Friday, February 29, 2008

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

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