000 taking all the old liner out of the pond, putting in the fountain, a recirculating system, and the pathway," said Doyle Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Co. The city is also in the process of landscaping the pathway that circles the pond and which will be dotted by benches.

"They wanted it to be an amenity for the community," he said. "The pond becomes the amenity for the restaurant, as well."

Scheduled to open in August, Sticky Rice Chinese Bistro and Bar's dining rooms and terrace will afford guests an outstanding view of the pond that is populated by turtles and frogs.

"This was actually the first and only place we looked," said Molly Tou, who is opening the restaurant along with her restaurateur uncle, James Jang. "We like the location so much, especially with the outdoor dining overlooking the pond. It's perfect for us."

The bistro - which will incorporate a 22-foot long bar and lounge area, as well as a private banquet room - will be decidedly upscale and contemporary, with modern decor, she said.

"With this great location, we really saw the opportunity to set a restaurant in here that will set us apart from all the other Chinese restaurants in Solano County," Tou said. "It's going to be a totally different atmosphere, and a totally different dining experience."

Though Tou was hesitant to call it fusion cuisine because it will stay true to Chinese flavors, she said the menu will incorporate a variety of dishes, with a focus on organic meats and vegetables. "It's a more healthy approach," she said.

In addition to Sticky Rice, Green Valley Executive Center's three floors will be populated by about 15 businesses, including The Wiseman Co., Express Personal Services and Waterview Dental Care.

About half of the building has been leased thus far, Wiseman said. And he expects to lease the remainder of the space during the next year.

"The big thing about this building is the location," he said. "This Green Valley area is one-of-a-kind, unique."

That, combined with its proximity to the intersection of Interstate 80 and I-680, he said, make it an ideal location for businesses.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Solano County Sees Boost in Construction Jobs in June

Solano County Sees Boost in Construction Jobs in June
By Ian Thompson

FAIRFIELD - The number of people without jobs in Solano County in June was higher than in May, but lower than June 2005 due to rises in construction, business, hospitality and health services jobs.

The 500 construction jobs added from May to June is probably an understatement, according to Business Manager Lou Franchimon of the Napa-Solano Building Trades Council.

"We have got some major projects going on, Genentech being one of them with 1,200 to 1,400 people working there," Franchimon said.

The rise was offset by job losses in the areas of government, according to figures released by the state Employment Development Department.

That area's decrease is a normal drop because that is the time when schools and community colleges traditionally end the school year and some school employees are temporarily without jobs.

Solano County's unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in June. In May, the unemployment rate stood at 4.6 percent. It was still below the 5.6 percent unemployment rate of last June.

In the construction area, Solano County is profiting from a host of job-creating projects ranging from work on the Benicia Bridge to building a new high school in Dixon.

"It is just very, very busy," Franchimon said. "Solano County is a growing community with a lot of projects. It is very encouraging and the future looks very good."

Fairfield had the highest unemployment rate of the county's major cities with 5.6 percent of its residents out of work while Benicia had the lowest with only 3.1 percent of its residents out of work.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Solano County Gets Award of Excellence for Annual Report

Solano County Gets Award of Excellence for Annual Report
By Daily Republic staff

FAIRFIELD - Solano County continues to rake in the awards - this time for its newly formed public information department.

The National Association of County Information Officers has recognized Solano County with two awards for public information in its 2006 Awards of Excellence Competition.

The county's 2005 Annual Report received an "Award of Excellence" in the annual reports magazine format, while a county press release on tourism received a "Meritorious Award" for news release writing.

"It is important for the public to be aware of the activities of its government," said County Administrator Michael Johnson, in a written statement. "The efforts of our staff to inform, and the quality of information they provide to the public, is exemplified by these awards."

The Solano County 2005 Annual Report was a 24-page document that highlighted the achievements of county government in 2005. Material for the magazine was provided from all county departments.

The national competition is conducted annually by the association. This year there were more than 500 entries in 34 categories.

The awards will be presented during the annual National Association of Counties conference on Aug. 4 in Chicago.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Together for tourism - Solano set to unveil '80 on 80' campaign

Article Launched: 7/17/2006 06:24 AM

Together for tourism
Solano set to unveil '80 on 80' campaign


While cities within Solano County can engage in healthy competition at times, there are more times when it is best to collaborate and cooperate for the greater good. And that includes tourism, a potential economic boon to local communities.

There are indications that we "get it" now, that if we work together to maximize precious financial resources we can do a better job of creating jobs related to tourism, of increasing sales tax dollars from those who live outside our region.

Solano Economic Development Corp. hosted a panel discussion last week that focused on how tourism can become one of the pistons driving our economic engine locally. And the message and call for action was simple: Let's do it, and let's do it as a team.

To that end, we endorse the soon-to-be launched marketing effort comprising communities up and down Interstate 80, from the Carquinez Strait to the Yolo Causeway. Dubbed "80 on 80," the billboard and Internet campaign will draw attention to myriad festivals and events - at least 80, and probably more - that occur along the asphalt ribbon that dissects Solano County and leads to two great population centers: Sacramento and San Francisco.

By Labor Day, there should be a cooperative effort under way to garner some of the $88 billion annually infused into the California economy by tourism, adding to the 912,000 jobs related to tourism that exist today in the Golden State. In fact, "80 on 80" could be - and should be - the beginning of partnerships that lure visitors to our cities.

The three steps to success were clearly defined and need to be embraced by county and the civic leaders on the seven city councils and the county's Board of Supervisors.

First, we need to identify our target audience, those most likely to visit our communities via the interstate system.

Second, an economic study is necessary to show the potential of a comprehensive tourism marketing effort, including what return on our investment would be. (The state of California says it gets back $19 for $1 it spends on marketing the Golden State.)

And finally, there needs to be an exhaustive "destination audit," to clearly and candidly identify our weaknesses and how to overcome them, and our strengths and how to capitalize on them.

With an integrated approach, Solano County can become better at pulling people off Interstate 80 and getting their dollars spent here, rather than somewhere down the highway. We are growing our cultural venues, such as museums and festivals. We are adding new commercial attractions such as the Nut Tree Family Park to the well-known institutions like Jelly Belly and Six Flags.

It will work if we work together.

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Home sales decline but prices don't

Article Launched: 7/20/2006 07:07 AM

Home sales decline but prices don't

By Reporter Staff
Solano County's June home sales dropped more than 36 percent compared to June 2005 and median home prices rose 7.3 percent for the same period, DataQuick Information Systems reported Wednesday. But that doesn't mean the real estate market is headed for trouble, said Marshall Prentice, the real estate information service's president.

"The market is definitely slowing but can only be considered 'slow' when compared to the hot market of 2004 and 2005," he said in a written statement. "In reality, today's market is pretty normal and balanced, right between the grim times of 1993 to 1995 and the frenzies of 1999 and 2004-2005. ... It looks like prices could flatten out sometime this fall. What happens after that is anyone's guess."

Though all Bay Area counties experienced a year-over decline in June home sales, Solano's was the largest at 36 percent. Sonoma County followed close behind with a 32 percent drop for the same periods, while Marin County experienced the least amount of change with a 4 percent decline. Bay Area home sales, as a whole, were down 24 percent, DataQuick said.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area's median home prices rose from June 2005 to June 2006, but at the slowest rate in three years, according to DataQuick. Solano's median home price experienced the greatest year-over increase among the nine Bay Area counties - it rose 7.3 percent, from $449,000 to $482,000. Marin County's home prices remain the region's highest - June's median average was $829,000.

East Bay continues to be a jobs powerhouse

Posted on Fri, Jul. 21, 2006

East Bay continues to be a jobs powerhouse

By George Avalos

The East Bay job market showed no signs of a slowdown in June, as it accounted for a huge chunk of the jobs created in the Bay Area and California during the last 12 months.

What's more, this is an expansion being fueled by businesses, an analysis of the job trends in the Alameda-Contra Costa region shows. The private sector has powered the growth of the East Bay economy, and the government sector has become a virtual non-factor in the expansion.

The employment gains in the East Bay are so strong that the region accounted for 55 percent of the new jobs in the Bay Area during the 12 months that ended in June. The East Bay also produced 10 percent of the jobs created in the entire state over the year.

"The East Bay is looking quite good," said Howard Roth, chief economist with the state's Department of Finance. "The East Bay is one of the strongest regions in the state."

Over the 12 months that ended in June, the number of jobs in the East Bay grew 2.4 percent. That was far ahead of the 1.6 percent growth rate for all of California during the same period.

"Labor markets continue to be pretty healthy in the East Bay, and the growth in that region is feeding over into other parts of the Central Valley," said Sean Snaith, director, of the Stockton-based Business Forecasting Center at University of the Pacific. "Certainly, Stockton has benefited from the growth of the East Bay, and to a lesser extent, Stanislaus County has gained as well."

Dixon, Davis get big boost for greenbelt

Article Launched: 7/21/2006 07:01 AM

Dixon, Davis get big boost for greenbelt

By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer

With a joint effort having completed a farmland preservation project, establishment of a greenbelt is moving forward between the cities of Dixon and Davis along Interstate 80.

The two cities and the Solano Land Trust have come together and purchased a nearly $2 million agricultural conservation easement on the 146-acre Ebey-Laughtin property north of I-80, just off the

Kidwell Road exit in Solano County.

Saving acreage for greenbelt purposes represents a philosophy that Dixon has included in its general plan, said City Manager Warren Salmons.

To maintain agricultural land, while minimizing developmental growth is just one characteristic of the city's plan. For every acre of current development, one acre of agricultural land must be preserved.

The California Department of Conservation contributed toward the $2 million cost of the property with $971,500 through the California Farmland

Conservancy Program. Davis contributed $810,000, the Solano Land Trust $115,000, followed by Dixon with $20,000, according to a press release.

The money to purchase the Ebey-Laughtin property is left from the purchase of the 300-acre McConeghy Farm in December, in which Dixon played a vital financial role, according to Salmons.

Solano Land Trust, which works with farmers, environmentalists, developers and local government to preserve the "agricultural legacy and natural landscapes of Solano County," participated in the collaboration between parties.

"We're very pleased to have been a partner helping to ensure that this historic farmland, on prime soils, is permanently preserved," said Marilyn Farley, executive director for the Solano Land Trust in a press release.

Salmons has been pleased with the pivotal role Solano Land Trust has played and believes the city will be involved in other greenbelt establishments in the future.

In establishing greenbelt areas, Salmons pointed out reasons why the city is eager to participate.

"We want to preserve our agricultural land because of it's value," he said.

Salmons also said that the soil found in the city is some of the finest in the country and is environmentally one of the best places to grow.

"Not all of us are farmers," he said. "But agriculture is our economic fabric."

Dixon also benefits from the way the greenbelt land shapes growth in desired areas.

"Greenbelts help us push development in the city," Salmons said. "The city already has the infrastructure that can support the growth.

It really shapes the city and shapes the urban growth."

Another benefit greenbelts have is psychological, Salmons said.

"There is a value in distinguishing between the cities," he said. "It gives you much more of a sense of home. It's not like Los Angeles. You know when you're home and you know when you're not."

Melissa Murphy can be reached at

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


For Immediate Release


Fairfield, Calif., July 18, 2006 —Jensen Precast, a manufacturer of precast concrete products and related fabrication steel products, primarily for underground utilities/infrastructure construction, has opened a production facility in Fairfield, CA. Jensen, headquartered in Sparks, Nevada has 11 facilities throughout the Western United States. The Fairfield location at 299 Beck Avenue in Solano Office Park is the fifth site for the company in California.

The Jensen facility in Fairfield is a 226,000-square-foot building located on a 14-acre site. The building complex is unique to precast plants because it houses a modern, high quality, high capacity, semi-automated computer controlled concrete panel fabrication system designed and built in Denmark.

“We chose Fairfield because it is well situated for the markets that Jensen serves. When the site became available we realized it was a good opportunity for us because there are not a great many site options in the Bay Area that meet our needs,” said a Jensen spokesperson,

Jensen has been in business since 1968. The company originally manufactured wastewater products such as septic tanks. Over the years it has expanded and as a result products have been added including utility and telephone vaults, freeway barriers, and sewer and storm-drain products.

“Jensen adds to the list of expanding companies that are choosing Fairfield for our available land, affordable commercial real estate, and strategic Bay Area location,” said Curt Johnston, assistant director of planning and development for Fairfield.

Fairfield Offers Important Business Benefits

Fairfield continues to appeal to manufacturing and commercial entities seeking to grow their businesses for many reasons: an accessible Bay Area location, abundant space, value-priced real estate, a diverse workforce, and a unique set of regional amenities. For additional information on the city of Fairfield, visit

Friday, July 14, 2006

School Progress

School Progress
Dixon Enthused by Construction
By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer

Dixon Unified School District superintendent Roberto Salinas (above) looks over the construction site of the new Dixon high school on Monday during a tour with contractors and the school board. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

With just a few concrete foundations and framed-up classrooms in place, the future site of Dixon's new high school might not look like much to the casual observer.
But it's a little slice of heaven for school board members who called a special meeting this week in order to tour the site together.

Donning their hard hats and blue jeans, the trustees expressed plenty of excitement about what they saw.

"It's wonderful to see something that has been in the plans for so long is finally starting to be built," said Trustee Ernie VanSant.

Bob Fawson from VanPelt Construction Management Group led the tour, showing the group - each carrying a copy of a map - where each building will be.

New high school principal Tom Hermon also joined the group, getting a feel for what he will face in the next year.

"It's an exciting time," Hermon said. "Lots to do and look forward to."

Former Principal Bob Dolan, now in charge of the design of the new school, was more than excited about the project.

"The process has been really outstanding," Dolan said.

That's a cheerier outlook than some had earlier this year when an unusually long rainy season pushed the project behind schedule by almost three months.

Superintendent Roberto Salinas, however, said the delay has been whittled down to just a three weeks. Instead of the project being completed at the beginning of June 2007, the original completion date, the group is looking at completion in early July 2007, at the latest.

"We're catching up quickly," said Salinas, who visits the site weekly. "It's been a steady progression, but we're keeping our fingers crossed."

Having about 110 guys on the site daily has contributed a lot to catching up with the schedule, Salinas said.

The excitement of a new school has trickled down to the students who will experience the opportunities the high school will have to offer.

"I know the junior class is already talking about how they'll be the first ones to graduate from the new high school," Salinas said. "They're already looking forward to it."

On the brink of overcrowding at the current high school, the new facility will give the students a lot more options that aren't already accessible to the students.

Easy access to the May Fair grounds and a new a career center are just a few things the school will offer.

"The better amenities will provide the opportunity for the students to grow," Salinas said.

Salinas also said the new high school is actually a "three in one" deal, providing for future growth for all grade levels.

Once students move into the new high school, the old high school will accommodate the junior high students and C.A. Jacobs Middle School will become a new elementary school.

"The setup is a really good example of good planning," Salinas said.

In order to save money now, the board planned to have possibly two extra buildings at the site constructed in the future. Now, however, those two additional classroom buildings will be built with the rest of the project because of extra funds from the state and new housing developments in the city.

The land the new high school will sit on is behind Hall Park and the Dixon May Fair grounds, a total of 90 acres, including a 30 acre farm.

The entire campus, then, is almost four times the size of the current high school location.

"It's just massive," said Board Vice President Kim Poole. "Just for the community, it's amazing. Dixon doesn't have anything like this. It's actually going to become a reality."

Melissa Murphy can be reached at

Dixon School District board member Amy Swanson (left) and school board president Alan Hodge look over the site for Dixon's new high school. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

Tourism Campaign Announced

Tourism Campaign Announced
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

Solano County's "destination marketing organizations" are doing exactly what the state's travel and tourism commission encourages: Working together to enhance economic development.
Better known as visitors bureaus and hotel associations, the organizations are set to launch a new campaign advertising festivals and events "from the Carquinez Bridge to the Yolo Causeway," Antonette Eckert, executive director of the Vacaville Conference and Visitors Bureau, announced Thursday at a tourism-related panel discussion hosted by the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

Dubbed "80 on 80," the campaign will utilize Interstate 80's electronic and static billboards to advertise the slogan and a Web site with information on 80 events along the interstate.

"We're hoping to launch on Labor Day weekend when I-80 becomes a parking lot," she told the group of business and community leaders gathered at Fairfield's Hilton Garden Inn. "People will see our message; it's catchy and easy to remember."

The campaign is a simple way for groups including the Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Fairfield Hotel Association - both of which tout their cities as ideal hubs from which to visit regional attractions - to work together without working against one another.

In an industry that brings the state more than $88 billion annually and employs 912,000 people, partnering is key, affirmed Susan Wilcox, chief deputy director of the California Travel and Tourism Commission.

"Our strategy is likened to that of a huge bull's eye," Wilcox explained. Prospective tourists must first be attracted to travel in the U.S., then California, then the region, then Solano County.

"If they're not thinking California, they're never going to make it to the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield," she quipped.

Failure to promote the state's assets, she said, will result in lost market share, jobs and tax revenues, "just like any other business."

Acquiring new retail and attractions to promote is also key.

Vallejo, for example, hopes to be the future home for the Battleship Iowa. Should the U.S. Navy donate it to Vallejo, it's estimated that 300,000 tourists per year would visit the ship, said Jim Reikousky, director of communications for Vallejo's visitors bureau.

Solano County's cities, said Supervisor Mike Reagan, "already have attractions that other states would kill for, and we're not leveraging that." As a connection point between the Central Valley and Bay Area tourism districts, he said, Solano County should be able to "hijack" those region's marketing dollars, "and get people to stay here."

Nut Tree Stores Set to Open

Nut Tree Stores Set to Open
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

A steam roller flattens the area of the new Nut Tree Family Park on Wednesday that will serve as bocce ball courts. The park is scheduled to open in September. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Work continues on much of the long-awaited Nut Tree development as one of the project's anchor tenants becomes the first to opens its doors today.
Best Buy - and the high-end electronics boutique, Magnolia, located within - is the first retail store of its kind in Vacaville, offering a dizzying array of electronics, appliances, home-office products, and entertainment software.

The big-box's public grand opening is today, following special approval by the City Council enabling it to open and operate on what is essentially still an active construction site.

"We worked hard with the city to prepare the project to allow a safe opening, while not interfering with our construction efforts," said Sean Whiskeman in an e-mail to The Reporter.

Whiskeman is a partner with Westrust, the San Francisco-based firm that has teamed with Rockwood Capital Corporation and master developer Snell & Co. on the $100 million project that will mix restaurants, shops, and office space with an amusement park, bocce ball grove, two hotels, a conference center, and 180 town houses.

"Best Buy was fortunate to be in a position to open ahead of the others," Whiskeman said. The balance of the large-format retail anchors - including Borders, PetsMart, BevMo, SportsChalet and HomeGoods - are scheduled to open throughout August, he said.

"We expect to have the remaining buildings completed in late August with additional tenant openings in the fall and early winter," he added.

Heavy spring rains are the primary reason the first phase of the mixed-use project is still under construction.

"We've been constantly playing catch up," said Ilana Minkoff, marketing director for the project's family entertainment component, the Nut Tree Family Park.

The 3.7-acre park is scheduled to install its rides by mid-August and open to the public some time after Labor Day, Minkoff confirmed.

Approximately 85 percent of the track has been laid that will be traversed by the original, restored Nut Tree train, Engine No. 5.

The skeleton of the original ice cream pavilion, to be used as a ticket booth, awaits refurbishment. As does the exterior of the Harbison House - the Nut Tree founders' original 1907 home, which will grace the center of the park and serve as a museum focused on Nut Tree and California history. Refurbishment of its interior is estimated to be finished in two to three years.

Redevelopment of the historic 80-acre site began late last year - nearly 10 years after the closure of the Nut Tree, a Vacaville icon that operated for eight decades.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

The Fair is Coming to Town!

The Fair is Coming to Town!
Daily Republic staff

VALLEJO - Ten days of corn dogs, carnival rides, farm animals and two major concerts begin today at the annual Solano County Fair.

"Hot fun in the summer time" is the theme for the fair, which runs through July 23 at the fairgrounds, located near the intersection of Interstate 80 and Highway 37.

The doors open at 11 a.m. daily and the fair closes at 11 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children 6-12, service members with ID cards and seniors. Service members in uniform and children 5 and younger are free. Admission is $2 every day before 2 p.m. and parking is $6.

The fair begins with a bang tonight, hosting a demolition derby in the sports arena. That starts at 6:30 p.m. and requires a special $15 ticket, which includes admission. On Saturday night, there will be PBR bullriding and on Sunday there is a Fiesta del Charro rodeo at the sports arena. There also will be fireworks each night.

The entertainment highlights of the fair are concerts by Raven Symone and Gladys Knight on July 20 and July 21, respectively. Tickets are available on line at and at the fair box office. There will also be other concerts, as well as free entertainment every day.

Horse racing began on Wednesday and continues through the end of the fair, except for Monday and Tuesday.

For more information, visit the Web site at

Solano Gets New Tourism Direction

Solano Gets New Tourism Direction
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Two new initiatives focused on increasing tourism in Solano County were announced Thursday at a tourism forum held in Fairfield.

In an effort to boost tourism revenue in Solano County, five organizations - including the Vallejo Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau and the Fairfield Hotel Association -Êhave joined forces to market the county as a great place for people to visit and spend their money.

"We're all friends, and we sat down and said 'How can we help each other?' " said Antonette Eckert from the Vacaville Conference & Visitors Bureau. "Our marketing dollars go further when we work together."

The collaboration, called the 80 on 80 initiative, is intended to highlight 80 tourist-friendly events that occur along Interstate 80.

The group has a very limited budget, but hopes to strengthen both their ties and its budget over time.

The collaboration will also give them more lobbying power, Eckert said.

"We now have a bigger voice," she said.

And the group is already testing that voice. It has requested the county conduct an economic impact study to determine how much tourism adds to the local economy. It also asked for a so-called destination audit, which would determine each cities' attributes that can be marketed to tourists.

"This would be an honest assessment of who comes here," Eckert said. "We need to take these steps."

In a sign the county might be receptive to spending money on conducting those studies, Supervisor Mike Reagan announced at the event the creation of the Solano County Board of Supervisors' Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

"This is an area we can grow in Solano County," Reagan said. "We have all these attractions other counties would kill for."

Both Six Flags Marine World and the Jelly Bell factory draw several hundred thousand visitors every year. The Nut Tree Family Park might also attract significant visitors.

Barbara Glover from the Fairfield Hotel Association said the city's proximity to Napa makes it ideally located to provide more affordably priced hotels for people visiting wine country.

"As many of you know, it costs an arm and a leg to stay at a hotel in Napa," she said.

Susan Wilcox, chief deputy director of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, also attended the tourism event hosted by the Solano Economic Development Corp. She recommended the tourism groups begin searching for government funding intended to boost tourism.

Wilcox reaffirmed what many in attendance already believed.

"I think Solano is perfectly situated to take advantage of (tourism)," she said.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at 427-6934 or

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Violent crime drops in Solano County

Violent crime drops in Solano County - Arson up, rape, robbery, assaults down

Violent crime dropped 28 percent in Solano County, leading an almost across-the-board drop in crimes from 2004 to 2005, according to preliminary state Department of Justice figures. Solano County far outpaced statewide crime statistics. Violent crime dropped 4 percent statewide from 2004 to 2005....

The biggest decrease in Solano County came in aggravated assaults, which dropped from 1,346 to 889, 34 percent. The only increase came in arsons, which jumped from 125 to 152, a 21.6 percent increase....

Property crimes also dropped in Solano County, decreasing from 6,830 in 2004 to 5,657 in 2005, a reduction of 17.2 percent. Burglary led the downward trend, dropping from 2,704 to 1,997, a 26.1 percent decrease. Car theft dropped 12.4 percent and theft over $400 went down 10.2 percent....

STA OK's plan for transit expenditures

Article Launched: 07/11/2006 07:55:32 AM

By Julie Kay/Staff Writer

A subcommittee of the Solano Transportation Authority approved a proposed set of guidelines Monday on how to fund transportation projects that benefit one or more specific cities as well as the region overall.

In a 4-1 vote, members of the STA's Arterials, Highways, and Freeways Committee approved guidelines the agency developed proposing that the county provide 50 percent of funding for such a project and the city or cities benefiting provide the remaining half.

The proposal also includes guidelines for what kind of projects would be eligible for such a funding split.

The guidelines are designed primarily to apply to regionally significant interchanges and "reliever routes," or routes which run parallel to major highways to decrease traffic on roads such as interstates.

One example would be improving the interchange between I-80 and state route 113, which would benefit both Dixon and the region overall. Jepson Parkway, a planned highway alternative which would run along what are currently Leisure Town and Vanden roads, also would benefit both the region and specific cities.

To qualify for joint funding, a project would have to be adopted into the STA Overall Work Plan - the STA's prioritized list of upcoming transportation projects - the proposal says.

Funding for past transportation projects benefiting both a particular city and the region overall have been negotiated on a case-by-case basis. With many regionally significant transportation projects currently planned, the STA proposed the guidelines to simplify the funding process.

"The intent is to provide implementing agencies such as STA, the seven cities, and the County a uniform policy for funding projects with regionally generated funds," reads the explanation of the proposal in the meeting agenda.

Janet Adams, the STA Director of Projects, said the 50-50 policy is meant to serve as a starting point, not a policy set in stone.

"It gives us all guidelines for the future," she said. "There absolutely may be a situation where for a very good reason all parties agree to have a deviation. But it gives the overreaching policy."

STA committees are made up of local officials, public works directors, and members of the public. Committee members on the Arterials, Highways, and Freeways Committee who voted in favor of the funding proposal Monday were Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine, Fairfield Mayor Harry Price, Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez, and Benicia Councilmember Alan Schwartzman. Rio Vista Mayor Ed Woodruff voted against the proposal. Solano County Supervisor John Silva was absent from the meeting.

The proposal was approved by the STA's Technical Advisory Committee on June 28 and will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday at a board workshop. A final vote on the proposed guidelines is not expected until the fall.

Julie Kay can be reached at

Dixon gets OK to annex Milk Farm property

July 11, 2006

Dixon gets OK to annex Milk Farm property

By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Dixon will soon add the landmark Milk Farm commercial complex along Interstate 80 to its city limits.

The county Local Agency Formation Commission on Monday approved the 60-acre annexation. The agency should issue the certificate to make the Dixon addition official in about a month.

Now sitting abandoned, the old Milk Farm restaurant is known for its sign depicting a cow jumping over the moon. Milk Farm Associates plans to renovate the property with such things as a new restaurant, hotel and research park.

County Supervisor and LAFCO Commissioner Duane Kromm cast the only "no" vote. He expressed concern that an agricultural buffer that is part of the proposed project doesn't extend to the lower western end, leaving open the possibility Dixon could someday grow onto prime farmland there.

"Ninety percent of this I agree with," Kromm said. "But I am concerned about the western edge."

LAFCO Commissioner and Dixon Mayor Mary Ann Courville tried to reassure him. The Dixon general plan calls for no other development in that area, she said.

"But your general plan can be amended three times a year by three votes on the City Council," Kromm said.

LAFCO approved several other annexations on Monday. But the board imposed conditions reflecting its growing concern that annexing land into cities takes away property tax money from rural fire districts that are facing financial difficulties.

At the urging of Commissioner and Suisun City Mayor Jim Spering, all annexations approved Monday are subject to any policy LAFCO works out within a year on the fire district money problem. Or, as an alternative, the property owner and affected rural fire district can reach an agreement on their own.

A possible policy might be having property owners annexing into cities pay the fire districts for 10 years of lost property taxes, commission officials said.

All of this lent some uncertainty to the annexations approved at the meeting.

For example, the agency approved Vacaville annexing the 100-acre Mariani property near Crocker Drive and Vaca Valley Parkway. About 57 acres has the Mariani Packing Co. food processing operation, while the rest is vacant and could be developed.

The Vacaville Fire Protection District provides fire service to the property and receives $10,000 annually in property taxes. Once the annexation if official, the city fire department will get both the responsibility and the money.

With county law prohibiting most development in rural areas, rural districts such as Vacaville get few chances to replace lost property tax money, Vacaville Fire Protection District Chief Howard Wood said.

"Ten thousand dollars? Yes, that's a lot of money for the fire district," Wood told commissioners.

Bob Miller of Mariani expressed confusion over the commission's condition making the annexation subject to a yet-unknown commission policy on rural fire districts. This seems open-ended, he said.

"It's a surprise to you, there's no doubt about that," Kromm said.

If Mariani were to pay the Vacaville Fire Protection District for 10 years of lost property taxes, the amount would total $100,000.

Also Monday, the commission approved annexing 22.5 acres near Cordelia Road and Ledgwood Creek to Fairfield and 5.74 acres near Dittmer and Auto Plaza courts to Fairfield.

Sitting on LAFCO are public member John Saunderson, Spering, Kromm, county Supervisor Barbara Kondylis and Benicia Mayor Steve Messina. Alternates are county Supervisor Mike Reagan, Courville and public member Nancy Shopay.

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

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