Friday, March 31, 2006

City of Fairfield Development Update

Fairfield is humming with new business and development activity.

Calbee America is moving its manufacturing operations from Sebastopol to a 40,000-square foot manufacturing facility in Solano Business Park. Calbee expects construction of this new facility to be completed in October 2006. Plans are also underway for the company to move its headquarters from Torrance.

Part of Fairfield’s appeal is its plentiful, high quality water. The city’s water quality and supply to support its build-out has drawn other companies like NRE World Bento and Columbus Salame to Fairfield.

Also, West-Com Nurse Call Systems, a healthcare company, moved to Fairfield from Danville into a 13,594 square feet building in Solano Commerce Center. “Fairfield, with its diverse and qualified workforce, has the right set of demographics for us to grow together,” said C. Larry Peters, West-Com’s CEO. He added, “We looked at sites throughout the East Bay and decided Fairfield is the place to be for what we need to accomplish, and provides easy access for moving our service trucks around the Bay Area,” he said. “City staff have been extremely responsive to our needs, and we look forward to growing our business here.”

Other Fairfield Development Activity: Solano Commerce Center, by Panattoni Development Company, includes 10 new light industrial, R&D and distribution buildings totaling 365,000 square feet; Hillside Terrace Shopping Center includes Long’s Drugs and El Pollo Loco; Green Valley Executive Center is a 46,000 square foot Class A Office building next to the site of the new Fairfield Cordelia Library; Saint Gobain is currently constructing a 1,020,000-square foot wine bottle storage and distribution facility; Lincoln Fairfield Center is a 191,430-square foot Spec Industrial building; Fairfield Ford is building a new auto dealership; Venture Corp is constructing a 66,568-square foot industrial and office condo project; and Comfort Suites hotel is currently under construction.

Sacramento Business Journal: UC Davis grad school in mag's top rankings again - 2006-03-31

Sacramento Business Journal: UC Davis grad school in mag's top rankings again - 2006-03-31: " Sacramento Business Journal - March 31, 2006

UC Davis grad school in mag's top rankings again

Sacramento Business Journal - 10:49 AM PST Friday

The University of California Davis was listed in the Top 50 of a national magazine's annual ranking of graduate schools for several disciplines, including an 11th consecutive honor for the Graduate School of Management.

The rankings were released Friday by U.S. News & World Report, which compiles its report by analyzing grades and test scores of applicants who were accepted to programs, the numbers and proportion of accepted applicants, job-placement success for graduates, assessments by academic and business leaders and other factors.

The magazine listed the UC Davis Graduate School of Management at No. 46 overall and 21st among public universities. 'The management school has been ranked in the top 50 every year since 1996, and continues to be the youngest business school within a public institution ever ranked by the magazine. With 117 full-time MBA students, it is the second smallest business school ranked in the top 50,' UC Davis said in a news release Friday.

U.S. News also listed UC Davis graduate programs at No. 21 in the nation for primary-care medicine, No. 34 for law, No. 35 for engineering and No. 48 for medical research.

Hearn to Build Hotels in Fairfield

Hearn to Build Hotels in Fairfield
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Vacaville's Hearn Construction has been hired for two new multimillion dollar hotel projects on Holiday Lane in Fairfield. Both will be owned by Fairfield-based Presidio Hotel Group, LLC.

A 94-room Residence Inn will be built, while the Holiday Inn Select will be converted to a Courtyard by Marriott.

"We hope to break ground sometime between May and June," said Fred Hearn, Hearn's chief executive officer and construction manager.

Hearn, with Solano County-based ARC Inc. Architects, will substantially remodel the Holiday Inn.

The hotel's 142 guest rooms will be updated, as will the lobby, restaurant, lounge, banquet facilities, and restrooms.

The Residence Inn - a Marriott subsidiary - will be a four-story, 64,000- square-foot hotel. Amenities will include a pool, spa, sports court, barbecue pit, exercise and meeting facilities.

Completion is expected in summer 2007. The Courtyard by Marriott conversion is to be finished this fall.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Genentech May Widen Drug's Use

Genentech May Widen Drug's Use
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

An application to use the nation's top-selling oncology therapeutic in a new manner has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration by Genentech and Biogen Idec, who co-market the drug in America.

If approved, Rituxan - which is one of the four products manufactured for commercial use at Genentech's Vacaville facility - could be used as a first-line treatment in combination with CVP or CHOP chemotherapy, or following CVP chemotherapy treatments, for sufferers of a specific type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Rituxan already is approved as a single agent to treat relapses for such patients.

Genentech spokeswoman Caroline Pecquet has confirmed that, should new uses for the drug be approved, the company would expect to increase production locally, and called the Vacaville facility a vital component of the biotech giant's manufacturing process.

Development of new uses for existing products is in line with Genentech's "Horizon 2010" strategic plan, goals of which include bringing into development at least 20 new molecules and marketing at least 15 new products or new uses for existing products.

Genentech discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes biotherapeutics for significant unmet medical needs.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Nut Tree Growing Tenants

Nut Tree Growing Tenants
Businesses Line up for Occupancy at Revamped Site of Former Vacaville Landmark.
By Tom Hall and Amanda Janis/Staff Writers

A more detailed picture of Vacaville's revamped Nut Tree is coming into focus as a scores of businesses line up for tenancy.

Old Navy, Amici's East Coast Pizzeria and Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill independently have confirmed leasing agreements for the site, joining a number of others that have either signed on or are in negotiations.

Peter Cooperstein, president of San Mateo-based Amici's, confirmed via e-mail that the small chain has signed an agreement to open a 3,500-square-foot, 70-seat location, scheduled to open in late 2006.

Christy Geiling, San Diego-based Rubio's marketing director, confirmed that the chain has reached an agreement with commercial developer Westrust, and likely will open in late 2006.

A representative for clothing retailer Old Navy said plans are in place for a 19,000-square-foot store at the Nut Tree, with a tentative opening date of June 29. It's not known whether the new shop would affect Vacaville's existing Old Navy across Interstate 80.

Fairfield-based Jelly Belly Candy Co. also will open shop at the Nut Tree, said Tommi Holt, a representative for the company.

Holt said a letter of intent for a 1,400-square-foot space has been signed by the parties. Jelly Belly's shop at the Vacaville Premium Outlets will remain open, she added.

Five anchor tenants - national retailers Borders, Best Buy, Sport Chalet, HomeGoods and PetSmart - were announced at a groundbreaking in August.

Westrust officials refused to comment on additional lessees Thursday saying they would announce tenants as agreements are finalized.

But rampant speculation coupled with announcements from government officials have caused numerous names to pop up as potential tenants.

At Wednesday morning's "State of the City" address to the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce, City Manager David Van Kirk reeled off a list of unofficial tenants, some of whom since have confirmed negotiations with Westrust.

John Pickerel, owner of the Buckhorn Steak and Roadhouse in Winters, said Thursday the Buckhorn Restaurant Group is in negotiations to open a quick-service Buckhorn Grill at the Nut Tree.

"Nothing is signed," he said, though he noted, "they very much want us."

The group owns seven Buckhorn Grills around Northern California, which serve gourmet sandwiches, chicken and entree salads.

"That's the concept that we're growing," Pickerel said.

Other businesses Van Kirk listed include Beverages and More, Mariani Dried Fruits, Shari's Berries, Stonehouse California Olive Oil Company, Marin French Cheese Co. and Fenton's Creamery.

A representative for Fenton's - a Bay Area-based ice cream maker - confirmed Wednesday that negotiations with Westrust were ongoing.

A manager with Marin French Cheese Co., however, said he was unaware of plans to open at the Nut Tree.

Officials with Beverages and More, Mariani, Stonehouse and Shari's Berries could not be reached for comment.

Van Kirk also announced Wednesday that Westrust is in talks with PF Chang's China Bistro, though the upscale chain - whose policy is not to comment until leases are signed - said nothing at the Nut Tree is currently on its development calendar.

A long list of other restaurants and food shops are rumored to be in negotiations.

A representative with Famous Dave's Legendary Barbecue said Wednesday that a deal is in the works.

Other rumored possible tenants include Elephant Bar and Grill, Athenian Bar and Grill, Jamba Juice and Ikeda's Produce Market. Those companies were all unable to be reached for comment.

The original Nut Tree, founded in 1921 by Edwin and Helen Harbison Power as a fruit stand on the north side of the old Lincoln Highway, was closed in 1996 amid financial troubles. The city purchased the land several years ago, and in 2005 sold the property to Nut Tree Associates, which consists of Westrust along with the project's master developer Snell and Co. and financial backer Rockwood Capital.

The first phase of the project includes 30 acres of retail and restaurant space, dubbed the Nut Tree Village.

The centerpiece of Nut Tree Village will be the Market Pavillion where an atmosphere akin to that of San Francisco's Ferry Building is envisioned. Westrust has said that the open-air, indoor/outdoor complex will have an emphasis on seasonal and speciality foods, as well as products from local artisans, that will be sold in marketplace stalls ranging from 300 to 1,500 square feet.

Phase one also includes a 3.7-acre family park being developed by Snell and Co. The park, which will include family oriented recreation features as well as a refurbished Nut Tree Railroad line, is scheduled to open in the late summer.

Tom Hall can be reached at

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Building Homes On Old Bases - Lennar's Success on Mare Island

Building Homes
On Old Bases
Isn't So Easy

March 22, 2006; Page B1

SAN FRANCISCO -- Lennar Corp. seemed to have snatched two dream properties when it paid $2 for the right to rebuild two former military bases in one of the nation's most expensive housing markets.

But Lennar executives have learned there's nothing easy about turning vacant military land into profitable housing developments. At Hunter's Point, a former Navy shipyard in southern San Francisco, Lennar faces demands to build more affordable houses for an economically depressed population as it tries to market homes in an area many San Franciscans consider environmentally unsafe.

Even at the closed Mare Island Navy shipyard in suburban Vallejo, the builder's success in selling homes with sweeping bay views has been overshadowed by criticism that it should have first developed job-creating commercial sites.

"It's not for the weak of heart," says Tim Ford, executive director for the Association of Defense Communities, a group based in Washington, D.C., that advises communities on base redevelopment. "It's something that you have to be able to look past all of the problems and realize the potential of a piece of land."

Lennar's experience is being closely watched because it has made the biggest plunge among home builders as the U.S. government shutters more bases.

The incentive for home builders: The government assumes responsibility for much of the costly environmental cleanup and sifting through competing community demands for the abandoned bases, limiting the builders' exposure to delays. Builders pay to construct roads and other infrastructure improvements. They profit by selling the redeveloped plots of land or newly-built homes.

At stake is the economic viability of areas around the 22 more major bases that have been ordered closed by President Bush. Among them: Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and Concord Naval Weapons Station near Oakland, Calif., both due to shut down by 2011.

While other national home builders -- including Toll Brothers Inc., based in Horsham, Pa., and Actus Lend Lease, Nashville, Tenn. -- have looked at the bases slated for closure, Miami-based Lennar is the national developer furthest along in the redevelopment process. As the nation's third-largest home builder based on number of homes built, Lennar has plucked five military-base redevelopment projects in California, which company officials say offered bases with the best large parcels near major cities.

Lennar took ownership of Mare Island land in 2003 and Hunter's Point in 2005 for $1 apiece. An affiliated company, LNR Property Corp., is helping with nonresidential redevelopment of the bases' combined 1,100 acres. The price reflects the risk of the two projects, which require more infrastructure investment than bases more immediately available for home building. In contrast, Lennar paid $649 million in 2005 for the former El Toro Marine Air Corps station, covering 3,700-acres in real-estate hotbed Orange County, Calif.

To be sure, Lennar expects both Mare Island and Hunter's Point to pay off. After investing $80 million in Mare Island, it has sold 178 homes for an average of $700,000 apiece, or nearly $125 million. It splits the profits with the city of Vallejo. The company expects to invest a similar amount at Hunter's Point. It projects a profit there by mid- to late 2007 after starting home sales.

And while military-base redevelopment represents a tiny part of Lennar's business -- in 2005, it had sales of $13.8 billion and profit of $2.4 billion -- some analysts say the move gives the company an edge over competitors. "This is not going to make or break the company," says Stephen Kim, a managing director at Citigroup Investment Research. Still, he adds, Lennar is gaining valuable experience learning to negotiate, particularly in San Francisco, a fertile area for social activism but a lucrative market for home builders. "The more resistance there is," says Mr. Kim, "the greater potential for a competitive advantage to emerge."

Lennar executives acknowledge they've encountered unexpected problems and delays in negotiating with the military, local governments and community groups. "Everybody -- including the Navy, the cities and us -- all have gone through a learning curve," says Emile Haddad, president of Lennar's Western region, which oversees these projects.

Standing on the highest mound of Hunter's Point amid neat piles of concrete left from razed military buildings, Kofi Bonner, president of Lennar's urban land division for northern California, points out the abandoned industrial warehouses where Hunter's Point opened as a shipyard in 1867. It closed in 1974, triggering three decades of rancorous on-and-off discussions over its reuse and sporadic industrial use. The area lags behind San Francisco as a whole in average household income ($41,994 compared with $55,221) and housing values (a median of $119,600 versus $396,400).

Lennar executives have pledged that a third of the 1,238 homes planned for Hunter's Point will be affordable, measured by the median household income for Hunter's Point. The home builder also has sponsored seminars on cleaning up poor credit records and joined with an affiliated mortgage company to help residents buy homes with a minimal deposit.

But some community leaders say that's not enough. Lennar's housing "may be affordable to some people, but it won't be affordable to people here in Hunter's Point," says Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the Bayview local newspaper.

Lennar's promise to create 1,000 permanent jobs over the next decade, with initiatives such as attracting the film-production industry to the base's abandoned warehouses, also has met with community skepticism.

Meanwhile, Lennar faces a marketing challenge. Though the Navy spent $400 million to clean up the area polluted partly by a national radiation-defense lab, Hunter's Point still has lower life expectancy and higher hospitalization rates for chronic diseases like diabetes compared with the rest of the city, according to Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, director of environmental health for San Francisco's health department.

"Some people are convinced that the shipyard is a radioactive, pulsating volcano of ill winds and vapors," says Scott Madison, a local businessman who chairs a citizens advisory committee.

Even along the well landscaped streets lined with Victorian homes on Mare Island, Lennar has encountered community resistance for getting its plans to build 1,400 homes off the ground faster than its efforts to build job-generating commercial and industrial space to replace the 10,000 jobs lost when the base closed in 1996.

"We would like to see the industrial go up first," says Craig Whittom, Vallejo's community-development director. A Lennar spokesman says the company has attracted more than 85 businesses that employ 2,000 and is on schedule to bring in a promised 6,784 jobs by 2013.

Vallejo officials also are pressing the home builder to preserve 502 buildings and features of the Mare Island base that the city considers historically significant. Lennar already has spent three years categorizing every building for its landmark status, architectural integrity and contributions to the Mare Island historic district.

Despite the frustrations at the two bases, Lennar's Mr. Haddad says he's optimistic both projects will help the communities and be financially rewarding for the home builder. "One thing that I love about my job," he says, "is that I can ultimately see the results of my efforts through tough times."

Write to Christine Haughney at

Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward
Vacaville Continues to grow, Satisfy Residents

When Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine was mulling possible titles for his 2006 State of the City Address, he quickly rejected "Doom and Gloom," which unquestionably belongs to other cities, not Vacaville. He then posed "Stable Table" and "Boom and Bloom."

He didn't settle on either of the latter, but said the state of Vacaville falls somewhere in between stable and booming.

And that assessment is right on target.

The mayor and City Manager David Van Kirk debuted their latest update on the city's fiscal, social and cultural health before business leaders, noting that Vacaville's financial performance is among the best in California, that the city is the second safest in the state, and more than nine of every 10 residents rate it an excellent place to live.

While there are warts, city services remain above average and the local economy is stable. The city has 875 more jobs than it did last year with unemployment under 4 percent. There is $2 billion in new construction under way.

There will always be controversial policies and planning issues that get folks riled up at times. But overall, when you hear the good things occurring in the community, all at one time in one presentation, it is impressive, to be sure.

For instance, an upgraded wastewater treatment plant is one project moving along, one that will ensure the city can handle the influx of new jobs and industry it is trying to lure with the help of Solano Economic Development Corp. Two new freeway overpasses will be complete in coming months, projects that comprise more than $30 million in improvements that will solve some traffic problems. And there's the new state-of-the-art police headquarters building that will keep that agency among the best in California.

The big-industry players have found Vacaville to be a good place to grow their business, even if the state of California is doing little to retain or attract new jobs and manufacturers. Alza, Genentech and Kaiser health care have committed $1.2 billion in new investment in local facilities.

Mayor Augustine has been fortunate to have presided over a city government that is doing its job better than the vast majority of municipal agencies. For instance, taxpayers should realize that the reserve fund for emergencies stands at $9.2 billion, representing 17 percent of the annual budget. (Anything over 15 percent is considered exemplary.)

It's also been a time for landmark changes, including the completion of the Town Square, the focus of downtown's revitalization, and the rise of the new Nut Tree, a commercial milestone for the city when completed.

Of course, the best measurement of good government is the satisfaction it brings to its constituents. And in Vacaville, 95 percent believe this is a great place to live. Fire protection and garbage service received 92 percent and 90 percent approval ratings, respectively. Police earned an 89 percent rating, while 87 percent of residents rated their parks as good or excellent.

The greatest challenge of being good is staying there. And a year from now, we expect that what has already been put in motion will result in another glowing report card.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Developers Get Green Light for Subdivisions

Developers Get Green Light for Subdivisions
Vacaville City Council Gives Go-ahead so Builders can Receive Permits.
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Two small infill developments planned for Vacaville received special housing allocations Tuesday night.

The Vacaville City Council unanimously approved special allocations to the developers of two subdivisions. The allocations mean the homebuilders can be issued permits to get construction under way this year.

Castle Companies and Edenbridge Inc. are the developers that requested the allocations, which were granted in addition to the recently-approved annual planned growth ordinance.

Castle is building 36 homes on small lots on Beard Street in central Vacaville on the site of a former Seventh Day Adventist school.

Edenbridge's proposal for 47 homes on less than five acres adjacent to Hawkins Park in the Summerfield neighborhood was more controversial, drawing heavy criticism from neighbors in late 2004.

Both developers have agreed to pay into a special assessment district to fund police and fire services for future residential infill projects. The district has not yet been created by the city, but the developers agreed to make the concessions in advance of granting the allocations.

In other action, the council approved the hiring of a full-time program coordinator to deter youths from abusing alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, using proceeds from a fund that resulted from the state's settlement with large tobacco companies.

The program coordinator, employed through the city's police department, will help run several programs designed to curb drug abuse in teenagers, including the popular Parent Project, which helps parents through the pitfalls of raising a child in today's world.

The city's special hotel tax was renewed during the meeting, and City Manager David Van Kirk disclosed that he would be attending an upcoming conference on retail development.

Tom Hall can be reached at

Benicia on Web Site's List of Top Cities to Live

Benicia on Web Site's List of Top Cities to Live
By GREG MOBERLY, Times-Herald staff writer

BENICIA - For those looking for a new place to call home, Benicia is among the best, boasting great schools and low crime, according to a Web site listing released Tuesday.

In its "America's Top 100 Places to Live," mentions Benicia and four other California cities as representing ideal places. The designation is just the latest accolade bestowed on the city in recent years from a travel or leisure magazine or major media outlet.

The Web site, a real estate resource for professionals and customers, is designed to give people information about cities they might not know, said Tonja Deegan, the Web site's communications director.

The top 10 cities in the listing are numbered but the following 90, including Benicia, aren't counted. Different cities were recognized by the Web site's users who responded to a request to explain their favorite city's attributes.

Specifically, Benicia is described as having a school district with students who consistently score high in Scholastic Aptitude Tests. Also, the city has several municipal parks and events, including the annual Peddler's Fair, glass studios open houses and heritage homes tours, according to the designation.

"It's pretty terrific," said Mayor Steve Messina when informed of the latest honor. "We should all be pleased."

Libbey McKendry, executive director of Benicia Main Street also said the city is "very fortunate to be recognized."

McKendry said the city's awards probably have snowballed from other recent honors.

In recent years, Nick Jr. Family Magazine recognized Benicia as one of the most playful cities in America, Coastal Living Magazine cited Benicia as one of its best places to live on the coast and American Style Magazine named the city as one of the top arts destination cities in America.

Naperville, Ill was named No. 1 in the listing followed by Cary N.C. and Boulder, Colo.

County Government Center Wins National Recognition

County Government Center Wins National Recognition
By Mike Corpos

FAIRFIELD - Solano County is the winner of the 2005-06 Center for Sustainable Community Award from the National Association of Counties for building a new government center to better serve its citizens.

According to a release from County Administrator Michael Johnson's office, the award highlights a commitment to "making Solano County a national leader in providing quality services and facilities to its residents. The Government Center was built as an economic catalyst and a model of environmental stewardship."

The Solano County Government Center consists of almost three city blocks in downtown Fairfield.

Work began on the $100 million project on Dec. 10, 2002, resulting in a complex of buildings including a new six-story, 300,000-square-foot government center; a five-level, 1,000-stall public and employee parking garage; and a two-story, 42,500-square-foot county probation building.

"This is fantastic news - not only for those directly involved in the project but for all county residents," Johnson said in the release.

The NACo award is designed to showcase creative county-led partnerships that develop sustainable communities, the release said.

Solano was selected for the award because its application highlighted successes achieved through partnerships with the city of Fairfield, the Napa-Solano Building Trades Council, the local arts community and private sector firms that were involved in the development.

"From early on, the Board of Supervisors and the City Council of Fairfield envisioned the construction of the Government Center as a way to promote sustainability and revitalize downtown Fairfield," said John Vasquez, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "The effort was successful. The project catalyzed private investment and enhanced the business climate in the neighborhood."

The center was completed in July 2005 - on time and under budget - the release states.

"With this recognition, our new Government Center will serve as a model for other counties to follow," Johnson said.

Solano County will be recognized during an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on April 27.

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6977 or

Monday, March 27, 2006

State to Honor VPEF's Efforts

State to Honor VPEF's Efforts
By Julie Kay/Staff Writer

Sixth-grade students at Cooper Elementary School read in the school's library. The Vacaville Public Education Foundation, which has poured more than $150,000 into school libraries and thousands more into other school programs, will be honored in May by the California Teachers Association. (Rick Roach /Reporter file photo)

The Vacaville Public Education Foundation started unassumingly enough in 2003, but became a local household name in the blink of an eye.

The organization stunned community members with its capacity to inspire, and with the huge amount of funds it began channeling into schools.

Last fall the California Teachers Association announced it was accepting nominations for its annual State Gold Award. And Vacaville Teachers Association President Brenda Hensley saw the perfect opportunity to extend VPEF's name into households far beyond Vacaville.

"The CTA State Gold Award may be bestowed upon any person or organization whose leadership, acts, and support have proven that person or organization to be a true friend of public education," read the nomination instructions. The organization, it continues, should be deserving of statewide recognition.

Hensley put together an application nominating VPEF. The nomination would compete with applications from the more than 1,000 school districts across the state. When, in February, she received a letter from CTA alerting her that her nomination had won, she was elated.

"I just felt like (VPEF) really deserved some statewide recognition for donating over $1 million to our schools," said Hensley. She called VPEF president John Thompson, excited to hear his reaction to the enormous acknowledgment.

To Hensley's surprise, though, Thompson didn't spend an instant savoring the recognition.

"He said, 'Great, this will help with fundraising,' " Hensley recalled.

"It just goes to show how focused they are," continued Hensley. "It's not about them, it's about the kids. It was a telltale sign that that's where his heart is."

Over the past three years, VPEF has poured $151,000 into local public school libraries, $146,000 into sports programs, and $194,000 into the elementary music program. All three initiatives were on the verge of massive reduction or collapse three years ago. The foundation now counts on raising about $350,000 a year. It surpassed $1 million in funding in January.

These days, one can walk into an elementary school classroom to find a fifth-grader playing the saxophone. Or watch a third-grader run her finger slowly across a shelf of library books, looking for the perfect one. Similar scenes have been made possible exclusively by VPEF.

Thompson said that hearing stories of how VPEF's donations help is what really keeps its members going. Similarly, the award provides a "great motivator," Thompson said.

"It's a nice shot in the arm for everyone who's a part of this," he said. The foundation plans to use the award to raise its profile, said Thompson. In May, VPEF will be honored at an awards ceremony.

"It's pretty phenomenal considering the number of school districts in the state," said Thompson. "We're thrilled and we're honored."

Julie Kay can be reached

City Reaches Out to Businesses

City Reaches Out to Businesses
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - The mayor walked down the scaffolding as hundreds of Pepsi cans went whizzing past.

"This is truly incredible," said Fairfield Mayor Harry Price.

Jeff Prichard, the Fairfield plant manager for Ball Corp., directed the mayor to a machine rapidly applying Pepsi labels.

In the minute Prichard spent explaining the machine, about 2,000 aluminum cans popped into existence - more than enough to supply an entire convenience store.

After touring the facility for an hour, Price sat down with Ball Corp. management to understand the needs of a facility that produces 2.8 billion aluminum cans a year.

It's all part of the city's economic development strategy - basically an outreach to businesses.

"The first thing I say is 'we're from the local government and we're here to help you,' " Price said. "And some of them laugh because they think it's an oxymoron. But we're serious."

City officials are working hard to develop relationships with large manufacturers and other companies that have set up shop in Fairfield.

They want to cultivate an environment that will retain and attract businesses - essentially create a climate in Fairfield that attracts clean, light industries.

To accomplish the mission, they are taking their message directly to companies. The mayor - with an entourage of city staff - plans on visiting 250 businesses this year. To date, they've visited the Anheuser-Busch brewery, Jelly Belly, Amcor PET and Ball Corp.

"At first we were kind of hesitant about what we say in front of the city mayor and manager," said George Jamason, plant manager for Amcor PET's Fairfield plant, which produces millions of plastic bottles. "But the mayor came to help and I was very impressed with that. He's very interested in what he can do for us."

Jamason said he expressed some concern to the mayor about how the fire department would respond in an emergency.

"The next day the fire department called, and said 'we are here for what you need,' " Jamason said. "Since we met they've stood behind everything they said they were going to do."

The Fairfield City Council passed the economic development strategy in July 2005. With an annual budget of $205,000, which is primarily used for marketing, the initiative is an effort to strengthen the local economy.

"Every city is involved in economic development," Price said. "We're just getting very, very aggressive here."

The mayor's message is more than simple solicitude. It's also a sales pitch.

"I ask them, 'What about your suppliers, your business partners, can we relocate them here?' " Price said.

And his request doesn't fall on deaf ears.

Jamason said freight costs are a major expense for Amcor. He would like to see some of his big clients such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola move to Fairfield. He recommended the mayor speak to both companies, which he suggested might be thinking about relocating.

Jamason recommends Fairfield to his business partners.

"I took what the mayor said and have been advertising his message to anyone I talk to," Jamason said.

That suits Price who wants the word to spread across California that Fairfield is a good place to do business.

"That's part of my self-imposed job. Get the businesses to understand there is a vision for Fairfield," Price said. "It costs a lot of staff time. But it generates tax dollars. It creates jobs."

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or


Here are the five goals of Fairfield's economic development strategy:

-- Develop and market a positive business image of Fairfield as a great place to work and do business.

-- Improve the economic vitality of Fairfield's business districts.

-- Retain and grow Fairfield's existing businesses.

-- Recruit businesses that create quality jobs paying livable wages.

-- Retain Travis Air Force Base as an economic engine for Fairfield.

Source: City of Fairfield

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bay Area economy thriving

Article Last Updated: 3/24/2006 06:39 AM

Report: Bay Area economy thriving
Region's productivity vulnerable to talent loss

Inside Bay Area

The Bay Area's economy is stronger now than during the peak of the dot-com boom, yet the region might lose its competitive edge if some of its most highly skilled workers flee the region for more affordable places, according to an economic report released today.
Bay Area businesses rely heavily on the productivity of their work force to overcome the highest cost of doing business in the nation, yet this talent base is slipping away, according to an economic profile issued jointly by the Bay Area Economic Forum, the Bay Area Council, and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The region remains one of the most productive marketplaces in the world, but output has fallen in recent years while other economic hubs lured away the best workers. According to the report, also prepared with help from McKinsey & Co., Boston has eclipsed the Bay Area as the world's most productive region.

To stay competitive, the Bay Area needs affordable housing, better schools and less traffic, business advocates said. Without urgent changes, the valuable talent base will continue to flee the region, thereby weakening the economy.

"Bay Area employers are in the center of one the world's most dominant and rapidly growing economic hubs," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council. "That said, economic conditions change extremely rapidly. Forces that many would argue are in our control are at this very moment rapidly eroding our economic advantage."

Bay Area business leaders are supporting a fractured legislative effort to pump more money into the state's roads, levees, ports and other infrastructure, which they say will help ensure California's economic future. So far, Sacramento has failed to reach an agreement on infrastructure investment.

Wunderman said workers need housing assistance to buy a home here as costs approach $600,000 or more in many cities. The K-12 education system simply needs more money to turn out students capable of taking the reins of California's economy.

"These problems weren't created overnight and won't be solved overnight, but we have to act now," Wunderman said. "It takes a combination of investment and reform, and we need to get down to business with that."

The report, "The Innovation Economy: Protecting the Economic Advantage," was a mixed bag for the Bay Area, describing it as an unusually adaptable environment that should have no trouble overcoming the kind of problems that could sink a lesser economy.

Indeed, the Bay Area's economy has attracted more than its share of major U.S. companies, even during the severe recession in the Silicon Valley after the dot-com crash.

In 1994, 20 of the largest 500 companies in the country were headquartered here. Today, 26 are, and only New York City has more.

Still, the report warned, salaries have not kept pace with the cost-of-living increases, schools are not adequate and residents spend almost twice as much of their budgets on housing as the rest of the nation.

Despite looming challenges, the Bay Area's economy has grown faster than the U.S. economy since the end of the recession in 2002. Also, the region's total production in 2004 was $17 billion higher than in 2000 at the peak of the tech boom, the report said.

At the same time, progress in other areas chipped away at the Bay Area's dominance in such areas as computer technology and life sciences, two critical pieces to the region's emerging knowledge-based economy.

For instance, the average Boston worker now produces $54,000 worth of goods and services each year, compared with the average Bay Area worker's $51,000. Both easily exceed the U.S. average of $40,000.

Sean Randolph, president of the Bay Area Economic Forum, said a high production level is necessary to stay competitive because of other costs — environmental regulations and robust salaries, for instance — that make the Bay Area the most expensive place in the United States to run a company.

"In the past we've been able to say, 'Yes, we're expensive but our productivity is so high that it pays to be here,'" Randolph said. "But now that advantage has been pared down a lot. It's still a nice advantage, but it's declined steadily in recent years. It's going the wrong way."

Randolph said he has confidence that lawmakers will find a way to agree, at least on something as obvious as the need to unclog the freeways.

"I have to believe our leaders in Sacramento will eventually agree on something as basic as infrastructure investment," he said.

A Bright Welcome

A Bright Welcome
New Sign Will Greet Vacaville Visitors
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

The new downtown Vacaville sign is installed Thursday morning over Davis Street. The $63,000-marquee replaced a previous version. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

Downtown Vacaville visitors received a surprising welcome Thursday, as a long-awaited arch over Davis Street was finally installed.
The $63,000 marquee, replete with bold white lettering and traffic-cone orange hills, was hoisted high between two Davis Street lampposts early Thursday morning.

The sign - or a version of it - was first scheduled to greet downtown visitors nearly a year ago.

In May 2004, the arch was complete and installation dates were set. City Manager David Van Kirk visited JSJ Electrical Display's Benicia shop to take a look at the finished product. But instead of giving it a thumb's up, he canceled the installation and called for numerous modifications.

Van Kirk said the initial sign didn't meet the city's standards of quality, so the design was reformulated. The city manager said the biggest issue was one of the materials used in the sign's decorative hills and clouds.

The first version used vinyl cut-outs, while the new arch is made with those artistic features brushed right on with long-lasting aviation paint.

"That was my main concern," Van Kirk said. "I wanted to save taxpayers money in the long-run by preventing future maintenance problems. This wasn't a matter so much of spending extra money as it was spending extra time."

The first version of the sign cost $25,000. It was completely salvaged, Van Kirk said, but additional lighting and "pop-out" elements added almost $40,000 to the bill.

The changes were on display Thursday, as a section of Davis between Catherine and Main streets was closed to traffic for several hours while JSJ Electrical workers put the sign into place.

Early reviews were mixed.

"Too gaudy," said Tom Redican, a member of The Reporter's Reader Network after viewing a picture of the sign on

The Reporter is conducting an online poll on the sign and by press time those who like the design were slightly outnumbering those who didn't.

Mayor Len Augustine, who last summer supported Van Kirk's decision to redo the sign, said he went by the arch early Thursday to catch a glimpse.

"I think it's a nice addition to the downtown area."

Vice Mayor Pauline Clancy said she looks forward to seeing the neon elements of the sign lit at night.

"I hope everyone enjoys it," she said. "A lot of thought and planning went into it."

Reader Network member Kristen Loomis, viewing an image of the sign, had mixed feelings.

"It's a very pretty sign, but what bothers me is the 'Disneyfication' of downtown," Loomis said. "It used to be a real historical downtown. Now, you have to look for the old town in between all the 'ersatz-Olde-Towne' enhancements."

Riita DeAnda of the Reader Network expressed enthusiasm for the arch.

"I like the archway," she said. "The sign is bright and reflects Vacaville's agricultural roots."

Tom Hall can be reached at

Fairfield Leads State in Drop in Violent Crime

Fairfield Leads State in Drop in Violent Crime
By Daily Republic staff

FAIRFIELD - Fairfield had the sharpest drop in violent crime in the state in the first nine months of last year while the rest of California experienced an increase, Fairfield police said Thursday.

From January to September 2005, violent crime inched up 0.8 percent in California compared to the same period in 2004, according to a state Department of Justice preliminary report on crime. Fairfield posted a 28.4 percent decrease compared to the first nine months of 2004, according to a written statement from Fairfield Police Chief Bill Gresham.

"These statistics demonstrate that the Fairfield Police Department is making progress in reducing crime in the community," Gresham said in a written statement. "With successful initiatives such as the Violent Crime Suppression Unit, the Gang and Drug Suppression Unit and the Crime Free Multi-Housing program in full operation - it's rewarding to see these positive outcomes."

Gresham was not available for comment after business hours on Thursday when his statement was released.

In January Fairfield police released statistics that violent crime declined 23 percent in all of 2005 and overall crime dropped by 6 percent.

Statewide, homicide increased by 0.4 percent, robbery by 0.2 percent and aggravated assault by 0.5 percent, according to a written statement from Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office. Forcible rape showed a decrease of 2.7 percent.

California hasn't seen an increase in the overall number of violent crimes from a periodic report since 2002," Lockyer said in a written statement. "While it is a small increase it is important for my office and local law enforcement to keep our focus on shutting down the forces of crime."

Lockyer blamed methamphetamine as a factor in violent crime and said that law enforcement agencies need federal funding restored so they can combat the drug.

To view the report visit

Thursday, March 23, 2006


NEWS RELEASE Contact: Veronica Ferguson
March 22, 2006 707-784-7902


FAIRFIELD – The clear message from State and Solano County’s leadership at the first tourism summit was there is a need for a collaborative effort to market the diverse attractions in the county.
The “Bringing Tourists to Solano County” event on Tuesday, March 21, drew more than 50 organizations – many long established and some newly formed – that would benefit from an increase in tourism.

Supervisors John Vasquez and Mike Reagan, of the Board of Supervisors Economic Development and Tourism Committee, strongly emphasized that this initial gathering of the people already working on bringing tourism to their destinations is the first of many baby steps to increase the county’s share of the growing tourism market.
The featured speaker Susan Wilcox, chief deputy director of the California Travel and Tourism Commission, affirmed the supervisors’ remarks that the meeting was the first of many steps on what can be a profitable journey. She said the upward trend for travel and tourism is forecasted to continue, and Solano County’s rural tourism market can be part of that growth.

The success, she said, would be linked to the tourism destinations working together to market themselves as a region.

Wine-tasting Room Could Come to Suisun Valley

Wine-tasting room could come to Suisun Valley
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Efforts are under way to establish a wine tasting room in Suisun Valley that could help attract tourists to the farming area and give valley wines a higher profile.

The Suisun Valley Fund Advisory Committee on Wednesday approved seeking proposals from parties who would want to establish a tasting room. The committee would offer assistance. Two candidate sites are Rockville Corner and Mankas Corner, both small commercial pockets in the valley.

"There is a general consensus that if Suisun Valley is to remain agricultural, an expansion of grape growing, wines production and the development of additional wineries offer the single best chance for success," says the paper seeking proposals.

A wine tasting room would be the first step in establishing wine support services in the valley, with development of a full-scale wine processing facility another goal. The goal is to get Suisun Valley wines and grapes recognized as a premium product, the paper said.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Suisun City Releases Proposal for Old Town Development Deal

Suisun City Releases Proposal for Old Town Development Deal
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City's Redevelopment Agency wants to sell 13 downtown parcels to a local developer for $3.7 million to jump start its plans to economically revive Old Town.

The city released a proposed agreement Tuesday with Main Street West Partners. It will go before the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency in a public hearing April 4.

City Hall went into exclusive negotiations with Main Street West Partners almost a year ago to work out an agreement over how to develop city-owned parcels in the Old Town area.

"We are very pleased with the development agreement," interim Redevelopment Agency Director Al da Silva said. "It is a project that will complement what Suisun City is trying to do."

This has come at considerable cost to the Redevelopment Agency, which had spent $14.2 million during the years to acquire, clear and improve the 8.4 acres it is selling to Main Street West.

Main Street West plans to create a core anchor project on the vacant lots at Main and Solano streets that will be a mixed-use project with retail businesses on the ground floor and residences on the second floor.

The same is being proposed for smaller city-owned lots that include the former Marguarita Village building and a vacant parcel next to the present La Cabana.

Residential developments are proposed for larger vacant parcels on the west of Civic Center Boulevard. Just how many homes or townhouses would go there hasn't been determined.

The proposed agreement doesn't include the vacant Crystal school site, which the Redevelopment Agency received earlier this year.

That property is also expected to end up in Main Street West's hands in the near future for development as a residential project, da Silva said.

If the City Council agrees to the proposal, specific plans for the core project could be submitted by mid-April and work could start as early as this summer, da Silva added.

"Our objective is to create more attractions to bring people to our downtown, such as dining, retail," he said. "The residential development is to bring in residents with disposal income."

Da Silva expects an economic payoff for Suisun City once work starts.

"You will see a considerable amount of private investment," da Silva said. "Main Street West's coming gives further confidence to private investors."

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tourist Study Seeks Brand for Vacaville

Tourist Study Seeks Brand for Vacaville
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Vacaville has plenty to offer visitors, though few travelers view the city as a "destination," according to a tourism study released Monday.

The study, commissioned by the Vacaville Conference and Visitors Bureau, named shopping as the top draw for visitors to the city and reported that most Northern Californians consider Vacaville to be a "safe and clean" town.

Antonette Eckert, the executive director of the visitors bureau, said the study will help identify and build a "brand" for Vacaville, boosting the local economy through increased hotel occupancy and sales tax revenue.

Right now, Vacaville is known for its shopping, Eckert said. The study says 75 percent of Northern Californians who have visited Vacaville have shopped in the city's premium outlet stores and 85 percent of Vacaville hotel guests surveyed rated local shopping as "good" or "very good."

But Eckert said the city lacks a "wow factor" - an attraction that makes travelers think of Vacaville as a destination spot.

"We need to create that somehow," she said. "Maybe the Nut Tree will provide it."

Three surveys were conducted. One asked residents in the Sacramento and San Francisco metropolitan areas questions about their impressions of Vacaville as well as an interview component conducted at the California State Fair. Another targeted travelers planning over the Internet their trips to Vacaville. The last asked guests in Vacaville hotels questions about the reasons for their visit and their expected activities.

Eckert said many Northern Californians surveyed expressed fond memories of the old Nut Tree, a recreation and dining landmark. The Nut Tree site is being redeveloped to include a family amusement park and 300,000 square feet of retail.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they'd have interest in visiting the new Nut Tree, the report says.

"Nut Tree could change the landscape," Eckert said. "It's really an unknown at this point."

Meanwhile, the study says the city is not marketing itself enough as the host for special events, including sporting events and military reunions.

The study suggests focusing on niche markets like these will improve Vacaville's visitor base.

"We really want to be smart about who we reach out to," Eckert said. "We're not trying to be everything to everyone."

Vacaville scored low marks for nightlife, culture and outdoor activities, while scoring high on safety, cleanliness and family-friendliness. Eckert said finding the positive branding elements and expanding the marketing of those activities and characteristics is key for improving local tourism.

The study, completed by San Francisco-based Destination Analysts Inc., was the first of its kind done in Vacaville. Eckert said having the data to define why people visit Vacaville is an important first step in developing a brand strategy.

The complete brand study can be accessed at

Tom Hall can be reached at

Suisun Valley Hosts Grape Growers Association

Suisun Valley Hosts Grape Growers Association
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - As a testament to Suisun Valley's growing reputation in the wine community, the North Coast Grape Growers Association board of directors meeting will be held at the Vintage Caffe in Rockville today.

Roger King, president of the association, said holding the meeting here helps establish the area in the mind of other members.

"This is part of making Suisun Valley more viable in the North Coast (American viticulture area), where for a while it had fallen off," King said. "It's all about sustaining agriculture through profitable business."

This will be the first time Suisun Valley hosts the board of directors, who have been increasingly holding their meetings around Northern California.

Separately, the Suisun association applied to have the valley recognized as a unique American viticultural area, which is granted by the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau.

Having Suisun Valley named as a viticultural area will allow wineries located there - currently two exist - to better market their wines, according to King. If their application is approved, the Suisun Valley will be considered an appellation - an exclusive region. Napa Valley and Northern Sonoma are registered appellations.
To become recognized as an American viticultural area according to the association, a petitioner must provide three things:

- Evidence that the proposed viticultural area is locally or nationally known.

- Historical or current evidence that the boundaries of the viticultural area petition are as specified in the petition.

- Evidence relating to the geographical characteristics - climate, soil, elevation, physical features, etc. - which distinguish the viticultural features of the proposed area from surrounding areas.

"The appellation system has become a big part of the wine branding system," King said. "The whole point is to better strengthen the awareness level of viticulture here in Suisun Valley."

Suisun City's 'Icon' Arrives

Suisun City's 'Icon' Arrives
By Ian Thompson

Suisun City's lighthouse will be 56 feet tall and will be supported by this 15,000 pound frame. (Christine Baker/Daily Republic)

SUISUN CITY - Rainy skies greeted the Suisun City lighthouse's 56-foot-tall steel frame as it was hauled to its new home next to the Suisun Slough early Monday morning.

The 15,000-pound frame was taken to Suisun City from the Delta Steel Erectors fabrication facility in Benicia, where it was assembled into a single piece.

A light rain assailed the work crew as the lighthouse frame was moved across the muddy field and hooked up to a crane that carried it aloft to be placed on the foundation. The foundation was put in last month.

Worsening weather stopped the work before the frame could be welded onto the foundation and workers will have to wait until the rain abates.

Few residents were there to watch the frame go up, with one passerby commenting that she expected it to be bigger than it was, but adding that it would be a nice addition to the harbor.

"It will be nice to see it when it's done," said Juanita Lopez.

Councilman Mike Segala watched the work and called the design "just right in height, not too overbearing and an important icon for what we are doing here."

"It is exciting. It is a visual image of our transition to Main Street West," said Suisun City Manager Suzanne Bragdon, alluding to the city's plans to use a master developer to develop the remaining vacant parcels in the downtown.

The idea to put up a lighthouse was born in 2004 after a committee of residents, businessmembers and city leaders was created to work out ways to jumpstart the downtown redevelopment efforts.

The group said putting up the lighthouse would be an appropriate distinctive symbol of the redevelopment efforts and prove to be a draw to bring more people into the downtown.

Work started in December after the city council awarded Blackshear Construction a $623,000 contract to build the lighthouse. The funds came from a special assessment put on downtown land sold by the Redevelopment Agency.

Once the frame is in place and granite panels arrive in early April from Minnesota, stonemasons will fit the panels onto the lighthouse to create a black-and-white striping.

"We are still on schedule for lighting it on July 4," Segala said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Monday, March 20, 2006

Globemaster for Travis

Globemaster for Travis
Plant Visit Offers Promising Peek at C-17
By Reporter Staff

Travis Air Force Base Col. Timothy M. Zadalis speaks Friday at Boeing's manufacturing plant in Long Beach. Col. Zadalis, along with Travis troops and local media flew to the plant to get a sneak peek at the first of 13 C-17 Globemasters being assembled. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

Troops from Travis Air Force Base and local officials got a sneak peek at Travis' oncoming fleet of C-17 Globemasters on Friday morning, as Boeing Co. showed off the first of that aircraft being assembled at its Long Beach manufacturing plant.

Travis is scheduled to receive the first of its 13 C-17s in July. The Globemaster transports will replace one of Travis' squadrons of C-5 Galaxies.

Standing in front of a C-17 in the assembly process,

A C-17 Globemaster destined for another air force base, nears completion at Boeing's Long Beach plant. The first of 13 C-17's headed to Travis AFB is also being assembled at the facility. (Ryan Chalk /The Reporter)

Col. Timothy M. Zadalis, the vice commander of Travis' 60th Air Mobility Wing, said the Globemasters will be a perfect fit in Solano County.

"We call ourselves 'America's First Choice,' ' Zadalis said. "Travis has a reputation for excellence."

Col. Michael R. Shanahan, Travis' chief of C-17 integration, said the new line will add to the local economy, as training needs will bring more jobs immediately to Travis.

"Boeing will be a presence on the base," Shanahan said. "There will be a need for contractors."

The C-17, which has a fuselage 174 feet long, is described by the Air Force as the "most flexible cargo aircraft to enter the airlift force." The craft first debuted in 1993 at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina.

Currently, the nation's only squadrons of Globemasters operate out of bases in South Carolina, Washington, New Jersey and Mississippi. Washington's McChord Air Force Base hosts two squadrons of C-17s. Other than scattered units in Southern California and Hawaii, McChord and Travis will be the prime locations for C-17s on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, the future of the C-17 in the modern Air Force has been the focus of scorn from politicians as President Bush and the Pentagon in February called for the halting of the production after Boeing finishes the first 180 C-17s in 2008.

Mike Reagan, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and current county supervisor, expressed disappointment in the talk of ending production of the C-17s, saying it could affect future staffing growth at Travis.

"We need to keep pounding on the Air Force to bring more planes here," Reagan told The Reporter in February.

The status of the C-17 line remains in limbo as Congress debates the federal budget.

Photography intern Ryan Chalk and staff writer Tom Hall contributed to this report.

Genentech Raises its Goals for Progress

Genentech Raises its Goals for Progress
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Katie Douglas, of Davis, makes adjustments to fermentation equipment producing heart medication at Genentech in Vacaville. The company plans to have 15 new products approved. (Reporter file)

Genentech plans to bring into development at least 20 new molecules and market at least 15 new products or new uses for existing products by 2010, the biotech giant announced Friday.

Should new uses be approved in the next four years for Rituxan, Herceptin, Avastin, or Xolair - the products manufactured for commercial use at the company's Vacaville facility - Genentech would expect to increase production locally, confirmed spokeswoman Caroline Pecquet.

"It's also likely that we would manufacture new molecules currently in clinical development once those are approved," she added, calling the Vacaville facility a vital part of Genentech's manufacturing process.

The goals - announced along with additional business objectives and earnings projections at Genentech's annual community investment meeting in New York - are revisions to the company's Horizon 2010 strategic plan. Previously, it called for clinical development of 13 molecules, and the marketing of 10 new products or uses.

Genentech revised its targets based upon recent achievements, its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Arthur Levinson, explained in a press release.

"Our success over the past several years has transformed our business, leading to additional opportunities for growth," he said.

Further targets added to the 2010 strategic plan include becoming the No. 1 U.S. oncology company in terms of sales, achieving a cumulative free cash flow - or operating cash flow minus gross capital expenses - of $12 billion, and a 25 percent growth in earnings per share (excluding various one-time expenses such as costs associated with the City of Hope litigation).

For the full year 2006, Genentech projected a 40-percent-to-50 percent growth in earnings per share, again excluding various one-time charges.

Additional business announcements made at the meeting included the decision to purchase land in Hillsboro, Ore. for development of a biotherapeutic manufacturing facility, expected to be licensed and operational in four years.

Genentech share value rose 6.7 percent, or $5.55, from Thursday to Friday, closing at $88.14 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Friday, March 17, 2006

Home Sales, Prices Drop in Solano

Home Sales, Prices Drop in Solano
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Solano County home sales and prices declined slightly from January to February, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

The real estate information service reported that 705 Solano homes were sold in February, which is 6.5 percent less than the previous month, though the decline in sales, it said, typically occurs from January to February. The number of homes sold last month, however, was 30 percent less than the number sold in February 2005 - the best February in terms of sales since DataQuick began keeping records in 1988.

Meanwhile, median home prices in the county decreased 1.6 percent from January to February, according to DataQuick, bringing the median price for a Solano County home to $482,000. Compared to February of last year, however, that figure represents a 16.7 percent rise in prices.

Price increases for the nine Bay Area counties slowed while home sales remained at their lowest level in five years, DataQuick reported. The median price paid for a Bay Area home in February was $616,000, which equates to a 1.5 percent price rise from January, and a year-over-year increase of 12.2 percent; the 6,206 homes sold in the region in February was 3.4 percent more than the previous month, but 16.8 percent less than February 2005.

The recent numbers, warned DataQuick's president, Marshall Prentice, aren't terribly indicative of what may be in store for the housing market.

"Right now we don't see anything ominous in the numbers, just a real estate cycle that is past the frenzy phase," he said in a written statement. "We'll know more about what's going on once next month's numbers come in. March sales have a more typical purchase pattern than February's or January's."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Paving the Way

Paving the Way
Board Gives $2 Million for I-80 Repairs
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Drivers going through Solano on Interstate 80 frequently encounter uneven pavement, as seen westbound at Davis Street in Vacaville. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

Local motorists got a bureaucratic victory Thursday as a state transportation board voted to immediately allot $2 million for emergency repairs to Interstate 80 through Solano County.

The California Transportation Commission voted during its Sacramento meeting Thursday afternoon to approve a request for $2 million to patch dangerous sections of I-80 between Meridian Road in Vacaville and the west side of Fairfield.

Daryl Halls, the executive director of the Solano Transportation Authority, said work could start soon.

"(Caltrans' Bay Area district) now has the resources to address some emergency patching," Halls said via telephone Thursday evening.

Halls said STA staff will talk to local Caltrans officials early next week about implementation of the funding. Since the funds were allocated by the state commission, they can be used fairly quickly.

"Having an allocation is almost like money in the bank," Halls said.

Assemblywoman Lois Wolk lobbied the CTC for Thursday's emergency allocation, and Vacaville Chamber of Commerce President Gary Tatum attended the vote. Halls said the commission is becoming increasingly aware of the dangerous state of I-80 through Solano.

Local officials are hoping for a larger earmark next month, when Solano's section of I-80 will be up for $41 million through the four-year State Highway Operations and Protection Program (SHOP).

Halls said that funding would be used to fix core maintenance issues along the corridor. The SHOP works in a way in which individual local Caltrans districts essentially compete for portions of the funding pot. District 4, which consists of the nine Bay Area counties, is asking for $41 million for Solano County's I-80 corridor as a part of its overall request.

That prospective funding may not come until 2009, though. Halls said he is confident the commission will approve the $41 million at its April meeting, though the timing is somewhat cloudier.

"The department recommended the $41 million, so there's no reason it shouldn't approve it," he said. "The timing of when it will be released is the question."

Caltrans has endorsed the local I-80 funding through the SHOP, though it wants it to be allocated in the later stages of the four-year program (based on its priority list), Halls said. Local officials will push for an earlier - possibly even 2007 - allocation.

"The encouraging thing is that we have the $2 million now," he said.

Tom Hall can be reached at

VCUSD Officials Unveil Bids for District's Parcels

VCUSD Officials Unveil Bids for District's Parcels
By SARAH ROHRS, Times-Herald staff writer

It wasn't exactly Oscars night, but anticipation was running pretty high Thursday when Vallejo school district officials opened sealed envelopes and shook out pieces of paper with bids on four district parcels.

As the bids were opened and written on large sheets of paper taped to the wall, district officials got an idea of how much money could be made when the four parcels are sold to help balance the district's budget.

State law says Vallejo can use proceeds from the sale of land to reduce or retire its emergency loan from the state, but must do so by June 2007.

Sealed bids were opened at the district administrative offices on Valle Vista Avenue - one of the parcels up for sale.

KB Homes, a massive California housing development firm, said it would pay $20 million for an 18-acre site along Rollingwood Avenue while Triad Communities Inc. bid $5 million for all four parcels, and $3.5 million for the district office.

Local developer Paul Roberts bid $967,500 for the McKinley Adult School site. Castle Companies bid $4 million for the district office on Valle Vista Avenue and $2 million for a parcel adjacent to Federal Terrace Elementary School.

To raise money to pay off the $60 million state bail-out loan, Damelio wants to sell the four parcels through public bids. He's estimated they could be worth between $25 million and $30 million. Ideally, property sales will generate a reliable income for loan payments and free up general fund money for education.

A total of 11 bids were submitted, but one was disqualified because a $25,000 security check was not included.

The 18 acres at Rollingwood Avenue and Benicia Road drew the most interest. KB's $20 million bid was far and away the highest one submitted for this parcel.

Jim Barcewski, owner of Jim Barcewski Development, said the Rollingwood land is desirable for home development.

"It's in a nice part of town and is a big piece of land. It's in good shape," Barcewski said.

As he looked over the bids, Damelio said "it's too early to tell," how much the parcel sales could eventually yield. He and his staff will examine the bid documents more closely, paying particular attention to conditions developers may want on the sales.

The district could reject all the bids after analyzing them, said Floyd Gonella, Damelio's adviser.

"Clean bids are important. A million conditions won't be good for us," Gonella told about 20 developers who were on hand.

Gonella told developers a decision will be made "in a relatively short time," possibly in early April.

The sale of the Rollingwood parcel would displace 261 East Vallejo Little Leaguers who will need another place to play baseball. It is adjacent to the former site of a drive-in movie theater which has been vacant for years.

Damelio said he has met with East Vallejo Little League representatives to determine if the district can help them find a new home.

The four parcels are at the following locations:

- McKinley Adult School, 1.5 acres at 1140 Capitol St.

- School district administration building, 6.8 acres at 211 Valle Vista Ave.

- Rollingwood site, 18 acres at Rollingwood Avenue and Benicia Road.

- Federal Terrace Elementary, 2.2 acres at Selfridge and Cunningham streets.

- E-mail Sarah Rohrs at or call 553-6832.

Nugget Officially Coming to Northgate

Nugget Officially Coming to Northgate
By DAN JUDGE, Times-Herald staff writer

The developer responsible for much of the new growth in Vallejo's Northgate area held a dinner party for 300 Thursday night to celebrate several new additions, including the confirmation that high-end grocer Nugget Markets will be coming to town.

City officials and Vallejo residents braved the rains and streamed into a large tent to enjoy a free dinner while developer Gary Mandarich of Mandarich Developments discussed some of the projects coming to the area. The list included a college campus, retail plaza, auto dealerships and luxury condominiums geared toward seniors.

Most surprising for many was the appearance of Nugget representatives confirming that plans to build a 52,500-square-foot store were back on.

The project stalled when retail giant Wal-Mart announced it wanted to build one of its supercenters - which include grocery stores - in Vallejo. The store would be less than four miles from a supercenter already under construction in American Canyon.

Nugget threatened to cancel its plans if Wal-Mart moved forward. Last year, however, the City Council approved an ordinance that would trigger more rigorous reviews and environmental impact reports for any larger retailer exceeding 75,000 square feet.

"The recent ordinance enacted by the city satisfied our concerns," Nugget's real estate director Mark Engstrom said Thursday.

He said Nugget has submitted it building permit to the city.

"We hope to be under construction by late summer for a spring '07 opening," Engstrom said.

The Nugget Market would be part of a 98,000-square-foot neighborhood shopping center at the corner of North Ascot Parkway and Turner Parkway.

Vallejo spokesman Mark Mazzaferro said he was not aware of the Nugget permit but said city officials would be pleased if the project moved forward.

"Nugget has always been part of the plan up there," he said.

A new Wells Fargo Bank would be located in the shopping center, Mandarich said, while letters of interest had been received from about 20 other companies including restaurants and other businesses.

He said a retail and office complex would also be built at the southwest corner of Admiral Callaghan Lane and Columbus Parkway.

Solano Community College will build a 40,000-square-foot facility at the southwest corner of Columbus Parkway and St. John Mine's Road.

The school's Vice President John Hendrickson noted that it marked a return of sorts for the school because Vallejo Junior College, the precursor to Solano Community College, was originally located in Vallejo when it opened in 1945.

"This is where we began as part of the unified school district," he said.

The new campus will include a computer laboratory, bookstore distribution space, youth theater rehearsal space and art exhibit areas.

Hendrickson said construction bids were recently opened and work is expected to start on the new campus within a few months. Classes could be offered by fall of 2007, he said.

Ken Ross of Team Chevrolet said the first of the new auto dealerships in the area is expected to open April 15 with a Ford, Hyundai-Mazda and Buick dealerships to follow.

Mandarich closed the night out with the presentation of Belvedere, a planned "active adult community" of 336 luxury condominiums and a clubhouse on North Ascot Parkway across from Hyde Park.

He said the facility's design had been largely inspired by Belvedere Palace in Vienna.

Mandarich said the facility would address the needs of an under-represented market in Vallejo, those over age 55.

"People are living longer and those who are baby boomers truly want to stay in the community they grew up in," he said.

The Belvedere project is in the approval process and the first hearing before the city will be held on April 3, he said.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gateway Holds Sway

Gateway Holds Sway
Chamber Praises Insurance Firm
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Cathy Spencer, owner of Gateway Professional Insurance Services in Vacaville, talks about her company, which was named the 2006 Business of the Year by the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

Gateway Professional Insurance Services is the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce's business of the year. The company will be honored officially at the chamber's second annual black tie Director's Ball on April 1, along with Jerry's Painting and Network Solutions - the first recipients of a new "Above and Beyond" recognition award for local businesses.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer, Gary Tatum, explained that the criteria to be considered for business of the year involves "three musts and four shoulds."

The business must be a chamber member, must not be a board member, and must be a significant community partner. Additionally, the business should be noted for outstanding customer or client service, should be known for charitable donations or volunteerism, should be involved in community events, and should have at least five years longevity.

Gateway Professional Insurance Services, he said, "has just been outstanding in its community and chamber involvement."

Owner Cathy Spencer, he noted, previously was honored as chamber ambassador of the year, and served on the board for eight years.

When asked how it felt to be named business of the year, Spencer replied, "we're excited," and then called out to her staff, "how do we feel?"

Five or six employees rushed around her office and echoed one another's sentiments: "We're proud!"

"We're happy!"

"We're excited!"

The team that appeared within seconds of her call, she said, is the strength behind her business. "I rely on these ladies, and most of them have been here many, many years. They're just great."

She added, "We all share it - we are business of the year."

Gateway Professional Insurance was born 22 years ago in Fairfield, Spencer explained. "The business grew from just me to myself plus nine others."

The firm began by selling homeowners insurance through one carrier, and over the years has expanded to selling nearly every type of insurance imaginable, and now also offers financial services and investment planning.

While Spencer is honored to have had her firm chosen as business of the year, she highlighted Vacaville's host of community-oriented businesses.

"There's so many people and companies that just give, give, give, give," she said, "and that's what it takes."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Dixon Chamber Lease Approved

Dixon Chamber Lease Approved
By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer

The Dixon City Council approved a five-year lease agreement Tuesday night for the Chamber of Commerce to relocate to the Transportation Center.

"The building is an incredible benefit to the city," said Chamber President Gordon Hammond."

Vice Mayor Gil Vega is holding out hope that trains will stop in Dixon within the next five years, but he knows it's a long shot. City officials estimate it won't happen until 2015, depending on state funding.

Transportation Center occupancy gives the chamber a more central location in the city. The center will provide information about different modes of travel, which the chamber already does. The new conference room available in the building can be scheduled for use by the public.

The historical society, which helped with the history and design of center's exterior also is decorating the interior.

"This is a good use of the facility," Vega said. "The historical society, the Chamber of Commerce and the train stop will work well in the new building."

The Council still needs to vote on accepting the center as complete before the Chamber can move in. That vote is set for April.

Melissa Murphy can be reached at

City OKs Extra $2.9M to Widen Wilson Avenue

City OKs Extra $2.9M to Widen Wilson Avenue
By SARAH ROHRS, Times-Herald staff writer

As Wilson Avenue gets wider, so does its costs.

The Vallejo City Council on Tuesday approved a $2.9 million increase for the project's second phase.

Widening Wilson Avenue between Hichborn Street and Lighthouse Drive along the Vallejo waterfront is now expected to cost $16.5 million.

Money for the project comes from a combination of state and federal grants, traffic impact fees and bonds which will be paid back through general fund proceeds.

Wilson Avenue links Highway 37 and the downtown Vallejo area. In recent years, several buildings along the narrow street have been razed in preparation for the widening.

Calling for a narrower Wilson Avenue project, Stephanie Gomes was the only councilmember voting against the budget increase.

She urged her six colleagues to abandon the 61 foot-wide street in favor of a 48 foot-wide street and said she would continue raising the issue.

"I'm going to keep pushing it," Gomes said. "It's a neighborhood street, not a thoroughfare."

Reducing the width 20 percent for a narrower street will mean a 20 percent reduction in the budget, saving taxpayers about $1 million, Gomes said.

The $2.9 million budget adjustment is an increase to "an already bloated project," she said.

Other councilmembers had few comments on the Wilson Avenue widening project, which has been on city street improvement lists for years.

Some did, however, question Gomes' 20 percent cost-savings estimate and said they weren't sure how she came up with it.

Interim City Manager John Thompson suggested the council revisit the budget after the construction bids come in.

Bids on the widening project will be opened this week, said City Engineer Gary Leach.

The city rejected the last round of bids in August due to insufficient funding. The project was redesigned and put out to bid again.

Any prospective bids will be analyzed over the next few weeks and then return to the council for possible action.

Under the project, Wilson Avenue will continue to have two lanes but will have a landscaped median down the middle. Bicycle lanes also will be provided.

However, Gomes said even with the redesign the city has enough room to accommodate four lanes.

She said the city's ultimate plans are to widen Wilson Avenue to four lanes.

Leach said the project has been stripped down from its original four-lane configuration.

"We've narrowed it down as much as possible. It's been down-scoped a lot. I don't think people realize that," Leach added.

- E-mail Sarah Rohrs at or call 553-6832.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sutter Medical Center Makes New Strategic Plan

Sutter Medical Center Makes New Strategic Plan
By Sarah Arnquist

VALLEJO - Sutter Solano Medical Center recently updated its master plan and decided to seismically retrofit and modernize its existing campus at 300 Hospital Drive, hospital officials announced Tuesday.

That decision is part of the Sacramento-based Sutter Health network's announcement to invest $6.6 billion in the next 10 years in Northern California health services.

The nonprofit health care system will invest $1.7 billion more than it projected in 2002.

"We have a new strategic plan that envisions a health care landscape that looks much different than what we're used to," Sutter Health President and CEO Pat Fry said, in a press release.

The new plan devotes an additional $700 million to outpatient facilities like the medical offices on the second floor of Sutter's new cancer center in Vallejo.

Sutter Solano's updated master plan calls for close cooperation with the Sutter Regional Medical Foundation, said spokeswoman Rachael Albertson. The foundation operates medical offices in Vacaville, Fairfield, Rio Vista and Vallejo.

Sutter regional medical foundation physicians now also will occupy the second floor of the cancer building.

"That's one example of how we'll work more collaboratively," Albertson said.

Since 2002, Sutter has spent about $1 billion on new capital projects in Northern California, including a new cancer center in Vallejo and a comprehensive outpatient medical campus in Fairfield.

Reach Sarah Arnquist at 427-6953 or

City Eyes Plan to Revitalize Texas Street Corridor

City Eyes Plan to Revitalize Texas Street Corridor
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Fairfield wants a plan to revitalize the Texas Street corridor with new businesses and residences - a plan that could include the option of using eminent domain.

The Texas Street corridor starts at Interstate 80 at West Texas Street, runs through downtown, curves north near Armijo High School and continues as North Texas Street to I-80 again. In the mid-1900s, it served as State Highway 40.

Today, the corridor is a major Fairfield street lined by strip malls, shopping centers and multi-story buildings. The city wants to do more to revitalize the area than putting in landscaping and aesthetic improvements, as it has in the past. It is looking at changing land uses to fit the changing times.

The City Council and Planning Commission met Tuesday in a study session to discuss West Texas, Texas and North Texas streets. They also discussed whether the city's redevelopment agency should have eminent domain powers along the corridor. They made no decisions.

Fairfield has some elegant developments on its outer edges, City Councilman Jack Batson said. By creating a Texas Street plan, Fairfield will give the inner part of the city the attention it deserves, it said.

"I've seen cities let the attention be riveted on the outside and let the inside of the city rot," Batson said.

Some positive changes have already taken place along the corridor, city planners wrote in a memorandum. The 107-home Providence Walk development on Travis Boulevard replaced a crime-ridden trailer court. The Park Crossing apartments replaced the old county hospital on West Texas Street. Solano County built a new government center downtown. The McInnis Corner development across the street from the government center renovated an old building and added such businesses as Starbucks.

City planners identified several sites for infill development which they think could stimulate new investment. Among them are the city-owned bowling alley property, the corner of West Texas Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the 1000 block of Texas Street near the Fairfield Center for Creative Arts and the southwest corner of Texas and Jefferson streets.

Fairfield wants to work with the private sector on infill development there and other places. However, eminent domain may be required in some cases, the memo said.

Eminent domain allows a city redevelopment agency to condemn and take private property for fair market value. Its use became more controversial in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year involving the Connecticut town of New London. The court ruled New London can condemn homes and give the properties to developers.

California subsequently looked at changing its eminent domain laws. Sen. Tom McClintock wants to limit eminent domain to obtaining land for public uses, such as parks or road right-of-ways. But his proposed law stalled.

City Councilman Frank Kardos called eminent domain "the third rail." He urged judicial use of it.

Planning Commissioner Chuck Wood III said the city needs to have all the tools available, including using eminent domain on blighted property. He stressed city staff's proposal that no single-family, owner-occupied homes be taken.

Staff does not have a list of projects targeted for possible eminent domain, Senior Economic Development Project Manager David White said. But trying to put together infill projects with several parcels and property owners is challenging, he said. Eminent domain would be a last resort, he said.

Mayor Harry Price praised the idea of having a Texas Street corridor plan.

"This is an opportunity for the City of Fairfield to take a look at that corridor and realize what it can be," Price said.

Doing a Texas Street plan could cost $350,000. Reinstating and extending the redevelopment agency's eminent domain powers for the various segments could cost $150,000 in legal and other fees, a city report said.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Construction Beam Put in Place, Marking Kaiser Milestone

Construction Beam Put in Place, Marking Kaiser Milestone
'Topping Off' Helps Hospital Meet Schedule to Complete Project by 2008
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

The ceremony commemorating the installation of the last beam to Vallejo's new Kaiser hospital went off without a hitch Monday.

In keeping with a building trades tradition that may be thousands of years old, several local dignitaries joined Kaiser Permanente Medical Center staff and officials to witness the symbolic "topping off" event. Friday, Kaiser staff and members signed the white steel beam, which was raised by a huge red crane, following a symbolic "thumbs up" by local hard-hat clad dignitaries. Sitting atop the beam, were a potted evergreen tree and an American flag.

The Kaiser Vallejo project, which will eventually produce a state-of-the-art medical facility, is slightly ahead of schedule, despite recent inclement weather, said Kaiser area manager Deborah Romer. The facility is set for completion in 2008.

"While all our partners cooperated during this project, the weather has been less cooperative," Romer said. "We've had one of the wettest winters on record. But the project is actually ahead of schedule by a couple of weeks."

The event signifies the completion of one construction phase and the beginning of the next, Kaiser spokesman Jim Caroompas said.

"It signals the completion of the skeleton of the building. The shell. Now they start on the walls and the floor," Caroompas said.

Kaiser Vallejo's physician in chief, Steve Stricker, noted that even as Vallejo gets a new Kaiser hospital, another is being built in Vacaville.

"Kaiser is investing more time and money in Solano County than anywhere else in the United States," Stricker said. "Kaiser will have the most modern facilities in the region when the Vallejo and Vacaville projects are done."

Kaiser is the only medical group offering members who sign up for it, free e-mail access to their doctors, prescription refills, medical advice and other services on the Internet, Stricker said.

Vallejo Mayor Tony Intintoli Jr. said the project will help Kaiser meet the state's stricter earthquake standards, which made most California hospital facilities obsolete.

"The new hospital represents a major investment in the community," Intintoli said.

When it's all done, most of Kaiser Vallejo's circa 1975 building will be demolished to create added, much-needed parking, hospital officials said.

Many parking spots currently being used by construction workers and their equipment, will be available when the project is complete, Kaiser spokesman Mel Orpilla said.

"Plus a lot of people from the North Bay who come here, will go to Vacaville, instead, and that should help. It should also help traffic on the freeway," Orpilla said.

The 1995 Vallejo hospital addition will be renovated and connected to the new structure, officials said. The seven-story hospital tower is expected to come down in 2013.

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

Survey: This is the Place to Find a Job

Survey: This is the Place to Find a Job
Hirings, Not Layoffs, are Planned in Solano, Napa Counties in Next Few Months
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

The percentage of employers in Solano and Napa counties planning to hire people in the next few months is the highest of any area in the state, a new survey found.

Eighty percent of Solano and Napa employers surveyed plan to hire new workers and none plan layoffs in the next few months, said Sherrie Phillipi of The Manpower, Inc. which conducted the quarterly survey. Most employers surveyed plan small workforce increases, but it's a sign of upward momentum, she said.

Most of California expected about 30 to 50 percent net employment increases. That trend changes at Contra Costa County and most every Bay Area city north of it.

At 73 percent, Contra Costa and San Rafael joined Solano/Napa with higher numbers, though 14 percent of the San Rafael employers surveyed expected to lay people off, for a net gain of 60 percent.

"Looking at the East Bay, Contra Costa County is at 70 percent, so that's where the labor market is beginning to break up," Phillipi said. "From there and into the North Bay, this is where the market is starting to free up for hiring."

The Solano/Napa area's diverse economy is playing a role in its increasingly rosy employment picture, Phillipi said.

"A lot of businesses are springing up in Vacaville. There's been a rejuvenation of the medical and some warehousing in Vallejo and the Fairfield industrial park is starting to thrive," she said. "There's a lot of movement happening at this time."

The Manpower figures are in line with a recent national survey that found hiring increased across the economy in February, with employers adding nearly a quarter-million jobs in the biggest boost in three months. Analysts say this has nudged the unemployment rate higher, as more people restart job searches with a renewed hope of success.

Unemployment rates are determined by those actively seeking work.

Nationally, employers expanded payrolls by 243,000 jobs in February - better than expected and an improvement over January's 170,000.

Construction, retail, financial services, health care and education were among the industries seeing national employment gains last month. That eclipsed weakness in manufacturing, mostly reflecting job losses in the struggling automotive sector.

Brighter job prospects propelled people into the labor market, however, bumping up the unemployment rate to 4.8 percent in February. Still, job seekers face challenges, with the average time the 7.2 million unemployed spent searching for work in February being 17.6 weeks, up from 16.8 weeks in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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

Solano's Got It!

Solano's Got It!
The Best That Northern California Has To Offer.

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