Friday, February 29, 2008

British Coming With 37 Regional Stores

British Coming With 37 Regional Stores
By Reporter Staff
Article Launched: 02/29/2008

A British firm that announced earlier this month its plans to build 18 stores in the Bay Area, including Fairfield, announced Thursday that it will build an additional 19 stores in the Sacramento region, including two in Vacaville.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market will begin opening its stores across the region in 2009, pending final negotiations, said company CEO Tim Mason.

In Vacaville, the two stores will set up in long-vacant storefronts including the former Ralphs at Nut Tree and Elmira and the former SaveMax site on Alamo Drive at Butcher Road.

Other locations in the Sacramento region will include several in Sacramento, Oak Park, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom Rancho Cordova and Rocklin.

"The Sacramento region is a great fit for us - it is vibrant, fast-growing and widely known as having one of the most diverse populations in the U.S.," said Mason. "We're looking forward to bringing fresh, wholesome food at affordable prices to all types of neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento area."

The company announced earlier that it would also be building in Fairfield, Vallejo, Napa, Antioch, Concord, Danville, Mountain View, Oakland, San Jose, Walnut Creek, Hayward and San Francisco.

Mason said the company has "been very encouraged by the response to our stores thus far. Every single week brings more good news as sales, customer numbers and repeat visits are all growing."

Fresh & Easy currently has 55 grocery markets open throughout Southern California and in Nevada and Arizona. The company is a subsidiary of U.K.-based Tesco, one of the world's largest international retailers.

The stores are a new concept in grocery retailing. They measure up to about one-fifth the size of a typical grocery store, but shoppers can buy all of their groceries there.

And the chain prides itself on carrying products that don't contain added transfats, artificial flavors and contain as few preservatives as possible. It also carries a variety of organic produce and natural foods such as cage-free eggs and hormone-free meats.

Each store employs approximately 20 to 30 people. All Fresh & Easy employees work a minimum of 20 hours per week, which ensures everyone is eligible for comprehensive and affordable health care. Entry-level positions pay well over the minimum wage, starting at $10 an hour in California, and offer a quarterly bonus of up to 10 percent.

State Planning Investments In Green Business

State Planning Investments In Green Business
By Mike Zapler/MediaNews Sacramento Bureau
Article Launched: 02/29/2008

SACRAMENTO - State lawmakers on Thursday unveiled a package of bills designed to spur investment in clean energy research and help California compete with other states and nations for green jobs.

Several of the bills, however, are costly or would involve incurring billions in debt, which could hurt their prospects as the Legislature grapples with what is a now estimated $8 billion deficit. (The governor and lawmakers took action earlier this month that is expected to cut in half what was then a projected $16 billion deficit).

Still, legislators and green tech company representatives said that state government can play an important role in boosting a fledgling but potentially lucrative industry for California.

"The digital revolution was heavily subsidized," said Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, who is pitching a $2 billion bond measure (AB 2003) to invest in solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies. "And it was a very smart investment by the federal government."

Two senators are proposing similar bond measures, one also for $2 billion and another for $3 billion. And Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, has a bill (SB 1760) calling on state agencies to craft a plan to spend $200 million on green energy research.

The bond measures and other proposals come as state regulators work to implement AB 32, the ambitious 2006 initiative to slash state greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020. On Thursday, a committee of businesses executives, many in the green technology field, presented a report outlining ways to streamline government regulations and use technology to meet the bill's mandate.

The full report is available online at

Solar Energy Will Give Dixon High New Boost

Solar Energy Will Give Dixon High New Boost
By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/29/2008

The sun will be shining brightly on Dixon High School despite the gloom-and-doom news of the district's million-dollar deficit.

Dixon Unified School Board President Shana Levine announced Thursday morning during the "State of the City" address that the district will be working with Honeywell International to construct a massive solar energy facility adjacent to the new school campus.

Last year, the district applied for a tax rebate from the state for solar energy projects. The rebate awarded to the district will be given to Honeywell to construct the three-acre, 700 Kilowatt facility. That facility will generate more than enough to provide 90 percent of the school's energy needs.

The building of the new solar farm in the next few months will cost the district absolutely nothing.

Levine explained that the facility will be floor-mounted, with a tilt access to allow the screens to move with the sunlight.

"As it rotates it will get the maximum amount of sunlight possible," she said.

Levine explained that it will also have an educational component as well. Honeywell plans on building a kiosk on campus that would monitor and track usage for students to see.

"I imagine the elementary students will benefit educationally as well," she said. "They can take a trip to the high school to learn about solar energy."

Levine said that teaching the younger students will play a crucial part in their future.

"We're doing our best to set an example and trying to be good stewards," she said. "These young kids will have to look at prices in a different way when they're older."

Honeywell already is known in Solano County for working with the county's Board of Supervisors, which approved a 746,000-watt solar array project to reduce power costs at the Claybank Adult Detention Facility. The solar array will also serve as shade structures for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District buses, which currently are using the old missile magazine site as a parking lot.

Another benefit of generating solar energy is that the Dixon Unified School District will have a set cost, which will be less than the regular rate PG&E charges.

"We're doing what we can to save the environment," said Ed Eusebio, retired director of facilities. Eusebio is now working with Schools Facility Services as a consultant. "One thing is for sure, we will be using a renewable energy and less fossil fuels. It has the potential of saving us millions of dollars."

Melissa Murphy can be reached at

Dixon Sees Good Signs On Horizon

Dixon Sees Good Signs On Horizon
By Melissa Murphy/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/29/2008

From Pepper the sheep, to a racetrack proposal, to a Mediterranean fruit fly invasion, to the opening of a new high school, Dixon has been through interesting times recently.

"We rode a wave of optimism during a time of an unsteady economy," said Mayor Mary Ann Courville Thursday during her annual "State of the City" address.

• Pepper the sheep caught worldwide attention when a neighbor complained about her living in a residential back yard, however the sheep was allowed to stay.

• Dixon voters were able to voice their opposition to a proposed horse racetrack.

• Unwanted visitors arrived late last year in the form of Mediterranean fruit flies, forcing a quarantine that could be lifted this spring.

• A deteriorating high school on East A Street finally was replaced with a brand new high school just outside of downtown.

The city has had some major ups and downs, but there are bright spots on the horizon, the mayor said.

Courville highlighted that Genentech will be building a research facility in Dixon, a $75 million project. Dixon is also inching closer to having a train stop in the city and recently received a $1.33 million grant to improve its railroad tracks and pedestrian platform.

One downside is that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has fined the city $220,000 for noncompliance of a Cease and Desist Order. The city is in the process of appealing that fine.

There was also a tragic homicide that shook the city.

Police Chief Don Mort, however, reassured residents that Dixon is still a safe city. Christina Baxley, 41, was gunned down in November just outside the apartment complex where she lived.

Mort said Baxley's murder was the sixth in the city in 17 years.

"We're not immune to crime," he said. "We are still a safe community."

This year, Mort has challenged, teachers, parents, students and the rest of the community to help the city have an incident-free prom night.

In the near future, residents will be receiving blue collection bins for Dixon's first curbside recycling service. The city will also celebrate the 95th anniversary of public library service. District Librarian Gregg Atkins said he continues to explore options of moving the library to a newer and more spacious facility.

Meanwhile, Dixon is still sitting pretty good financially and is economically outperforming other cities in the state and locally outperforming the trends, according to Economic Development Director Mark Heckey. And, the city is still looking into ways it can develop its Northeast Quadrant to bring in more revenue for the city, he said.

Courville reassured the city that financially the city is doing OK, but that staff is proceeding with caution.

"The city is never completely safe," she said. "But know the City Council is always committed to serving the community. To have the quality of life here that we love and enjoy, our strength lies in our unity to make Dixon the best it can be."

Melissa Murphy can be reached at

Vacaville's Vitality

Vacaville's Vitality
City bursting with reasons for optimism
By Jennifer Gentile/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/29/2008

Vacaville City Manager David Van Kirk reviews highlights of the past year in the "State of the City" address Thursday. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

While factors like the economy weigh heavily on communities statewide, city leaders on Thursday said there is much to be optimistic about in Vacaville.

Community leaders gathered Thursday morning at the Hampton Inn and Suites to hear Mayor Len Augustine and City Manager David Van Kirk deliver the annual "State of the City" address. They took the opportunity to make a few announcements, including a 13.4 percent drop in serious crime and the addition of businesses like Circuit City and Camping World to the community.

The pair's presentation followed the outline of the city's strategic plan, which is based on the goals of ensuring public safety, strengthening the local economy, promoting community viability and maintaining effective and efficient city services.

Kicking off their report with public safety, the presenters said staffing in the police department's patrol division grew to 46 officers in December and monthly sweeps have led to hundreds of arrests.

The audience applauded the latest crime statistics, prompting Augustine to respond, "We're really proud of that. I think (Chief) Richard Word and his staff have done a great job."

Revitalizing struggling shopping centers is one way to bolster the local economy,
Augustine said. He described an overhaul planned for Alamo Plaza and announced that a Circuit City will move in to the former CompUSA building at Nut Tree Parkway and Helen Power Drive. Camping World, which had a location in Cordelia, now plans to open a location on Quinn Road.

Referring to the County Square Asian Market, which is set to open in April at the beleaguered Peabody Shopping Center, the mayor said, "This one's going to be a regional draw, I believe."

As for the new Nut Tree, Van Kirk said, "There's a lot of activity going on" although there have been "some growing pains for the village area." A full-service Thai restaurant plans to move in next to Amici's, he said, while the Elephant Bar also has signed a lease.

Downtown, Augustine said the vacancy rate is less than 1 percent, "which is really quite phenomenal." The Opportunity Hill project, aimed at creating a mixed-use extension of downtown, will move forward with approval of a two-story office building.

Other downtown projects on the horizon include an extension of the CreekWalk to McClellan Street, which should proceed this spring, and reconstruction of the Great Wonders playground this fall.

The ever-important billion-dollar-plus triangle, bordered by Interstates 80 and 505, will bring thousands of jobs to the city in the coming years, the pair said. Kaiser Permanente's Medical Center opens in 2009, and employees should start to occupy the 159,000-square-foot State Compensation Insurance Fund campus next year.

Amid a nationwide slump in the housing market, Van Kirk said, "there is good news and bad news on the residential side." He noted the city's annual allocation in 2007 for building permits was 1,327, while only 327 were actually issued.

The good news, he said, is that Vacaville has not had the foreclosure rate of some other Bay Area cities, and that the city has some residential activity in difficult economic times.

Opponents of development in the Lagoon Valley have exhausted their legal avenues, and Van Kirk said the city is looking to receive a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the project this summer.

More than 10,000 signatures were submitted earlier this year in support of an urban growth boundary, which was part of the city's agreement with the Greenbelt Alliance for the Lagoon Valley development.

The City Council can approve the boundary outright this spring, study it further or allow voters to decide.

"It's a reasonable thing, it sets parameters," Van Kirk said, adding the boundary is "adequate to meet our needs over the next 20 years."

The presenters listed a number of accomplishments toward promoting community viability, from the city's upcoming youth and senior summits to energy-efficient initiatives like a compressed natural gas vehicle program and a 1-megawatt solar panel project at Alza.

Fiscally, Vacaville has not been immune to the challenges facing its neighbors. The city has had to scale back its sales tax growth projections and also implement a hiring freeze.

"The way you don't get into deep problems is to recognize problems early on," Van Kirk said, adding, "all in all, we're hanging in there."

Like cities throughout California, however, Vacaville could be impacted by the state's budget deficit.

"That's our concern, quite frankly, are outside influences on the city," the mayor said. Without unforeseen circumstances, the city expects to finish the year with a 15 percent reserve.

Work continues on Vacaville's Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, set to open near I-80 and Leisure Town Road in 2009. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

Jennifer Gentile can be reached at

Vacaville Leaders Say City Is Making Ends Meet

Vacaville Leaders Say City Is Making Ends Meet
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 28, 2008

VACAVILLE - Times may be tough, but Vacaville has been fortunate and will continue to be so in 2008.

That was the message that Mayor Len Augustine and City Manager David Van Kirk gave to a gathering of civic leaders Thursday morning at the Hampton Inn.

Local leaders were told Vacaville faces tight times, but that won't affect city services and the city is continuing to see more commercial development.

Augustine's biggest concern is how California's budget problems may affect Vacaville when the state attempts to deal with its $16 million deficit.

The sales tax revenues on which Vacaville depends dropped from a predicted 6 percent increase to a 1 percent increase, which cost the city $1.7 million in income.

A $700,000 increase in property tax revenue softened the blow. Van Kirk also instituted a hiring freeze and dipped into city reserves to make ends meet.

'All in all, we are hanging in there, but we have to be very vigilant,' Van Kirk said.

'Our philosophy is that you can't spend more than you take in,' Augustine said.

Augustine then lauded just-released crime statistics that show serious crime in Vacaville dropped by 13.4 percent in 2007.

Vacaville is moving forward in its efforts to be ready for potential disasters, especially flooding.

Last year, the city started its Vacaville Emergency Response Team to train residents to help deal with emergencies in their neighborhoods.

It is also building the first two of four planned floodwater detention basins this year along Alamo Creek. The third is planned for 2010, and a local developer has promised to build a fourth.

'A lot of progress has been made,' Van Kirk said.

On the economic front, the city is seeing some of its older shopping centers revived, Augustine said.

The center on Peabody Road will soon have Country Square Market open its doors, and the owners of Alamo Plaza are planning to renovate the shopping center on Alamo Drive and Merchant Street.

The city has also seen a lot of activity in what Van Kirk called 'the $1 billion triangle,' between interstates 80 and 505 in northeast Vacaville.

He specifically pointed out Kaiser's hospital expansion, the construction of the State Compensation Insurance Fund building and the Koll Company office project.

Some businesses are also relocating from western Fairfield to Vacaville, such as Camping World, which is moving out of Cordelia.

Portions of the Nut Tree shopping center have 'experienced some growing pains,' according to Van Kirk, but the city is looking forward to seeing more businesses such as The Elephant Bar move in there.

Augustine applauded the economic good fortune of the downtown area, which has 99 percent of its businesses occupied.

That is 'phenomenal in this day and age,' the mayor said.

Vacaville's next big redevelopment project, Opportunity Hill on the east side of the downtown, is the negotiation process with developers to create mixed-use office, retail and senior housing projects, Augustine said.

The nearby Creekwalk along Ulatis Creek is slated to be repaired and open to pedestrians by May, and renovation of the aging Great Wonders playground will be done in October.

The city's residential housing growth has been 'a mixed bag,' according to Van Kirk, 'but we are faring a lot better than the rest of the Bay Area.'

Vacaville is issuing fewer housing permits than before, but still more than neighboring cities. The city's foreclosure rate is 'a lot less than elsewhere,' Van Kirk said.

Van Kirk described a proposed growth boundary ballot initiative as one the city can live with, adding it will be 'adequate to handle the city's growth for the next 20 years.'

Persistent lobbying of the state Department of Transportation to fix I-80 through Vacaville has paid off, Augustine said. Plans to repair the highway has been moved up two years and will start this spring.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Vacaville Crime Drops By 13.4 Percent In 2007

Vacaville Crime Drops By 13.4 Percent In 2007
By Audrey Wong | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 28, 2008

VACAVILLE - Thirteen may be a lucky number for Vacaville, which experienced a 13.4 percent decrease in serious crimes in 2007.

This is the second year in a row that the city experienced a drop in crime, said police Chief Richard Word. In 2006, Part I crimes fell 4.2 percent, according to city spokesman Mark Mazzaferro. Part I crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, vehicle theft and arson.

The biggest drops from 2006 to 2007 occurred in robberies (112 to 83), vehicle thefts (331 to 274) and thefts (1,733 to 1,473). Homicides increased by four cases and rapes by three cases last year.

One of the homicides was a 2006 attack in which the victim died in 2007, said Word, who added that four of the homicide suspects are in custody. The chief attributed the increase in rapes to sexual assaults by acquaintances.

Vacaville's efforts to combat crime last year were buoyed by the addition of 10 patrol officers, increasing the total to 46. A second Crime Suppression Team was also added in 2007.

The department has two vacant patrol officer positions it can't fill because of a city hiring freeze. But two officers are undergoing training in the field, and another two are attending the academy.

'In terms of staffing, I still think we're in an upswing,' Word said.

Other reasons for the drop in crime are more parole and probation sweeps, and residents willing to report suspicious activity. Word cited a recent incident in which someone reported a person trying to open car doors. Police later caught a parolee in connection with two automobile burglaries.

'We encourage (the public) to call,' Word said. 'It makes our job so much easier and makes Vacaville safe.'

Although Word is pleased with the statistics, he added that work needs to be done in gangs, drugs and recidivism among juvenile criminals.

'We're still arresting kids 11 to 17 years old about 30 to 40 times,' he said.

Many of those young people are repeat offenders. Police often meet with probation officers and school officials to address the needs of juveniles.

One solution to divert young people from crime is providing good mentors. The city has a Police Activities League and Vacaville Area Boys and Girls Club. The department also has a social worker for young people involved with gangs.

Reach Audrey Wong at 427-6951 or

Cajun Cooking Comes To Fairfield

Cajun Cooking Comes To Fairfield
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | February 28, 2008

Darrell and James Gambrell enjoy a meal at the new Huckleberry's restaurant, a cajun-themed restaurant that opened Wednesday in Fairfield. Photo by Chris Jordan

FAIRFIELD - Not exactly a traditional home of Cajun cuisine, the city nevertheless landed the second site for a new 'Bayou-themed' restaurant.

Huckleberry's opened Wednesday near the corner of Travis Boulevard and Oliver Road, a site previously occupied by Original Mel's diner. Huckleberry's, a new chain of franchised restaurants, opened its first location in October 2007 in Exeter, near Visalia.

'It's basically California cooking with a Cajun flair,' said Randy Brooks, owner of the restaurant and founder of the parent company, Fresno-based Dynaco Inc. 'We have a lot of items on the menu that you see in California, but they have a Cajun flair.'

Huckleberry's claimed the spot after an aggressive marketing effort by the city after Mel's closed.

The location and the fact it was already equipped as a restaurant made it a desirable spot for the company to take over, said Curt Johnston, the city's assistant director of economic development. And the city was happy to land a brand unique to Northern California.

'We actually prefer the new concept because we know that it's going to be a restaurant that isn't in this immediate market area,' he said.

And although Huckleberry's is new, parent company Dynaco is well-established as a restaurateur, noted Lorraine Hernandez, who was the city liaison to the company.

Dynaco is also the parent company of Country Waffles and Perko's Cafe and Grill, and has other new restaurants in Yukon Jack's and Cool Hand Luke's Steakhouse.

'All of our concepts are kind of intertwined,' Brooks said. 'We try to make them noncompetitive with each other.'

The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., serving breakfast and lunch only. Its breakfast menu includes items such as a southern quiche and a Cajun breakfast burrito. For lunch, Brooks said the menu includes Cajun-inspired menu items such as catfish and mushroom-smothered skirt steak.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

Thursday, February 28, 2008

UC research to focus on biofuel from plants

UC research to focus on biofuel from plants
Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harnessing the sun through solar panels is a great idea in principle, but harvesting stored solar energy from plants is a more promising and economical approach to help meet global energy needs, a UC Berkeley biosciences expert said Wednesday.

Former Stanford biologist Chris Somerville, who recently moved to the Berkeley campus to head the new Energy Biosciences Institute funded with half a billion dollars from BP, said the potential of photovoltaic technology for meeting the world's rapidly growing energy needs hasn't panned out in the 87 years since Einstein won the Nobel Prize for discovering the photoelectric effect.

A better bet, Somerville told a packed audience on campus, is to lay microscopic siege to the Earth's abundant plant cells, break down their walls and extract their sugars to produce alcohol for fuel.

It was the second public bruising of solar panels by a prominent UC Berkeley researcher within a few days.

Last week, the campus released a report by energy expert Severin Borenstein saying the costs of today's solar panels far outweigh the benefits. He said the money now spent on putting photovoltaic panels on homes and businesses would be better spent on research into improving them.

Somerville agreed that "direct solar" is too expensive.

"I certainly think direct solar would be better if the cost could be brought down," he said in a lecture explaining why Berkeley and its academic partners, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, are joining with BP to fashion biological keys for unlocking solar energy stored in plants.

Meeting U.S. energy needs would require 26,000 square kilometers of solar panels operating at their current efficiency of 15 to 20 percent, an unlikely prospect given that only about 4 square kilometers of photovoltaic panels have been built in the world, he said.

The institute will not focus on the main method of biofuel production in the United States today - which is fermentation of corn mash to produce ethanol, known also to backwoods distillers as moonshine - but on second- and third-generation biofuels that don't have the same environmentally damaging effects as heavy reliance on corn, Somerville said.

By pioneering ways to break down cell fibers, the institute's researchers hope to be able to convert any plant material - including fallen trees, lawn trimmings, food waste and especially fast-growing dense plants like miscanthus - into practical sources of biofuel. See article at

Online resource
Information about research at the Energy Biosciences Institute:

E-mail Charles Burress at
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Vacaville City's flood control takes step forward

City's flood control takes step forward

The Reporter:
City's flood control takes step forward> By Jennifer Gentile/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/27/2008 06:14:05 AM PST

The City Council advanced Vacaville's flood-control efforts Tuesday night,
approving a basin project in the northeastern part of the city.

The council approved the design concept and environmental assessment for the
Encinosa Detention Basins project, which the city plans to build on 60 acres
northeast of the Pleasants Valley Road and Foothill Drive intersection. The
project involves two additional basins, which would give the city another
140 acre-feet of storm-water storage capacity.

The Encinosa basin north is the larger basin and will be situated on the
north side of Encinosa Creek at the end of Edgewater Drive, providing
storage capacity of 107 acre feet. The Encinosa basin south will be built on
the south side of Encinosa Creek adjacent to Foothill Drive and have 33-acre
feet of storage capacity.

In a report, staff said that "the presence of wetland areas and other
environmental issues were identified at the project site." Staff has been
working with state and federal agencies, according to the report, to modify
the project and reduce environmental impacts.

A declaration, which the council approved along with the project design,
indicates that environmental impacts from the project could be reduced to a
less-than-significant level. The declaration circulated through the State
Clearinghouse for 30 days, and notices were sent to residents within 600
feet of the project site.

Staff explained that Encinosa Creek drains into Alamo Creek, which has been
known to spill over its banks during heavy rainfall and cause widespread
flooding. The Ulatis Drainage System Study, which was released in the fall
of 2007, recommended that Vacaville build upstream basins as a flood-control

"This is an important step in resolving the issues pointed out in (staff's)
presentation," said Councilman Steve Wilkins. He also praised staff for its
work on the project, including "identifying where we need to situate the
basins" so they would have the greatest impact.

In addition to City Council, several agencies like the California Department
of Fish and Game, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of
Fish and Wildlife must also sign off on the project. The Department of Water
Resources, Division of Safety of Dams, will have oversight of the design and
construction of the Encinosa north basin because of its size.

The city is looking to obtain all permits by May and award the project in
June. Construction could begin as early as July and be completed this fall.
The $2 million project is being funded by a combination of grants and
development impact fees, according to the public works director.

Jennifer Gentile can be reached at

Market Chain Picks 19 Area Sites

Market Chain Picks 19 Area Sites
Newcomer Fresh & Easy specializes in grab-and-go foods.
By Jon Ortiz -
Published February 28, 2008

Sacramento's turbulent grocery scene is about to get another good shaking.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets plans to announce today that it has locked up 19 store sites from Vacaville to Folsom and from Lincoln to Galt.

The 19 stores will open next year, with an unspecified number added later. Some will be newly built, while others will move into vacated retail spots.

Backed by billions of dollars from Britain's Tesco PLC, the world's third-largest retailer, Fresh & Easy's start in the Sacramento region will give locals a new food shopping option in what is already one of the nation's most competitive grocery markets, experts say.

While traditional chains such as Raley's, Safeway and Save Mart Supermarkets still have about a year to tweak their strategies, "any new competitor is bad news for an established chain," said Robert Reynolds, a Moraga-based grocery industry consultant who is familiar with Sacramento. "New players always siphon away some dollars from existing businesses."

The Fresh & Easy concept depends heavily on private-label goods and prepared grab-and-go food offered in stores roughly the size of a Trader Joe's. Tesco is pouring $2 billion to design and build hundreds of 10,000-square-foot stores in California, Nevada, Arizona and the Midwest.

Tesco has said it is committed to placing stores in underserved urban areas with little or no access to healthy foods purchases – including one at 34th and Broadway in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood.

"Our goal is to serve every neighborhood," said Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott. "As we move forward, we'll be looking at sites all over Sacramento."

Fresh & Easy combines elements of a traditional grocery store and a convenience store. At about one-fifth the size of a typical supermarket, the sparsely decorated stores emphasize fresh items, prepared take-home food and private-label goods. They also carry a limited selection of national-brand merchandise among their 3,500 items.

Supermarkets generally carry 30,000 products or more.

Most perishables that Fresh & Easy sells come in small plain packages: $4.99 for a 32-ounce green bean casserole, $3.72 for 15 ounces of fruit salad, $3.99 for a 17-ounce serving of Thai chicken and shrimp.

Fresh & Easy doesn't take American Express, checks or manufacturers' coupons. Forget Safeway-style loyalty cards.

Union labor is out, too. That's a sore point with grocery labor unions, which have protested in front of stores in Southern California. But Fresh & Easy says the practice allows it to trim costs and pass the savings on to shoppers.

Another cost-cutting feature: Every checkout line is set up for self-service.

In December, Goldman Sachs analyst John Heinbockel told Supermarket News, an industry publication, that prices at two Fresh & Easy stores he sampled in Southern California ran 13 percent to 15 percent less than those at major grocery chains.

Since its November debut in Southern California, the company has opened stores in Las Vegas and Phoenix, for a total of 55. Last month it announced 18 locations in the Bay Area that will open next year.

Experts say Tesco must expand quickly to maximize its investment in an 88-acre Riverside distribution center.

"These are unique stores, offering a unique environment with a unique approach to selling food," said George Whalin, a retail consultant based in San Marcos who has visited the stores. "But they are so different that it could take a while for customers to embrace them."

Indeed, Fresh & Easy has hit some bumps.

Early news accounts of excited customers waiting in long lines at store openings have given way to articles about distribution challenges and empty shelves. Others have criticized the stores' bland avocado green decor and Spartan furnishings.

Company spokesman Wonnacott said the interiors reflect Fresh & Easy's underlying theme.

"Simplicity. Our stores are simple to shop, the shelves are low and simple, the supply chain is simple," he said. "These all reflect our commitment to keeping costs low."

Some industry observers have concluded that Fresh & Easy's revenues are low, too. In a conference call with investors earlier this month, Citigroup analyst Jim Prevor estimated that individual store sales are averaging $50,000 to $60,000 each week. That's about 75 percent below the company's expectations.

Tesco has not made public Fresh & Easy's sales numbers.

On Wednesday, Wonnacott called reports about the financial performance "pure speculation. We've only been open for four months. Sales, customer numbers and repeat visits are all growing. The response from our customers has been very encouraging."

In December a report by TNS Retail Forward, a consulting group in Columbus, Ohio, concluded that Fresh & Easy "potentially represents a significant threat to the U.S. food retailing industry."

The stores could reach $4 billion in U.S. sales by 2011, the report predicted, and $10 billion by 2015. That would put it among the top 10 U.S. grocery retailers.

The challenges haven't kept Fresh & Easy from adding stores at breakneck speed. If all goes as planned, the chain will have at least 200 stores in the West by the end of the year. It also reportedly is considering sites in the Chicago area.

Whalin, the San Marcos consultant, expects new stores, including those in the Sacramento area, to reflect the lessons Fresh & Easy has learned.

"It would be foolish to discount this company without giving them a fair shake," he said. "Tesco is formidable. They tend not to have many failures. The Fresh & Easy concept is new. It will take time to get legs."

Fresh & Easy's push into Sacramento has been a source of local scuttlebutt for more than a year. With another year before stores open here, long-established competitors say they're ready.

"Save Mart has been in business for 55 years, and we have seen competitors come and go," said Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets, which controls about 11 percent of the Sacramento-area grocery market. "We also have the advantage of being locally owned and operated. We think that gives an advantage in sourcing product and understanding the needs of our shoppers."

Bill Coyne, Raley's president and chief executive, said in a recent interview that the company doesn't fear Fresh & Easy moving into the West Sacramento-based chain's home turf.

Raley's nameplate stores and its Bel-Air brand together take in about 33 cents of every dollar spent on groceries in the Sacramento region, according to TradeDimensions, a market researcher.

"Competition is good," Coyne said. "It makes us better."

Calls and e-mails to Safeway Inc. headquarters were not returned. The Pleasanton-based company is one of America's biggest traditional grocery sellers. Its 31 Sacramento stores account for about 21 percent of the local market share.

Solano To Conduct Economic Studies

Solano To Conduct Economic Studies
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 27, 2008

FAIRFIELD - Solano County's economy is going under a microscope.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $484,000 for a series of financial studies over the next three years. The Solano Economic Development Corp. will oversee the work.

Results can be used by the private and public sectors to attract and plan for business growth in the county. Initial studies are to be completed by late this year.

'Working across the county with our city partners and the private sector, I think we'll have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference for the people of Solano County,' Supervisor Mike Reagan said.

But Supervisor Barbara Kondylis cast the lone vote against proceeding with the studies. She didn't want to spend $484,000 at a time when county programs such as mental health face cuts.

One study will look at undeveloped properties in the county zoned for commercial and industry, and analyze to what degree they have available services such as water, roads and sewer service.

'We need to know where we can grow and what barriers, if any, are in the way,' Solano EDC President Michael Ammann said.

Another study will look at 20 or so key local economic indicators, such as housing, the economic workforce and transportation.

A third set of studies will look at economic clusters, such as life science industries, clean energy production and agriculture.

The studies are an outgrowth of three Economic Summits hosted by the county over the past year.

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

Taste Of Vacaville Coming To Suisun City

Taste Of Vacaville Coming To Suisun City
By Carol Bogart | Daily Republic | February 27, 2008

SUISUN CITY - If you have been going to Vacaville to dine at the restaurant that Daily Republic readers have voted that city's best the past three years, you might be able to enjoy a similar dining experience in Suisun City by November.

Merchant & Main Grill and Bar owner Bob Tooke has signed a lease to open a 4,000-square-foot restaurant in Harbor Square at Solano and Main streets in Suisun City's Waterfront District.

Tooke said the restaurant's look and menu won't be identical to Merchant & Main's, but he added the as-yet unnamed restaurant will resemble Merchant & Main in that it will be 'casual, comfortable and fun.' The new restaurant will accommodate 130 to 140 diners.

Tooke believes his new restaurant will draw from Suisun City, Fairfield and some of the '30,000 cars that pass by daily on Highway 12,' he said.

Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez said negotiations with Tooke have been going on for about five months, and the city has agreed to erect any sort of sign Tooke desires on Highway 12 'to let people know Suisun City has a new steakhouse.'

In a nod to the Delta, some menu items will have a Cajun flair, Tooke said. Fresh fish, barbecue, steaks and prime rib will be among the 'modern American cooking' he said he will serve. The restaurant will also have a full bar, he said, and 18 beers on tap.

The restaurant will be open for brunch both Saturday and Sunday, lunch five days a week, although Tooke didn't say which days, and dinner Monday through Sunday. He may decide to offer all day dining, he added.

The entry to Tooke's restaurant will face Solano Street and Harbor Plaza to draw business during public events in the plaza, said Frank Marinello, co-managing partner of Main Street West Partners, the developer of Harbor Square.

The restaurant will have a rear dining patio that will overlook Harbor Square's courtyard and that there may be a few cafe-style tables on the front patio, Tooke said.

Harbor Square's shell will be completed by September, Marinello said. Tooke hopes to begin interior work on his new restaurant at that time.

Both said the goal is for the restaurant to open in November, just in time for the holiday season.

'Main Street West is pleased that an operator as successful as Bob shares our vision of the Waterfront District being a premier dining destination in the county,' Marinello said.

Tooke said, in his view, the Suisun City waterfront 'is the coolest thing around.'

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ledgewood Creek Earns Three Silver Medals

Ledgewood Creek Earns Three Silver Medals
By Daily Republic staff | | February 26, 2008

FAIRFIELD - Ledgewood Creek Winery of Suisun Valley earned three silver medals at the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Silver medals were awarded to Ledgewood Creek's 2005 Estate Syrah, 2006 PicNique Red Cuvee and 2006 PicNique Chardonnay.

Ledgewood Creek Winery is at 4589 Abernathy Road. Its tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information, call 426-4424.

Teen Center To Bear Name Of Yarbrough

Teen Center To Bear Name Of Yarbrough
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | February 26, 2008

FAIRFIELD - There were tears aplenty and one rekindled relationship on Tuesday night.

Billy Yarbrough's family members, friends and supporters came out to watch the City Council name the soon-to-be-built teen center after the longtime developer and philanthropist.

'Of all the honors he has received in his lifetime, none would be more important than this,' said son-in-law Anthony Russo.

Over the years, Yarbrough and wife Louise built an extensive legacy of philanthropy in the community. They donated 18 acres for the Fairfield Expos baseball team, built the Octo Inn Soccer complex and contributed to the Fairfield Center for Creative Arts, high school athletic fields and the skate park in Allan Witt Park.

Fairfield moved closer to a long-term teen center Feb. 19, when the council unanimously approved leasing a 9,300-square-foot space near the intersection of Travis Boulevard and North Texas Street.

The city plans to renovate the space and offer supervised tutoring, basketball and boxing through the Police Activity League. Once site improvements are finished in summer, the building's official name will be the 'Billy G. Yarbrough Youth Center.'

'Billy and Louise Yarbrough have given a lot to this community and we have a lot to thank them for,' said City Manager Sean Quinn.

Yarbrough started Solano Concrete in 1960 and later formed development firm B&L Properties, through which he has been an active political donor. Since 2005, B&L Properties has contributed to the successful election campaigns of Councilmen John Mraz, Frank Kardos, Chuck Timm and Matt Garcia.

Yarbrough, a land developer, largely withdrew from Fairfield affairs after a 2005 falling out with some controlled-growth proponents then on the council, who Russo said 'lost sight of the values Billy championed.'

That relationship appeared to be on the mend Tuesday, however; All five councilmen read part of a resolution honoring Yarbrough, who could not attend the ceremony due to failing health. And daughter Debra Russo presented the city with a check for $50,000 to be put toward the long-term endowment for the teen center.

'More than anything, we just wish it to be successful,' Russo said.

It is technically the family's second such contribution.

In July, Fairfield announced the discovery of a 33-acre parcel of land, apparently deeded over by Yarbrough in the 1980s and then forgotten for 25 years. Officials are hoping to put proceeds from selling the land toward the endowment as well.

Before the Yarbrough presentation took place, officials with the city Twilight Rotary club presented the council with a $5,000 check from a recent fundraiser, also to be put toward the teen center.

'If we can get the rest of the community behind us, we will see a difference,' Timm said.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

Students Give New Clock Tower To SCC

Students Give New Clock Tower To SCC
By Nika Megino | Daily Republic | February 26, 2008

Wayne Aguigui, a member of Solano Community College's student government, tries to attach a ribbon on the school's new clock tower before a dedication ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Brad Zweerink

FAIRFIELD - There's a new sound at Solano Community College.

A 17-foot-tall, four-faced Verdin clock tower now stands in the college's main quad. It is a gift from SCC's student government, which donated money to the project.

At noon Tuesday, 10 chimes rang to signal the start of the dedication ceremony for SCC's latest addition.

'It really adds a touch of class to our college,' said Harjot Sandhu, president of SCC's student government.

The creation of the 1,300-pound, blue-and-white clock tower was made possible by two donations totaling $50,000 from SCC's student government.

A student government donation of $22,000 went toward the purchase of the clock, which was part of the college's Campus Enrichment Plan.

'The installation of the street clock is the first idea to come to fruition from that plan,' Sandhu said.

The plan, created by a former student government board, outlines suggestions from faculty and students that would help the college with its identity and signage. The student government donated $28,000 toward the plan.

Vice President of Student Services Lisa Waits said the students' donations marked their commitment and dedication to the college.

'Measure G dollars didn't make this happen,' Waits said. 'The story of this clock tower is the students. Thank you very much, students, for this gift to the college.'

Measure G, a bond passed in 2002, has funded many of the college's construction projects, including the new Student Services Building and the SCC Vallejo Center.

Sandhu said the purpose of the clock was to add a destination marker to the campus and help students get to class on time.

The clock will 'change the language of the campus' as students start to tell each other to meet near the clock tower and include the clock in giving directions, Waits added.

A surveillance video camera has been installed to protect the clock, which is located on a concrete platform, said Frank Kitchen, SCC's director of facilities.

The Verdin Company has crafted clocks for the University of Norte Dame and Walt Disney World.

Reach Nika Megino at 427-6953 or

Supervisors Authorize County Economic Studies

Supervisors Authorize County Economic Studies
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 27, 2008

FAIRFIELD - Solano County's economy is going under a microscope.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved spending $484,000 for a series of financial studies during the coming three years. The Solano Economic Development Corp. will oversee the work.

Results can be used by both the private and public sectors to attract and plan for business growth in the county. Initial studies are to be competed by late this year.

'Working across the county with our city partners and the private sector, I think we'll have the opportunity to make a tremendous difference for the people of Solano County,' Supervisor Mike Reagan said.

But Supervisor Barbara Kondylis cast the lone vote against proceeding with the studies. She didn't want to spend $484,000 on them at a time when such county programs as mental health face cuts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Supes Plan Economic Studies

Supes Plan Economic Studies
Board Expected to Hire Solano EDC to Complete the Reports
By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/26/2008

In an attempt to unify economic development efforts across the county, the Board of Supervisors will discuss today contracting the Solano Economic Development Corporation for a variety of studies.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors will contemplate hiring the Solano EDC to the tune of $484,250 to create an Economic Indicator Index, a Land Inventory and Absorption Study as well as the profiling of five Key Industry Cluster Analyses.

The creation of these studies comes after many discussions in 2007 toward maintaining a high quality of life by promoting sustainable economic development within Solano County, according to staff reports.

The content of those studies are as follows:

• The Economic Indicator Index will document aspects such as economics, workforce, housing and education and the role of Solano County as a regional hub of innovation and opportunity.

• The Land Inventory and Absorption Study will identify all undeveloped parcels in the county that are zoned commercial and industrial. It will also include if they are development ready.

• Key Industry Cluster Profiles will focus on areas such as bio- and life-sciences; agriculture and food processing and energy production.

The first report on these studies is expected in November with annual updates to follow.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors meets today at 9 a.m. in the Supervisors Chamber in Fairfield.

Danny Bernardini can be reached at

Hotel To Join 'Emerging Market' In Suisun City

Hotel To Join 'Emerging Market' In Suisun City
By Carol Bogart | Daily Republic | February 25, 2008

SUISUN CITY - Visitors to Suisun City will soon have a new option for an overnight stay. Within the next few months, ground will be broken on the Hampton Inn and Suites, a 102-room hotel.

The hotel will be bordered by Lotz Way and Civic Center Boulevard. Its entrance will face Driftwood Drive.

To create a pleasing streetscape as visitors approach the hotel, the city is considering a design that would recast Driftwood Drive as a 'meandering cottage lane.' Economic Development Director Jason Garben called the design a 'work in progress,' and it may be included in plans that are being finalized for the city's Harbor Center Drive Extension Project.

Public Works Director Fernando Bravo said the project's core construction costs are estimated at $800,000. Plans call for full street improvements for portions of Lotz Way and Driftwood Drive, he said, to enhance traffic circulation, pedestrian safety and landscaping.

The hotel is slated to open in summer 2009.

The city's willingness to invest 'a lot of money in creating energy along the waterfront' was a big reason that Basin Street Properties, the hotel's Petaluma-based developer, chose Suisun City for the project, said Paul Andronico, the company's senior vice president.

'We saw Suisun as an emerging market with a downtown that's in the process of being revitalized,' Andronico added. 'They really provide the anchors that allow the private development to go forward and be successful.'

Andronico also pointed out that the involvement of Frank Marinello, a managing partner of Suisun City-based Main Street West Partners, was a key in Basin Street's decision to build in the city. Andronico said Marinello helped find the site and worked with Basin Street on the hotel's design.

Main Street West's Harbor Square retail/restaurants/office space project in the city's Waterfront District is scheduled to open in September.

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

Monday, February 25, 2008

Star Awards presented to Outpatient Ambulatory Services team at Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo

Award announced

The Outpatient Ambulatory Services team at Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo has been recognized for excellence in patient satisfaction.

The OPAS staff received a Star Award from Sutter Health for its dramatic performance improvement in caring for outpatients the third quarter of 2007.

Star Awards are presented to individuals and departments that go above and beyond to enhance patient care or promote the mission of Sutter Health.

"Since they aren't dealing with people who are admitted to the hospital, OPAS team members have a very short time in which to make a positive impression on patients and their families," said Kim Trumbull, R.N., chief nurse executive.

Some of the things the OPAS team did were:

• Staff nurses brought in CD players and headsets, new books and magazines, for the waiting room, so patients and their families would be comfortable

• To enhance the waiting room, overhead light panels were installed with colorful and cheerful images such as clouds and rainbows

• A pager system, like those used in popular restaurants, was instituted to allow families to move throughout the hospital while waiting for their loved ones' procedures to be completed.

The Buzz Oates Group of Companies has acquired the former Serta facility

Oates group buys Serta site

The Buzz Oates Group of Companies has acquired the former Serta facility, a 220,800 square foot industrial space at 2050 Cessna Drive in Vacaville, from National Bedding Company, LLC.

The acquisition was made for an undisclosed price.

Steve Moreno with BOGC represented the buyer in the transaction.

In a press release, the company said the acquisition is consistent with the company's new strategic initiatives to diversify its product and service delivery of construction, real estate and property management services.

The Buzz Oates Group of Companies creates and manages facilities for commercial real estate users by designing and building retail centers, office/warehouse/distribution centers and state-of-the-art Class A office space.

Nut Tree Continues To Evolve

Nut Tree Continues To Evolve
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 22, 2008

The Nut Tree Market Pavilion and Fenton's Creamery are seen through the windows of an empty retail space at the Nut Tree Village in Vacaville. The development is continuing to bring in new businesses and renovate the existing space. Photo by Brad Zweerink

VACAVILLE - The Nut Tree Village is still a work in progress.

That's how Westrust representatives have described the premier retail center, which will see businesses such as The Elephant Bar restaurant and the Huntington Learning Center open their doors this year.

It also means renovations for the Nut Tree Market Pavilion and Bocce Grove to make these places more customer-friendly.

'In the long term, we want to meet the interests of the community, create a special place made up of special tenants,' said Sean Whiskeman, managing director of leasing and marketing for Westrust. 'We have gone a great distance to market to unique tenants that are not in the community.'

That runs the gamut from retailers such as Borders and Fenton's Creamery to non-retail businesses such at the Huntington Learning Center.

Whiskeman said the most exciting parts of Nut Tree are going to be in the buildings surrounding the Bocce Grove, where the center has most of its vacancies and future tenants who are in the planning stages of opening businesses.

One is an upscale, full-service Thai restaurant that will be taking 2,500 square feet next to Amici's East Coast Pizzeria.

Once finished, Nut Tree will have what Whiskeman calls a gathering of restaurants that cater to a range of needs from the quick service offered by small places such as Jamba Juice to full-service establishments such as The Elephant Bar, whose site is now being graded.

'It will really be unmatched in the corridor,' Whiskeman said.

Westrust readjusted Nut Tree's direction earlier this year when it approached the city to ask for more freedom in what businesses it can bring into the retail center. Westrust wants to consider banks, health and beauty services, children's learning centers, adult educational facilities, optometry services and medical offices.

Vacaville City Council members were concerned these would dilute the retail-oriented vision of the Nut Tree and damage the shopping center's regional reputation.

City leaders agree that times have been difficult for Nut Tree's developers and they want to work with them to bring in more quality businesses.

'We want the Nut Tree to be a success and we will do what we can to facilitate that,' Vacaville Assistant City Manager Laura Kuhn said.

The first such new business to enter Nut Tree Village in the wake of the City Council's approval is the Huntington Learning Center which is leasing 2,000 square feet of space there.

Huntington, based in Oradell, N.J., has been in business since 1977 and has more than 300 centers in 40 states that provide tutoring for students from elementary to high school.

Local businessman Craig Lash is opening a Huntington franchise in the Nut Tree because 'I could not think of a better choice than Nut Tree.'

'You could not ask for better visibility,' Lash said of the location within sight of Interstate 80.

Lash plans to open the center in two months with a small staff that will grow as the center builds enrollment.

Earlier this month, Nut Tree's developers announced that the Market Pavilion and Bocce Grove will undergo a $1.5 million renovation to make the areas more accessible to patrons and user-friendly for tenants.

The renovation centers on the 10,000-square-foot Market Pavilion and will allow tenants to have exterior storefronts, highly visible entrances and outdoor seating areas to accommodate patrons of the various restaurants.

The move was made to stimulate more foot traffic that would make it easier for the tenants there to stay in business.

Nut Tree's Bocce Grove will also get a makeover to recreate more of the original Nut Tree atmosphere. This includes taking out four of the eight bocce courts to make way for an outdoor fire pit for public gatherings, a central plaza featuring a stage for community activities and 12 benches.

Two family-oriented playground areas featuring interactive, animal-shaped climbing toys and other fun activities for children will be constructed.

There are still plans to put a hotel and conference center at the Nut Tree, but Vacaville is still looking for a developer to build it.

Last fall, Nut Tree developer Roger Snell backed off from plans to build a hotel and conference center, saying the project was not economically feasible due to the change in market conditions.

The hotel and conference center remain a major goal for the City Council, and city officials are in talks with at least one potential hotel developer.

'We are hanging in there,' Kuhn said. 'The market being what it is, we are looking at all our options and coming up with a game plan.'

While not part of the Nut Tree itself, Travis Credit Union Park may be destined for the bulldozer once the city and the ballpark's owner reach an agreement on the land's future use.

The ballpark, which is now in the hands of CT Realty Corp., closed in early 2007 after five years of financial losses.

CT Realty Corp. has been in talks with the city for some time, and the City Council received a briefing on the ballpark's status in a closed session earlier this month

No action has been taken yet, according to Vacaville City Manager David Van Kirk.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or

County Cuts Vacaville Out of New Building Project

County Cuts Vacaville Out of New Building Project
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 22, 2008

VACAVILLE - Solano County is moving ahead with plans to build the William J. Carroll Government Center on East Monte Vista Street, but without the city of Vacaville's participation.

'The county is now taking the lead,' Solano County spokesman Steve Pierce said.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to tell its staff to go ahead with hiring people to design the center and manage its construction.

The county is budgeting $7 million to build the center, but that amount may change as planners better define what the building will look like, Solano County General Services Director Spencer Bole said in a report.

County staff had been negotiating with Vacaville officials for some time about including city-owned land in the project and having the city take part in construction and use of the building.

In 2002, both parties signed a memo of understanding that the facility would be built by the city. A large portion of the building would then be leased to the county.

Plans on who will do what changed during talks since then. Those talks failed to bear fruit this year, and the supervisors told county staff on Feb. 5 to terminate negotiations.

County officials dedicated the site at the intersection of Brown Street and East Monte Vista Avenue in 2006 and announced it would be named after Carroll, the longtime Vacaville mayor and county supervisor. Carroll died in 2003.

If all goes well, the new center will be built and become a central site for county health and social services for north county residents in three to five years, according to the County Architect's office.

Vacaville intended to use a portion of Carroll building for a new home for its Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which is presently located on Eldridge Avenue.

The city is now tentatively considering building its own facility on land it owns next to the county center site to give the Housing and Redevelopment Agency new offices to replace its older, cramped quarters.

The Vacaville Police Department's FIRST Program, which deals with domestic violence, may also be housed there, City Manager David Van Kirk said.

A new Opportunity House homeless shelter had been considered for that location. In light of what has happened, the city is considering finding another site for it.

Vacaville's Redevelopment Agency wants to move the Opportunity House from Catherine Street to make way for the neighborhood's redevelopment into a mixed use project.

The City Council will discuss the matter and give Van Kirk direction during the closed session portion of the council meeting Tuesday night.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

City OKs EIR for Benicia Business Park

City OKs EIR for Benicia Business Park
East Bay Business Times - by Jessica Saunders
Friday, February 22, 2008

Developer Albert D. Seeno Jr. can begin preparing a detailed plan for his proposed 528-acre Benicia Business Park after the City Council's Feb. 19 vote certified the project's environmental impact report.

The council certified the report with the understanding that the proposed project as described could not be approved without significant modifications due to numerous conflicts it has with the city's General Plan, said Dan Schiada, city public works director. The developer, Discovery Builders Inc. of Concord, opted to pursue the EIR separately from the project review.

The council also directed the developer to incorporate new mitigation measures for Interstate 780 traffic effects and to include analyses on urban decay and environmental sustainability, Schiada said.

"Those were some of the key elements they need to address to make the revised project consistent with the General Plan," he said.

A call to Discovery Builders for comment was not returned in time for publication.
Seeno has been trying for nearly 30 years to start construction on the proposed light industrial and commercial park on a hilly parcel northeast of the new Benicia bridge off of Interstate 680. The site, which overlooks the Carquinez Strait and Suisun Bay, is adjacent to the city's existing industrial park.

No tenants have been identified.

The General Plan conflicts include the proposed grading of 9 million cubic yards and removal of most of the site's southern hills. The city's environmental protection policies discourage grading of hillsides.

The boot-shaped property is the largest undeveloped tract remaining in Benicia.

Discovery Builders, owned by Seeno's son Albert Seeno III, is seeking approval for the business park under contract for property owner West Coast Home Builders, which Seeno Jr. and his brother Tom Seeno own. | 925-598-1427

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Train seats getting scarce Long-haul intercity trains can hardly meet demand

Train seats getting scarce
Long-haul intercity trains can hardly meet demand
By Erik N. Nelson, STAFF WRITER
Article Created: 02/22/2008 02:46:44 AM PST

SACRAMENTO — While most of their co-workers were still snug in their beds, about 60 of the Bay Area's hardiest commuters milled about the platform at Sacramento's Amtrak station, waiting to board the Capitol Corridor's first train of the day.

After a few minutes, the doors opened on Train 521, and the bleary-eyed travelers climbed aboard.

With a departure time of 4:30 a.m., it's known as the Oh-My-God Train.

"It's a quiet train. If you walk through the train, a lot of people are asleep," said Betty Digilio, a 45-year-old Sacramento resident who starts work at 6:30 a.m. at the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland.

It's not as quiet as Eugene Skoropowski expected, however. As the Capitol Corridor's managing director, he launched the early run in 2006 thinking it might be popular with San Jose-bound commuters boarding in Oakland, where it arrives at the more human time of 6:21 a.m.

But a year-and-a-half later, about a third of the train's average of 140 to 180 passengers board in Sacramento, and those numbers keep climbing at all times of the day.

The Corridor and California's two other intercity rail lines, the San Joaquins from Oakland to Bakersfield and the Pacific Surfliner trains from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, carry 20 percent of Amtrak's nationwide passengers.

While ridership on those California routes has grown 43 percent to 5 million annual trips in 2007, vehicle miles in the state have gone up only 8 percent, and
the population has risen 11 percent. State funding for this fast-growing sector has not kept pace, however.

So five hours after Train 521 departed, Oakland-basedSkoropowski was also in Sacramento, sitting down with legislators and officials from the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority and their counterparts who run the other two railroads.

A daylong series of meetings and events calls attention to the fact that as travelers and commuters clamor for seats on their trains, officials struggle to expand service to meet that demand.

Since a voter-approved bond jump-started the Capitol Corridor in 1990, the line has received only sporadic capital funding from state coffers averaging only about $578,000 a year.

"We have worked very hard with the dollars that have been given to us," said Forrest Williams, a San Jose city councilman who chairs the joint powers authority that governs the Capitol Corridor, "but we have reached that point where we cannot expand any more" without compromising service.

Some relief is in the works from a new state-wide transportation bond, which will pump $400 million into intercity rail improvements. Last year the Legislature budgeted $187 million of that, of which $150 million will pay for six new trains — two for each of the three rail routes.

To keep pace with burgeoning demand, officials said they will need a stable source of income such as the state program that helps maintain local streets and roads. The fund should start at about $55 million a year and rise at the same rate as ridership, they argued.

The rail advocates are also backing the development of a fourth line, starting with one train a day, that provide the "missing link" between the Capitol Corridor's terminus in San Jose and the Pacific Surfliner's northernmost station in San Luis Obispo.

Robert Oakes, transportation policy aide to Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, said that while the senator always has been supportive of intercity rail, he was surprised to hear of standing-room-only trains.

"That's really good news, but you don't want to scare people away," he said. "It's one thing to stand on BART. It's another thing to stand for an hour and a half on the Capitol Corridor."

Contact Erik Nelson at or 510-208-6410 and read the Capricious Commuter blog at

Vallejo Area homes becoming more affordable

Area homes becoming more affordable
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 02/23/2008 07:51:38 AM PST

More people should be able to afford a Vallejo-area home now that prices have dropped, though stricter mortgage loan requirements make it difficult, local real estate experts said Wednesday.

The California Association of Realtors released its latest affordability index Tuesday, reporting that 33 percent of households could afford to buy an entry-level home statewide in the fourth quarter of 2007. That compares to 25 percent for the same period a year ago.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been among the least affordable housing markets nationally, reaching a 14 percent affordability rating at the height of the real estate boom.

In fact, in a California Building Industry Association report released in January 2005, the Vallejo area was the country's 20th most-expensive Metropolitan Statistical Area. The median price for existing homes in the area then was $399,000.

The median listing price for a home in Vallejo as of two weeks ago was $369,000, said Solano Association of Realtors president Lori Collins. The median home price in Benicia is $599,000 and it's $509,000 in American Canyon, she said.

Solano County's affordability rating in February, 2005, was 13 percent, and one would have needed $100,000 annual income to
qualify, according to reports at the time.

Though the latest figures for Solano County and local cities were not immediately available Wednesday, the state report notes that statewide, a minimum household income of more than $82,000 was needed to buy a $411,170 entry-level home in the fourth quarter of 2007. This is based on an adjustable interest rate of 6.21 percent and assuming a 10 percent down payment. That would mean a monthly payment including taxes and insurance of $2,740, according to the report.

"Prices are significantly lower than they were last year, so they're more affordable to more people," Collins said. "But credit is still a huge issue. You must have much better credit and a larger down payment to qualify for a loan now."

Local Realtor Jeff Dennis echoed Collins' view.

"They calculate affordability based on home prices, interest rates and average income," he said. "Since interest rates are still relatively low and I think average income has remained steady, the lower home prices and increased availability should make buying a home here more affordable."

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

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Even as Sonoma County economy slows, it is expected to create jobs
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Back Article published - Feb 18, 2008
SONOMA COUNTY BUSINESS FORECAST: Even as Sonoma County economy slows, it is expected to create jobs
SSU economist says good, weak indicators create a ‘growth recession’
by William Jason
Staff Reporter

SONOMA COUNTY – Sonoma County already is in a mild economic downturn, but the slowing is likely to be short-lived and will happen amid continued job growth, constituting a so-called “growth recession,” according to Dr. Robert Eyler, an economist and head of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

“Right now, I’m bullish about 2009 where I’m less optimistic and a little bit bearish about 2008,” Dr. Eyler said.

Statistics tell a mixed story about the local economy. Indicators such as building permits, default notices, help wanted advertisements, and unemployment applications – used to forecast economic performance – are at their weakest levels of the decade.

Much of that weakness stems from turmoil in the housing market. Notices of default increased more than 150 percent in 2007 to 2,171, and new building permits dropped 31 percent to 1,062.

Meanwhile, indicators such as job growth, retail sales and personal income – used to describe the current economy – remain strong. For example, non-agricultural employment climbed 1.1 percent in 2007, and by December 2007 it was up 3.2 percent since the end of 2005, according to figures from the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

According to Dr. Eyler, the mixed indicators show that economic activity in Sonoma County is likely to slow in 2008, but job growth will be maintained in certain sectors.

“It’s probably going to be in retail, personal services and other types of low-wage jobs,” Dr. Eyler said. “That’s where we’re likely to see growth in the coming year.”

While housing weakness is one of the key causes of the predicted downturn, Dr. Eyler said declining home prices could have short-term benefits for businesses facing a shortage of local workers.

“There’s certainly some subset of the economy that gains from housing falling because people can afford to live where they work,” he said. “The flip side is, as a construction worker or real estate services professional it does affect my job. It’s difficult to know how that will balance for the entire county.”

Sonoma County’s trends are mirrored elsewhere in the North Bay, although Napa County boasts higher growth in areas such as jobs, sales and income.

“Sonoma County has really matured as an economy,” Dr. Eyler said.

Throughout Sonoma County and the North Bay, external trends, such as the declining value of the dollar, will also impact businesses. The currency decline, steepened by federal interest rate cuts, is helpful to export sectors such as technology, wine and tourism, but will put a squeeze on businesses that rely on local and domestic markets.

“If you’re an exporter you’re jumping up and down because this is exactly what you want to see, but if you’re a retailer, it’s going to cost you more to put goods on your shelves,” Dr. Eyler said.

The banking sector is also the beneficiary of declining short-term interest rates. Local banks have already been reporting higher profit margins as a result of declining interest rates for savings and money market accounts and certificates of deposit.

Another external factor that could impact the local economy is the 2008 presidential election, which could dampen business activity because of uncertainty about future tax policies and federal spending.

“Until people feel some sense of clarity about who’s going to be in the White House, I think there will be some really slow decision making about business employment and things like that because they’re not sure about what kind of regime they’re going to get,” Dr. Eyler said.

Meanwhile, the state’s budget crisis will crimp local and state agencies and institutions.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Planners Delay Decision, Get Wind of New Travis Response

Planners Delay Decision, Get Wind of New Travis Response
By Danny Bernardini/Staff Writer
Article Launched: 02/22/2008

Standing 350 feet above the Montezuma Hills, some 90 state-of-the-art wind turbines produce power for FPL Energy at the High Winds Energy Center west of Rio Vista. (Reporter file/Rick Roach)

In what is becoming a familiar action, the Solano County Planning Commission delayed a decision again Thursday night on whether 88 additional wind turbines can be installed in the Montezuma Hills.

The commission is waiting for the latest response to the situation by Travis Air Force Base.

The issue has been before the planning commission since early last year and the latest delay is until at least March 20, but could be even longer depending on how quickly environmental documents can be finalized.

The proposal for turbines, titled the Shiloh II Wind Project, by enXco is to build 88 of them on land located southeast of Travis. The problem is that Travis officials fear that the new turbines would interfere with a new radar system that will be operational by October.

The newest addition to the proposal is that enXco now is offering up to $1 million to Travis for any potential problems those turbines may cause.

Col. G.I. Tuck, acting wing commander at Travis, said the base stands by its original statement of having the project delayed until the new radar system is in place. He also added that the base likely would be issuing a formal response to the $1 million offer shortly.

There are currently more than 700 wind turbines in the Montezuma Hills, but the newest batch potentially would cause a problem as the blades of the turbines may lead to smaller planes appearing to drop off the radar screens while images of others may appear when they aren't actually there, according to Travis officials.

Thursday night's meeting featured comments from both Travis and lawyers for enXco. Anne Mudge, enXco's lawyer, said she is confident the offer will be accepted and a deal will soon be in place to build the turbines. She also apologized for the issue again being delayed.

Danny Bernardini can be reached at

Rio Vista Bass Festival Returns To Its Roots

Rio Vista Bass Festival Returns To Its Roots
By Carol Bogart | Daily Republic | February 21, 2008

Good friends J.E. Wiley and Gary Bryant try their luck for Striped Bass with other fishermen during the 2005 Rio Vista Bass Derby. The bass derby has been going strong for years, but the festival was canceled last year. Organizers are looking at bringing the festival back. File Photo 2005. Photo by File 2005

Rio Vista - Have a hankering for the simpler times of yesteryear? If so, you aren't alone.

That's why the Rio Vista Bass Festival is returning to its roots of 60 years ago after being canceled last year due to a lack of interest.

'The festival had become more like a carnival with big food wagons from L.A.' and less like a small town fair, said Linda Lannon, executive director of the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce.

When residents were asked how the festival could be changed, Lannon said the frequent reply was, 'Make it more like it used to be.'

Gone will be the commercial food and other vendors. In their place will be food prepared by service groups such as the Lions and Rotary clubs. Area artisans will replace commercial purveyors of crafts, photos and other art.

When last years' festival was canceled, it caused so much confusion that even the historic Bass Derby suffered, Lannon said. Only 900 anglers entered the 2007 derby, a drop of 300 compared with 2006. Anglers may have thought the derby had also been canceled, she added.

Local artisans interested in being vendors at the festival can request to be added to the chamber's list, Lannon said. When the application process is finalized in about a month, those who have e-mailed the chamber will be notified.

Lannon said area artists should put 'art/crafts vendor' on the e-mail subject line.

The festival, which will be Oct. 10-12, will feature a parade, carnival, queen's contest, pancake breakfast, talent shows, chili and Portuguese bean cookoffs and a fireworks display.

All Rio Vista community groups are encouraged to participate, Lannon said, and the chamber is hosting monthly planning meetings.

Lannon is confident the festival 'will be much better this year,' as will attendance at the Bass Derby, she said.

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

Rio Vista Bass Festival
Oct. 10-12
Info: Call 374-2700 or e-mail, or
February 2008

Table of Contents
- Real Estate Roundup (January 2008)
- Scott Reynolds – 2008 Chairman of Solano EDC
- 2007: A strong economic year for Solano County
- 2007 Highlights
- Did you know?

Real Estate Roundup (January 2008)
-Building 126, Mare Island, Vallejo – 16,958 sf lease to Alamillo Rebar
-Building 674, Mare Island Vallejo – 8,804 sf lease to EP Architectural Builders
-865 Cotting Lane, Vacaville – 5,000 sf lease renewal to K.C. Engineering

Colliers International (
-64 Union Way, Vacaville – Land sale of ±1 acre industrial parcel to Rave Properties

Cornish & Carey (
-5080 Park Road, Benicia - 17,482 sf lease to CDX
-6730 Goodyear Road, Benicia, 8,045 sf lease to Industrial Gasket
-370 Chadbourne Road, Fairfield 4,000 sf lease to Cal Trans

Grubb & Ellis (
-2489 Courage Drive, Fairfield – 7,347 sf condo sale to Fit Tech
-Watt Court , Fairfield - 2.97 acre land sale Cowan Thompson

Scott Reynolds named to chair
Solano Economic Development Corporation board
S. Scott Reynolds, managing shareholder in the law firm of Gaw Van Male, has been named 2008 Chairman of the Solano Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. Reynolds will serve as chair as Solano EDC celebrates its 25th year anniversary.

Reynolds is general counsel for many corporations with headquarters in California, and is a certified specialist in probate, estate planning and trust law certified by the California State Bar Association.

He received his J.D. from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Actively involved in the community, Reynolds is on the NorthBay Healthcare Foundation, the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Vacaville Rotary Club.

2007: A strong economic year for Solano County
2007 was a good year for Solano County, and economic development leaders predict the area is poised to take on the financial challenges of 2008.

At the EDC annual meeting Sam Zuckerman, senior economic writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, told the 300 attendees that Solano County has the assets needed to meet the uncertain times ahead.

“Skilled labor, land, access (to the Bay Area and Sacramento), a diverse economy and a strong government will allow Solano to grow within the next two years at a solid pace,” Zuckerman said.

Michael Ammann, president of the EDC, made the same prediction, also citing benchmarks that point to continued growth. Zuckerman and Ammann acknowledged the challenges faced regionally, statewide and nationally – housing, market volatility and technical downturns.

“We have the most diverse Bay Area economy,” Ammann said, “And that will allow us to overcome the challenges facing our state and nation.”

Major 2007 economic projects highlight the EDC’s Annual Meeting
Major developments, infrastructure projects and increasing sales tax during 2007—all created a good year for Solano County cities. Michael Ammann, EDC president, gave attendees at the annual meeting a brief overview of 2007’s major accomplishments. These included:
· BENICIA: Expansion of the Benicia Industrial Park, including Bio-Rad, Cole Supply and Bruni Glass; new downtown boutiques and cafes; sales tax revenue increased 16%.
· DIXON: Campbell’s Soup invests $20 million in plant improvements; retail growth; hybrid vehicle startup company.
· FAIRFIELD: 2 million sq. ft. project at Green Valley Corporate Park; Sutter Medical Offices, CalBee America snack food; new auto dealerships.
· RIO VISTA: Waterfront development plan approved; research center at the former Army Base; Rio Vista Industrial Park infrastructure improvements.
· SUISUN CITY: Harbor Square construction; neighborhood improvements, apartments and family mixed uses; future Highway 12 development approved.
· VACAVILLE: Kaiser Hospital construction; Genentech expansion; Alza multi-million solar farm; State Compensation Insurance Fund offices.
· VALLEJO: Transportation and retail/commercial opportunities including the Vallejo Intermodal Facility; heavy-ion cancer treatment center; expansions at Touro University and California Maritime Academy.
Ammann also citied Travis AFB, a low unemployment, and the potential for expanded biotech manufacturing as highlights for Solano County economic development.

Did you know?
Solano County is the only county that has had two cities serve as the state capital. Can you name the cities?

Vallejo from January 5, 1852 to February 4, 1853 and Benicia from February 4, 1853 to February 25, 1854 (right: Benicia State Capital Building)

The Solano Economic Development Corporation’s mission is to enhance the economic vitality
and quality of life in Solano County communities through the attraction,
growth and retention of business and industry.

Solano EDC Team

Mike Ammann, President (
Sandy Person, Vice-President (
Pat Uhrich, Office Manager (
Andy Turba, Special Projects (

Solano Economic Development Corporation
360 Campus Lane, Suite 102, Fairfield, CA 94534
Phone: (707) 864-1855 Fax: (707) 864-6621

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Council OKs Environmental Report For Business Park

Council OKs Environmental Report For Business Park
By SARA STROUD/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 02/21/2008

On Tuesday night the Benicia city council approved the environmenatal report for the proposed Benicia Business Park project just off of Lake Herman Road. (Stacey J. Miller/Times-Herald)

BENICIA - After a lengthy discussion, the City Council voted 4 to 1 late Tuesday to green-light the environmental report for the controversial Benicia Business Park.

Although the council certified the environmental impact report, members attached "substantial conditioning" to their approval. They asked for more environmental review and changes so the project will comply with the city's general plan, City Manager Jim Erickson said.

Traffic, pollution and urban decay in other parts of town are among the city's concerns, Erickson said.

In addition to vocal project opponents, union construction workers who hope the project will create jobs squeezed into the packed council chambers for the proceedings.

"It was the public's night," Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said.

But, Patterson said, some residents may have been surprised by her vote to pass the report after she has long expressed her ardent opposition to the project in its current form.

"It was a done deal," Patterson said, since three council members were already on board to accept the report.

"I tried to make the best of a bad situation," by insisting on additional environmental review in potential problem areas, Patterson said.

Councilman Tom Campbell cast the lone dissenting vote.

"We're a hop, skip and a rationalization from the project being OK'd," Campbell said Wednesday. "The project doesn't work, it doesn't match the plan and it's not at all what we're looking for."

While Campbell questioned the authority of the council's authority to add requirements, City Attorney Heather McLaughlin said state law dictates that the project must conform with the city's general plan.

"It's a pretty strong statement," McLaughlin said of the council's caveats.

The next step likely will be for the project to face Planning Commission review. This must be done within 50 days, but city staff wondered Tuesday night whether the applicant might seek more time to adjust the project.

The proposed mixed use development is slated to occupy about 528 acres between Lake Herman Road and E. Second Street.

Sal Evola, vice president of project developer Discovery Builders, said in a recent interview that an approved report will allow the company to create a project that fits within the environmental framework.

A representative from Discovery Builders was not available for comment Wednesday.

E-mail Sara Stroud at or call 553-6833.

Vacaville Mayor Cautiously Optimistic

Vacaville Mayor Cautiously Optimistic
By Ian Thompson | DAILY REPUBLIC | February 20, 2008

VACAVILLE - Mayor Len Augustine is fairly restrained when he describes the state of the city's fortunes for this year as 'OK.'

Although he is very optimistic about leading a city that doesn't face layoffs and cuts in services, Augustine is careful to note Vacaville still faces many challenges in keeping the city's ship on an even keel.

'I am cautious and not trying to think it is better than it is,' Augustine said. 'We have to keep on top of it and deal with any problems before they become big.'

That has included action taken by city officials last month to impose a hiring freeze and to carefully reach into the city's reserves to cover expenditures.

On the flip side, Augustine is looking forward to ribbon-cutting ceremonies for businesses such as the Kaiser Hospital and the State Compensation Insurance Fund that will bring more jobs to the city.

'The future looks bright. This is a tremendous opportunity for people to find employment,' Augustine said.

Augustine's comments are a preamble to the state-of-the-city address he and City Manager David Van Kirk will give Feb. 28 at the Hampton Inn Suites.

Augustine said he doesn't foresee any changes in city services, adding he is pleased city police and fire departments are fully staffed and doing well.

One indication of that is a 15 percent drop in major crime across the city in the past year, he said.

Vacaville has also seen a small, but appreciable rise in the number of new home construction permits, Augustine added.

Foreclosures are a problem in Vacaville, Augustine said, but the city's home foreclosure counseling program has helped some residents through that.

Retail areas such as Vacaville's Nut Tree Village and the area around it are adding tenants, Augustine said. The Olive Garden recently opened just south of Interstate 80, and the site for a Elephant Bar restaurant in the Nut Tree is in the process of being graded.

Augustine also pointed out that some of the city's older shopping centers, which suffered from vacant store fronts, have been doing better.

County Square Market, a major Asian specialty market, is close to opening its doors on Peabody Road, and the owners of the Alamo Plaza center recently got city approval to make significant improvements, Augustine said.

Augustine attributed much of the city's good fortune to its residents, community groups such as the veterans and faith-based organizations that are involved with the community.

The one thing that could really derail Vacaville, according to Augustine, is the state's massive budget crisis. He said the state could take a run at local revenues to make ends meet, a tactic that has been tried in the past.

'I am very cautious about what is happening with the state,' Augustine said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Solano's Got It!

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