Monday, May 21, 2007

Complicated Growth Issues Face Solano

Complicated Growth Issues Face Solano
By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Middle Green Valley has long been a battleground in the Solano County growth wars - and the county is looking for a permanent truce.

Some say the county should allow homes in this rural area between Fairfield subdivisions and the custom homes of upper Green Valley. Others say the county should preserve open space and rich farming soils.

Solano County will tackle middle Green Valley and other thorny rural growth and land use issues during the next three months with a blitz of meetings.

Green Valley, Suisun Valley, Collinsville and old town Cordelia will each have their own series of workshops. The county is crafting General Plan revisions to govern land use in these areas for the coming 20 years.

Solano County hopes to work with the community and find options that most people can accept, county planning consultant Harry Englebright said.

Middle Green Valley

Reaching a consensus over middle Green Valley has long been an elusive goal.

Bill Maher owns 148 acres there adjacent to Fairfield city limits. He is among five property owners who want a total of 619 acres rezoned to rural residential, allowing homes on lots of 2.5 acres to 10 acres.

"I'm losing a lot of money," Maher said. "I've tried five or six different crops . . . 148 acres, you can't make money on that now, especially if you can't sell the grapes."

He needs his mini-storage business in Vallejo to support the farming venture, he said.

But Green Valley resident Jerry Gerald can't see building homes on prime Green Valley farm soils. He is working on the issue for the Green Valley Landowners Association, a group that seeks to preserve the area's rural character.

"When you drive down Green Valley Road, it's beautiful, it's gorgeous with the fields and vineyards," he said. "I think most people would be opposed to having most of that destroyed by putting up houses."

He acknowledged farmers need help, but said the answer is changing regulations that hinder such things as produce stands and bed-and-breakfasts.

Fairfield during the early 1990s looked at annexing some 800 acres in middle Green Valley and developing it with 1,000 homes and a golf course, leading to a growth battle. The city has since jettisoned the area from its growth boundaries.

Now Solano County will try to bring the various parties together again and finally resolve the fate of middle Green Valley.

Suisun Valley

Suisun Valley stands at the crossroads between farming and development.

The 10,000-acre valley west of Fairfield has vineyards, orchards, wineries and farms. It has small, commercial centers at Rockville Corners and Mankas Corners. It has some of the richest soils in Solano County and the state.

But the valley is near Interstate 80, leading to development pressures. Some farmers there say making money has grown difficult because of such factors as global competition and state and county regulations. More and more, land lies fallow.

Derrick Lum farms Bartlett pears, garbanzo beans, apricots and other crops there. He suggested the county stress finding ways for farmers to make money, as opposed to simply keeping the valley off-limits to development.

"That will keep the land preserved in agriculture," Lum said.

Lum wants the workshops to tackle various regulations he thinks hinder farm profits. For example, in some situations, farmers can have a small walnut hulling plant and hull their own walnuts, but not those from neighbors, he said.

"We're working through situations like that," Lum said.

Another issue is regulations that farmers say hinder such money-making opportunities as fruit stands and bed-and-breakfasts. These enterprises could fit in with efforts to make Suisun Valley a regional tourist draw, with farmers selling products directly to customers.


The Collinsville area in remote eastern Solano County near the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers has long been targeted for big things that never happen.

A property owner in the 1860s promised a city bigger than San Francisco. In the 1960s, National Steel Co. and Dow Chemical Co. wanted to build plants there. PG&E talked of building an atomic power plant.

Solano County for several decades has targeted the area for a deep water port and related industries. Supervisor Mike Reagan has talked about a toll road someday passing through to link Solano County with Contra Costa County on the other side of the water.

Now San Francisco-based One Vision Park has its eye on 2,700 acres there. It envisions such things as alternative energy ventures and perhaps a California state university campus.

But Collinsville remains a hamlet with a few dozen homes. Much of the surrounding area is cow pastures, with Suisun Marsh to the west and the rolling Montezuma Hills to the north.

Tule West has a home in the area and spends part of the year there. Her roots there go deep, back to a grandfather she described as an "ardent conservationist." Her first name is derived from the tules in the marsh.

She'd be happy if the Collinsville area remains remote and rural, a haven for wildlife, ranching and small towns, rather than big business.

"It's such a beautiful spot," West said. "I don't think the focus is on conservation and preserving the area. It seems to be on development."

The workshops will help decide which dreams for Collinsville the county pursues.


Unincorporated Cordelia is a pioneer Solano County town that is now almost surrounded by the homes and offices of Fairfield, with Suisun Marsh to the east.

Most of the town's businesses got destroyed in a 1939 fire. But dozens of historic homes remain, ranging from simple box-styles to ornate Victorians with gables and cornices. Remaining also is the old Studer building that now houses the Thompson's Corner bar.

Some residents have expressed concern about preserving the town's historic flavor. Issues include making certain new construction fits in with what's there.

The Workshops

People with varying viewpoints are invited to the workshops, which are being done under the auspices of the county's General Plan Update Citizens Advisory Committee. Each workshop is run by a subcommittee of the larger group.

Participants at the workshop will look at various alternate land-use proposals for each area, Englebright said. They'll try to agree on a preferred alternative.

Regardless, the various alternatives will eventually go to the full General Plan Citizens Advisory Committee.

The committee is to make recommendations to the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Supervisors want to vote on a revised General Plan in summer 2008.

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

County General Plan Workshops

--Middle Green Valley workshops will start at 7 p.m. at Solano Community College, room 1625, 4000 Suisun Valley Road. They will be held on May 22, June 12, June 26, July 17, July 31 and Aug. 14.

--Suisun Valley workshops will start at 7 p.m. at Solano Community College, room 1625. They will be held on May 29, June 19, July 10, July 24 and Aug. 7.

--Collinsville workshops will start at 7 p.m. at the Rio Vista library, 44 South Second St. They will be held on May 24, June 14, July 5 and July 26.

--Cordelia workshops will start at 7 p.m. at the Cordelia Fire Hall, 2155 Cordelia Road. They will be held on June 7, June 28 and July 12.

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