Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Suisun City OKs plan for dual-use library

From Daily Republic // Dec. 21, 2005
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The Suisun City Council gave the thumbs up Tuesday to funding a new library that will be built on Pintail Drive next to Suisun Elementary School.

"This is a wonderful example of a partnership," said Ann Cousineau of the Solano County Library.

The proposed library next to Suisun Elementary School, which will be twice as large as the present one, could open as early as June 2008 if everything goes well.

The City Council approved a funding plan that will turn over 1.5 acres to the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District and spend $4.6 million to build the library.

Suisun City, the school district and the Solano Library District have been planning for more than a year to build a permanent library to replace the one leasing space at 333 Sunset Center.

The plan was born after the City Council proposed not paying the lease for the present library's quarters at 333 Sunset as part of its efforts to deal with a worsening deficit.

Initially, a library was slated to go next to the Joe Nelson Community Center in Heritage Park but that idea was dropped in favor of sharing it with Suisun Elementary School.

The funding plan has the redevelopment agency advance the project $710,000, which would be repaid by Solano County Public Facilities fees generated within Suisun City.

Another $2.2 million will come from redevelopment money that otherwise goes to the school district. The library's backers will try to get $1 million in state Proposition 47 grant funding.

Construction could start by February 2007.

In other business, the council held off approving a tougher false alarm ordinance that increases the penalties for homes and businesses that report more than one false alarm during a 12-month period.

Councilmembers asked the police to re-examine the proposed ordinance, how much the fines for false alarms will be and consider a form of 'insurance policy' for alarm owners who don't want to be hit with the fines.

Under the new ordinance, residents and businesses faced fined $100 for the second false alarm within 12 months and $250 for the third. The ordinance also establishes a $30 alarm registration fee.

Police pushed for the new ordinance saying that 96.4 of the alarms the department got between January 2003 and November 2004 were false. Responding to these alarms was an unneeded drain on the department's limited manpower.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Monday, December 19, 2005

Council to vote on library funding plan

From Daily Republic // Dec. 18, 2005
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City could get a new library next to Suisun Elementary School as early as June 2008 if everything goes well, according to plans to go before the Suisun City Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday.

The City Council, which sits as the Redevelopment Agency, is expected to vote on a funding plan that will turn over 1.5 acres to the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District and spend $4.6 million to build the library.

Suisun City, the school district and the Solano Library District have been working together for more than a year to put a permanent library in Suisun City to replace the one leasing space at 333 Sunset Center.

The effort was spurred two years ago when the City Council proposed not paying the lease at 333 Sunset as part of its efforts to deal with a worsening deficit.

Councilmembers had once considered building a permanent library next to the Joe Nelson Community Center in Heritage Park but abandoned that idea in favor of sharing it with Suisun Elementary School.

The site behind Suisun Elementary School facing Pintail Drive got largely positive comments from residents at informational meetings.

Tuesday's proposal recommends having the redevelopment agency advance the project $710,000, which would be repaid by Solano County Public Facilities fees generated within Suisun City.

The library's backers will go after $1 million in state Proposition 47 grant funding. Another $2.2 million would come from redevelopment money that would otherwise go to the school district.

Barring any difficulties such as not getting the state grant, construction would start in February 2007 and the library would open in June 2008.

In other business, the agency will vote to spend $80,000 on a consultant who would work on moving forward the proposed Gentry shopping center project, which would be located just west across the railroad tracks from Suisun City's Old Town.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or at

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Welcoming the attention

Daily Republic // Dec. 16, 2005
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY – Agree with them or not, local leaders admit council watchers are a necessary part of government.

“We don’t always agree with them but they are always another point to consider,” Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said. “They serve a very useful purpose in local government making certain that taxpayer interests are well-presented.”

Taxpayers group representatives such as Vern Van Buskirk or Roy Stripe of Fairfield, George Guynn of Suisun City or Jim Williams of Vacaville are “not at all shy bout sharing their observations, points of view and the determination that local government serve the people,” he added.

“They play a very important role,” said Suisun City’s Mayor Jim Spering of those residents who make it a point of following city business. “If I had my preference, it would be nice to have the council chamber full.”

Their input at the mike ensures the council “takes the time o make sure what you are doing is correct and that you are doing it in the best interests of the people,” Spering said.

Mayor Len Augustine of Vacaville agreed that taxpayer watchdogs are necessary, but even they can overstep their bound as what he felt was the case with this city’s recent utility tax measure.

While the Vacaville-based Solano County Taxpayers Association supported the measure to keep a utility tax in place, the Fairfield-based Central Solano Citizens/Taxpayers Group opposed it.

“They (the Vacaville-based group) had the good common sense in understanding how we spend our money,” said Augustine, referring to the $3.5 million generated by the tax to support city services.

The council watchers have the right to ask questions and ensure Vacaville is spending its month wisely, Augustine said.

“We don’t want to waste money, whether we are watched or not,” Augustine said.

There is an upper limit to how often elected officials get questioned. Those who speak on every item tend not to get the same attention as those less frequent speakers who save their time before the council for specific issues.

“When a new person shows up, the council perks up and they listen more,” Spering said.

Suisun City man eager to have others join him

Daily Republic // Dec. 16, 2005
By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY – To Suisun City Council watcher George Guynn, less government is better government.

“Government should be as small as possible and not take care of every whim, but cover the essentials,” said the Suisun City resident who has been a fixture at City Council meetings for years.

Guynn has even gone as far as suggesting the Suisun City Police Department become a volunteer force.

He is leery of tax measures that governments turn to when they find expenses growing past their ability to pay for them.

“To think of the taxpayers as the source of every need is absurd,” Guynn said. “You have all this money that is being collected and it is not being used wisely.”

He is one of the small cadre of residents who take the time to study what their city councils do and speak up when they feel their local governments aren’t spending money well.

Guynn, 62, moved to Suisun City in 1986 – attracted by the town’s more affordable housing – Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay area where he worked for the city.

“It was where I got to see things from the inside,” said Guynn, referring to one fo the inspirations for his becoming a city council watcher.

It was Mabel Harder, a Suisun City watchdog who since moved away, who got Guynn interested in following the actions of the Suisun City Council in 1997.

That was about when the city was trying to entice a gambling riverboat to Suisun City’s downtown waterfront, something that Guynn opposed.

“It was the financing that got me interested in following what local government does,” said Guynn, who believes government should spend no more than it makes.

He is now a member of both the Central Solano County Citizen Taxpayers Association and the Citizens Against the Dump Expansion, which opposes expanding the Potrero Hills landfill.

Guynn also ran for the Fairfield-Suisun School Board unsuccessfully, but now devotes his efforts to keeping an eye on Suisun City’s leaders.

He opposes the idea of government helping to build affordable housing, saying “government should not be in the housing business’ it should be a matter of private enterprise.”

In his addresses to the council, Mayor Jim Spering is often Guynn’s sparring partner when the council watcher steps to the mike to speak on an issue.

Spering has a lot of respect for those who keep an eye on city government and even Guynn – when he makes a good point, he said.

“The council does listen, especially when they bring forth a good idea,” Spering said. “But if it’s the same message on every single item, you tend to stop hearing them.”

Guynn’s sometimes less-that-warm reception from the council hasn’t stopped him froim pointing out problems.

“It doesn’t intimidate me a bit” Guynn said.

Guynn has lost on a lot of issues, but he still believes his work makes a difference.

He shares some issues with the city’s powers-that-be such as bringing more business to Suisun City and requiring residential developments pay their own way.

Guynn also advocates change on the council because “if you keep the same people in office, you won’t get any major changes.” He supports term limits as one good way to do that.

Guynn is disappointed more people don’t keep an eye on what their government does.

“It is not good,” Guynn said of the times he has been one of the few residents in the audience at Suisun City Council meetings. “We need more people. Most people are concerned, but they don’t have the time.”

There are times “where I feel I am the only one there at the city council meetings,” Guynn said.

Most of those in the taxpayers association are Fairfield residents and he would like to see more Suisun City residents step up to protect taxpayers.

“I would like to see someone else more involved so I can be more in the background and have time to plan,” Guynn said of his council watching. “With one person, it’s hard to be everywhere and you get spread out too much. It can be easy to be burned out.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t see any new faces on the horizon,” Guynn said.

Guynn doesn’t see himself stepping back soon though.

“As long as I live here, I will keeping doing this,” Guynn said.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976

Friday, December 9, 2005

Capitols on Roll With Record Rider Ship

From Daily Republic // Dec. 9, 2005
By Barry Eberling

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 - will 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.

Suisun City Courts Developers

From Daily Republic // Dec. 9, 2005
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

Thursday, December 8, 2005

No raise this year for Suisun City police

From the Daily Republic // December 8, 2005
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY – Suisun City police officers will be going without a pay raise in the one-year contract the Suisun City Council approved Tuesday night.

The rest of the city’s employees have gone without pay raises since 2004 as part of the city leadership’s efforts to cut costs and balance a fiscally ailing budget.

“It is a reflection of our ability to pay,” Suisun City Assistant City Manager Ronald Anderson Jr. said of the contract that runs from July 2005 to June 30, 2006.

Suisun City has been struggling with a weak budget for several years and repeatedly cuts costs with measure that included closing City Hall on Fridays.

The contract comes at a time when the city is in its third year of contracting with the Solano County Sheriff’s Department to patrol Suisun City during the early morning hours.

The city also recently accepted a study on police staffing that said it doesn’t need to hire more officers to maintain its level of service once vacant positions are filled and some officers recover from injuries.

“We are glad we have the contract,” said Suisun City Police Officers Association representative John Noble of Rains, Lucia and Wilkinson of Pleasant Hill.

Noble called the contract “a holding pattern so the city can do a compensation survey that can be used in the next negotiations.”

“We understand the city’s fiscal constraints and want to work with the city to establish a stable police force,” Noble said.

Anderson hopes the city will be in better fiscal shape next year when negotiations start again.

“The council indicated that they have a strong interest in trying to do that next year,” Anderson said. “That is why we are working hard to improve our fiscal situation.”

It was January 2004 when members of the Suisun City Employees Association, which represents the rest of the city’s workers, got a 1 percent raise.

Their current contract states that if anyone in the city gets a pay raise, the SEIU contract will be reopened for negotiations.

Reach Ian Thompson at 707-427-6976 or at

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Suisun City development in ‘conceptual’ stage

Daily Republic // Dec. 7, 2005
Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY – Two-story buildings that combine office space and residences above are being suggested as the core project to revive Suisun City’s Main Street near the plaza.

A small neighborhood of 70 cluster homes on the west side of Civic Center Boulevard and two dozen small homes just north of Gertrude Lotz Drive could go up east of the Suisun Slough.

These are two of the ideas that Main Street West Partners put before the Suisun City Council Tuesday night to show what direction that developer wants to go.

“It is all very conceptual,” said Suisun City developer Mike Rice of Main Street West Partners, the firm who is negotiating with the city to become the downtown’s master developer.

Rice’s partner Frank Marinello said the anchor project around Main and Solano streets will have a mix of smaller tenants instead of a larger single tenant.

“The right mix of tenants is as good as a single project,” said Marinello of possible occupants that could range from antique stores and restaurants to a Suisun Valley winery outlet and art galleries.

Rice suggested both the commercial and residential projects go forward together because of the energy they could build for each other.

Mayor Jim Spering stressed that the area specifically on Main Street needed to be the top priority because economically reviving Main Street was why the city wanted a master developer in the first place.

Tuesday’s report comes two months after Rice asked for both a 60-day extension on his deadline for producing both a more concrete proposal for what he will do downtown and the name of a major tenant

At that meeting, the council gave Rice more time and waived the requirement that he produce a major tenant for Main Street West’s anchor project. Instead, they allowed him to design for a multi-tenant project.

Main Street West Partners is still in exclusive negotiations with the city over a contract to allow the developer to acquire 14 Redevelopment Agency properties and develop them.

Suisun City leaders said earlier this year they want to see new commercial development, mixed-use development and live-work housing built to revive the downtown’s economy.

The council met in executive session afterward to talk about the proposed property sale. Any action on this is not expected before January, according to Redevelopment Agency Director Al daSilva.

In other business, the council approved awarding a $685,000 contract with Blackshear Construction of Benicia to build a 56-foot-tall lighthouse at the head of the Suisun Slough.

City leaders contend the lighthouse will serve as a symbol of a rejuvenated Suisun City waterfront.

Reach Ian Thompson at 707-427-6976 or at

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Lighthouse in Suisun slated for July opening

From the Daily Republic // December 6, 2005

Council set to award building contract worth $623,000

By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY -- Suisun City's 52-foot-tall lighthouse should be up and running as soon as next summer, according to the project's manager, Chief Building Inspector Dan Kasperson.

"We hope to have an operating lighthouse by the Fourth of July celebration," Kasperson said.

The Suisun City Council is expected to award Blackshear Construction of Benicia a $623,000 contract tonight to build the structure city leaders are pedicting will be the symbol of a rejuvenated Suisun City waterfront.

Blackshear was one of five builders who responded to a bid put out early in the fall to put up the structure that was designed by the ROMA Design Group of San Francisco.

"That is a good amount, considering it is a relatively small project," Kasperson said of the number of bidders. "There was interest because it was so unique."

The lighthouse was the product of a series of community forums in 2004. Residents and councilmembers figured it woud be a unique and distinctive symbol visible from Highway 12.

It was designed to be a steel structure with alternating bands of black and white granite panels, simulating the paint scheme of coastal lighthouses and topped with a rotating beacon.

The city lit up the beacon on the waterfront in a public ceremony on Oct. 1 after perching it atop a crane raised to approximately the height of what the lighthouse would be.

Suisun City's Redevelopment Agency is putting forward $530,000 to get the construction work started and city staff is recommending putting up another $200,000 to meet the contract price and any cost overruns.

"All of the costs are going to be reimbursed by fees generated from a surcharge on property sold by the Redevelopment Agency," Kasperson said. "The intent is that there will be no impact on city money."

The Suisun City Council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency governing board, meets at 7 p.m. tonight.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Suisun City's Growing Business

From Daily Republic // Thursday Dec. 1, 2005

By Nathan Halverson
SUISUN CITY - Residents are increasingly finding they can shop and eat in their own back yards, rather than drive to the more numerous retail centers in Fairfield.

In fact, a section of the city along Highway 12 is becoming the new drive-thru alley with a wide range of fast food stores opened or opening.

The city's business growth is a combination of concerted efforts by city officials and of natural growth as developers and business owners recognize the potential of under-served neighborhoods.

Currently 73 percent of Suisun City residents' taxable spending is made outside their city, according to city project manager Jason Garben. City officials want more of that taxable spending to stay local.

Primarily the money is going to Fairfield, which hosts the region's major retail spots like Westfield Solano mall.

Suisun City officials know they need more retail and commercial space to increase their tax revenues.

There are about 144 undeveloped acres available in the city, said Garben. Roughly 65 of those acres are good for commercial development, he added.

New developments

Several new retail areas are in various stages of development.

Wal-Mart has proposed building a new store on Highway 12 on a piece of land not yet incorporated into the city. The release of an environmental impact report for the proposed store and retail center there has been delayed from late November to February as issues of wetland protection and increased traffic need further review, said Alvaro da Silva, interim economic development director for Suisun City.

The city continues to redevelop and assist in adding commercial and retail space on Main Street, which has undergone a major overhaul since its more industrious days came to an end in the late 1980s.

Another new retail area is at the southeast corner of Highway 12 and Grizzly Island Road known as the Lawler Center. This site has grown with little city assistance.

"It's actually happening by itself," said da Silva.

A cluster of fast food restaurants opened there during the last few months, including a Quizno's Sub, Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, Jack in the Box and Burger King. A Panda Express is under construction.

Construction drawings were recently submitted to the city for a seafood and grocery store with a bakery and deli. The store will be at 303 Lawler Center Drive.

The Lawler Center still has about 10 parcels on which to build.

More room to grow

Tim McCabe owns and operates a franchised It's a Grind Coffee House, which opened at Lawler Center in July. He said about 75 percent of his customers are Suisun City residents.

"It's mostly locals that know about us," he said.

He gets a lot of teachers from Crescent Elementary School, which was recently built, he said.
Just south of the center off Highway 12 is a mixed-use project named McCoy Creek.

The proposed development, for which construction drawings have yet to be submitted, will include 19 single family homes and five apartments above retail spaces, totaling about 6,000 square feet.

The site will also host an office building with four units. It is being developed by former city manager Camron Najoomi.

Kevin English of Fairfield-based Premier Commercial Real Estate Services is representing the site, which is zoned general commercial.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4646 ext. 267 or