Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Citizens float ideas for Suisun City waterfront

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Some mixed use development, a restaurant and improvements to the boat launch area if possible were what residents said they would like to see happen to the waterfront area south of Delta Cove.

These were some of the preferred uses that came from a Monday night brainstorming session to help Suisun City planners determine what the best use would be for one of the last undeveloped areas on the Suisun Slough's west side.

"It would be a good revenue source," said Suisun City waterfront resident Steve Lessler of a possible waterfront restaurant.

More than two dozen residents showed up for the two-hour session to first digest three conceptual alternative plans for the area before supporting the parts of the plans they liked and discarding the ones they did not.

The designs ranged from minimal changes that had much of the open land turn into parkland to more intensive changes that had the Adams Marine building moved, docks extended south and considerable development built up.

This all sprung from several possible ideas city planners had sketched out and presented to the City Council in September 2006.

Design, Community & Environment of Berkeley, hired in December to undertake the design effort, took in all the comments, which they will turn into a proposed land use plan that will go to the City Council this spring.

The idea of putting in development which would include a restaurant received support from those present who stated a restaurant, especially a high-end one designed to take advantage of its waterfront location, would bring more people to the area.

Suisun City has been approached on this idea by two interested developers during the past two years, but the proposals have gone nowhere in City Hall.

A suggestion by Design, Community & Environment to move the Adams Marine building was shot down with residents saying it would be too expensive and that the building is just fine where it is.

Boater John Scaff strongly recommended improvements in and around the boat launch area be made to allow large boats to be pulled out, repaired and maintained in Suisun City.

"We have no pull-out facility," Scaff said. "We haul them over to other places for repair and maintenance, and this city is losing money."

Suisun City can't do much to the boat launch because any changes are heavily restricted by a California Department of Boating and Waterways grant.

The city does have the option of "buying out" the grant to allow it more leeway in what it can do with the boat launch area.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Suisun City police chief search continues

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City has received a half-dozen applications from law enforcement officers who want to be the city's next police chief - and the final day to apply for the job is still more than two weeks away.

The city is looking for someone to replace Suisun City Police Chief Ron Forsythe, who announced a month ago that he was going to retire March 7 because of ongoing medical problems.

"We are advertising at this moment and will be closing applications on Feb. 5," Suisun City Manager Suzanne Bragdon said.

If everything goes according to plan, the applicants will be interviewed in mid-February and a decision will be announced by mid-March, Bragdon said.

Bragdon is pleased with the number of applications and said that is because of "the direction the department is taking is very exciting and that filters through the police ranks."

Bragdon referred to last year's campaign to put the department back on the job around the clock after several years of contracting with the Solano County Sheriff's Office to patrol the city during the early morning hours.

City officials spent much of the year refilling the police department's depleted ranks, increasing the number of officers on the force and instituting new community law enforcement programs.
Forsythe's medical problems sidelined him for most of the last six months and the department's daily activities were overseen by acting police chief Commander Ed Dadisho.

Dadisho will continue as acting police chief and can also apply for the permanent job if he chooses, Bragdon said.

Suisun City after-school programs to increase

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - More after-school programs at Suisun City schools and increasing community use of the Joe Nelson Community Center will be among the main goals of Suisun City's Parks and Recreation Department this year.

"Suisun City has a lot of great programs and we can do more," said Kelly Davis, the recently hired director of the Joe Nelson Community Center.

Davis comes on board to oversee all the activities at the Community Center and work to expand Suisun City's after-school programs.

Her position is financed by a federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program grant. When the grant runs out, the position will be funded with city funds.

Recent tight budgets had kept the Suisun City Parks and Recreation Department from putting a person in place to specifically concentrate on expanding the center's activities.

Davis, who has experience with recreation and after-school programs in Napa, Vacaville and Dixon, arrived this month from her last job in Dixon which included starting after-school programs.

She will spend this month learning the ropes of running the center and then start work fine-tuning programs to better meet residents' needs, increasing the frequency of room rentals to local groups and increasing the number of after-school programs.

Now with the people-power he needs, Suisun City Parks and Recreation Department Director Mick Jessop is putting out surveys and talking with residents to see what they want and working on ways to better market the present programs.

"We want to look at how we can show the quality of this facility to the community," Jessop said.
Suisun City is planning to expand the after-school program at Crystal Middle School and start after-school programs at its three elementary schools, Jessop said.

State grant funds are already available to start the program at Suisun Elementary School. The city is appealing to the state to get funding to start programs at Dan Root and Crescent elementary schools as well as expand the three-year-old Crystal program.

The programs will allow students to stay after school to study, get assistance with homework and test preparation, and take part in enrichment programs, Jessop said.

"We are working with the YMCA for staffing the programs," Jessop said.

The Suisun Elementary School program, which could hold 80 students, is expected to start Feb. 6. Jessop will find out on Feb. 1 if the city gets funds for the programs at the other schools.

Jessop is also working with several local nonprofit and civic groups to help with other recreation programs "because we need to stretch whatever funding we have."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Moving in the right direction

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City will forge ahead in the direction set under former mayor Jim Spering. But the pace will be faster, new mayor Pete Sanchez said.

Sanchez ran to replace long-time mayor Spering in a four-way race where candidates pretty much agreed on issues to support public safety, bring in more businesses and fix roads.

"We are moving in the right direction and the voters agreed with us," Sanchez said.

The longtime Suisun City resident collected 40 percent of the vote in November to beat fellow councilmen Sam Derting and Mike Segala and heavy equipment operator Shane Ballman.

Sanchez doesn't see so much of a change in direction for the city, but an acceleration of the city's campaign to develop its commercial sites "and actively seek out business partners for the community."

Before the November 2006 election that made him mayor, Sanchez was a Suisun City Councilman for 12 years, eight of which he had also served as vice mayor.

Sanchez started the new year as a full-time mayor and has already asked that the bushes that conceal the view of the waterfront from his small office at Suisun City Hall be cut back.

He retired from the Solano County Assessor-Recorder's Office on Dec. 31 after having served 23 years there.

"I will miss all those people calling me about their assessments," Sanchez said, chuckling.
Those phone calls have already been replaced with ones from Suisun City residents on Suisun City business.

In the past, the city had been too confident that businesses would be naturally attracted to Suisun City's redevelopment efforts, he said.

Sanchez noted City Manager Suzanne Bragdon, who was hired last year, personifies that "go get 'em" worldview to bring in new businesses.

"We have some good new managers," Sanchez said.

The city will get some more new faces when the City Council hires a new police chief and a new public works director.

Interim department heads have done much appreciated yeoman work for Suisun City, but Sanchez wants more permanence in city hall leadership.

Sanchez expects more businesses to come to town and that would mean more sales tax. Both the fire department and the police department will receive some of that income, according to Sanchez.

Saying that the city owes much to the nearly all-volunteer fire department, Sanchez said, "I look forward to putting on another paid position each year of my four-year term."

Any vacancies in the police force would be filled quickly to keep as many officers as possible on the job.

"Public safety is our prime obligation to the citizens," Sanchez said.

When it comes to the promise to do a better job fixing Suisun City's streets, Sanchez said there is some money available "in different pots" to deal with the worst of the problem.

It will be a matter of setting priorities of which streets can best benefit from being fixed now with the effort expanding as sales tax revenue grows from the increased business development.
Sanchez is looking forward to city councilmembers willing to speak their minds and put forward a host of ideas to better the city.

He contends "things get a little boring when everyone is in step."

"I am only interested in a council that has the best interests of the residents in mind," Sanchez said.

Suisun City residents have watched for years as the city worked to build up its economy and recreate the waterfront to bring in more people.

"The residents have waited all this time," Sanchez said. "Give us a little bit more time, one to two years, because more exciting things are coming to make Suisun City a destination city."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Suisun City may seek grant for bike path, landscaping

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By Daily Republic staff

SUISUN CITY - The Suisun City Council will discuss applying for state grant funds to build a bicycle path along McCoy Creek and rehabilitate the landscaping along the Walters Road bike path at its next meeting.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Suisun City Council chamber at 701 Civic Center Blvd. to vote on applying for money from the California River Parkways Grant Program.

The proposed 10-foot-wide bike path along the west side of McCoy Creek from Pintail Drive to Railroad Avenue doubles the length of the existing McCoy Creek bike trail. This is expected to cost $540,000 to complete.

Suisun City also wants to get $250,000 to fix up the landscaping along the portion of the Central County Bikeway that runs along Walters Road from Scandia Road to East Tabor Boulevard.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Officials commit to safety improvements on Hwy. 12

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By Barry Eberling and Audrey Wong

SUISUN CITY - Too many people have lost their lives on Highway 12 so Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, Solano Transportation Authority and other agencies are looking for short-term ways to make Highway 12 safer.

Wolk and other government officials announced their plans at a Wednesday press conference while Highway 12 traffic whizzed pass the Marina Shopping Center.

The officials said they would use legislation, law enforcement and road improvements to reduce the risks of traveling on the mostly rural east-west artery.

Head-on accidents have given the stretch from Suisun City through Rio Vista a "Blood Alley" reputation. Four people died in three collisions during 2006. From 2001 to 2005 there were two fatalities, 289 collisions and 163 injuries on westbound Highway 12, said California Highway Control Commander Sue Ward of CHP Solano. During the same period there were 16 fatalities, 329 injuries and 510 collisions on the eastbound portion, Ward said.

Some of Highway 12's casualities were local residents, acting Suisun City police Chief Ed Dadisho said. Two Suisun City brothers died in a November 2006 head-on collision and a Rio Vista police officer in a 2005 crash."It hits Suisun as well as Rio Vista," Dadisho said.

Wolk has been working with Caltrans to fast-track more than $46 million for highway improvements two years ahead of schedule. Plans call for widening shoulders, adding rumble strips and filling in dips on the hilly section. That project is to start in 2008 and be completed by 2010.

But everyone, including landowners, resource agencies and transportation agencies, must cooperate to make efforts work, Wolk added.

"While these safety enhancement will make the highway safer it does not address unsafe and hazardous driving," Wolk said.

The assemblywoman is sponsoring legislation that would highway a double-fine zone for such offenses as speeding and drunken driving. If the law is passed then officials would launch enhanced enforcement, public awareness campaigns and other measures to work with it.

CHP are collaborating with other law enforcement agencies for a task force that will crack down on dangerous motorists, Ward said. Highway patrol will fill positions to meet this goal.

Suisun City police will help by having officers work overtime to conduct drunken driving checkpoints and other enforcement, Dadisho said.

Waterfront uses discussion planned

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - Suisun City's planners want to hear from the residents on what they consider the best future uses of the waterfront around the Suisun City Boat Launch.

The city's Community Development Department is asking residents to take part in a Jan. 22 brainstorming session in the Suisun City Hall Council chamber at 7 p.m.

The area in question is the shorefront between Delta Cove and the Suisun Wildlife Center, which is one of the last undeveloped areas on the Suisun Slough's west side.

In September 2006, the City Council took an overall look at the area and city planners sketched out a series of possible ideas, which included:
  • Relocating the fuel dock closer to the boat launch and moving the fuel storage area away from where potential development may go.
  • Extending the pedestrian promenade south to the walking trails.
  • Improving the fishing pier or create two new piers, one for fishing and the other for people who just want to watch aquatic activity on the slough. This could include a dock that would accommodate kayakers and the local youth rowing club. A new fishing dock may be put adjacent to the boat ramps.
  • Putting in an aquatic center and storage building to allow the Parks and Recreation Department to store material for waterfront events.
  • Extending the boat ramps further south.
In December, the council hired Design, Community & Environment of Berkeley to undertake the design effort. Members of that firm will be at the brainstorming meeting.

The Jan. 22 meeting is a first step to putting together a design for the area. The city planners will present their ideas to help spur input and other ideas from residents.

The results of this meeting will be used by Design, Community & Environment to come up with a preliminary design that will go to the city council for review later this year.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Community encouraged to help shape vision for boat launch area

SUISUN CITY — As part of the continuing transformation of the Suisun City Waterfront District, the Community Development Department will host a focused brainstorming session designed to elicit public input on future uses of the southern waterfront.

Known formally as a charrette, the session will bring together Suisun City residents, land use professionals, urban planners and City staff to create a shared recommendation on the best use for the area now dominated by the Suisun City Boat Launch.

The charrette will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Suisun City Hall Council Chamber. Everyone with a point of view on that particular part of the Waterfront District is invited to participate.

In October, the Community Development Department issued a request for proposals seeking design firms to assist in developing a cohesive plan for developing the waterfront area south of Walnut Street and east of Kellogg Street. The area includes Adams Marine, the boat launch, a boat fuel dock, a PG&E transformer, a fishing dock, and entrances to the Suisun Wildlife Center and the Peytonia Slough Ecological Reserve.

For more, visit www.suisun.com/whatsnew

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

White snowy owl a bird-watching boon for Suisun City

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - A week ago, the Suisun Marsh's many water fowls and raptors were just a pleasant part of thescenery during cruises along the Suisun Slough for the tour boat California Sunset.

That all changed a week ago, when a large white snowy owl - rarely found outside of the arctic tundra - was spottedon a group of pilings on the north side of Suisun Bay.

"It has been a pretty phenomenal few days," said Captain Dan Thiemann, who on Monday was preparing theCalifornia Sunset for a cruise to ride the high tide into Suisun Bay.

Birders from as far away as Arizona have made their way to Suisun City to see the snow owl.

Bird watching, particularly watching the snowy owl while it makes a temporary home here, has been good forbusiness. And since the landowner where the owl perched won't allow birdwatchers on his land, the only way to reach the owl is by boat.

There were only a half-dozen bird watchers - or birders - on the Thursday cruise that struck paydirt by spotting theowl. Chilly weather had also kept boat cruises light.

But by the time Thiemann's boat made it back to his berth in Suisun City last week, he had booked tours throughMonday. They've resulted in 40 to 50 people lining up to see the owl.

"We are novice bird watchers," said Thiemann of his small crew. "We are learning more and more each day."

That has included the obligatory stop at a large flock of swans who are habitually found at one pond on the voyage south and a ringside seat for a fight between a Short-Eared Owl and a Harrier that occurred on Sunday.

So far, the owl hasn't let any birders down and Thiemann hopes the bird will stick around a while.

"This has done a lot for Suisun, establishing it as not only a birder's paradise but also as an ecological paradise,"Thiemann said, "and you have to see it by boat."

Thiemann's trips cast off from the public boat dock once a day depending on when the tide is rising, since the waternear the area with the owl is only three to four feet deep.

For more information about the cruises and the California Sunset, call Thiemann at (916) 289-8375.

Wolk wants harsh fines on Highway 12

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By Barry Eberling

FAIRFIELD - Assemblywoman Lois Wolk is supporting legislation to have Highway 12 declared a double-fine zone for speeding, reckless driving, drunken driving and other offenses.

The bill targets Highway 12 from Interstate 80 in Fairfield to Interstate 5 in San Joaquin County. Solano Transportation Authority officials have also talked of trying to get a double-fine zone established.

Local Highway 12 had three head-on collisions in 2006 that killed four people, including two children from Suisun City. Wolk, the STA and local law enforcement agencies have been seeking short-term answers.

"Those double-fine zones are intended to deter the reckless, unsafe driving that has claimed too many lives on what has come to be known as 'Blood Alley,' " Wolk said Monday.

But it's hardly a sure thing that the law will pass. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed some double-fine zone bills for other state roads.

"Caltrans suggested that if any future double-fine zones are to be effective, they must be established concurrently with enhanced enforcement, public awareness campaigns and other traffic safety measures," Schwarzenegger wrote in one veto message.

A double-fine zone is one piece of the puzzle, Wolk said.

"This is not a magic bullet," she said. "We do need strong enforcement, strong education."

The STA board on Wednesday plans to talk about Highway 12 safety, including seeking a state grant to pay for more law enforcement. It meets at 6 p.m. at the Suisun City Hall, 701 Civic Center Blvd.

Wolk is also sponsoring legislation to have a stretch of Highway 12 between Highway 113 and Olsen Road named in honor of the late David Lamoree. The Rio Vista police officer died in an Oct. 21, 2005, head-on collision on his 26th birthday. He was not at fault.

"It's being done to honor him and his memory," Wolk said. "But it would also add to the recognition that this is a stretch of road that is unsafe and people should be very careful."

Friday, January 5, 2007

Rare sighting brings birders to Suisun City

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By Ian Thompson

SUISUN CITY - The large, white feathered visitor from the arctic simply stared from its piling in Suisun Bay as a half-dozen birders snapped pictures of what they described as a once-in-a-lifetime find Thursday.

"That is awesome," said birder Daryl Coldren of the immature Snowy Owl which would normally be found in the Arctic tundra.

The raptor was first spotted by a fisherman on Tuesday where Grizzly Island meets Suisun Bay and Internet postings between bird watchers, or birders, quickly drew others to the area.

It became enough of a problem that the owner of the land which the owl is temporarily calling home posted no-trespassing signs telling the birders to stay off his property.

That's when Capt. Dan Thiemann and his 45-foot touring boat the California Sunset entered the picture.

Several birders approached Thiemann and rented his boat to get as close to the shoreline as possible to spot the owl.

"This is the one time in our lives that we will see this bird in California," said Thiemann, caught up in the excitement of finding the owl. "I never thought I would be this pumped up about seeing a rare bird. It's made a birder out of me."

The first attempt on Wednesday failed. Thiemann repeatedly edged his boat into the shallower portions of Suisun Bay only to come up empty without a glimpse of the distinctive raptor.

The threat of rain didn't put off a half dozen birders to try again Thursday. They headed into Suisun Bay on a rising tide to find the owl. The bird has been less than a dozen times ever in central California, they said.

"They usually never come this far south," said birder Andy Lacasse of Petaluma. "They only come this far when their food supply gets scarce and it is usually the younger ones."

Also known as the Arctic Owl or the Great White Owl, the large bird is usually found in the Arctic and Northern Canada where it preys on lemmings and other rodents.

They have been reported as far south as Texas and the Gulf States, but those are rare sought-after sightings, according to birders.

Coldren was on a bus heading back to Humboldt State University from visiting his family in Sacramento when he heard about the owl sighting. He stopped in Arcata only long enough to grab his bird watching gear and turned right around.

"I missed last year's sighting by a day," Coldren said.

A reported second sighting gave the birders a more precise location - a couple of pilings about a mile from the mouth of the Suisun Slough.

"Yesterday, we didn't know where we were going," Thiemann said.

On the voyage down the slough, the birders spent their time pointing out all the other species - turkey vultures, white pelicans, tree swallows, tundra swans, wild geese and a host of duck species.

As the California Sunset nosed into Suisun Bay, Thiemann was more visibly excited that the birders.

"If they find it, I am going to be on owl patrol," Thiemann said of the possibility of running additional snowy owl-watching tours.

At 11:30 a.m., the birders hit paydirt.

At first they saw "a white thing that could be a gull," said birder Chet Ogun of Eureka. As the boat slowly moved closer, the young snowy owl emerged.

"That's our bird," Ogun triumphantly announced. "It is facing away from us."

As if realizing it had an audience, the Snowy Owl turned around and stared at the birders who were then about 40 feet away taking pictures, calling friends and posting their photos on the Internet.

"Look at his feet. They are red. That's blood," Lacasse said. "He must have just caught a vole or something."

The pleased birders expect the owl to stick around awhile before it heads back north.

Thiemann fielded phone calls from birders throughout the voyage back, getting enough people to organize three more runs to look at the owl.

Several birders triumphantly marked the sighting in their bird books, saying this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a snowy owl.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

First Northern departs Suisun City; one bank remains

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By Ines Bebea
SUISUN CITY - Customers of the First Northern Bank branch in Suisun City will have to take care of their banking needs at the Fairfield branch starting April 1.

In a letter mailed to Suisun City residents last month, First Northern said that it will consolidate its services with the Fairfield branch on Oliver Road. Its last business day will be March 31.

The Dixon-based bank was started in 1910 and has branches in Solano, Yolo, Sacramento and Placer counties. The Suisun City branch, which operates out of One Harbor Center, has been in business for the last five years.

Its closing makes Westamerica Bank on Sunset Avenue the only banking institution in Suisun City.

"We talked to the bank and tried to see what we could do for them to stay," said Al Da Silva, interim economic development director the city. "But they said they were not generating enough business deposits to stay."

Da Silva added that Suisun City regretted losing the business, but that such a large real estate space at a prime location should attract another tenant, preferably a business institution.

He wondered if the bank's decision was affected by many customers choosing to do their business online and the multitude of ATM locations used to withdraw money.

"Banking is changing a lot," he said. "But the convenience of a branch is important."

Da Silva doesn't foresee the closing as a major problem for business owners, and is confident that the geographical move of their bank will not have a major impact on business.

Doyle Wiseman, president of The Wiseman Company LLC, which owns One Harbor Center, considers the 2,500 square feet of high-visibility area a prime location for another banking institution or retail space.

"That location will work well for another institution that offers different financial needs for its clientele," he said. "First Northern is a good community bank and we had no problems with them as tenants."

While more of the 32,000 residents of Suisun City will now be forced to go out of town for their banking needs, City Councilman Mike Hudson sees as a great opportunity to bring in a credit union or bank as new businesses continue to grow.

"While their leaving is sad for our residents and business community, it also means that now we have office space ready and available for another bank to move right in," he said.

According to Hudson, other financial institutions have expressed interest in the location and with Suisun City having the highest median housing value in the county, there are a lot residents who need to save or place their money in a bank.

"People want a bank that is close to them," said Hudson. "And with all the development going on in Suisun City, it would be great for a bank to come in now while we are growing."