Friday, June 30, 2006

A Better Vision

A Better Vision
Genentech Fights Blindness
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Rose Ketchum, of Winters, took part in the clinical trial for Lucentis, a drug developed by Genentech (pictured in the background). Ketchum's eyesight has improved since taking the drug. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

A blindness-preventing drug developed by Genentech is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration today, and one local resident has seen its merits firsthand.
Rose Ketchum lives just south of Winters. Prior to being entered into a clinical trial for the antibody fragment dubbed Lucentis, she was beginning to lose some of her vision.

"I would lie in bed before I got up and close one eye and look at the ceiling, and then close the other eye and look at the ceiling and I would see a great, big, huge black blob," she recalled.

Her ophthalmologist referred her to Bay Area Retina Associates, a group of specialists participating in one of two major clinical trials for Lucentis.

Lucentis is designed to block new blood vessel growth and blood vessel leakage, which cause wet age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. AMD scars the retina, which in turn causes progressive vision loss.

For people aged 60 and older, AMD is the leading cause of blindness, and the condition affects 1.7 million people in the United States, according to The National Eye Institute. That number is expected to grow to nearly 3 million by 2025.

Ketchum met with physicians at Bay Area Retina's Walnut Creek facility approximately two years ago, and was entered into the Lucentis study. The randomized study was organized so that some patients received Lucentis, while others were given mock injections.

"They don't tell you whether you're getting the drug or not," Ketchum explained. She was fairly positive, however, that she was one of the patients receiving Lucentis injections over the course of the two-year study, she said, because she saw "whirly lines" each time she was injected.

"When the trial was over they said I was getting the drug," she said.

Now, Ketchum said, "my vision's pretty good. I don't see the big black spots anymore."

Her experience is in keeping with the results from both clinical trials.

"Both pivotal studies showed 95 percent of patients maintained their vision and up to 40 percent of patients improved their vision," said Dawn Kalmar, Genentech spokeswoman.

Up to 40 percent of patients treated with Lucentis achieved vision of 20/40 or better, she added. That's important, she said, considering that 20/40 is the driving vision requirement in most states.

FDA approval, Kalmar said, is a moment Genentech has been eagerly awaiting.

"It's been over a year now since we had our first positive Lucentis data," she said, noting the company's excitement and eagerness to begin providing the drug to patients.

Ketchum would recommend Lucentis to people suffering from AMD.

"I'd say at least give it a try, although they tell me it's going to be $2,000 a shot," she said.

Genentech has yet to set a price, and will not until all details of the label are negotiated with the FDA, Kalmar said.

"Everybody's speculating," she said, and emphasized the company's commitment to providing drugs to those unable to afford them, or unable to afford co-payments (which may be the case for some Medicare patients who will be treated with Lucentis).

"Last year $200 million was given out in Genentech drugs to patients who couldn't afford it," she said, which equated to helping a total of about 18,000 patients. "We are prepared to do the same thing for patients who can't afford Lucentis."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fairfield Eyes New Medical Offices

Fairfield Eyes New Medical Offices
Fairfield Planning Commission set to vote tonight on a $32-million, three-story building planned by the Sutter Regional Medical Group.
By Reporter Staff

Sutter Regional Medical Group hopes to continue its growth pattern in Fairfield with a proposal to go before the Fairfield Planning Commission tonight.
Commissioners will be asked to approve construction of an approximately 69,200 square foot, three-story medical office and related parking and landscaping project on about 5 acres of land on the north side of Low Court.

The $32-million project will allow for a new medical office building on the site which is part of a larger

Sutter Fairfield Medical Campus that includes an outpatient surgery facility and a diagnostic and imaging center.

The Sutter Fairfield Medical Campus is part of the Sutter Health family of facilities, one of the nation's leading not-for-profit networks of hospitals. It includes two state-of-the-art centers, the Sutter Fairfield Surgery Center and the Sutter Fairfield Diagnostic Imaging Center, as well as many of the Sutter Regional Medical Foundation services and medical offices.

"Having all of these services in one location ... makes it easier and more convenient for patients by eliminating the need to travel from one facility to another," states the company's Web site.

Sutter CEO John Ray said the new building will allow for Sutter to unite all of its services in one location. The company hopes to break ground this fall and be moved into the site by October 2007, just in time for a move from temporary offices in Vacaville.

The Planning Commission meets at 7:30 p.m. in the City Council Chamber, 1000 Webster St., Fairfield.

'Net Pitch Out to Sell Nut Tree

'Net Pitch Out to Sell Nut Tree
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Workers with Tilton Pacific Construction, of Rocklin, work Tuesday on new retail buildings going up at the Nut Tree site. Best Buy, Sports Chalet, Borders, HomeGoods, PetsMart, Beverages & More!, Old Navy, Justice for Girls, Fenton's Creamery, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill and Amici's East Coast Pizzeria are among the Nut Tree's confirmed tenants. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

A slick online video geared toward attracting retail tenants to the new Nut Tree debuted Tuesday.

Historic photographs and film snippets - accompanied by period music and narration by Vacaville Museum Director Shawn Lum - paint a vivid picture of the Nut Tree's rich, seven-decade past in a segment labeled "From Fruit Stand to Legend," while the voice of Mayor Len Augustine offers similar insight into the city of Vacaville, which he calls a "Norman Rockwell scene."

A montage of TV news segments on the landmark's re-development, artist renderings and site plans work together to provide tangible shape to the 80-acre mixed use project under way from Larkspur-based master developer Snell & Co., in conjunction with San Francisco-based developer Westrust and private real estate investment firm Rockwood Capital Corporation.

"There will be restaurants, shops, two hotels, a conference center, 180 town houses, office space, (and) several parks including a kiddy park that will bring back that famous train," an anonymous narrator purrs as corresponding images flash across the screen.

The online video even features a "3-D Fly Through," a computerized tour, of the project's two retail components, the Nut Tree Village and Market Pavilion, the latter of which will be an open-air complex emphasizing artisan goods and seasonal, specialty foods, akin to San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Sean Whiskeman, Westrust's vice president for leasing for Northern California, told The Reporter the video's "primary focus was to reach the retail community to generate interest for the remaining vacancies."

Though Whiskeman noted that approximately 50,000 square feet of space is currently in leasing negotiations with various businesses, the list of confirmed tenants grows longer each week.

In addition to the previously announced anchor tenants - Best Buy, Sport Chalet, Borders, HomeGoods and PetsMart - Beverages & More! and clothing stores Old Navy and Justice for Girls will join the lineup of large retailers.

As will Fenton's Creamery, Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, and Amici's East Coast Pizzeria.

Panera Bread Company, Peet's Coffee, and Jamba Juice are also among the franchises that will populate the Nut Tree, Whiskeman confirmed. And a new shop for Fairfield's Jelly Belly Candy Co. will open its doors.

Westrust has been "very pleased" with leasing activity thus far, according to Whiskeman. Though the firm continues its marketing efforts and negotiations, he was unable to disclose further information about possible tenants.

The Reporter has independently confirmed that companies in negotiations include Famous Dave's Legendary Barbecue, Mariani Dried Fruits, and The Athenian Grill.

"We are in negotiations, but we're still working out details," confirmed Shelly Kontogiannis, owner of The Athenian, as it's known on the Suisun waterfront. "It's not 100 percent for sure that we're going to be going in there," she emphasized.

At a "State of the City" address to the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce in March, City Manager David Van Kirk listed several probable tenants, includ-ing Marin French Cheese Co., Stonehouse California Olive Oil Co., and PF Chang's China Bistro. Rumors have also circulated that Elephant Bar & Grill is considering a Nut Tree location, along with the Buckhorn Grill and Ikeda's Produce Market.

None of those reports could be confirmed by The Reporter, save for the latter two - neither business will be coming to the Nut Tree, after all.

The Buckhorn Restaurant Group will continue to open Buckhorn Grills in extremely high-density, inner-city situations, said John Pickerel, one of the group's partners.

And Ikeda Produce Market instead will focus its energies on a new Davis store, said owner Glen Ikeda.

In the video, Augustine estimates that 3 million people will visit the new Nut Tree in its first year alone. Those visits will begin soon, with some of the larger retailers, like PetsMart, set to open in late July. Best Buy's grand opening will be Aug. 11, while Aug. 18 is opening day for BevMo! and Old Navy has a tentative opening date of Sept. 14.

"They're going to kind of roll open," Whiskeman explained, "and then a lot of the smaller shops will open this fall."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

* * * *
If you are experiencing difficulty in opening the video, here's the manual option:

1. Download QuickTime Player.

2. Open QuickTime

3. Click on File in the Menu Bar

4. Click on Open URL

5. Copy & Paste the URL into the field:

6. Click OK

Monday, June 26, 2006

Pleasant Chore

Pleasant Chore
Solano Enjoys a Healthy Budget With Spending Choices

When Solano County supervisors come to the table Monday morning to discuss next year's spending plan, they will find themselves with an enviable mission: Determining how to best spend money.

Solano County expects its general fund coffers to reach a very comfortable $40.3 million by the end of the month, thanks to about $16 million in increased county revenue and $4 million in departmental savings.

Even after you factor in a modest 8 percent spending increase, there's still a considerable amount of money to spend, save or dog-ear for future projects.

And, as you might guess, supervisors have a wide range of proposals before them, ranging from county park programs to a substantial jail expansion. Supervisors are likely to follow through with a number of staff recommendations following the discussion Monday, but there is adequate time to raise questions and perhaps add or delete some spending propositions.

We are particularly encouraged to see a proposed $14 million maintenance fund for county buildings.

Solano's new, state-of-the-art Government Center has been its biggest investment to date. Ensuring that it is well maintained could save repair work down the line.

Other county-owned properties could benefit from regular work as well. Perhaps the county's many Veterans Halls wouldn't be in such shoddy shape today had the county paid attention to maintenance of all its buildings in years past. But, as a grand jury report noted recently, most - and Vacaville's fine facility is an exception - are in need of major repair. Some significant money should be put toward their restoration.

Another wise idea is the proposal to set aside $4.7 million to cover unplanned county retirements. In the past, unplanned retirements forced the county to leave some positions vacant for long periods of time, just to offset the cost. No department functions well when short-handed.

We also commend a plan to donate $300,000 to insure 97 percent of all children in Solano County.

One of the biggest expenses in the $866 million spending plan is construction of a new $37 million Health and Social Services center in Vallejo. In addition, a major chunk of change will be needed to add space for an additional 224 beds at the Clay Bank jail, which frequently suffers from overcrowding.

Some improvements included in this year's budget reflect the use of state and federal funds.

For example, the county plans to add 85 new jobs, with many of them in the mental health services division. That funding comes from a voter-approved state initiative.

Some park improvement programs also come from state money. One proposal would construct a nature and interpretive center at Lake Solano Park.

Supervisors will consider using county money to open Lynch Canyon and fund a full-time park ranger and a part-time volunteer coordinator.

On the downside, we haven't seen any funds ear-marked yet to improve transportation. Right now the county is on an 80-year maintenance schedule. Anyone who has driven on rural roads knows that simply is not sufficient.

Of course we understand the county's reluctance to commit what may be a one-time surplus to ongoing costs, such as salaries or regularly scheduled repairs.

It appears that this year's budget reflects a good use of the county's surplus funds, while taking advantage of state and federal money as well.

Want to comment? Visit online and click on today's editorial at the bottom of our home page. You'll find a "comment" prompt at the bottom.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Perspectives on Solano Real Estate

Perspectives on Solano Real Estate
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - A lot can happen in a year.

That's what many of Solano County's leading real estate professionals talked about as they gathered at The Clubhouse at Paradise Valley Golf Course in Fairfield Thursday morning as part of the Solano Economic Development Corporation's 2006 Real Estate Round-Up.

The keynote speakers agreed the real estate market has changed significantly from a year ago when construction companies were churning out houses and people lined up to buy them, even bidding up the prices.

Discussions centered around what to do in a real estate market where costs are increasing, demand is shrinking, and inventory is getting larger. But the tone was not pessimistic. Rather the focus centered around what was next for a county expected to have the largest population growth in the Bay Area and to experience double digit economic growth in the coming decades.

"One thing is clear, this county is growing," said Pete Beucke, vice president of sales and marketing for Lennar Homes in San Francisco. Lennar Homes is developing Mare Island.

While the county is growing economically and in population size, downward pressures such as increased costs and rising interest rates are slowing things down.

"Building costs have escalated dramatically," said Jim Randolph, a senior vice president with Cornish & Carey - the brokerage firm representing The Nut Tree Village in Vacaville.

Randolph and Beucke were keynote speakers at the event along with three others. Jim Shepherd, also with Cornish & Carey, addressed the retail market such as increasing rental costs for retail space.

"The rents are definitely on the way up, and that's a good sign," Shepherd said.

Higher rental rates encourage more commercial and retail developments by offsetting increased costs.

Brooks Pedder, a managing partner with Colliers International in Fairfield, discussed business and industrial parks in Solano County.

Joseph McNeil, who manages a real estate portfolio for CalPERS valued in the billions, spoke about real estate investments. He said rates of returns on most real estate investments have been decreasing. But he suggested refocusing investments into areas such as retirement homes which can return high yields. CalPERS, which manages the pension fund for state employees, expects a return of 20 percent on investments in retirement homes, he said.

Beucke addressed residential development in the county.

"It wasn't that long ago we had people lined up outside our sales offices waiting to buy our homes," said Beucke. "We're definitely seeing the market tighten up."

Beucke said the slow down requires real estate professionals to adjust their attitudes, but the county's real estate outlook remains positive.

"We really view Solano as healthy and growing," he said.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at 427-6934 or

Double-digit Housing Growth Foreseen

Double-digit Housing Growth Foreseen
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer
The status of Solano County real estate was the topic du jour Thursday in Fairfield at the Solano Economic Development Corporation's member-investor breakfast.
"It's a dynamic market, changing every year," said Michael Ammann, president of the organization whose purpose is to attract and retain business within the county.

A panel of local industry experts offered the 150 in attendance an insight into topics including business and industrial parks, retail and residential development.

Peter Beucke, senior vice president of Lennar Homes, noted a tightening of the residential retail market in the past 12 months, calling its current situation "unique."

Around the same time last year, he said, people in the home building industry were giddy, things were going so well.

"A lot of them were out playing golf at this time - you don't see so many builder-golfers these days," he quipped.

Current market conditions can be characterized by "seven I's," according to Beucke: rising interest rates, increased inventory, increased order cancellations, enhanced incentives, increased construction costs, investors selling their properties, and intense cost reduction initiatives by home builders.

Despite all that, Beucke said, "We really view Solano County as a great opportunity down the road - it's ideal for home buyers and businesses."

Not only is it strategically located, he said, but "each of the county's 7 cities is looking at double digit growth over the next 18 years. The big three along I-80 will lead the way - Vacaville, Fairfield and Vallejo. We see that as a huge opportunity for brokers and new home buyers."

As do institutional investors, according to Jose McNeil, industrial real estate portfolio manager for CalPERS.

McNeil explained that the majority of the state employee pension fund's $5.87 billion housing portfolio investments are "tri-coastal," that is, they're focused on the western, eastern and southern coasts of the United States.

Brooks Pedder, managing partner of Colliers International's Fairfield office and Solano EDC chairman, characterized Solano's business and industrial park market as "tight."

Vacancy rates have increased to 15 percent county-wide, he said, attributable to many tenants becoming owner-users.

"Our land values are skyrocketing, in certain circumstances they've more than doubled in the last 12 months, and our inventories are starting to disappear," Pedder said.

Unless cities create new opportunities and consider annexation, he said, "we're going to be out of land."

A flurry of new retail development is also taking place throughout the county, said Jim Randolph, senior vice president and director of retail real estate in the Bay Area for Cornish & Carey.

He expects home-furnishings tenants to occupy a portion of the proposed 700,000 square foot Vacaville Pavilion, which will be located off the I-80/505 interchange. Kornwaser Development has not disclosed who will be the center's anchors, Randolph said, "but they seem to slowly be gaining momentum on this."

A Longs Drugs will anchor the 33,000 square foot Hillside Terrace shopping center under construction on North Texas Street in Fairfield, he said, which is scheduled to be finished this fall.

In the Cordelia area, two new 80-plus room hotels are under construction in Green Valley Center, Randolph noted, and nearby, the former truck stop site will be developed into a 450,000 square foot shopping center.

"We have probably a good full year of entitlement to go through and we have to get it anchored," he said, "but this will probably be the largest center in Fairfield to be built in the next couple of years."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Revival on Track

Revival on Track
Nut Tree's Miniature Train is Restored for its Return to Vacaville
By Bethany Clough -- Fresno Bee

The restored Nut Tree train gets a final inspection before its test run Wednesday. Fresno Bee/Christian Parley

Aside from its flair for food, the former Nut Tree restaurant on Interstate 80 was known for its restaurant, toy shop and the miniature railroad with the black-and-red engine that chugged across its grounds.

On Wednesday, the little red train -- which has sat neglected since the Nut Tree was closed in 1996 -- was back on track, at least in Reedley. A shiny, refurbished version chugged back and forth on 250 feet of track at 5 mph, tooting all three of its whistles.

It's the handiwork of Sean and Melissa Bautista and their team of workers who've been restoring the 44-year-old train at their business, the Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm in Reedley, for the past six months.

The Nut Tree, which closed after 75 years in business, will reopen beginning this fall in phases that include a family park, children's rides, bocce courts and a "village" that will include restaurants, housing and a hotel and stores like Borders and Old Navy.

Hillcrest workers will start installing 1,800 feet of track later this week at the Vacaville site. The train will be finished in August and open to the public in September.

After shipping the train to Reedley on trucks, workers took apart every piece of metal and examined every lever and bolt. Workers cut layers of rusted metal off the side of the cars.

The innards of the engine were replaced, air brakes were added and a new transmission and wheels were installed. Six cars were restored and two new ones were added. Powered by gasoline, the engine is designed to look like a steam engine.

A group of Nut Tree Railroad fans, including Vacaville's mayor and two former engineers, gathered Wednesday to test drive the restored train.

The narrow-gauge railroad once shuttled visitors to and from the private Nut Tree airport, parking lot and buildings. The train, which started running in 1952, carried its one-millionth passenger in 1964, said Shawn Lum, executive director of the Vacaville museum and a former Nut Tree employee.

On Wednesday, Jim Holtz, 59, a former Nut Tree maintenance worker from Vacaville, drove the train in a blue-and-white-striped hat and overalls.

The ride brought back memories for Phil Martin, 70, of Suisun City, who ran the train its last four years.

"The tunnel was always the best part because the kids would scream, and I was always in favor of blowing the whistle," he said.

About the writer:
The Fresno Bee's Bethany Clough can be reached at or (559)441-6431.

Hillcrest Christmas Tree Farm did the work in Reedley for the longtime restaurant attraction. Fresno Bee/Christian Parley

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Starbucks Near to Opening

Starbucks Near to Opening
By Times-Herald staff
Vallejo Times Herald

BENICIA - Coffee giant Starbucks, an upscale jewelry business and a wine selling company are expected to open businesses on First Street in the next several months.
Starbucks is targeting a Fourth of July opening, said Benicia Downtown Asset Manager Stan Houston. The Jewelry Box could open by early August, and Wine Miles Inc. could open around September, he said.

All the new businesses are included in the new mixed use Harbor Walk development at 129 First Street.

Houston said Harbor Walk commercial property officials still are negotiating to fill the last business spot, which could be an anchor restaurant. He said development officials are "actively considering" a French bistro from Contra Costa County for the site. He had no more details on the restaurant.

Colon Cancer Drug Receives Approval

Colon Cancer Drug Receives Approval
By Reporter Staff

One of the drugs manufactured at Genentech's Vacaville facility has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for yet another use, the South San Francisco-based biotech company announced this week.
The go-ahead has been given to use blockbuster drug Avastin in combination with a specific type of chemotherapy as second-line treatment for metastatic colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the third most frequently diagnosed cancer. The combination has already been

FDA-approved as a first-line treatment for that type of cancer.

"Avastin is the only biologic therapy with a demonstrated survival benefit in colorectal cancer, and this new indication offers patients who have received a previous treatment regimen a new option to help fight their disease," said Hal Barron, Genentech's senior vice president of development and chief medical officer, in a written statement.

The new approval is based on results of a study that showed patients receiving Avastin in conjunction with a chemotherapy regimen called FOLFOX4 had a 25 percent reduction in their risk of death equating to a 33 percent improvement in overall survival as compared to patients receiving the chemotherapy alone.

"We are encouraged by new treatments and options that are leading to increased survival for patients," said Amy E. Kelly, co-founder and executive director of the Colon Cancer Alliance, in a press release. "We believe Avastin is an important advance that offers hope for prolonging survival for patients, including those who have already been through first-line treatment."

Barron voiced similar sentiment.

"Avastin used in combination with chemotherapy has become an important component of care for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer," he said, and noted Genentech's continuing research on Avastin and how it may effect other cancers including kidney, breast, pancreatic, non-small cell lung, prostate and ovarian.

SMUD Dedicates Nation's Largest Wind Turbines

SMUD Dedicates Nation's Largest Wind Turbines
By Barry Eberling

SMUD dedicated eight new wind turbines in the Montezuma Hills on Wednesday. The 415-foot towers will generate enough electricity to power about 8,000 homes. (Photo by Christine Baker)

FAIRFIELD - They have towers as tall as the Statue of Liberty and are topped by blades as long as a football field.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District bills its eight new wind turbines in eastern Solano County's Montezuma Hills as the biggest in North America. On Wednesday, it held a dedication ceremony for them on a hill above the region's bays and Delta.

The Montezuma Hills turbines will power a good many air conditioners in Sacramento, said Jim Shetler, the utility's assistant general manager for energy supply.

SMUD owns 6,345 acres in the Montezuma Hills. It has built 31 turbines, including the eight behemoths finished in May.

These new turbines are solid white, stabbing into the blue sky with grace, like some sort of oversized Christo outdoor art project. Each tower is bolted to a concrete foundation that goes 35 feet into the ground.

The turbines start generating electricity for the Sacramento area when the wind reaches 8 mph. When the wind reaches 30 mph, a single turbine will generate its maximum of about 3 megawatts, enough power for 1,000 homes. The turning blades make a sound like a plane flying overhead.

Wind is common in the Montezuma Hills, as cool ocean air gets squeezed through the gaps in the coastal hills and heads toward the hot Central Valley. The windy season is from May to September, when Sacramento is at its hottest and has its peak power demands.

"This project is a good match for us in many ways," SMUD General Manager Jan Schori said.

Steel for the towers came from Korea. The towers were manufactured in Vietnam and shipped to the Port of Sacramento. They then were trucked in four sections to the Montezuma Hills for assembly.

Each tower is hollow, with a door near the base leading inside to a room with a metal floor covered with carpeting. From there, a series of steel ladders leads up the tube to the top.

John Brown helps maintain the turbines. He once had to climb to the top and down six times in a day. His opinion of the arduous climb?

"Long," Brown said as people attending the dedication walked inside a turbine for a ground-floor look.

SMUD paid about $31 million to put up the eight turbines. The company Vestas built them.

"It's not only windy, it's very beautiful here," said Jens Soby of Vestas during the dedication ceremony. "And it's history, wind history."

Companies have built turbines in the Montezuma Hills for more than a decade. The early models still visible on some hills have blades mounted on lattice-work towers, giving them an industrial look.

It would take 30 of the early turbines to generate the electricity that comes from one of the new ones, Soby said.

Solano County allows wind turbines in much of the Montezuma Hills near Collinsville. There's the potential for a nuclear power plant's worth of clean, cost-efficient energy there, county Supervisor Mike Reagan said during the dedication ceremony.

SMUD plans to build some of those future turbines. It wants to build 21 more to generate an additional 65 megawatts of electricity by 2008. It has enough land to keep building after that, perhaps adding another 33 or so turbines.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Benicia's Reserve Even Healthier

Benicia's Reserve Even Healthier
By GREG MOBERLY, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

BENICIA - A budget with an already robust reserve is even better than originally projected with about $960,000 more in property and sales tax revenue, Benicia's finance director said Tuesday.

With limited discussion, the City Council unanimously approved budget changes that balance the budget for 2005-06. The unanticipated revenues slightly boost the budget reserve to 23.3 percent.

"This is really good news to report," Finance Director Rob Sousa said.

The city received more than $263,000 in unanticipated property taxes and about $223,000 in unanticipated sales and use tax revenue.

Without the added revenue, Mayor Steve Messina said, the council would have delayed or deferred key projects.

Vehicle license fees, business license tax, and the Pacific Gas and Electric franchise fee also contributed more than anticipated revenue, according to Sousa's report.

In other business, council members approved a $141,000 contract to build a bus stop that would serve as a direct connection to Vacaville and Fairfield to the north and the Pleasant Hill BART station to the south. The stop at Park Road and Industrial Way could be completed by late summer.

Council members also agreed to another six-month extension of a temporary accord with the Valero Benicia refinery for the refiner's utility tax payment. A previous 10-year agreement between the city and Valero expired at the beginning of this year.

The extension requires Valero to pay $1.4 million for its 2006 utility tax bill once a new agreement is reached.

- E-mail Greg Moberly at or call 553-6833.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Real Estate Round-Up Set for Thursday

Real Estate Round-Up Set for Thursday

FAIRFIELD - Real estate has dominated business news for several years. The most recent coverage has focused on fears of a potential downturn.

On Thursday, five local real estate experts will provide their retrospective summaries and future forecasts of the industrial/commercial, retail, and residential real estate climate in Solano County. They will speak at the 2006 Real Estate Round-Up member breakfast sponsored by the Solano Economic Development Corporation starting at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 22 at Paradise Valley Golf Course in Fairfield.

The keynote speakers are Brooks Pedder of Colliers International, Jose McNeill of CalPers/ Rreef, Jim Randolph and Jim Shepherd of Cornish & Carey, and Pete Beucke of Lennar Homes.

"The Real Estate Round-Up is one of our most popular programs," said Sandy Person,

Vice president of Solano EDC, in a news release. "It's a great opportunity to hear our industry experts' take on Solano County's real estate transactions and trends."

Registration begins at 7:30 am at The Clubhouse at Paradise Valley, 3990 Paradise Valley Rd. Breakfast and the program will be from 8 am to 9:30 am. Cost is $25 for Solano EDC members; $35 for non-members or at the door.

For more information, call Solano EDC at 864-1855.

Update to Focus on Real Estate

Update to Focus on Real Estate
By Reporter Staff

Industry experts will discuss various facets of Solano County's real estate conditions Thursday at a "Real Estate Round-Up."
Sponsored by the public-private entity that works to attract and retain businesses, the Solano Economic Development Corporation, the breakfast event features panelists who will provide attendees with a comprehensive update on the county's real estate, and will also share analyses and forecasts.

Jim Shepherd and Jim Randolph of Cornish & Carey will address retail real estate; Jose McNeil, of CalPers/Rreef, will discuss institutional investment; Brooks Pedder, of Colliers International, will give insight into business and industrial park real estate; and Pete Beucke, of Lennar Homes, will talk about subdivision and residential real estate.

Registration for the "Real Estate Round-Up 2006" begins at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, at The Clubhouse at Paradise Valley in Fairfield. The program begins at 8 a.m. Tickets are $25 for Solano EDC members, and $35 for non-members. To register, call 864-1855 or e-mail

Hefty Budget to Enable Many County Project

Hefty Budget to Enable Many County Projects
Solano Lines Up Several Ambitious Schemes as Supervisors Prepare to Pass a Healthy $866 Million Budget for Fiscal Year 2006-2007.
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

Solano County's budget for the upcoming 2006-07 fiscal year incorporates some nice-to-have items that were simply not possible during the tight financial times of the last several years.
Next year, Solano's taxpayers can look forward to a county jail expansion that relieves chronic overcrowding of inmates, to a health insurance system that ensures that nearly every disadvantaged child in Solano County has care and to nicer parklands near Vacaville and Fairfield.

The add-ons in the county's proposed $866 million budget could be enacted Monday when county leaders commence their yearly budget hearings. The official start of the 2006-07 fiscal year is Saturday.

"It's a pretty positive outlook," said Solano County Supervisor Mike Reagan. "Unlike most other counties in the state, we're not laying off people and terminating programs."

The county plans a "modest" 8 percent increase in spending during the upcoming fiscal year, and that opens up some possibilities, say county leaders.

In addition to the budget's planned add-ons, the county is scheduled to stay on track with starting construction on a new $37 million Health and Social Services center planned in Vallejo.

County leaders will also consider a $14 million maintenance fund for the upkeep of buildings. Also, a multimillion dollar account to cover unplanned county retirements could grow to the tune of $4.7 million in 2006-07.

The maintenance account could prevent the county's buildings from slipping into disrepair - a problem for local veterans halls from Dixon to Rio Vista, Reagan said. A retirement account will buffer the county from leaving positions open for long periods when an employee unexpectedly retires, he said.

"You can decide not to plan for these things, or you can plan for it," Reagan said. "The roof is going to need to be fixed. People are going to retire."

This year's budget is in contrast to Solano's spending plans during the past four years that did little more than maintain existing programs.

The county this year plans to create 85 new jobs, many for the county's mental health services division - supported by a voter-approved state initiative.

That expansion is just the beginning. In the upcoming year, the county plans to finance a 224-bed expansion of the Clay Bank jail, which now periodically allows inmates to check out early because of chronic overcrowding in the county's two jails.

Construction on the expansion could begin in mid-2007, said Paula Toynbee, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

With some money to play with, county leaders also have planned to donate $300,000 to a community effort to ensure that as much as 97 of all children in the county have medical insurance.

Meanwhile, Lake Solano Park near Vacaville and the Lynch Canyon open space area near Fairfield would benefit from the county's proposed budget.

Lake Solano Park could be upgraded to include a new nature and interpretive center, according to the county's budget document.

Lynch Canyon, now open rarely for hikers, could receive a nearly $300,000 cash infusion from the county.

The funding could allow for a full-time park ranger and part-time volunteer coordinator at Lynch Canyon, owned by the nonprofit Solano Land Trust.

The county's money could help open for five days a week the canyon's more than 1,000 acres of rolling hills, bubbling gullies, and steep ravines, said Marilyn Farley, executive director of the Solano Land Trust.

The funding would be a part of a three-year pilot program that could gauge the public's interest in using the unique open space area.

The land trust has title to more than 10,000 acres in Solano County, but doesn't have the money to open much of its protected areas to the public on a regular basis.

"I would like to hope that this is a start toward a park district," Farley said. "Like (Supervisors) John Vasquez and John Silva said, we're taking baby steps. I think we take baby steps and see how well it works."

Jason Massad can be reached at

Light House to Light Up

Light House to Light Up
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City's leaders will be celebrating the lighting of their lighthouse not once, but twice.

The lighthouse near City Hall will be lit up for the first time, not on July 4, but on July 3 as part of an invitation-only dedication being held on the Harbor Plaza.

The public lighting will still be held on July 4 as a precursor to the city's annual fireworks show.

City leaders had long-touted the Fourth of July as the day when Suisun City's residents and visitors will get to see the beacon light up at the top of the 56-foot structure.

The Monday event starts at 9 p.m. with gourmet food and live music followed by a 10 p.m. dedication ceremony where councilmembers are expected to talk about the lighthouse and the downtown's redevelopment efforts.

The lighthouse is nearly ready for its premiere.

"For all intents and purposes the lighthouse is finished," said Scott Corey, Suisun City's public information officer. "The electrical contractor is doing final adjustments."

The black-and-white granite-sided structure is topped by a 150-watt lamp which has a series of six lenses that magnify the light so it can be seen up to 23 nautical miles away, according to Corey.

A series of spotlights on the ground and on poles will illuminate the lighthouse. The beacon itself will be lit up at night. Whether the beacon will be on during the day has not been determined.

Only July 4, the lighthouse will be lit up at 9:15 p.m. shortly before the 20-minute fireworks show kicks off at approximately 9:20 p.m.

The lighthouse was built next to the head of the Suisun Slough to be a distinctive icon for what Suisun City leaders' campaign to jump-start economic redevelopment efforts in the Old Town area.

Work on the $622,527 lighthouse was started in December. The money to build it comes from a special assessment on downtown land sold by the Redevelopment Agency.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Monday, June 19, 2006

Benicia Bus Stop for Pleasant Hill BART, Vacaville, Fairfield is Coming

Benicia Bus Stop for Pleasant Hill BART, Vacaville, Fairfield is Coming
Times-Herald staff report

BENICIA - A new bus stop serving Benicia residents as a direct connection to Vacaville and Fairfield to the north and the Pleasant Hill BART station to the south could be completed by late summer.

Tuesday, the Benicia City Council is expected to approve a $141,000 contract with Bruce Carone Grading and Paving to build the Park Road and Industrial Way stop. The city approved the new bus stop in concept last year.

Work, including adding a sidewalk, a crosswalk, a bike rack and pavement restriping, could be completed in 60 days, said Benicia Transit Service Manager John Andoh.

Possible riders can pick from five morning and five afternoon trips from the new stop to Vacaville or Fairfield once completed. There also will be five morning and five afternoon trips to the Pleasant Hill BART station.

The city also is trying to get money to make the Park Road and Industrial Way location more of a transportation hub. The hub would have 40 spaces for vehicle parking and an intersection traffic signal, but plans detailing the possible services haven't been detailed.

Celebrate Success of Measure G School Bond

Celebrate Success of Measure G School Bond
By Paulette J. Perfumo

In November 2002, voters within Solano County successfully passed Measure G, a $124.5 million bond for new college facilities plus upgrades to the existing campus infrastructure that are targeted for completion in 2010. The bond includes funds for new Vallejo and Vacaville Centers, which will offer modern classrooms and computer labs to meet the educational needs of the expanding Solano County population.

With the current and expected growth of Solano County and the increasing I-80 traffic congestion, these new facilities will offer students an easy commute to classes near their homes or work.

Our students and faculty need improved, state-of-the-art facilities to enhance learning, and it was a Governing Board decision to provide the leadership to make this happen. I am proud that we were able to realize our goal and are in the process of providing quality facilities for students throughout Solano County.

We have recently reached another milestone toward the full realization of the completed project with completion of Phase II of our multi-year modernization program. Phase II work includes remodeling of swing space (building 1800B), Business and Computer Science Division (Building 500), the Science Department (building 300), and Math and Engineering (building 1500) under the management of Kitchell CEM.

All parts of this phase are on the existing Fairfield campus, originally built in 1971. Portions of the Swing Space Building have been transformed from warehouse to finished space, providing eight "smart classrooms" and 15 faculty office spaces. In other buildings, classrooms have been updated, along with flooring and ceilings, installation of new lab casework and exhaust hoods and new high- and low-voltage systems to accommodate technology. New restrooms and ADA modifications have also been completed as part of the campus modernization projects.

Other new construction and renovation projects on the Fairfield campus include a new student learning center, new sports complex, comprehensive remodel of the existing Learning Resource Center, modernization of two additional buildings, new restrooms and the construction of a new office annex for faculty and staff.

Future phases include new centers in Vallejo and Vacaville that will allow the District to expand course offerings and services to the residents of Vallejo, Benicia, Vacaville and all of Solano County.

The two centers will house classrooms, science and computer laboratories, bookstores, theatre rehearsal space, art exhibit areas, outdoor spaces and student services.

The Vallejo Center, located at 545 Columbus Parkway, is an exciting and much needed teaching facility for Vallejo residents, who were strong supporters of Measure G. The District has broken ground on the 40,000-square-foot center on 10 acres owned by the District. The new Center will be an "educational hub" for the community and is projected to open in Fall 2007.

The campus works with the existing natural landscape and preserves views to the northern hills and the bay, and includes facilities which are flexible to accommodate multiple uses and future growth. It will include 15 classrooms, a large lecture hall, computer lab, learning lab, multi-use room, fine arts facilities, faculty office space and a wide array of programs to meet general educational requirements.

The Vacaville Center will mirror the Vallejo facility in size and services. It will be built on 60 acres owned by the District. Plans to break ground are set for Spring 2007, with completion of this facility projected to be Spring 2009. In both Vallejo and Vacaville, in addition to the regular curriculum, the District plans to partner with area four-year colleges to provide the opportunity for students to continue their pursuit of higher education at the same facility.

In Vacaville, we completed an extensive renovation of a hangar used by SCC for the aeronautics program at Nut Tree Airport in 2005 in order to consolidate the entire program into one location. Changes included the addition of new offices, a data room and new storage space. The aeronautics program provides hands on training on real aircraft.

Numerous renovation projects have been completed and are planned at the Fairfield campus which are modernizing and updating the aging facility. Completed projects include the renovation of 12 tennis courts which opened in September 2004 and the opening of the science and business centers this past fall.

Through careful planning and monitoring, the projects have come in on time and on budget. It is heartening to see how far the District has come in such a short period of time. We can be proud of the fine educational facilities that the voters are supporting in Solano County.

Paulette Perfumo, Ph.D., is the superintendent and president of Solano College.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!
Restored Nut Tree Train on Track for Summer Return
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Above, the engine has been brilliantly refurbished by a team of employees from San Joaquin Valley's Hillcrest Shops and Christmas Tree Farm for its return to the redeveloped Nut Tree in Vacaville. (Courtesy Photo)

After more than 30 years of service and nearly a decade of hibernation, Engine No. 5 is once again poised to take to the tracks at the Nut Tree.
But it's no surprise.

The Vacaville City Council required that master developer Snell & Co. incorporate the train into the redevelopment of the historic 76-acre site.

"I don't think there's too many cities that go out there and say you can build a development but you'll have to put the train back," acknowledged Mayor Len Augustine recently, at the unveiling of a carousel which will grace the projects's 3.7-acre family amusement park. "But we took that risk."

Vacaville Museum Director Shawn Lum, herself a former Nut Tree employee, explained, "The hallmark of the Nut Tree - one of the things that made it different from other venues in its heyday - was that it purposely appealed to families. The train is the quintessential symbol of that."

Though it was functioning transportation in that it ferried pilots from the airport to the Nut Tree's upscale restaurant, she said, "it was definitely the thing that kids ran to the quickest as soon as the car was in the parking lot. Families were welcomed by the sound of the train."

Lum continued, "Locally it was something that people could wrap their arms around. It was very accessible, so it caused not just the tourist sort of element but it also was what the community saw as representative of this special place of theirs. It wasn't an elitist element."

While it will not shuttle pilots as it once did, the refurbished train will resume another previous purpose - delighting riders of all ages. Engine No. 5 will traverse 1,700 feet of the Nut Tree Family Park, which is scheduled to open in late summer.

The notorious steam engine replica, made by Hurlbut Amusement Company, will be officially unveiled Wednesday at San Joaquin Valley's Hillcrest Shops and Christmas Tree Farm, where it was painstakingly refurbished over the past five months.

"It was in pretty sorry shape," said Sean Bautista, owner of Hillcrest Shops. "The locomotive had a lot of rust and corrosion all through the chassis and floor, the wheels were worn - everything was either seized up or not functioning."

Bautista and his team of nine employees did a complete tear-down of the locomotive. "We ended up making a whole bunch of new parts for it - all new brake rigging, new transmission, new engine," he said. "It's essentially a brand new locomotive that looks exactly like the original."

But restoring the passenger cars presented one of the biggest challenges, he said.

"The old cars had rusted from the inside out, all through the sheet metal," Bautista explained. "The hard part is that when they built the cars way back when, they had no intention of them being taken apart again. It was very monotonous and labor intensive to try and cut those walls off and put new walls on without destroying the shape."

In addition to structural work, his team replaced everything inside the six original cars, gave the exterior fresh paint, new valances and Nut Tree insignias.

They also built two new passenger cars, one of which is wheelchair-accessible, Bautista said.

"It looks every bit as good as it ever did," he asserted. And he ought to know, because like millions of others around the world, Bautista has his very own Nut Tree train memories.

"I remember that train because I'm a pilot and if a girl was really important I'd fly her out to the Nut Tree," he recalled.

Indeed, fusing past memories with the present and future is what the admission-free Family Park hopes to achieve by reviving classic Nut Tree icons - from honey cookies to hobby horses.

In addition to lavishly landscaped grounds and family-oriented amusement rides, a museum focused on Nut Tree and California history will be at its heart, located inside Harbison House, the Nut Tree founders' original 1907 home.

"People will be able to access their old memories within the context of the new Nut Tree," Lum remarked.

Most locals agree, however, it's the train which will be the biggest nostalgia spark.

"When you see that train come around, just stand there and listen to the people around you and everyone of them is going to say something like 'I rode that train when was I was 2 years old!"' said Carol Yount, a deputy city clerk who previously worked at the Nut Tree for 22 years. "They're going to be in the midst of this brand-new development and as soon as they see that train it's going to take them back. Just listen."

Yount was chairwoman of the adhoc "Save the Train" committee.

"When we heard the city first say something about saving that train it was like, 'Oh, my gosh! That would be like frosting on the cake!"' she said.

"It's sort of a symbolic thing," Yount explained, noting that "everyone" rode the train - from children to grandchildren, even celebrities and presidents.

"Generations rode that train," she emphasized. "You see things like that and it triggers memories."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

John Begandy and Adrian Vanden-Bosch pose with the No. 5 engine in 1985.

A "before" photograph of the cow catcher of the Nut Tree train. (Courtesy photo)

Air Force Base Clears Tarmac for Mighty Jets

Air Force Base Clears Tarmac for Mighty Jets
By Dogen Hannah

FAIRFIELD - Almost two decades of downsizing have whittled away the military's presence in the Bay Area, but the largest remaining base is bucking that trend.

The federal government is pumping almost $200 million into Travis Air Force Base, preparing it to house a squadron of the military's newest, most-advanced cargo aircraft.

The first of the Solano County base's 13 immense C-17 Globemaster III jets is scheduled to land this summer. Its arrival will validate Travis' critical national defense role, said military expert John Pike.

"It confirms Travis as being an important, strategic ... asset," said Pike, director of, an independent national defense research organization.

The C-17 squadron will be added to the Air Force's 27 KC-10 Extender cargo and air-to-air refueling jets and 33 gargantuan C-5 Galaxy cargo jets at Travis. With the arrival of the smaller but more versatile C-17's, some C-5's will go to other bases.

"The C-17 brings a different kind of mission to Travis Air Force Base," said Col. Mike Shanahan, who has been overseeing preparations for the new aircraft.

The jet fills a role between that of the larger C-5, which can carry more than a C-17 but requires longer and better runways, and smaller aircraft that can land in more places but carry less and fly slower.

That means the military can use the 174-foot-long by 170-foot-wide C-17 not only to haul large loads of equipment and troops around the world but also to deliver cargo to the front lines.

"It has the capability of getting into these small, austere airfields," Shanahan said. "Sometimes, the runway's there. Sometimes, it's just a dirt strip, and we can land on that."

A C-17 has the power and room to carry a 60-ton Abrams battle tank or 200 combat-ready soldiers. It can fly without refueling from California to Spain and can land on a runway as short as 3,000 feet.

"No other airplane the size of the C-17 can do that," Shanahan said. "It's a very, very capable airplane."

In all, the military has ordered 187 of the aircraft, the first of which entered service about a decade ago. The jet has become a workhorse and star of the war in Iraq, said Shanahan and national defense experts.

"The Army, Navy, Marines and, of course, the Air Force sees a great value in this airplane," Shanahan said. "They all are wanting more of the types of missions that this plane flies."

Travis' first C-17, dubbed "Spirit of Solano County," is scheduled to arrive Aug. 8. It probably will be sent on a mission to Iraq or Afghanistan the next day, Shanahan said.

In preparation, the Air Force is spending $187 million on 18 construction projects to house and maintain the C-17's and to train the 700 active-duty and reserve personnel that will fly and service the aircraft.

Work on several critical projects is scheduled to be completed this month. Those include a flight simulator and building to house the simulator; a squadron operations and maintenance building; and a 60,000-square-foot parts warehouse.

The capital investment comes after almost 20 years of downsizing in which the military has closed or scaled back bases around the nation. California has lost at least 29 bases and about 60 percent of the net personnel cuts nationwide since 1988.

Bay Area base closures have included the Alameda Naval Air Station, Oakland Army Depot, Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the Presidio. The Army's Fort Ord, near Monterey, also was closed.

Base boosters, California's congressional delegation and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mobilized to keep Travis off last year's list of closures. The base employs 15,252 military and civilian personnel and annually pumps $1.2 billion into the economy, according to the Air Force.

Base boosters began lobbying a decade ago for the military and Congress to bring C-17's to Travis. They also sought engine and electronic equipment upgrades to keep C-5's, including those at Travis, in service longer.

Most recently, base boosters have been pushing state and federal government officials to put a Coast Guard unit and a California Air National Guard unit at Travis.

"We're looking for additional missions for Travis because it has the capability," said Harry Price, Fairfield's mayor. "Our job is to do the lobbying."

The Travis work force since 1983 has varied relatively little from an annual average of 15,304 civilian and military personnel. That employment track record and the C-17 squadron's arrival has encouraged base boosters.

Yet John Murphy, a former Air Force officer and principal of Public Private Solutions Group who helps communities trying to keep bases, cautioned that Travis' favored status is not assured forever.

"Does it guarantee long-term sustainment or retention of Travis?" Murphy asked. "No. But there are no guarantees."

Dogen Hannah coves the military and the home front. Reach him at 925-945-4794 or

Travis Air Force Base:

The 6,383-acre base in Fairfield is a major component of the Air Mobility Command. Its passenger, cargo and tanker aircraft move personnel and equipment around the world and refuel aircraft in the air.

• Also at the base is the David Grant Medical Center, which serves more than 250,000 current and retired military members and their dependents from eight Western states.

• The base employs more than 15,000 military and civilian workers.

Building a home for C-17's -- key projects:

• Flight simulator: $4.6 million

• Aircraft parts warehouse: $8.1 million

• Squadron operations and maintenance unit building: $8.8 million

• Engine storage facility: $2.5 million

• Roads, utilities and other infrastructure: $17.9 million

Thursday, June 15, 2006

New County Budget Nears $866 Million

New County Budget Nears $866 Million
By Mike Corpos

FAIRFIELD - Solano County's budget for the 2006-07 financial year is set to grow by about $66 million, or 8 percent over the previous year.

Solano County would spent almost $866 million in the next fiscal year, according to the plan released by County Administrator Michael Johnson Wednesday.

The Board of Supervisors is set to begin budget hearings June 26.

"Increased operational costs account for much of the proposed budget's growth. (It) reflects cost-of-living and step increases for employee salaries, increases in health and retirement costs and other overhead costs," Johnson wrote in his budget message to the supervisors. "The proposed budget also reflects the growth of revenues - particularly in sales and property taxes."

New money coming from the state, such as Proposition 172 money for public safety programs, defrayed some of the costs, Johnson said.

Overall, the budget is in good shape, and is balanced, as required by law, he said.

The general fund budget is proposed at $233.1 million, an increase of 8 percent, or $17.8 million. The general fund reflects money the county can spend without restriction, as opposed to funding that has to go to a specific program, such as welfare payments.

The public safety fund is proposed at $141.5 million, reflecting a $14.3 million increase, or 11 percent.

Because food stamps were reassigned and removed from the health and social services budget, that fund shows a 4.5 percent, or a $11.6 million decrease to a total of $244.3 million. In reality, spending for health and social services will increase by $7.5 million.

The budget is balanced by using $40.3 million left over from 2005-06, Johnson said.

Also, the proposed budget includes $34.3 million in general fund reserves.

As it stands, the budget includes 3,045 county jobs.

The proposed budget can be viewed on the Internet at

Under "Departments" click on "County Administrator" and then click on special reports.

County budget sessions begin at 9 a.m. June 26 in the board chamber at the county government center.

Reach Mike Corpos at 427-6977 or

Friday, June 09, 2006

Benicia Refinery Honored for Philanthropy

Benicia Refinery Honored for Philanthropy
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - United Way of the Bay Area honored Valero Refining Company's Benicia refinery with three awards for its employees philanthropic work.

During the 2005 United Way campaign, 95 percent of the refinery's employees participated and raised more than $784,000.

The refinery received the Anchor Award, which recognizes exceptional employee participation, a Silver Award for being an innovative partner and a Gold Award for exceptional Bay Area community fund support.

"The spirit of community is at the core of Valero's culture and in the fabric of our Benicia employees," said Ray Quain, director of human relations at the Benicia refinery, in a news release.

Anne Wilson, chief executive officer of United Way of the Bay Area, said in a news release, "United Way is proud to have the Valero Benicia refinery support our efforts to create healthy and safe communities. The employees at Valero have a capacity for giving that is hard to match. Their campaign results are an outstanding example of how a company's senior leadership support for the community makes all the difference."

Record Harvest in 2005 for Solano Farmers

Record Harvest in 2005 for Solano Farmers
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - While farmers are still drying off from this year's heavy rains, they might be slightly comforted in knowing 2005 was a record-breaking harvest.

The value of agricultural products from Solano County in 2005 reached $238 million, a 12.7 percent increase over 2004. The previous record was set in 2003 with a value of $214 million. Solano County ranked 30th in the state for total agricultural product value.

"Overall it reflects a pretty good year for local agriculture," said Solano County Agricultural Commissioner Jearl Howard. "It was a much better year than what we are starting off with for 2006."

But Howard notes the record harvest doesn't necessarily mean boon times for farmers and ranchers.

"The cost of production has skyrocketed during the last year," he said. "So the increase in revenues doesn't mean they have more money in their pocket."

Joe Martinez, a farmer in Northern Solano County, said everything from fertilizer and gas to farm equipment has gone up in price.

"Anyone who says inflation is only two percent is a fool," he said. "We're seeing increases in the cost of equipment of 10 to 15 percent."

Still, Martinez said it was a profitable year.

"Overall the prices and yields were substantially up last year," Martinez said.

Crop reports are used by economists and financial institutions to track statistics, Howard said.

Financial institutions will use them to evaluate county averages and compare them to the production levels of a farmer who is applying for a loan, Howard said.

"They are also used for incidences like what happened this year with the request for agricultural disaster declaration due to the rains," he said.

Jack Mariani, a walnut farmer outside of Winters, said last year's walnut harvest was a record.

"To be honest, it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing for farmers. It was record prices with record yields," he said.

Both Martinez, who also grows walnuts among other crops, and Mariani said this year's walnut harvest will be less than last year's, but still good.

"It won't be last year's record crop, but it should be close to it," he said.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at 427-6934 or

C-17 Aircraft Arrives at Travis

C-17 Aircraft Arrives at Travis
By Ian Thompson

A C-17 Globemaster III jet transport taxis in backwards before a gathering of Travis servicemembers and community members Friday. The C-17 showed off its capabilities at the event which was put on to introduce the plane to Travis. (Ian Thompson/Daily Republic)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE - Travis Air Force Base proudly showed off its next big resident Friday to an admiring crowd which watched the C-17 Globemaster III be put through its aerial paces.

Onlookers "oohed" and "aahed" at the nimble aircraft's ability to shoot off the runway at a steep 25 percent angle, pull tight turns, buzz the flightline at high speed and then slow down to almost loiter over the crowd.

It ended its demonstration with landing in a short, near-screeching halt and then taxied to the crowd backward with the loadmaster standing in the rear door, directing the pilot.

Travis also opened the C-17 brought in from March AFB for tours by base residents and community leaders both before and after the aerial demonstration of the plane's capabilities.

The first of 13 C-17s to be based at Travis is expected to arrive some time in late July or early August.

Travis spent the last two years getting ready to support the jet transports with $185 million in military construction projects and bringing in new servicemembers to fly and maintain the C-17.

"We are moving along quite well," said Lt. Col. Paul Dorcey of the 60th Air Mobility Wing's C-17 Program Office.

Some of the 17 construction projects, such as building a C-17 training simulator and a squadron operations building, have already been completed.

As for those who will fly the C-17, "the initial cadre are in place and more people are coming in," Dorcey said.

Fliers such as C-17 Capt. Kevin McCasky said the active-duty 21st Airlift Squadron will be able to fly real-world missions out of Travis the day after the first C-17 arrives.

The Air Force Reserve's 301st AS retrained its members to fly the C-17 and are already flying missions using C-17s based at either March AFB or McChord AFB, Wash.

"A lot of guys are flying a lot of missions," 301st AS commander Col. Dave Pavey said. "We are so excited about it coming here."

The arrival of the C-17 means there will finally be a plane at Travis that will completely accommodate the needs of the 349th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 349th AES member Tech. Sgt. Paul Rogers said.

"This is just manna from heaven. It is an airframe that is great for aeromedical evacuation," Rogers said of the C-17's ability to reconfigure into a flying ambulance.

Senior Master Sgt. Ed Carmody of the 21st AS shares a similar excitement, describing the C-17 as being "actually built for the loadmaster" and standing head and shoulders above its predecessor, the C-141 Starlifter.

"It is much more user-friendly," Carmody said.

That includes state-of-the-art technology such as heads-up displays in the cockpit and a design that allows it to nearly "fly like a fighter," said C-17 pilot Capt. Paul Goff said.

This allows the aircraft to fly around the world with a small, three-person crew, and land in short austere runways to deliver almost twice as much cargo as the C-141.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Monday, June 05, 2006

Breakfast Planned

Breakfast Planned

Solano Economic Development Corporation will host its annual member-investor breakfast featuring a real estate roundup of 2006 at 8 a.m. June 22, at the Clubhouse at Paradise Valley, 3990 Paradise Valley Road, Fairfield.

The event will feature a panel of industry experts who will discuss Solano's position and future forecasts.

Cost is $25 for Solano EDC members, $35 for non-members and $35 at the door.

Checks can be mailed and should be made payable to Solano EDC, 424-C Executive Ct North, Fairfield, 94534.

For additional information or to register, call Pat at 864-1855 or e-mail to

Plan Nabs Award

Plan Nabs Award

The Downtown Vallejo Specific Plan has been named a winner of the Northern Section California Chapter American Planning Association 2006 Awards Program.

The city won the award in the Comprehensive Planning, Large Jurisdiction category. The award goes to a comprehensive plan of unusually high merit completed within the past 3 years for, by or within a jurisdiction with a 2000 census population of 100,000 or more.

The Downtown Vallejo Specific Plan specifies the physical form and future uses for the downtown core, and immediately surrounding areas. The plan includes detail design guidelines and standards for private development and the downtown streetscape.

Travis CEO Wins Honor

Travis CEO Wins Honor

Travis Credit Union's CEO and President Patsy Van Ouwerkerk was recently honored as one of the best and brightest of the East Bay.

The award was granted at an evening reception hosted by The East Bay Business Times and showcased 10 women.

Van Ouwerkerk won a Women of Distinction award in the area of Banking and Finance for her outstanding professional career and her record of involvement in both the community and the industry.

"I am extremely honored to be recognized for something that I love to do," she said. "I feel privileged to be in the same category with such outstanding local women."

Headquartered in Vacaville, California, Travis Credit Union is a not-for-profit cooperative financial institution serving those who live or work in Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, Placer, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Napa, Contra Costa and Merced Counties.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

$1 Billion Investment

$1 Billion Investment
Final Steel Beam Put in Place at Vaca's Kaiser Permanente
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

A hoist lifts the last steel beam to be placed on top of Kaiser Permanente's new Vacaville facility during a "topping off" ceremony Wednesday. The event signifies that the building has reached its full height. (Ryan Chalk/The Reporter)

The Kaiser Permanente medical center in Vacaville reached a milestone Wednesday when the final steel beam was attached to a structure that is scheduled to become a full-service 340,000-square-foot hospital in 2009.
With the city's medical community, local dignitaries, and, of course, construction workers looking on, the "topping off" ceremony served as a way to commemorate both the 10-year anniversary of the Kaiser medical offices in Vacaville and the company's ever expanding future.

"We're getting ready for Part B of this wonderful facility," said Steven Stricker, physician-in-chief for the Vacaville medical center. "This facility will have all the specialities that are currently in Vallejo."

The four-story Kaiser hospital planned for the Vaca Valley Parkway and Quality Drive location would be in addition to the Kaiser medical offices that are currently there, but the expansion doesn't end there.

As part of the construction campaign, additional medical offices and an operations plant will be added to the medical center. The expansion is a $1 billion investment and will add 1,000 high-paying medical jobs to Vacaville's growing economic base, said hospital officials.

The Kaiser Permanente economic expansion was lauded Wednesday by Vacaville Mayor Len Augustine.

"These are good jobs for good people who won't have to commute," Augustine said. "It all is part of the wonderful economic vitality going on in this city."

In addition to the growing economic base, Kaiser will offer more complete medical services in Vacaville when construction of the new facilities is complete.

John Hills, a lead physician at the medical center, said his patients in opthamology, for instance, would be better served by a Vacaville hospital for Kaiser patients.

Currently, many patients who are candidates for surgical procedures and diagnosed in Vacaville must be sent to Vallejo for the actual procedure.

The new hospital will contain 150 beds with private rooms for maternity services, emergency care, radiology and a range of surgical services. New physicians are being hired who specialize in infectious diseases, neurological problems and other specialities.

The expansion is the hallmark of a growing area, Hills said. Kaiser's hospital would be a companion to the city's first - Vaca Valley Hospital.

"It's been a growing area," Hills said. "The population along I-80 corridor has exploded from what I can tell."

Kaiser Permanente is one of the largest HMOs in California. The medical group has 3.2 million enrollees in Northern California and 8 million statewide.

"As exciting as (it) is, the best part of the project is the expansion of our industry-leading quality and service to our present and future members," said Deborah Romer, senior vice president and Napa-Solano area manager.

Jason Massad can be reached at

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