Thursday, December 29, 2005

Report: Sacramento workers earn more than national average

Report: Sacramento workers earn more than national average

Sacramento workers in a variety of blue- and white-collar occupations were paid more than the national average in 2004, in some cases significantly more, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The pay in Sacramento for nine major occupational groups, when averaged together, was 8 percent above the national average. The pay within each of these groups ranged from 5 percent to 13 percent above the national average.

The figures are drawn from the bureau's National Compensation Survey, conducted in July 2004. The bureau collected pay data from 78 metropolitan statistical areas across the country, and then calculated "pay relatives" for each area that compared its pay in nine occupational categories to the national average.

For Sacramento, here are the pay relatives for each occupational group:

Management, business and financial: 106, or 6 percent above the national average
Professional and related: 112
Service: 113
Sales and related: 108
Office and administrative support: 106
Construction and extraction: 105
Installation, maintenance and repair: 112
Production: 106
Transportation and material moving: 110
The pay figures include wages, salaries, commissions and production bonuses, and the calculation for each area is adjusted to control for occupational composition, the types of businesses, the concentration of union versus nonunion labor, the time of year the information was collected and other variables that might skew the numbers higher or lower, according to the bureau.

San Francisco had the highest pay relative across all occupations, with its workers earning 17 percent more than the national average. Brownsville, Texas, had the lowest, where workers earn 30 percent less than the national average.

Full Accreditation Awarded

Full Accreditation Awarded

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has awarded full accreditation status to the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base for another three years.
The award is the result of a recent combined survey with the Air Force's own Health Services Inspection.

The Joint Commission evaluates and accredits more than 15,000 health-care organizations and programs in the United States. The accreditation is recognized nationwide as a symbol of quality that reflects an organization's commitment to meeting certain performance standards.

"The Joint Commission was very impressed with the level of health-care services provided by Team DGMC," stated Col. Byron Hepburn, a medical doctor and commander of the 60th Medical Group. "Their direct quote is, 'You have a fine hospital here,' " said Hepburn. "Our ability to continue to provide high-quality health-care to those entrusted to our care has been fully validated by the Joint Commission."

Additionally, the Air Force Inspection Agency team performed a rigorous look at many of David Grant's operational support functions, which include leadership, operational medicine, medical readiness, deployment preparation and support operations, public health and bioenvironmental functions, resource management and business planning, dental operations, behavioral health and community programs.

Four areas received an outstanding rating: dentistry, behavioral health, community support and support to general medical education programs.

In addition, seven areas were rated as excellent: deployment processing, workplace surveillance, epidemiology and public health surveillance, clinical services, executive oversight, human resource management and business planning, and revised financing.

Phase 1 of Vallejo Project is Residential

Phase 1 of Vallejo Project is Residential

Triad Communities, one of the West's leading urban and master-planned community developers, recently announced that D.R. Horton, America's largest homebuilder, will construct hundreds of residential units in the first phase of Triad's downtown Vallejo revitalization effort.

The project, received municipal approvals in September and is expected to transform Vallejo's central core into a vibrant economic, cultural and social center.

"D.R. Horton's decades of experience in creating exceptional new home communities will be an integral component of our efforts in downtown Vallejo," said Fred Grimm, Triad Communities president. "As a homebuilder, D.R. Horton has an outstanding track record in developing a very creative mix of housing in urban areas. We're looking forward to a strong partnership that will result in a unique and refreshing downtown that reflects both Vallejo's historical legacy and its exciting future."

Triad Communities has designed a stimulating live-work environment for downtown Vallejo that integrates sidewalk-level retail with residential units above. The first building on Virginia Street consisting of residential, live-work and retail construction, is expected to begin in April.

The six-story structure features ample underground parking, European style public paseos and gardens, with distinctive architecture that respects the history of Vallejo's former downtown fabric. The first building will consist of approximately 150 condominiums featuring a variety of desirable amenities, such as a paseo, balconies and water views.

Through Triad Downtown Vallejo LLC, the developer's plans cover 12 square blocks of the city, an area bounded by Sonoma Boulevard and Maine, Santa Clara and Capitol streets. An example of classic "mixed-use" development, downtown Vallejo will feature three distinct, yet ultimately intertwined, districts:

• Residential, retail and specialty

• Civic and transit

• Arts and entertainment

Each districts will be within walking distance of each other, ensuring a pedestrian-friendly environment for residents and visitors alike.

Solano County Unemployment Drops

Solano County Unemployment Drops
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - The unemployment rate dropped slightly in November for Solano County, according to preliminary results from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The county's unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent compared to 5.2 percent in October. In November 2004 the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

The state's unemployment rate actually rose a tenth of a percent from October to
5.1 percent in November.

The national unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent, down from 5.2 percent a year earlier.

Of the eighteen metropolitan areas with jobless rates below 3 percent, 13 were in the South.

The lowest unemployment rate in the nation belongs to Fargo, N.D., with an unemployment rate of 2.3 percent. Notably the high temperature in Fargo Dec. 18 was minus two degrees.

The San Francisco Bay Area, not including San Jose, had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. San Jose's was 5.3 percent.

The worst rate in the state belonged to El Centro along the Mexican border, with a dismal 16.3 percent unemployment rate.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

Unemployment Rates

-United States: 4.8 percent

-California: 5.1 percent

-Solano: 5.1 percent

-San Francisco: 4.6 percent

-San Jose: 5.3 percent

-El Centro, Calif: 16.3 percent

-Fargo, N.D.: 2.3 percent

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Genentech on Forbes' Platinum List

Genentech on Forbes' Platinum List
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Biotherapuetic developer and manufacturer Genentech was among nine pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that made this year's Forbes Platinum 400 list, released by the business and financial media group this week.

Genentech - which is significantly expanding its Vacaville facilities - was ranked 153 out of 400 companies, based upon factors including a five-year total return of 22.6 percent, 42.8 percent sales growth in the last 12 months, and more than $6 million in sales and a net income in excess of $1 billion through November 2005, according to Forbes.

Genentech was the second-highest ranked company of its kind, coming in behind Gilead Sciences, which makes therapeutics for life-threatening diseases including HIV and influenza. This is the third year Genentech has made the Forbes list.

The magazine's annual list, which is also referred to as the America's Best Big Companies list, has - for six out of seven years - outperformed the stock market in the 12 months following its release, according to Forbes.

"The Platinum 400 had its best 12-month run in 2003, when it gained an average 26 percent vs. 13 percent from the S&P 500 and 10 percent for the Dow Jones Industrial Average," wrote Forbes' Brian Zajac in an introductory article published with the list of companies and statistics.

According to Zajac, selection criteria for companies included revenue of at least $1 billion, stock prices at or above $5 per share, and having been public entities for at least two years. Forbes then ranked companies against industry counterparts over
the past five years, as well as over the past 12 months.

In addition to Genentech and Gilead Sciences, the drug and biotech companies that made the Forbes Platinum 400 list were Barr Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Allergan, Abbott Laboratories, Invitrogen and King Pharmaceuticals.

Amanda Janis can be reached

Roadways in the Area 'Very Good'

Roadways in the Area 'Very Good'
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

While it might come as a surprise to some local motorists, three cities in northern Solano County rank near the top in a survey of the best maintained roads and streets in the Bay Area.

The city of Dixon, in fact, ranked behind only Brentwood, the unincorporated area of Contra Costa County, and Los Altos in the survey, which assessed pavement condition for 2004 across more than 100 municipalities and unincorporated areas in the Bay Area.

Fairfield and Vacaville pavement conditions garnered the label of "very good." The survey was included in the Metropolitan Transportation

Commission's recently released annual report, called "State of the System 2005."

But while some jurisdictions received high marks for their road conditions, it was more common in the Bay Area to see a deterioration of streets and roads, the report states.

"We note with some concern that the pavement condition on the Bay Area's 19,000 miles of local streets and roads got a little bumpier in '04 - as they have in each of the last three years," reads the report.

"This trend suggests Bay Area jurisdictions are not spending the money necessary to maintain the condition of local roadways ... over time."

The city of Benicia pulled in "good" marks for its pavement conditions.

The unincorporated area of Solano County and Suisun City were ranked in the

bottom third of the Bay Area with "fair" marks. The city of Vallejo and the city of Rio Vista also ranked "fair."

Local transportation officials say that streets and roads have been tough to maintain the last several years due to the rising costs of road materials and declining revenues for road repair.

Even with those difficult conditions, the city of Fairfield has found a way to maintain its roads so that they rank near the top of the Bay Area.

Numerous roads around the city have been resurfaced in the last several years.

For instance, Second Street between Texas Street and Travis Boulevard was redone recently, city officials said. Fairfield also has improved roads as it replaces its water and sewer system in a large area west of Penn-

sylvania Avenue and north of Texas Street.

The brand new roads in new housing developments also help growing cities like Fairfield remain atop the rankings.

"It's nice. I don't know that we brag about it," said

Charlie Beck, public works director, commenting on the city's status. "But it is something that we are proud of."

In regard to Solano County's unincorporated area ranking in the bottom third of Bay Area jurisdictions, Paul Wise, a top county transportation manager, said that Solano County struggles to maintain 480 paved miles with revenues that have not risen over the last several years.

While revenues have remained static, the price of asphalt, closely linked to fuel prices, has risen 67 percent since 1999. Put another way, the county resurfaced 6.8 miles of road this year. If the price of asphalt had remained at 1999 levels, the county could have resurfaced 11.3 miles of road.

"We've had to reduce the amount of overlay substantially," Wiese said. "We're squeezed on both ends."

The situation makes it tough to maintain even the heavily traveled county roads, including Vanden, Peabody, Peaceful Glen and Pleasants Valley near Vacaville, Wiese said.

"The reality, based on the current climate is to not let it deteriorate any further," he said.

Jason Massad can be reached at

Downtown Renaissance Continues

Downtown Renaissance Continues
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Back in 2000, business leaders and city officials convened in workshops and brain storming sessions to determine what could be done to revitalize downtown Fairfield.

Five years later the area is an emerging testament to those efforts.

The area continues to see appreciation in rent rates, while vacancy rates decrease. Business turn-over is high in the area, but the open spaces are being quickly filled by a variety of businesses that contribute to a more dynamic business base, said Emily Low, program coordinator for the Fairfield Downtown Association.

A few years ago monthly rent rates were about 65 to 70 cents per foot, Low said. Now rates are 95 cents to $1.10 per foot for new tenants.

Part of the increase can be attributed to the increased foot traffic from the new government buildings. Another factor, according to Low, is that more business owners are looking for cheaper rent rates than commercial spaces located along Interstate 80. Demand increases price.

Low was part of the discussions five years ago and remembers how everyone from county workers and neighborhood residents to the business owners and property owners contributed their visions and desires for the future downtown area.

"One of the things we did was to look at what kinds of businesses we had here, and what kinds of businesses would enhance those," she said.

Three things they wanted then: a fabric shop, an early morning breakfast restaurant and a hobby store. What they got: Cornerstone Quilt Shop, Downhome Diner and Black Knight Trains and Hobbies.

Low said they still want a juice shop, such as Jamba Juice, a gym and a neighborhood hardware store.

Spurred by reinvestment incentives from the city and higher rents, property owners are reinvesting in their buildings and attracting a wider assortment of businesses, including more tenants providing upper-end products and services.

John Costanzo, a property developer who owns the Stonefield Corner and McInnis Corner buildings which are located on the South corners of Texas and Jefferson, is one of the business leaders on the forefront of reinvestment in downtown.

Costanzo re-developed McInnis Corner giving it an attractive and modern look, and Starbucks quickly moved in to take possession of the coveted corner space. Now a local accounting firm is eying the second floor space, according to Low.

Across the street at Stonefield Corner, Costanzo is offering commercial condominium spaces in part of the building.

The idea is that a business will own the space in which it operates, allowing the owner to control an appreciating asset rather than simply paying rent.

Already about 75 percent of the condos are under some level of discussions or negotiations, said Costanzo. The interested parties range from doctors and attorneys to insurance agents, he said.

"They're excited about being invested in a commercial project rather than just paying rent," he said. "It's a pretty new idea, but its time has come."

While Costanzo said he does not make as much money in the long run with condos, those who own their condos will be more committed to the downtown area, and this increases the value of all downtown, including his other properties such as McInnis Corner.

"The county building was a catalyst for growth. This will be another catalyst," he said.

Costanzo also noted that an increased police presence has created a safer climate.

"The police have made a significant commitment to try and redevelop downtown by showing a presence," he said. "It's just nice having them around."

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Solano EDC Meeting Set

Solano EDC Meeting Set

"Solano: The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades," is the theme of the Solano Economic Development Corporation's annual meeting Jan. 26.

The event features keynote speaker Ian Stuart, who is a partner in the Advisory Group of Colliers International, and has counseled corporations worldwide on all aspects of commercial real estate for the past 30 years.

In the Bay Area, his past assignments included the headquarters for Oracle, Adobe Systems, NEC Electronics, and KQED Public Television.

The event takes place at 11:30 a.m. at Fairfield's Hilton Garden Inn; it costs $40 for individuals to attend. A table of 8 costs $300, though sponsors who purchase a table for $1,000 will receive special benefits. Call 864-1855.

Rio Vista Transit System Offers New Fares, Routes

Rio Vista Transit System Offers New Fares, Routes
By Reporter Staff

The city of Rio Vista is making major modifications to its transit system aimed at improving efficiency, cost effectiveness and farebox recoveries, according to city leaders.
The changes are needed, according to a recently issued press release, in order to continue receiving state Transportation Development Act funds for operation of its bus system.

Beginning Jan. 30, the city will offer three new bus routes that will take passengers not only around Rio Vista but connect them to Isleton, Fairfield and Antioch. The routes are part of what is known as "deviated fixed routes," meaning they run on a timed schedule. But with a hour advance notice to the transit dispatcher, the bus will deviate its route to pick up or drop off passengers that live too far away from the route or are unable to walk to the bus stop.

The new routes have been dubbed the "Rio Vista Delta Breeze" routes and will operate Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

New fares for the Delta Breeze routes will be instituted and will be based on one-way prices. Monthly passes and 10-ride passes will be available at a discount for frequent riders.

The new fares will be as follows:

• Within Rio Vista: $1.50 for one-way general fare and 75 cents for seniors; 10-ride pass, $15 general and $7.50 for seniors; monthly pass, $35 general and $20 for seniors.

• One-way fare to Isleton: $1.50 general and seniors.

• Intercity fare to Antioch or Fairfield: One-way, $5 for general and seniors; 10-ride pass, $45 for general and seniors; monthly pass, $85 for general and seniors.

• Route deviations: 50 cents for general fares and free for seniors.

• Transfers to other transit systems: Free for all

• Senior shuttle: Not available for general fares but $5 round trip for seniors.

For more information, call 374-5337.

Builder Announced in Vallejo Project

Builder Announced in Vallejo Project
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Triad Communities announced Texas-based D.R. Horton will build hundreds of residential units in the first phase of a project in downtown Vallejo.

"D.R. Horton's decades of experience in creating exceptional new home communities will be an integral component of our efforts in downtown Vallejo," said Fred Grimm, Triad Communities president, in a prepared statement. "As a homebuilder, D.R. Horton has an outstanding track record in developing a very creative mix of housing in urban areas."

Seattle-based Triad Communities' design for the project will include sidewalk-level retail space with residential units above.

The project is slated to break ground April 2006. The first building will be on Virginia Street downtown. It will consist of residential, live-work and retail space. It will also include underground parking.

The building will have 150 condominiums and will feature public paseos and gardens.

Triad Communities established a presence in Vallejo in 1998, when the company took a controlling interest in Hiddenbrooke, a community with 1,100 homes and a golf course.

Walnut Association Ups Price Recommendations

FAIRFIELD - The Walnut Bargaining Association is recommending an increase of 15 percent to 20 percent over the prices growers received for the 2004 walnut crop.
This year, the California Agricultural Statistics Service predicted the state's walnut harvest would yield a record 340,000 in-shell tons, up from 325,000 tons harvested in 2004. Between September to November, walnut growers in the state - numbering at more than 5,300 - collected their bounty.

"With market prices for inshell deliveries in the $1.02 to $1.15 range presently compared to 92 cents to begin the year in 2004, we feel increased prices to growers are warranted," said Don Norene, chair of the Lincoln-based Walnut Bargaining Association, in a release.

In Solano County, the 2004 harvest translated into $5.6 million. Walnuts ranked seventh among the county's top million-dollar crops and alone took up almost half of the dedicated fruit and nut acres.

The association recommends the price of $2.05 per meat yield pound for quality Chandler walnuts and $1.75 for other shelling stock varieties.

Biz Bits . . .

- Genentech (NYSE: DNA) will announce its 2005 fourth quarter and year-end earnings Jan. 10, 2006, after the markets close. Following the earnings release, the company will host a live webcast conducted by management who will discuss the earnings.

- Milwaukee-based staffing firm Manpower Inc. signed a lease to open an office at the Corporate Plaza, Suite 110, at 1261 Travis Blvd., Fairfield. Kirk Hull of the Wiseman Co. handled the lease negotiations.

- Christopher Lichtenhan and Brian Ollendorf leased 1,320 square feet of space to open Fused Cafe at 898 Alamo Drive, Vacaville. Randy Dawson, Premier Commercial, represented the two men.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

County's Jobless Rate Shows Strength

County's Jobless Rate Shows Strength
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

Solano County area's latest unemployment numbers bode well for its economic future, a state employment department official says.
While the area's 5.1 percent unemployment in November is low, it's the number of overall jobs created since last year that really indicates an improved economy, according to Arvis Curry of the state's Employment Development Department.

"The number of jobs lost in some industries between October and November are offset by the number gained in others during the same period. It's the year-over totals, though, that really tell the story," Curry says.

The Vallejo area has gained about 2,000 jobs since November 2004, he says, mostly in construction, manufacturing, trade/transportation/utilities, the information sector and professional/business services.

It's not just the number of jobs gained, but which ones, he said.

"Manufacturing jobs were up in Solano County, where they're down in most of the rest of the state and the country, and that's something," Curry says. "And the professional and business services sector is usually a bellwether for permanent hiring."

The area's 6.1 percent growth rate is "decent" and indicates a growth rate "a little faster than the state," according to Curry.

"The numbers indicate improving economic conditions, outpacing the rest of the Bay Area in job creation overall," he says.

Napa area figures show 4.3 percent unemployment in November, up from 3.8 percent in October but below the year-ago estimate of 4.9 percent.

California's unemployment rate was 5.1 percent and the nation's was 4.8 percent during the same period.

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

Sister cities

Sister cities

Solano County entered into a partnership with the Chinese city of Ji'an almost two years ago.

In June 2004, four county delegates traveled to Ji'an to formalize the sister city relationship.

County Supervisor John Vasquez was among those who paid for their travel and visited China for 12 days. During that time, the group traveled to Shanghai, Beijing and Ji'an, where the group discussed the advantages to international partnership.

An agreement to last five years was signed, Vasquez said.

In October, a delegation from Ji'an visited Solano County. Local business and county officials hosted a special dinner, took the group sight-seeing and visited many businesses - among them, Nourot Glass Studio in Benicia.

Solano Community College Superintendent-President Paulette Perfumo, who is a member of the County Partnership for International Friendship, remembers how thrilled the Ji'an delegation was with the glass-blowing industry in Benicia.

"They were very impressed with the blown glass artwork," she said. "They brought back beautiful gifts from some of the glass-blowing studios there. That could open up a whole new market for our businesses that are in the arts."

Perfumo has been corresponding with the chancellor of a university in Ji'an to set up another partnership - one based in education. Last fall, Solano Community College deans and faculty hosted the Ji'an delegation.

"Our hope is to look at not only international business opportunities, but also improving our relationship with international education opportunities," Perfumo said. There are many ideas on the table, including the exchange of students and guest faculty.

"It provides opportunities for students and faculty to learn by actually living in another culture as well as studying at another university system and to be exposed to a totally different way of life for a semester or whatever period of time we would work out in our planning together," she said.

Talks are still in the early stages. However, Perfumo said the Ji'an chancellor is considering bringing a delegation early spring to discuss an exchange program.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Coffee Tree Sips Long Gone, Nut Tree Sibling Falls

Demolition crews from Yelton Company Inc. raze the vacant Coffee Tree restaurant Tuesday afternoon. in Vacaville (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

A Cup of Progress
Sips Long Gone, Nut Tree Sibling Falls
By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

Though the last cup of joe was gulped down at the Coffee Tree Restaurant more than two years ago, the curiously-shaped landmark still stood as this week began as a reminder of days past.

But Tuesday, the process of ripping that reminder from the Vacaville landscape began.

Crews from locally-based Yelton Demolition Company spent the soupy Tuesday afternoon on Nut Tree Parkway tearing down the 40-year-old restaurant.

The company's Charlie Yelton said his crews likely will be working on the demolition the rest of this week.

Tom Angstadt, one of the owners of the restaurant and a principal in the Kivelstadt Group, said the demolition has been in the works for several years.

"We've been discussing taking it down for a while," he said Tuesday. "You're not going to re-lease that space."

The unique diner closed rather abruptly in November 2003 amid numerous financial challenges, including $1 million in structural improvements needed to meet the federally-mandated requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The locally-famous Power family opened Coffee Tree in 1965 as a sort of fast-food sibling to its Nut Tree restaurant, which sat on the north side of Interstate 80.

Nut Tree opened in 1921 and quickly became a favorite of locals and travelers alike for its unique take on California cuisine and beloved speciality items, including oversized cookies.

But because of a consistently red bottom line, Nut Tree proper closed in 1996. After a number of false starts, work is progressing on a major redevelopment of the Nut Tree area, led by regional developers Snell & Co. and Westrust Inc.

The first phase of the new Nut Tree complex, which includes a family park and a number of retail shops and eateries, is scheduled to be completed this summer. Future phases could add a hotel and conference center and up to 200 apartments to the site.

Further west from the Coffee Tree on Nut Tree Parkway, work is progressing on two new eateries - BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, and T.G.I. Friday's. Mike Palombo, the city's economic development director, said a redevelopment of the Coffee Tree site was a logical next step.

"This is the last readily available site," he said.

Angstadt said that the ownership group, which includes some members of the Power and Fairchild families, is talking to several possible tenants. He said he is currently unable to name suitors or offer any additional details of the redevelopment plans.

"We know what kind of development we want there, so it's really trying to find the right tenant," he said. "There's not a lot of sizzle beyond that right now."

Business writer Amanda Janis contributed to this report. Tom Hall can be reached at

Westfield Solano Mall Considers Expansion

Westfield Solano Mall Considers Expansion
By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Westfield Solano mall may soon begin a growth spurt on par with many of its teenage patrons.

Developers with parent company, Westfield Corp., submitted plans to the city of Fairfield to increase the mall's size by roughly 150,000 square feet - about the area of three football fields.

The expansion would add about 10 percent more leaseable space to the mall's current one million square feet. The proposed addition would occur between Sears and Macy's on both floors of that wing. It would also include a one-level parking structure.

In addition, 24-Hour Fitness is considering building a new club on the site of the former Solano Mall Cinema 6, which is now vacant. The club would be about 21,000 square feet and includes a swimming pool, according to plans filed with the city.

Under this proposal, the former cinema would be torn down.

Also proposed is a full-service car wash, which would be about a 9,000-square-foot facility. Entry to the car wash would be from the mall's internal road system.

Brian Miller, with the city's planning and development department, stressed the projects were not finalized.

"It's likely this may change a lot," he said.

As previously reported, the Westfield developers plan on refurbishing the interior of the mall, including new flooring, added skylights and signs, and a new sound system.

Keith Kaplan, development director with Los Angeles-based Westfield Corp., has been working with the city to re-brand the mall, adding new signs outside and creating a mall theme.

The proposed theme consists of four parts: Flight, winery, market and fair. Each quadrant of the mall will have one of the themes and a correlating color scheme.

Westfield Solano general manager Monty Stephens referred calls to Kaplan, who didn't return calls seeking comment.

Patrice Duker, a spokeswoman with New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, said stronger branding and redevelopments are a growing trend in malls.

"If there is one trend we've seen in 2005, it's seeing reinvestment by owners and developers in their existing malls," she said.

Increased competition is the driving factor behind the renovations, she said.

Malls are adding amenities and services that attract potential customers to the area. A fitness center would be such a draw, Duker said.

"Say someone who is going into a gym, the hope is they will shop at the mall," she added.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

Oakland Port OKs W. Sac Deal

Oakland Port OKs W. Sac Deal
Bay Area Terminal Agrees to Run Local Shipping Facility
By Jim Wasserman -- Bee Staff Writer

OAKLAND - In a move widely expected to restore long-term financial stability to the struggling Port of Sacramento and hand the Port of Oakland new options to deal with a torrent of cargo from Asia, the Bay Area port agreed Tuesday to begin managing the inland West Sacramento shipping facility next year.

The landmark deal, approved unanimously by the Port of Oakland's seven-member governing board, launches a six-month exploratory phase between the city of West Sacramento and the Port of Oakland to find a terminal operator in West Sacramento, chart the port's future and determine the Port of Oakland's share of revenue.

The initial phase could lead to a 20-year business deal between the two and halt a financial slide that has reached more than $6 million in West Sacramento during the last 5 1/2 years. The next step is similar approval expected Jan. 18 by the seven-member Port of Sacramento commission. The deal would go into effect immediately afterward.

"This is what I call excitement," said Oakland Port Commissioner Darlene Ayers-Johnson moments before the vote. "This is called commerce."

Other commissioners also spoke enthusiastically about the deal, labeling it a "very exciting strategic alliance."

The port's director of maritime operations, Wilson Lacy, said the proposed arrangement "is unique in our area. But it's not unique in Asia to have satellite operations and barging."

Lacy said several West Coast terminal operators have already expressed interest in running the Port of Sacramento beginning June 30.

Oakland, the nation's fourth busiest container port, handling almost 30 million tons of cargo last year on 1,902 ships, promises new marketing efforts to broaden the West Sacramento port's profile globally and eventually deepen its 43-mile ship channel to accommodate bigger ships carrying more profitable cargo.

The Port of Oakland also aims to barge Central Valley-bound cargo to West Sacramento, where it can be trucked to inland retail distribution centers such as Target Corp. in Woodland and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Tehama County.

Barging containers to West Sacramento is part of a regional growth strategy by the Port of Oakland that includes plans for a rail cargo shuttle to Shafter in Kern County to supply similar distribution centers in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Both would help ease Bay Area freeway congestion and Interstate 80 traffic as 8,000-container superships begin arriving at the Port of Oakland. Typically, each individual container not carried by rail must be hauled by one truck. An inland water support facility would also help the Bay Area port meet agreements with its West Oakland neighbors to curb diesel emissions expected to result from the port's $1.2 billion port expansion plan.

The Port of Oakland, a city of Oakland operation that also includes Oakland International Airport, is dredging a deeper harbor, adding cargo cranes and expanding marine terminals.

"I believe there's a situation here that will make business sense for both the Port of Oakland and the Port of Sacramento," said Andrew Belknap, interim chief executive officer of the West Sacramento facility. "Where we have an inland waterway like this, we have a unique opportunity to have goods move efficiently and with environmental benefits."

The Oakland decision capped a tumultuous business and political year for the Port of Sacramento, which continued to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars while its board struggled to reinvent the facility and some even suggested closing the industrial operation opened in 1963. Just weeks ago, after bitter regional fights that lasted throughout the summer, the port's governing board agreed to hand the port to its home city of West Sacramento, which began managing it last Thursday.

That agreement still faces two ratifying votes next month by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the Sacramento City Council after being approved by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and the West Sacramento City Council.

The four regional governments have long run a port that reached a peak of nearly 3 million tons of cargo in the early 1980s. But collectively, four separate governments proved dysfunctional in addressing port losses stemming from market shifts, lack of the commercial real estate income that cushions budgets at most California ports and price-cutting competition by the Port of Stockton.

Last year, the Port of Sacramento serviced 51 ships and handled 736,0000 tons of bulk cargo, largely rice exports and imported cement, lumber and fertilizer for Central Valley farms. The port handles no container ships because its 30-foot ship channel is too shallow.

About the writer:
· The Bee's Jim Wasserman can be reached at (916) 321-1102 or

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Study: Jobs in Greater Sacramento up at least 2 percent in '06 - 2005-12-20 - Sacramento Business Journal

Study: Jobs in Greater Sacramento up at least 2 percent in '06 - 2005-12-20 - Sacramento Business Journal: "LATEST NEWS
Business Pulse Survey: Overall, how do you think the local economy will fare in 2006? Click here to vote

Sacramento Business Journal - 10:23 AM PST Tuesday
Study: Jobs in Greater Sacramento up at least 2 percent in '06
Jobs in Greater Sacramento will rise by as much as 2.5 percent next year, according to a forecast jointly produced by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the SPHERE Institute of Burlingame.
The report, California Policy Review Regional Economic Outlook for the Sacramento Region, predicts that job growth in the region will reach 2 percent by early next year. The forecast further predicts the region's job growth will remain at the 2 percent to 2.5 percent range throughout 2006, led by continued strength in the construction sector and continued job growth especially in the government sector. Manufacturing will contribute to overall job growth in the region in the upcoming year, returning to positive territory after several years of losses.
The report also forecasts continued strength in the housing sector, with prices of both new and existing homes continuing to increase through the first half of 2007, although the rate of price appreciation is expected to slow markedly. The forecast calls for sales of both new and existing homes to decline modestly over the next six quarters.
The study pointed to substantial risks, including trade and budget deficits at the national level and high oil prices. "

Brooks Pedder Becomes Chairman of Solano EDC

Article Launched: 12/20/2005 06:29:55 AM

New leader to assume EDC helm

By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

A new chairman and two new board members will be recognized at Solano Economic Development Corporation's annual meeting in January.

Brooks Pedder - currently a Solano EDC vice chair and managing partner of Colliers International in Fairfield - will begin a three-year term as chairman of the board, replacing The Reporter's publisher, Steve Huddleston.

"We're thrilled to have Brooks as our chairman," said Sandy Person, the EDC's vice president. "He really understands economic development and he's on the front line every day, spreading the word about planting your business in Solano County."

Person is referencing Solano EDC's new marketing slogan, which incorporates agriculture's historic role in the county; the new "Plant Your Business in Solano County" campaign will be unveiled officially at the annual meeting.

Marketing, according to Pedder, is one area where they will continue to "push the envelope" next year. "The EDC is Solano's marketing force," he said.

"I'm excited because it's what I do anyway," Pedder explained. "I spend every day - every hour - that I'm not at home talking up Solano County."

EDC president Michael Ammann remarked, "Brooks will be hard at it next year; he's already been a great membership chair for me."

Ammann also said, "We have great volunteers and a couple more coming on board," in reference to nominees Carol Sitzenstatter, senior property manager for Rreef, and Patsy Van Oewerkerk, president and CEO of Travis Credit Union.

Though voting for the new board nominees takes place this week, the slate will be adopted at a special board meeting on Jan. 19, and officially recognized at the Jan. 26 annual meeting.

The annual meeting's theme is "Solano: The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades," and will feature keynote speaker Ian Stuart, partner in the Advisory Group of Colliers International. The luncheon and program at Fairfield's Hilton Garden Inn begins at 11:30 a.m., and costs $40 to attend, or $300 for a table for eight.

Solano EDC is a nonprofit, public-private partnership dedicated to enhancing the county's economic vitality and quality of life through attraction, growth and rention of business and industry.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Commissioners to consider Dixon development project of five commercial warehouses, totaling 45,000 square feet, on a 9.5-acre sit

Article Launched: 12/20/2005 06:30:00 AM

Commissioners to consider Dixon development projects

By Reporter Staff

Dixon planning commissioners will consider the merits of both retail and industrial projects tonight.

Commissioners first will weigh the proposed development of five commercial warehouses, totaling 45,000 square feet, on a 9.5-acre site along Fitzgerald Drive.

The project, by Panattoni Development, will undergo certification of mitigated environmental effects as well as a design review. Tenants for the warehouses have not been identified, according to city documents.

The project has been designed so that the site can be subdivided and sold separately, which would require further city approval.

A 57,500-square-foot retail development also will be up for design review. Pitched by Goldsmith Mancini, the six-building project would front Interstate 80 at the end of Gateway Court.

The six buildings would range in size from 7,500 to nearly 12,000 square feet.

Commissioners will meet at 7 p.m. at City Hall in the Council Chamber.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Saca unveils plan for third high rise condo tower

Sacramento Business Journal

From the December 19, 2005 print edition

Saca unveils plan for third tower
Mike McCarthy

Staff Writer

Developer John Saca is planning a third high-rise condominium tower in downtown Sacramento, this one at 10th and J streets and a bit more affordable than his first two.

"The Metropolitan" would have 320 condos, an "infinity" -- seemingly rimless -- swimming pool at top, plus stores on the ground level. Saca hopes to start construction late next year, "if we can get city approvals and the market is there."

The plans extend downtown Sacramento's recent streak of new-condo ventures, all seeking to tap into a perceived demand for more urban housing as the region gains population.

Saca has two 53-story condo high-rises in the early stages of construction. Known as The Towers on Capitol Mall, they would be built at 3rd Street and Capitol Mall, on the site of the recently demolished former home of The Sacramento Union.

The new tower "will be more cost effective," Saca said. "There will be fewer amenities."

The Towers would have about 800 condos, plus an upscale hotel, large health club, and 60,000 square feet of swank stores and restaurants in a two-story mall. Prices average about $600,000. The Metropolitan would have a smaller gym, the pool and 13,000 square feet of retail.

It's too early to really say, Saca said, but prices would probably start in the $300,000s and rise to $1 million for a penthouse.

The site would cover most of the half block on the north side of J between 10th and 11th, across from Cesar Chavez Plaza.

Echoes of Vancouver
The top of the building would be split into three levels, with the pool and penthouses on the lowest. Next would come an upstairs terrace for the penthouses, and then a room with mechanical systems.

Some penthouses could have two floors, said Darrell Chan, the project designer with San Francisco's Kwan Henmi Architecture/Planning, which is designing the building. Two-story lofts would also be available right above the ground-floor stores.

The condos would range from 700 to 1,300 square feet, feature ample window space and include open air balconies on all units.

The lower floors would wrap a four-story, 514-space parking garage. An arcade or plaza is planned across from Cesar Chavez Plaza, creating a place for outdoor dining.

The building partly reflects high-rise condo architecture in Chan's hometown, Vancouver, British Columbia, a West Coast center for such projects.

"Vancouver's towers are glassy, transparent and thin," he said. "It's an urban strategy so the towers won't cast big shadows, and it opens view corridors. And it lets more light into the units."

The building's steplike design reflects downtown's existing high-rise motif, which consists largely of distinct floors that typically step back from the street, Chan said.

The design will include as many "green" features as the project budget can afford. Environmentally minded construction is one of the firm's trademarks, said principal Dennis Henmi.

Other condos in the works
Saca now has proposed more than 1,100 high-rise condos in Sacramento, and is also working on another complex at 8th and K streets -- possibly with at least 500 more condos.

He was one of the first developers to push downtown condos, but others are pursing projects too.

Probably the furthest along is Craig Nassi, head of BCN Development of Denver. He plans to start on Aura, a 39-story, 265-condo tower at 6th Street and Capitol Mall, early next year. Nassi said he has deposits on all the units.

He also intends to start building a 54-floor tower, "Epic," at 12th and I streets next September. It would have 350 condos and offer "white glove" amenities, including valet service and dog walkers who put coats on your dog for you.

Other tall condo ventures that may start next year:

Sotiris Kolokotronis plans to start 92 condos priced from around $350,000 early in 2006. L Street Lofts would go up at 18th and L streets.
D.R. Horton Inc., the giant homebuilder, plans a 21-story tower with 295 less-expensive condos on I Street between 7th and 8th streets, on land it is buying from Sacramento County.
Saca and the others are trying to exploit a demand for downtown condos, but it's like pursuing slim evidence of a gold vein -- no one knows if it's there, just that they better scramble to be the first to stake a claim.

Analysts wonder just how many of these condos will get off the ground.

Risks and skepticism
"There's so much in the pipeline, and they won't all be financeable and successful," said John Schleimer, analyst for Market Perspectives, a local housing analysis firm. "It's like a feeding frenzy. I'm concerned it's too much unless it's properly phased."

It sounds like a lot of condos planned in the short term, said Greg Paquin, analyst for The Gregory Group. Maybe if they were all phased over five to 15 years, he said, they could be absorbed.

Analyst Dave MacIntosh of Hanley Wood Market Intelligence said similar projects are working in other U.S. markets. His gut intuition is that they will also sell here, although the situation deserves an extensive market study.

Saca expects to turn the refundable deposits on the Towers into non-refundable deposits early next year, allowing him to cinch the financing. Observers say that will be a strong acid test of the project's feasibility.

Saca pointed out that relatively few condo towers are approved and ready for construction. The ones that are represent a tiny number in a market that sold 17,000 new homes last year.

The lengthy entitlement and construction time for such projects ensures that they won't all come on the market at the same time, he added.

Brendan O'Neill, executive vice president of operations for Beazer Homes, agrees with Saca. All the condos combined are small compared to local demand for new homes, he said, and the Sacramento area is big enough to provide plenty of buyers.

Financing to build is available, he added, and people will buy "nice real estate" like the condos even in a down market.

The main risk might be that an economic shift would cause some buyers to back out during construction.

But the builders could change floor plans to match demand, O'Neill said, assuming the overall floor plans are flexible.

Saca intends to build The Metropolitan on land he bought from Dean Ingemanson this year. Ingemanson, the first developer to propose condos in a downtown Sacramento high-rise, wanted to make them part of a tower he planned at 8th and J. The city was a partner in the project. When it backed out, Ingemanson sold all his downtown holdings, including the 10th and J property.

The site includes the old Biltmore Hotel, a dump. It's not on any protected historical list, so Saca can raze it, said Jeanne Corcoran, the city planner who has discussed the plan with Saca's representative.

The project would need an environmental impact report, she said, and could take about a year to process.

Saca hopes to get approvals by mid 2006.

Top Sacramento brokerage sees sturdy '06

Sacramento Business Journal

From the December 19, 2005 print edition

Top brokerage sees sturdy '06
Mike McCarthy

Staff Writer

The regional market for commercial real estate, already strong in some sectors, should fare at least as well next year, predicted CB Richard Ellis this week.

The downturn started by the dot-com bust five years ago seems to have ended, said CB, Sacramento's largest commercial real estate brokerage. Specifically:

The office market that came back strong in 2005, due to higher demand from business and the state, will do well in 2006.

The housing boom will probably cool a bit further, but deliver enough firepower to drive substantial amounts of leasing by firms connected to real estate.

In a related prediction, CB land broker Pete Nixon sees a slightly lower average price for new homes next year, because housing companies are building more homes per acre. That reduces the cost and value of new homes.

The only blotch on the commercial horizon is the shortage of industrial land.
Overall, said CB regional manager Al Gianini, 2006 should see strength across the board among the various sectors in commercial real estate. The company presented its yearly forecast at an event in Sacramento Tuesday night.

In offices, a year like this one Offices recovered in 2005 after several years of awful leasing. This year should see growth in occupied space (net absorption) of 1.2 million square feet, up from less than 500,000 square feet each of the last three years, said CB office broker Kevin Sheehan.

CB credits the gains to renewed corporate expansion and new jobs, largely in the medical, insurance, real estate and finance industries. More state demand helped. So did sales of small office buildings, which look healthy next year too.

Sheehan predicts net absorption should grow another 1.2 million square feet in 2006. But rents should only edge upward, even though the cost of construction materials will rise by up to 25 percent next year.

The notable office projects for 2006 include Stone Pointe in Roseville by developer Doug Sutherland. Other high-profile ventures are David Taylor's long-awaited high-rise at 6th and L streets in downtown Sacramento -- work should start in 2006 -- and Opus West Corp.'s offices off Truxel Road in North Natomas.

The region's relatively low housing prices will continue to attract tenants from the Bay Area, Sheehan predicted, and Sacramento's traffic should spur more suburban office projects and more telecommuting.

Land prices rose about 15 percent

Goaded by declining supply and rising demand from homebuilders, land prices rose about 15 percent in 2005, said CB broker Nixon.

The deal of the year was the $410 million sale of half of the West Roseville specific plan area by William Falik and his partners to three homebuilders. Other blockbuster deals included two purchases by SunCal Cos., of Bickford Ranch in Placer County and the residential part of Delta Shores in the city of Sacramento.

Entitled land with basic infrastructure now sells for up to $600,000 an acre -- even $800,000, in some cases. And builders' decisions to build more homes per acre this year saw prices for high-density sites reach $1 million per acre, Nixon said.

He predicts about 14,000 sales of new homes in 2006, down from '05 and '04. He doesn't see a price bubble in this region.

Homebuilders, he said, will continue to build high-density projects to keep prices down and sustain the new-home market. He predicted an average new-home price of $485,000 next year, which would be down $8,000 or 1.6 percent from the current $493,000 reported by local housing analyst Greg Paquin.

Demand for land will stay strong, Nixon said, thanks to relatively low interest rates plus a need for homes that exceeds the supply. And, he added, there is still plenty of land to buy.

Scarcity to push industrial rents higher

Industrial land is a foundation of Sacramento's commercial real estate because of the region's location and population growth.

Industrial had slumped this decade, lagging as the overall economy slowed and then gradually recovered. But in 2005 net absorption hit 4.9 million square feet, making it the best year for landlords since 2000, said CB Industrial broker Pat Cummings. The 2004 net was 1.8 million square feet.

Vacancy dropped to 9.7 percent from 10.7 percent in 2004, and the "big box" distribution users finally came back. Demand from owners of boats and RV for space to store their vehicles was significant too.

He expects strong leasing in 2006, but said a scarcity of entitled land will slow construction and push lease rates upward.

Rates will get pushed higher by other factors too. Industrial land that sold for $3 to $4 per square foot in 2003 is now worth at least twice that, Cummings said.

Other forecasts:

The sale of industrial condos to small users will increase, because of their relatively low cost.

The desire of small-business owners to avoid commutes will help sustain sales of small, free-standing buildings in the suburbs at current levels.
Apartment rents headed up

The apartment market is strengthening. Vacancies fell to 5.7 percent by the third quarter, down from 6.4 percent the quarter before, and the average price per apartment this year doubled from its 2001 level to top $100,000, said Marc Ross, an associate on the Deloney-Dailey team.

Next year landlords should be able to boost rents due to declining construction, partly because some apartments are being converted into condos.

The investment market should continue strong as investors opt for real estate over other investments, said broker Randy Getz. The retail market will stay strong too, said broker Craig Burress.

Solano County Unemployment Falls in November

Solano County Unemployment Falls in November
By Christine Cube

FAIRFIELD - Unemployment in Solano County fell a bit in November compared to the previous month, according to new figures released by the state Employment Development Department.

The county boasted a workforce of 215,500 - 204,400 employed individuals and 11,100 unemployed. The November jobless rate was 5.1 percent.

For the month of October, Solano County reported a workforce of 216,400 - 205,100 employed people and 11,300 unemployed. The October unemployment rate was 5.2 percent.

Benicia and Suisun City were the only cities to report unchanged employment and unemployment figures from October to November.

The county's unemployment rate is slightly below the state's: California's rate was also unchanged at 5.2 percent.

A year ago, the state's jobless rate hovered at about 6 percent.

Throughout the Vallejo-Fairfield metropolitan statistical area, there were a total of 131,100 jobs in November. That's equal to the number of jobs in November a year ago.

EDD's survey of employers found the increase in nonfarm payroll employment across the state tripled over the month of October with 20,400 extra jobs in November toward a total of 14,842,800 jobs. In October, nonfarm payroll employment increased by 6,800 jobs.

According to a separate survey of households, the number of Californians holding jobs last month was 17,005,000. This marked the end of seven consecutive months of record high employment that eventually reached 17,036,000 in October. Specifically, jobs in California fell by 33,000 over October.

Throughout the state, 939,000 people didn't have jobs, an increase of 3,000 compared with October and down by 117,000 compared with November 2004, according to EDD.

Of the unemployed, 327,500 were laid off, 91,600 left their jobs voluntarily and the remaining were either new entrants or folks returning to the labor market.

Solano County's jobless rate is roughly equal to that of the rest of the country.

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the November jobless rate was unchanged at 5 percent.

Nationally, the number of unemployed individuals last month was 7.6 million.

Since May, the national unemployment rate has ranged from 4.9 percent to 5.1 percent.

Reach Christine Cube at 427-6934 or

Local employment figures for November 2005

Location Labor Force Employment Unemployment Rate

Solano County 215,500 204,400 5.1 percent

Benicia 17,300 16,800 3.1 percent

Dixon 9,100 8,700 4 percent

Fairfield 49,200 46,500 5.6 percent

Rio Vista 2,400 2,300 3.7 percent

Suisun City 15,000 14,200 5.3 percent

Vacaville 46,300 44,600 3.7 percent

Vallejo 65,200 61,000 6.4 percent

Source: State of California Employment Development Department Labor Market Information Division

A Triumph at the Sutter Solano Center

A Triumph at the Sutter Solano Center

You walk across a small stream to enter Sutter Solano's new, state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot cancer center.

It is a marvel of technology with a new linear accelerator that has intensity-modulated radiation therapy - an advanced treatment for cancer that means more precise radiation doses for fewer side effects.

There is also a waterfall.

It's a place that offers chemotherapy, complementary medicine, and community education with a team of professionals that include radiation oncologists, therapists, oncology certified nurses and medical dosimetrists.

And it has gardens.

And a waterfall.

"Cancer is a highly complex disease which requires a multidisciplinary approach," says Janice Hoss, director of cancer services at Sutter Solano.

Or you could say it's a desperate disease that strikes not only the patients, but the entire family.

The new cancer center, with an absolutely grand design, important equipment, and outstanding staff is designed to be a lot more than the sum of its parts.

It's meant to be more of a service center to cancer patients than a hospital, according to members of its design committee. Dale Welsh, one of those members, recalls how cancer survivors - most notably Billie Middleton, a twice-cancer survivor, and the Rev. Caroline Dyson - became members of the committee at the outset.

Their experiences with the disease gave designers a look at what the cancer patient needs and wants, and how the medical facility could meet those needs in a compassionate way.

For example, there is the view from the infusion rooms.

Too many cancer victims must take their three-hour-plus treatments lying on a vinyl recliner staring at a blank wall or maybe thumbing through a two-year-old magazine.

In the new Sutter Solano center, they look through a wide glass window into landscaped gardens.

A small touch, but an important one.

The treatment is meant to be just as personal, Sutter Solano officials say.

"With the new center, highly skilled physicians will be cooperating in designing the best care options," promises Janice Hoss, the director of cancer services at Sutter Solano. "Having multiple specialists in one location is a major advantage."

So is getting a stuffed animal to squeeze when a patient is suffering the discomforts that come with the dreaded diagnosis. That's the kind of input that Middleton brought to the design table and that was embraced by those who sought to make a technologically dynamite hospital that felt like a medical spa.

So there are serenity rooms, not waiting rooms, while a patient must wait for a treatment or to see a doctor.

Then, once they get their treatment or meet their physician, there is the knowledge that the care being given and the equipment being used is among the best available.

Sutter Solano seems to have met its goals to make a superb cancer center that is patient-focused.

We congratulate them on completing this impressive, warm facility.

And the new stoplight at Tuolumne Street and Hospital Drive is yet another considerate touch.

Poll Encouraging for Tax Advocates

Poll Encouraging for Tax Advocates
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

In a recent poll, 74 percent of Solano County voters think improving the Interstate 80/I-680 interchange is a top priority. (Brad Zweerink/Reporter file)
The county's transportation advocates, business leaders and political community have harnessed their strength over the last four years in an attempt to pass a tax that would raise millions for local transportation projects during the next three decades.

They've been defeated twice and stymied once. A transportation measure headed for last month's ballot was pulled after Fairfield proposed its own sales tax proposal, which failed.

But there's been a positive side to all the failure, officials say. Voters are now keenly aware of the effort to pass the tax, which is a good sign.

Solano Transportation Improvement Authority officials made their intentions clear this week that a third proposal for a countywide sales tax is now in motion.

And as the push toward the half-cent sales tax begins, a recent poll funded by private-sector businesses shows that an encouraging 73 percent of the county's voters are aware of the effort, officials say.

"It's a lot higher. That's probably logical since we've gone out (to the ballot) twice," said Daryl Halls, executive director of the STA. "In '05, we didn't go to the ballot, but we did a lot of public outreach."

The poll results surrounding a third crack at a transportation tax, released this week, are not earth-shattering statistics, but show some interesting trends.

When 600 local voters who were polled in the survey were asked directly whether they would support a new tax, 67 percent responded that they would, with 27 percent saying the would oppose it and 6 percent had no opinion.

Sounds like a landslide in favor. But to meet the super-majority requirement of a local sales tax, the poll numbers suggest that a tax, if voted on now, would beat the 66.7 percent needed by only a razor-thin margin.

The poll numbers could show a slight uptick in support and no decrease. That's encouraging, officials say. The poll figure is in line with the 64 percent of voters who approved the last transportation tax.

"It looks like the vast majority would support it, but it's not overwhelming," Halls said.

Other points hit on in the poll:

• 81 percent of voters said money for buses and trains should be a part of the expenditure plan

• 74 percent of voters rank making improvements to dangerous intersections and roads a top priority, supplanting the Interstate 80/I-680 interchange as the county voters' top concern

• 72 percent of voters think that growth-control policies, a major source of controversy in past tax measures for transportation, should be addressed in a separate measure

The completion of the voter poll signals that the well-worn process for creating a sales tax will begin in earnest again in January.

The Solano Transportation Improvement Authority, assembled to guide the proposal, directed transportation officials to begin drafting a transportation expenditure plan at the beginning of the year that could be ready as early as February.

The list of projects will likely resemble projects included on former taxes, such as the I-80/I-680 interchange and other projects like improving local streets and roads, which continues to poll well with voters.

Transportation officials will then have the option of putting the tax on either the June or November ballots.

The June election could have the highest voter turnout of the two, considering that Democrat contestants could face off then to challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the November general election, officials say.

There could also be subtle strategy in picking between the two elections. The last tax measure needed just thousands of votes in 2004 to cross the super majority threshold.

Every vote will count this time around, too. Supervisor John Vasquez said the county's consultant for the transportation tax might recommend putting the tax on the June primary ballot.

"The idea is that Democrats are more likely to support a tax increase," he said.

Jason Massad can be reached at

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Solano County residents own their own home than others statewide

Article Last Updated: 12/13/2005 07:31 AM

Solano residents spending more for their housing

By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

More Solano County residents own their own home than others statewide, but they're also spending more of their income to live in them, a new study shows.
"Despite higher income levels and lower poverty levels, more Solano County residents spend a larger percentage of their incomes on housing than people do in the rest of the Bay Area or the state as a whole," said David Carroll, senior policy analyst for the California Budget Project, which conducted the study.

This may indicate more Solano County families are struggling to get by, and many minimum wage workers can't afford to rent here, let alone buy a home, he said.

"Housing is out of reach for minimum wage workers in Solano County," Carroll said. "This is even more true elsewhere in the Bay Area, but it's worse in Solano County than outside the Bay Area."

Seven out of 10 Solano County households own their own home compared to three out of five statewide, Carroll said.

"But one way Solano County families are making that happen is by spending more of their income on housing," he said.

A minimum wage employee in Solano County has to work more than 89 hours a week to afford a studio apartment here. And he or she would have to work more than 159 hours a week to afford an average three-bedroom place, according to the study.

In Solano County, like the rest of the Bay Area, the gap between high- and low-wage earners has widened in the past 25 years, the study shows. However, much of the region's job and income fluctuations were driven by the high-tech industry. Solano County's more diversified economy helped it ride out the dot-com bust better than areas like Silicon Valley.

While the incomes of the Bay Area's highest earners rose substantially in the late 1990s, they stayed flat for the region's low-wage workers, Carroll said. This disproves the old adage that "a rising tide lifts all boats," he said.

"We always hear that economic growth is the solution to poverty, but this shows that's not necessarily true," Carroll said.

In the Bay Area, the study showed Solano County's annual median family income - $68,793 - to be nearly at the bottom, higher only than San Francisco's $68,668. The statewide median income is $58,327, the study shows.

At $57,334, Solano County's median household income, which refers to all household including singles living alone, is the lowest in the Bay Area, with Alameda's $59,325 a close second.

At 6.2 percent, Solano has the second smallest percentage of families with annual incomes below the Federal Poverty Level. San Mateo's is lowest at 5.2 percent. San Mateo and Solano counties also have the first and second lowest percentage of children in families with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level (4.9 percent and 7.7 percent), the study shows.

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

Solano Job Numbers Keep Growing

Solano Job Numbers Keep Growing
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

The number of jobs and people needed to fill them has grown in Solano County in the past year, a newly released study shows.
Nevertheless, employment growth lags behind some other Bay Area counties, said Jay Kerrigan, spokesman for Manpower, which put out the study.

"Within Solano County, hiring has progressively increased throughout the past year," Kerrigan said. "We've seen an increase in durable goods manufacturing, including logistics and distribution, financial services and construction."

Kerrigan said the county's highly skilled positions like trained tradesmen jobs, continue to be most in demand, with technical and professional jobs also increasing.

"Warehouse work is growing and general administrative jobs are also strong and growing," he said. "What this all generally means is that hiring continues to increase in highly skilled positions, so the opposite is also true, with the demand for unskilled positions also increasing."

So far, the increased demand for skilled and unskilled workers has not translated into increased wages, but they soon should, Kerrigan said.

"We haven't seen significant changes in pay in '05, but we would expect some increase in the pay scale in '06 if the demand trend continues," he said.

The study shows more employers hiring for multiple shifts locally, which typically results from increased customer demand, Kerrigan said. He also noted a trend of businesses locating or expanding into Solano County.

"This means there are improved opportunities and market conditions in Solano County," Kerrigan said.

"I'm reluctant to say it's a highly robust market - not like in Oakland and Contra Costa counties where the market is highly robust. But Solano remains a hotbed of opportunity."

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Flashy Annual Report Trumpets County's Successes

Flashy Annual Report Trumpets County's Successes
By Sarah Arnquist

FAIRFIELD - Solano County published a glossy, 25-page annual report that touts a year filled with accomplishments that will be released to the public at today's Board of Supervisors meeting.

The booklet - filled with graphics and colorful photos -resembles a company's annual report to its stockholders. The report talks exclusively about the positive things happening in Solano County and discusses the county's progress toward its six priorities that the Supervisors feel will make Solano County "the place for people to live, learn, work and play."

"As always, we recognize that what we have achieved and what we hope we can achieve in the future is only possible with our relationships with community partners and the ongoing support of the citizens," board chairwoman Barbara Kondylis writes on the opening page.

The County Administrator's Office will present the report to the public and Board of Supervisors at the 9 a.m. meeting today. The meeting will be held in the county government center.

The report will be distributed to county employees, Solano cities and other California counties, said Kathy Gibson, Solano County senior management analyst who helped compile the report.

"The report is part of the internal and external communications plan," Gibson said. "Every year we try and identify what the key accomplishments are."

Solano County has compiled an annual report for at least several years, and has tried to make it more visually appealing each year, Gibson said. This year's report revolves around accomplishments in the county's six priority areas: Families, health, community, land use, communications and future planning.

The county's report used to be "dreadfully boring," said county supervisor Duane Kromm. Kromm uses the report as a "discussion tool" at community meetings, and said people are more apt to a colorful, attractive document.

Solano County residents can get a copy of the annual report by calling the county administrator's office at 784-6100 or downloading the PDF file at

Reach Sarah Arnquist at 427-6953 or

Seeking to Mix it Up

Seeking to Mix it Up
Cities tout developments that combine residential and retail
By Amanda Janis/Business Writer

Vasquez Deli in downtown Vacaville is an example of mixed use development. It features a business on the bottom floor and apartments on the top. Area city planners hope to see more of this type of development in Solano County in the future. (Tod Rasmussen/The Reporter)

Vacaville city officials hope the downtown will follow a trend already popular in neighboring cities and counties - increased mixed land use, or the development of buildings that combine both retail and residential functions.

Typically, that equates to a store or restaurant occupying a structure's ground floor, with apartments or condos on the floors above.

Vacaville City Council member Chuck Dimmick believes such structures can help to create a more dynamic downtown.

"It brings in additional people," he explained. "People who are living there will shop down there, visit coffee shops and restaurants." He added that a bustling downtown is also much more likely to attract additional, high-quality shops and restaurants.

Gary Tatum, president of Vacaville's chamber of commerce, concurs.

"I can visualize this happening in Vacaville without any problem at all," he said, "and I think it would be a real boon for us."

Leaders in the city's Community Development department couldn't agree more.

"It's exactly what we want to see," said the department's assistant director, Chris Gustin. He explained that mixed use is "a good way to have life in the downtown area around the clock."

Gustin continued, "You'll have people living there who'll become regulars at cafes and things like that."

He added, however, that while his department is pleased with the remodeling and refurbishing of older homes now being utilized for offices and retail on streets like Elizabeth, Boyd and Mason, there simply aren't as many multi-storied, mixed-use projects as his department desires.

"Downtown, it'd be nice to see new stuff come in mixed-use, or conversion of the old for mixed use," he explained.

"We approved the deli downtown," Gustin continued, "and we're very supportive of those projects, but you just don't see as many as you'd like."

He was referring to the Vasquez Deli, which occupies the ground floor of the Dionicia building on East Main Street. The building's upper floors are comprised of one office along with three affordable apartments, which were rented in less than a month.

"Vasquez had people waiting in line to rent those apartments," Dimmick noted.

John Vasquez, who is on the Board of Supervisors, discussed some of the reasoning that led to the structure's creation.

"Vacaville's a really good candidate for those types of mixed uses," he said. "It's still a very walkable community. Given some of the things the city has done already - the CreekWalk, Town Square, the senior center, the library, the theater complex - there's a lot to encourage that type of development."

The Dionicia building is downtown Vacaville's first real mixed land use success, according to the city's Housing and Redevelopment manager, Terry Rogers.

"That was our first (mixed land use) adventure, and we're very pleased with the results," she said. "It's a high-quality building, and it's an asset to downtown." Rogers explained that the Dionicia building not only serves to extend the downtown area toward East Main, but also provides affordable, attractive housing close to shopping and restaurants.

"I'd like to live there," she said genuinely.

Like Gustin, Rogers hopes that similar projects will permeate the area.

"We're interested in gaining more density in the area surrounding the downtown, in keeping with the city's economic development strategy," she said, explaining that the area falls into Vacaville's high urban density overlay district, which is specifically zoned to allow multi-use development.

She said the city would most likely be interested in increasing density on East Main and Wilson streets, toward Mason Street.

"Because it's so close to the downtown," Rogers explained, "there's been interest in (creating) offices, a boutique hotel, a parking garage, and more development like the Vasquez Deli."

Bob Vollmer, president of the Downtown Vacaville Business Improvement District, said his association, too, would welcome mixed-use projects.

"That's what the city's direction is, and if we get more retail, that's great," he said, then quickly added, "as long as there's plenty of parking!"

Mixed land use is already "existing and thriving all over Suisun," according to Jason Garben, Suisun City project manager, who cites Bab's and the Athenian Grill as examples.

Fairfield, Vallejo and Dixon are also in the process - or soon hope to be - of increasing the density of their downtown areas via mixed land use, according to Curt Johansen, executive vice president and manager of California operations for developer Triad Communities. These cities, along with many others, have consulted with or hired Triad to develop multi-use projects.

"We're running out of land very quickly in the Bay Area," he explained. "We're going into more vertical construction where we can."

Johansen says that both from his own perspective, and from Triad's standpoint, downtown Vacaville is ready to embrace mixed-use development.

"Vacaville has the critical mass to make this work. It's an attractive city because quality of life is so high - people love living there. And it's very well-run," he said.

"There's the ability to assemble a really, really nice project flanking the creek," Johansen continued. "What Vasquez has done is a great start, but we could expand that quite a bit. That's high on the list for early '06."

Johansen stressed that Triad hopes to pursue public-private partnerships with the city on such developments to ensure that they're done well. He explained that with a mixed land use project, "there's so many parts to it - the two sectors need to work closely together."

The downtown's next multi-story, mixed-use building will likely be on the corner of Mason and Davis streets.

Still in the planning stages, the proposed Dassah building would come to fruition after remodeling the existing two-story structure on the site. According to a November status report for community development projects, the Dassah building would have 1,510 square-feet of office space on the ground floor, with a 794 square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the second floor.

Aside from the Dassah proposal, however, Gustin says, at present, there isn't anything concrete in the pipeline for mixed-use development. "I haven't heard of anything in the preliminary stages coming through," he remarked.

Nevertheless, mixed-use development is being considered seriously for future projects by city planners and developers - and its success in neighboring communities is an indication that it will likely be the next downtown trend.

As Dimmick summarized, "It's a nice way to get the downtown a little more vibrant."

Amanda Janis can be reached at

Fairfield's On Its Way To "Great Things"

Fairfield's On Its Way To "Great Things"
By Christine Cube

Mr. Jelly Belly has a prime seat on Interstate 80.

In case you've missed it, Fairfield has a big, new sign going up along the freeway at the Auto Mall. The theme is "Fairfield - Gateway to Great Things."

The sign is to be the first step in a huge push to grow a tourism industry in the city.

Tourism speaks closely to my heart.

I covered it for many years in Washington, D.C. and Fairfield's theme reminds me a lot of how other cities brand themselves.

For example, we know Philadelphia will always be known as the "City of Brotherly Love."

Virginia's Alexandria is called the "Funside of the Potomac" and it will always be that "Virginia is for lovers."

D.C. itself is branded "The American Experience" and who doesn't "love New York?" (I know I do.)

Fairfield's "Gateway to Great Things" has loads of potential.

Mostly because I think it's right on.

Candy Pierce, executive director of the Fairfield Hotel Association Inc., said the theme was picked because Fairfield is a regional hub.

It's a gateway to places like Napa Valley, it's between to San Francisco and Sacramento and it's got a unique draw - not to mention Jelly Belly, Anheuser-Busch and tours.

"We have Suisun Valley, we have great art, theater and music," Pierce said. "We're also a great location for people to visit. We're a great destination; a great place to stay."

Tourism officials in Fairfield expect the new sign along I-80 to help generate revenue for a future California Welcome Center. Within a couple weeks, the sign will be painted and fitted with electricity and a snazzy screen for local businesses to place ads.

Revenue from the reader board could generate as much as $1 million or more annually to market the city and help with the operation of a welcome center. Tourism and city officials currently are negotiating for a prime spot also at the Auto Mall.

The revenue, combined with Fairfield's 10 percent hotel tax and 2 percent special assessment on every room (this began last year), amounts to 12 percent on every hotel room night sold in the city. Put simply: Real money to plant into marketing and tourism here.

That's just the beginning.

Last spring, the hotel association, in partnership with the city, adopted a tourism promotion marketing plan created by consultant Strategic Marketing Group.

Parts of the plan include special ad placements like a full-page feature in the California State Automobile Association VIA magazine and hotel specials tied to Fairfield events like the Tomato and Candy festivals. Tourism officials also have become members of national travel associations and groups in hopes to place Fairfield on the itineraries of bus tours and other travel programs.

It's all a work in progress and the wheels definitely are starting to turn.

When I first came on board with the Daily Republic six months ago, I wrote a Fairfield tourism story and a reader scoffed at the idea of the city's success as a bonified tourism destination.

Let's hope there is more community support for this lucrative industry than not.

Reach Christine Cube at 427-6934 or

Friday, December 09, 2005

Officials Talk Trains with Solano Residents

Officials Talk Trains with Solano Residents
By Barry Eberling

SUISUN CITY - Ideas for Bay Area train service over the next 50 years took center stage Thursday at Suisun City Hall.

More Capitol Corridor trains passing through Solano County. High speed trains topping 200 mph linking the East Bay with Los Angeles and Central Valley. Trains linking Solano and Napa counties.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, BART, Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority are putting together the Bay Area Regional Rail Plan. Officials came to Suisun City to gather local comments.

"We want to know from you what your visions for rail are," said Tom Matoff of the consulting firm LTK Engineering Services. "There are no bad ideas at this stage."

A couple dozen people attended the afternoon session, with an evening session to follow. They looked at exhibits and talked transit.

Pat Matteson of Suisun City rides the Capitol Corridor trains to her job in Sacramento.

"I'm a big fan of the Capitol Corridors and I want to see it improved," she said.

She'd like a Capitols service that no longer gets occasionally delayed in favor of the freight trains that share the Union Pacific tracks. Delays can range from five to 10 minutes.

Matteson would also like to see a YOLOBUS stop at the Sacramento train station. The buses link the train service with the Sacramento airport. But the bus stop is a few blocks from the train station and Matteson doesn't want to make that walk after nightfall.

Russ Jackson of Vacaville is a member of the Rail Passenger Association of California. The group works to expand and improve passenger rail service.

He's looking forward to the opening of the planned Fairfield-Vacaville train stop at Peabody and Vanden roads, near Travis Air Force Base. The stop could be ready for Capitol Corridor trains in 2010.

"It will be very convenient for people who live on the southern side of Vacaville," Jackson said.

American Canyon City Councilman Leon Garcia spoke during the presentation in favor of train service linking Napa and Solano counties. Trains could go along existing tracks to such places as the Suisun-Fairfield train station, American Canyon, Napa and the Vallejo ferry.

Such service may be something for the long-term, Garcia said during the afternoon's formal presentation. But it's important to preserve the right-of-way for the future, he said.

The Bay Area Regional Rail Plan should be finished in about two years, Matoff said. For more information, visit

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

Suisun City Courts Developers

Suisun City Courts Developers
By Nathan Halverson

SUISUN CITY - A proposed Wal-Mart is a contentious issue in Suisun City - meaning its possible development is taking some time.

But city officials aren't waiting idly for Wal-Mart's approval and the huge tax revenue it will generate.

In recent months, City Manager Suzanne Bragdon and Project Manager Jason Garben attended a Deal Making conference hosted by the International Center for Shopping Centers in Palm Springs.

"The purpose of the trip was to promote the remaining sites in Suisun for development," Garben said.

While Garben said no sites exist in Suisun City to build a traditional mall, plenty of spots could be developed for commercial retail.

Ideally, the city would land a "big box" retailer like Home Depot or Kohl's department store, Bragdon said.

"We don't have the commercial retail for our residents to shop locally," she said.

The city rented a booth at the event to promote itself to developers looking for commercial sites. Garben and Bragdon provided information on vacant land, its ownership, and city economic and demographic numbers.

"Since Suzanne has come on board, her big push is to try and generate new commercial development," Garben said.

The city, which is running a budget deficit, is searching for ways to generate revenue. Increasing retail space will lead to greater sales tax revenue.

Currently, Suisun City loses 73 percent of its residents' taxable spending to other cities.

The city only receives 7 percent of its sales tax revenue from consumer goods. Garben would like to increase that figure, and bringing in a large retail development would help boost that category.

Fairfield receives 20 percent of its sales tax revenues from the Westfield Solano mall and Gateway Plaza area alone - but this geographical area also includes restaurants.

Garben said the Palm Springs trip was productive, with many prospective businesses and developers showing interest. Attending the event has generated 40 to 50 prospects, said Garben.

"At the very least Suisun was presented as an option to developers who never would have considered us before," he said.

An expert on how cities raise revenues said attending the mall event was a good step.

"That's one of the things that they should do," said Denise Ovrom, an associate with Diamond Bar-based The HdL Companies. "You might not get a quantifiable outcome from going to that, but the info you gain and the contacts you make are worth it."

Suisun City should focus on selling what makes it unique, Ovrom added.

"They have a growing population there, which is very helpful," she said. "And they have the waterfront. They need to leverage that."

Bragdon said the city is conducting a study to determine what kind of retail it can support. If all else fails, the vacant sites can be turned into residential sites, she said.

"The pressure to build residential is tremendous," Bragdon said. "But the taxes from that won't even pay for the cost of providing the needed housing services."

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or

Capitols on Roll With Record Rider Ship

Capitols on Roll With Record Rider Ship
By Barry Eberling


Passengers board a train as it makes a stop at the Suisun station. The Capitol Corridor trains run daily from Sacramento. (Photo by Mike McCoy)

SUISUN CITY - Mark Ogden is happy to take the Capitol Corridor trains and avoid congested freeways and high gas prices.

Ogden started taking the train about three months ago from Suisun City to Sacramento. There, he rides his bike two miles to his job at an architectural firm. The firm pays for mass transit rides.

He gets some exercise, avoids the stress of driving and contributes less car emissions to the air, Ogden said. But the main reason he started riding the trains was the high gas prices, he said.

"It makes a lot of sense," Ogden said.

The Capitol Corridors are on a roll. The service sells tickets for about 100,000 trips a month - the busiest it's been in its 14-year history. Ridership is up 8.1 percent from the previous year.

High gas prices are one reason for the ridership increase, said Richard Silver of the Rail Passenger Association of California. Gas prices - even more than traffic congestion -Êwill get travelers out of their cars and into trains, he said.

There's also the increase in train service, said Eugene Skoropowski, the managing director for the Capitol Corridors Joint Powers Authority. In 2003, service increased from nine to 12 round trips each weekday on most of the line.

"It's frequent enough to be real transportation and not just to ride a train," Skoropowski said.

Keeping the trains on time

Eastbound and westbound trains arrive at the Suisun City station hourly during the morning and evening rush hours. Compare that to December 1991, when the service started. Eastbound and westbound trains each arrived at Suisun City once in the morning, afternoon and evening.

The Capitols wants to keep riders, once they give the service a try. One of the key factors is making sure the trains run on time.

Trains in recent months have been punctual about 85 percent of the time, with a dip to 73 percent in October because of track improvements being made in the San Jose area. The goal is 92 percent.

For six consecutive months starting in October 2004, the trains on-time rate topped 90 percent, Skoropowski said. Then a major levee broke in the Delta, flooding land and diverting freight trains to the Capitols tracks. Union Pacific made changes to the dispatching system.

"You have a series of things that made it go downhill," Skoropowski said.

But that six-month run shows what can be done, he said.The 7:33 a.m. Sacramento-bound train arrived at 7:44 a.m. on a recent morning when Ogden waited for it. He's philosophical about the occasional delay, noting that could happen on the freeway with traffic.

"The way I'm looking at it, I'm getting 40 minutes on the train to work on my laptop or catch up on reading," Ogden said. "I feel like I'm gaining time in my day."

There are plans to improve train service. In Skoropowski's words, "We've only scratched the surface."

A true commuter service?

One proposal is to have trains arrive every half-hour during rush hours, creating a true commuter service. Commuter trains would take riders westbound riders as far as Oakland. They would take eastbound riders as far as Sacramento.

Although the extra trains wouldn't officially be Capitol Corridor trains, riders wouldn't notice the difference, Skoropowski said. It would all appear to be one service.

New train stations are planned for Fairfield/Vacaville, Dixon and Benicia. The Fairfield/Vacaville stop could open at Peabody and Vanden roads in 2010.

Each new station is supposed to be matched by track improvements to speed the trains up. The goal is to have no net loss in the trip time, despite the extra stops.

The Capitols is also on a roll when it comes to paying its own way. The train and related bus service recover about 43 percent of their $37 million annual operating cost from fares, an all-time high.

He has no reservations about the service's ability to get to a 50 percent farebox recovery rate, Skoropowski said.

"The key is to get more service to San Jose, to get the additional riders in that marketplace," Skoropowski said.

Fares for the Capitol Corridors have risen over the years, but not dramatically. A round trip to from Suisun City to Oakland cost $15 in 1991, or about $21.30 when adjusted for inflation. Today, it costs $22.

The goal is to raise fares slowly over time, rather than holding off to the last minute and raising them steeply, Skoropowski said. This gradual approach hurts customers less, he said.

Riders can pay less for tickets by using the frequent rider rates.

Still a rare option

Despite its record-setting ridership, the Capitols have yet to make a dramatic difference in the Solano County commute. Only about .1 percent of county commuters take the train, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"You're just creaming the top right now," Silver said.

But doing such things as adding a true commuter train service could make a dent in the I-80 congestion, he said. Now is the time to add such services, while gas prices are high, he said.

Dennis Gruber and his wife on a recent morning rode the train from Sacramento to Suisun City. Gruber praised the service.

"It's clean, it's efficient and it's cheap," said Gruber, who was visiting from Spain.

That's the kind of review the Capitols need if they are going to keep on growing.

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

Capitol Corridor Train Facts

-- Trains run along a 170-mile long corridor, from Auburn to San Jose. They stop at 16 stations.

-- The Capitols have 1.2 million passengers annually. This makes it the third-busiest Amtrak route in the nation.

-- Suisun City has the only stop in Solano County. About 350 passengers use the station on an average weekday and about 116,000 annually.

-- It takes about 46 minutes to ride from the Suisun City station to the Richmond BART station.

-- It takes about 53 minutes to ride from the Suisun City station to Sacramento.

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