Lathrop — powered by new home sales in the 15,001-home planned River Islands community — was California’s fastest growing city during 2022 based on new growth. The State Department of Finance Monday reported that Lathrop’s estimated population soared past the 35,000 mark as of Jan. 1 to reach 35,080 residents. That reflects an 11.1 percent year-to-year gain. It is important to note Lathrop’s population surge was based on new growth. Overall on the state’s list, Lathrop comes in at No. 2 for population growth at 11.1 percent.

Topping the list is Paradise with a 24.1 percent jump to 9,941 residents. To put that in perspective, before the 2018 wildfires wiped out much of the Butte County community killing 86 people in 2018, Paradise had 26,532  residents. Its population dropped to 4,719 in 2019. In the Department of Finance’s list of cities over 30,000, Lathrop was first at 11.1 percent while Manteca was fifth at 2.3 percent. All cities combined, Lathrop would drop to second and Manteca to sixth due to the rebuilding  in Paradise. Between both Manteca and Lathrop, there are 123,883 residents.

In raw population gain, Lathrop added 3,505 residents for the top overall gain in the state. Manteca was sixth with 2,019 additional residents. In 2021, Lathrop had added 1,947 residents to be ranked as 13th largest numerical gain in the state that year. Right behind Lathrop at 14th in 2021 with 1,864 additional residents was Manteca. But given Manteca is roughly three times larger in population, Lathrop’s additional residents translated into a 6.63 percent growth rate as opposed to Manteca’s 2.19 percent growth rate that made it California’s 25th fastest growing city in 2021.

Manteca has consistently been adding between 1,600 and 2,200 residents during the past 8 years. Both Lathrop and Manteca are on pace to build roughly the same number of new housing units this year that they did in 2022. Manteca added 1,094 housing units last year to bring the city’s total to 30,399. Lathrop added 1,391 housing units last year to bring the city’s total to 10,388. Lathrop — as of Jan. 1, 2022 — was at 35,080 residents and Manteca at 88,803. Tracy, with 30,275 housing units last year, has a population of 95,615. That means household sizes are larger in Tracy than Manteca. Tracy, with 124 housing units less than Manteca, has 6,198 more residents. Tracy added 785 residents last year compared to 2,019 for Manteca.

In 2022, only 125 of the state’s 482 cities gained population. The Northern San Joaquin Valley — San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced continues — continued to be one of the only two regions to grow collectively in population in California, although ever so slightly. The other was the Inland Empire in Southern California consisting of Riverside and San Bernadino counties.

The Northern San Joaquín Valley was up 604 overall residents. It would have been more but Stanislaus County lost 2,780 residents that cut into a 3,384 gain in San Joaquin County and a 1,202 gain in Merced County.

City population changes for

Northern San Joaquin Valley

Cities in the three-county Northern San Joaquin Valley region that gained residents and their estimated population as of Jan. 1, 2023 are as follows:

*Tracy went from 94,830 to 95,615.

*Manteca went from 86,784 to 88,803.

*Lathrop went from 31,575 to 35,080.

*Patterson went from 24,142 to 22,980

*Riverbank went from 24,670 to 24,695.

*Waterford went from 8,932 to 9,042.

*Hughson went from 7,497 to 7,565.

*Merced went from 88,657 to 90,116.

*Los Banos went from 46,827 to 47,347.

Cities in the three-county Northern San Joaquin Valley region that lost residents and their estimated population as of Jan. 1, 2023 are as follows:

*Stockton went from 321,911 to 319,731.

*Lodi went from 66,305 to 66,239.

*Ripon went from 15,921 to 15,769.

*Escalon went from 7,338 to 7,264.

*Modesto went from 217,699 to 216,995.

*Turlock went from 71,214 to 70,856.

*Ceres went from 48,207 to 47,27.

*Oakdale went from 23,241 to 22,980.

*Newman went from 12,162 to 12,040.

*Atwater went from 31,629 to 31,418.

*Livingston went from 14,352 to 14,257.

*Gustine went from 5,985 to 5,945.

*Dos Palos went from 5,697 to 5,640.

San Joaquin County overall, went from 782,811 to 786,145 residents.

Merced County went from 284,149 to 285,337.

Stanislaus County dropped from 548,719 to 54,939.

The three-county region now has a population of 1,617,421.

Overall population as well as

housing trends in California

Stable births, fewer deaths, and a rebound in foreign immigration slowed California’s recent population decline in 2022, with the state’s population estimated at 38,940,231 people as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Over the same period, statewide housing growth increased to 0.85 percent – its highest level since 2008.

California added 123,350 housing units on net, including 20,683 accessory dwelling units (ADUs), to bring total housing in the state to 14,707,698 units. New construction represents 116,683 housing units with 63,423 single family housing units, 51,787 multi-family housing units, and 1,473 mobile homes.

The 0.35-percent population decline for 2022, roughly 138,400 persons, marks a slowdown compared to the recent decline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between 2021 and 2022, California’s population decreased 0.53 percent or 207,800 persons, due mainly to sharp declines in natural increase and foreign immigration.

For 2022, natural increase – the net amount of births minus deaths — increased from 87,400 in 2021 to 106,900 in 2022. Births decreased slightly from 420,800 in 2021 to 418,800 in 2022, while deaths declined gradually from 333,300 persons in 2021 to 311,900 persons in 2022, respectively.

Foreign immigration nearly tripled in 2022 compared to the prior year, with a net gain of 90,300 persons in 2022 compared to 31,300 in 2021. While foreign immigration to California has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, natural increase has not rebounded.

Total births remain low due to fertility declines; while deaths have eased gradually from their pandemic peak, they remain elevated.

With slower domestic in-migration and increased domestic out-migration likely the result of work from-home changes, declines in net domestic migration offset the population gains from natural increase and international migration.

Among the highlights of the population report:

*Of the ten largest cities in California, only three gained population: Sacramento had the largest percentage gain in population (0.2 percent, or 1,203) followed by Bakersfield (0.2 percent, or 882) and Fresno (0.1 percent, or 599).

*Accessory dwelling unit production increased by 60.6 percent, with the state adding 20,638 ADUs in 2022.

*Group quarters represent 2.4 percent (926,000) of the total state population. This population includes those living in college dormitories (269,000) and in correctional facilities (168,000). In 2022, California’s group quarters population increased by 11,000 people or 1.2 percent.

*The college dormitory population grew by 16,000 (6.2 percent). Correctional facilities declined in population in 2022 by 4,200 people (-2.5 percent) across federal, state and local facilities.

*As college dormitory populations continue to return to a post- pandemic normal, several jurisdictions saw significant gains in population due to this population. The City of Arcata in Humboldt County grew by 4.1 percent due to a 45.1 percent increase at Cal Poly Humboldt. The City of Marina in Monterey County grew by 2.5 percent due to a 12.6 percent increase at California State University at Monterey Bay.

*State prisons are generally located in remote areas; as a result, increases or decreases can account for significant changes in their respective area populations. For example, prison declines led to population decreases in Susanville (-9.5 percent) in Lassen County, Calipatria (-5.6 percent) in Imperial County, and Crescent City (-4.4 percent) in Del Norte County.

*Population growth slowed but remained positive in the interior counties of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, while most counties saw declines, including every coastal county except San Benito (0.2 percent).

*Only two counties had growth above a half of a percent: Madera (0.6 percent) and Yuba (0.6 percent), due to housing gains.

*The next largest in percentage growth were San Joaquin (0.4 percent), Merced (0.4 percent), and Imperial (0.4 percent) counties.

*Forty-six of the state’s fifty-eight counties lost population. The ten largest percentage decreases were: Lassen (-4.3 percent), Del Norte (-1.3 percent), Plumas (-1.2 percent), Santa Cruz (-1.0 percent), Marin (-1.0 percent), Tehama (-1.0 percent), Napa (-1.0 percent), Lake (-0.9 percent), Monterey (-0.8 percent), and Los Angeles (-0.8 percent).

*The state’s three most populous counties all experienced population loss: Los Angeles declined by 73,293 persons (-0.75 percent), San Diego by 5,680 persons (-0.2 percent), and Orange by 14,782 persons (-0.5 percent).

$7.4M grant brings electric bikes to Stockton. Here’s how, where to rent one

If you’re out and about in Stockton, you may see one of the new 105 pedal-assisted electric bikes that are now available for public transportation. The city’s new electric bike-share program — made possible by a $7.4 million grant awarded to the San Joaquin Council of Governments from the state’s Sustainable Transportation Equity Project — launched last Saturday with a Rise ‘N’ Ride event at University of the Pacific. Olivia Mitchell, a sophomore at Pacific, smiled as she tested an e-bike near the university’s William Knox Memorial Library during the launch event.

“I don’t drive, so transportation can be a really big issue for me trying to get to campus,” Mitchell said. “This could help me get to campus and it could also help me get off campus to explore Stockton.”

The program is intended to help Stocktonians like Mitchell get around the city in a clean and cost-effective way.

“I think having more transportation options is really important, especially affordable transportation options,” said Tyler Madell, a program manager for Shared Mobility. Along with SJCOG, Madell has led the planning of Stockton’s electric bike-share program since 2020.

How to rent an e-bike in Stockton

It costs 15 cents per minute to ride an e-bike, according to Bike Stockton’s website. Residents also have the option to sign up for an annual membership priced at $40 per year. The membership includes up to 30 minutes of free ride time per day and a discounted rate of 5 cents per minute after the initial 30 minutes.

“A big thing for us is making these programs affordable across the board. You know, having really affordable rates to make sure people can use these services regularly in the community, whether it’s for running errands or going to work, or even riding recreationally,” Madell said. “Stockton is a very car-centric city as we know … this is an effort to kind of move away from that and create more options for residents.”

Matthew Amen, a Yosemite Street Village neighborhood resident, said he is an advocate for eco-friendly travel, and often uses alternatives to driving a car.

“I have a very urban mentality. Even though I’m from Stockton, I’ve lived in major cities and I love the fact that you can be in a space where you don’t need a car,” Amen said. “I’m looking forward to being able to utilize these bikes to get to where I need to go. From an economic standpoint, it’s a great way to experience the beauty of the city.”Those who are interested in renting an e-bike must download the Bike Stockton app, create an account, and scan a QR code for the e-bike to unlock.

Where to find the e-bikes in Stockton

The e-bikes can be found at five hubs located around the city:

  • DeCarli Plaza
  • Downtown Transit Center
  • Miracle Mile
  • University of the Pacific
  • Yosemite Street Village

The locations of the hubs were determined through community input and connectivity to transit, said Christine Corrales, senior regional planner for SJCOG.

“A key piece when it came to locating the hubs was thinking about how much access residents could have to the sites. For example, it’s ideal to place the bikes in locations that are not gated off to enable 24-hour access,” Corrales said. “We’re also trying to make sure that we can reach as many people as possible, so ideal places are places where there are lots of residents who live in the vicinity, and who can benefit from these services.”

While most of the hubs are located in central Stockton and the downtown area, Corrales said the goal is to expand to south Stockton in the next three to six months.

Divert Breaks Ground on Turlock Facility

Divert, Inc., a technology company operating in the food waste space, broke ground yesterday on a state-of-the-art integrated recovery facility in Turlock, CA. The new facility will capture and turn wasted food into carbon-negative renewable energy, bringing California closer to reaching its net-zero carbon pollution goal by 2045. The event featured Divert CEO Ryan Begin and several dignitaries, including California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, and Keenan Krick of the nearby Second Harvest Food Bank, which was the recipient of a generous food donation by Divert in conjunction with its retail partners including Albertsons, Safeway, and CVS.

Begin, who will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming Organic Produce Summit in July, thanked the many different people and entities that have had a hand in bringing this project to fruition, including the city of Turlock and the state of California. He added that “none of this would be possible without our customers.” He noted that Divert’s business model involves taking packaged food waste from retailers, eliminating the need to dump it in landfills and instead turning it into energy.

“California is a proving ground for our model,” he said, adding that the company’s first facility was a $30 million project built by Kroger and placed in Compton, CA.

That project was funded and is owned by the retailer. The Turlock facility is owned by Divert and will take food waste from multiple retailers throughout California and the neighboring states. Begin applauded California and said, “It is an amazing place to do business.” In fact, he thanked the California Legislature for passing progressive legislation that addresses the food waste issue and mandates action. The Turlock facility is owned by Divert and will take food waste from multiple retailers throughout California and the neighboring states. Begin applauded California and said, “It is an amazing place to do business.”

In a press statement prior to the event, Begin said, “The wasted food crisis is a major contributor to climate change and food insecurity. States and municipalities are on the front lines, under increasing pressure to ensure that their communities live in healthy, sustainable environments. It is fitting that today’s announcement falls on April 26, global Stop Food Waste Day.

For the past 16 years, Divert has been at the forefront of working to prevent waste through our sustainable infrastructure and advanced technologies. This is a transformative opportunity to scale Divert’s proven solutions in California and further accelerate our vision for a waste-free future.”

He refers to himself and partner Nick Whitman as “garage entrepreneurs” who worked on perfecting the concept for many years before the Kroger facility was completed 11 years ago. The 65,000-square-foot Turlock facility will further deliver on Divert’s commitment to transform waste from retailers and other companies into carbon negative renewable energy, thereby preventing it from emitting harmful methane in landfills. The facility will also provide companies with data analytics, giving them the insights to take preventative steps to waste less and donate more food that is still edible.

The facility brings Divert closer to its plans to have 30 facilities across the United States within 100 miles of 80 percent of the US population in the next 8–10 years. The company currently manages about 0.5 percent of US wasted food from 5,400 food retail stores. Its goal is to grow that to 5 percent through its expansion plans. Once fully operational in 2024, the Turlock facility will be able to process 100,000 tons of wasted food a year. The facility will offset up to 23,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually—the equivalent of taking nearly 5,000 gas-powered cars off the road each year. The facility’s renewable energy production will be enough to supply roughly 3,000 homes each year.

“The wasted food crisis is a major contributor to climate change and food insecurity. States and municipalities are on the front lines, under increasing pressure to ensure that their communities live in healthy, sustainable environments.” – Ryan Begin

States are increasingly implementing legislation to tackle climate change, including tax incentives, stricter laws for reprocessing wasted food, and stronger liability protection for food donations, as outlined in the federal Food Donation Improvement Act of 2022. In California specifically, the state’s SB 1383 law, passed in 2016, requires the diversion of wasted food from landfills through waste prevention or donation and encourages the use of anaerobic digestion to create renewable energy.

Ma told the crowd that she has been passionate about the food waste issue since she was a supervisor in San Francisco and had to deal with shrinking landfill space. She carried that passion into the California Legislature as a member there and is now doing what she can as State Treasurer.

In a pre-event statement, she said: “I am proud of the work my office and partners across California are doing to address climate change and meet the state’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals through green financing. The green bond issued through the California Public Financing Authority is one example of how California is leading on climate change through quality, long-term green infrastructure opportunities. We applaud Divert’s commitment to tackling our state’s wasted food crisis with the development of this new facility, making strides toward a stronger economy and a better-quality life for the people that we serve, now and into the future.”

“I am proud of the work my office and partners across California are doing to address climate change and meet the state’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals through green financing. The green bond issued through the California Public Financing Authority is one example of how California is leading on climate change through quality, long-term green infrastructure opportunities.” – Fiona Ma

Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, thanking Divert and all the other partners for bringing this project to her town. She said it will not only bring new jobs and economic growth to the region but make important strides in reducing the footprint of wasted food. During the event, a team from Second Harvest Food Bank created 60 boxes of food, which it planned to distribute to needy Turlock families. Krick noted that the food bank will be an ongoing partner of Divert, delivering usable food to those in need as part of the facility’s operation when it is up and running. Founded in 2007, Divert creates advanced technologies and sustainable infrastructure to eliminate wasted food. The company, which is headquartered in Massachusetts, provides an end-to-end solution that prevents waste by maximizing the freshness of food, recovers edible food to serve communities in need, and converts wasted food into renewable energy.

Ground broken on $15M transit maintenance facility in Selma

After years of discussion, ground was broken Friday on a $15 million maintenance facility for the Fresno County Rural Transit Agency in Selma.

“This particular project was just on the map not too long ago,” said Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau. “In some ways, it takes time. In some ways, it comes quickly. I’m so glad that we’re standing here at the groundbreaking and can really get this project rolling.”

The groundbreaking ceremony featured talks from speakers and local officials including representatives from the offices of Congressman Jim Costa and Senator Anna Caballero.

“We know FCRTA is a vital lifeline for so many who need to get to their health appointments, senior centers, in to receive food,” Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula said at the event. “We also know FCRTA provides great services for the elderly and the disabled.”

The new facility, approved in 2018 for an acre of land at 1821 Pacific Ave., will be a center for maintenance and operations for the transit agency and includes a 10,000 square foot, four-bay maintenance facility. The facility is also planned to include a 5,000 square foot dispatching and administration office.

“It wasn’t inevitable that we were standing here today,” said Selma Mayor Scott Robertson. “First, there were three prospective cities that bid for the privilege of providing the site.”

Robertson joked that the city won the site for its “charming mayor” but added that the city was chosen because of its proximity to Highway 43 and the Golden State Corridor. The facility will be named in honor of former Fowler mayor David Cardenas, who died in March 2022. Brandau called Cardenas the best elected official of all time, himself included.

“David used to come to Selma all the time,” Robertson said. “He rose to the top of our local government, served on every board you can think of selflessly, but he always had good humor and he was always brilliant.”

The transit project is a partnership between Selma and the transit agency. According to the approved agreement in 2018 FCRTA purchased the acre of land from the city for $150,000, part of which will be leased back to the city. Selma will provide employees to work at the fleet maintenance facility and added several positions to that end including a transit manager, fleet maintenance manager, custodian, equipment mechanic, maintenance workers, transit mechanic and shuttle driver.

Amazon opens third fulfillment center in Tracy

Amazon officially opened their latest Tracy fulfillment center with a ribbon cutting on Friday at the 3.7 million-square-foot facility on East Grant Line Road. Director of operations Vincent Wong cut the ribbon for the facility, named SCK6, which had a soft opening in October. Assistant General Manager Mohammed Khan said the building will have approximately 1,500 employees and 3,000 robots in the building at 15000 East Grant Line Road.

At maximum capacity he said Amazon will be able to ship 1 million units a day from the facility, which is the online retailer’s second advanced robotics fulfillment center. Wong welcomed the crowd of employees, some dressed in San Jose Sharks attire, along with invited guests to the dedication.

“We are honored to serve the people of Tracy and especially honored to support our work force here in this place. At Amazon, people are our most valuable asset and resources,” Wong said. “Promotion actually plays an important part in their growth and (our employees are) promoted for recognizing our people and reaching their goals. At Amazon, we start with the community in which we work and live, including myself, we are committed to uniting Tracy and leveraging our resources for good. Since the beginning of 2022 we actually provided more than $4 million in donations for our community here and also in in-kind donations and volunteer hours.”

SCK6 is the fourth logistics center opened in Tracy by the online retailer. Mayor Nancy Young welcomed the new facility to the Tracy community noting that her youngest son had just started working at SCK6 the night before.

“When I got on council it was really hard, and even as my children were growing up, it was a challenge to get a job in the city of Tracy, especially for young people because they were really competing with a lot of adults trying to just hold on their homes and make their ends meet,” Young said. “But when Amazon came here it was the first really big opportunity for a lot of young adults and adults alike to be able to get a really good paying job to be able to take care of their finances. I’m just really excited that this is a great addition to continue to grow our community, to grow our economy and I just want to say thank you all for being a part of this and I encourage each and every one of the Sharkies, each and every one of the workers out there to keep moving forward knowing that you can continue to grow wherever you are, blossom wherever you are.”

San Joaquin County Fifth District Supervisor Robert Rickman joined in welcoming the new facility that had been in the planning stages since he was mayor of Tracy.

“When we approved this facility when I was mayor of Tracy one of the issues we ran into was this was going to be the biggest building in the city of Tracy. So, we had to work with Amazon, adjust our zoning in order to get this building built,” Rickman said. “So driving up and down Grant Line Road and seeing just a dirt field to what it is now is just absolutely amazing.”

New jobs generated by the facility will be a boon to the surrounding communities.

“One of our jobs as elected officials is to bring more jobs, bring awesome companies to our counties, to our cities, and Amazon you have fulfilled that role. The building behind me, what you see, you see local employment — people from Tracy, Stockton, Manteca, Ripon, Lodi, Livermore, the entire surrounding communities — coming to Tracy and making a living, not just for themselves but for their families their spouses and their children,” Rickman said.

He noted the health and education benefits their employees their employees and the company’s work with schools and education will make a difference in the community.

“Your footprint isn’t just here in this parking lot on Grant Line Road but encompasses the entire city of Tracy and San Joaquin County where our population is approximately 800,000 people that live here in the county,” Rickman said.

Amazon has three major centers in town include its OAK4 fulfillment center that opened in 2013, just south SCK6. Two more and two centers in the Prologis International Park of Commerce on the west side of town.

Standalone battery energy storage coming to eastern Kern

A battery project coming to eastern Kern will be just the third in the county’s large and diverse energy portfolio to provide lithium electricity storage on a standalone basis, apart from photovoltaic solar panels. Dallas-based Leeward Renewable Energy’s 126,000-megawatt Antelope Valley BESS, for battery energy storage system, will be sited between two PV solar projects it already owns and operates. It is expected to deliver more than 500 megawatt-hours of power during peak demand, enough for 100,000 homes for four hours after the sun goes down.

Leeward recently announced it has signed a 15-year agreement to provide power from the project to Southern California Edison. Construction is expected to be complete in early 2024. Leeward said it is the company’s first standalone battery energy storage project, designed to support resiliency and reliability of the state power grid while meeting the most stringent safety requirements.

“We are proud to partner with Southern California Edison to help meet California’s zero-carbon goals and facilitate the transition to a cleaner and more reliable power grid that will directly address the urgent need for energy capacity in the state,” Leeward’s chief commercial officer, Eran Mahrer, said in a news release last month. “LRE looks forward to our continued long-term partnership with SCE, the county and the community as we develop and operate Antelope Valley BESS.”

The project is to be built adjacent to Leeward’s 100-megawatt Rabbitbrush solar-plus-storage project, and next to its 174-megawatt Chapparal Springs project providing electrical generation and storage. Leeward said the projects demonstrate its commitment to be a long-term partner with the community on employment and other economic benefits, as well as protections and enhancements for the community and the environment. The county’s top energy permitting official, Director Lorelei Oviatt of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, said the project is part of “the new frontier, which is lithium batteries.”

She noted the state puts limitations on standalone battery energy storage projects, usually insisting they be paired with a solar generation facility. Oviatt noted the project will pay its full property taxes, unlike PV solar projects, which enjoy a large exemption from such taxes in California. It will pay almost as much in property taxes as an Amazon fulfillment center, she noted. The county Board of Supervisors encourages such investments, Oviatt added, saying, “We certainly would like to have more of them.”

More than $260M in projects will improve Highway 58 over next five years

More than $260 million in improvements to Highway 58 between Tehachapi and Bakersfield are in the works over the next five years. Last week, the Kern Council of Governments announced that the California Transportation Commission awarded $9.3 million for the final ramp for the interchange at Highway 99 and Highway 58 as part of more than $2.2 billion to fund projects across the state. According to a news release issued by KernCOG, the Highway 58 mainline connection from Highway 99 to the 7-mile Westside Parkway freeway is scheduled to open to traffic with a ribbon-cutting this September, providing connectivity to Interstate 5 via Stockdale Highway west of Bakersfield.

“The new funding is critical to help keep heavy-duty vehicles off our neighborhood streets, providing smoother traffic flows and thereby reducing emissions, including in many of our historically disadvantaged communities,” said Ahron Hakimi, executive director of KernCOG. Once the connector is open, the agency said, two more Highway 99 and 58 interchange ramps will be completed over the next several years — the 58 westbound to northbound and the 99 southbound to westbound movements.

According to Caltrans, the estimated construction cost for the Centennial Corridor Southbound Highway 99 and westbound Highway 58 Connector project is more than $29 million. It is expected to be complete by summer 2028. The funding to complete the final ramp for the 99-to-58 freeway-to-freeway interchange comes from the Trade Corridor Enhancement Program. The program is funded by state and federal fuel taxes, including the Senate Bill 1 Transportation Improvement Fee.

Closer to Tehachapi, as reported by officials from the city of Tehachapi, Caltrans is moving forward with the $165 million Keene Pavement Project and a $65.9 million truck climbing lane project. The Keene Pavement Project will remove four curves, replace disintegrating pavement and make other improvements on a 10- to 12-mile stretch of Highway 58 just west of Tehachapi. That section of the highway has been the scene of numerous accidents in recent years, including big rig crashes that resulted in closures lasting many hours. According to the Caltrans District 9 quarterly report, the project will begin in March 2026 and is expected to be completed by November 2026. District 9 also oversees another long-awaited project — a truck climbing lane on eastbound 58 between Bakersfield and Tehachapi.

Although two or three segments of truck climbing lanes have been discussed through the years, the project expected to be underway first is what Caltrans calls the most critical section of Highway 58 through the Tehachapi Mountains  —  from approximately 0.8 miles east of the junction with State Route 223 to 0.4 miles west of Hart Flat Road.   This project was originally proposed to begin in 2027. However, city officials have reported ongoing efforts to work with Caltrans, state Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, and KernCOG to consolidate the truck climbing lane project with the Keene Pavement Project, with both to begin in 2026 or as early as 2025.

At a Tehachapi City Council meeting in May, Councilman Phil Smith said Grove set up a meeting between local officials and the new Caltrans Director Tony Tavares, who was appointed to lead the state’s transportation agency in June 2022. Smith has served on the Tehachapi City Council since 1986 and as a member of the Kern COG Board of Directors since 1995. He has advocated for improvements to Highway 58 — and specifically the truck climbing lanes.

He said city officials were encouraged in an initial meeting when Tavares said that Highway 58 is “an extremely significant route.” And Caltrans District 9 Director Ryan Dermody said it is “the most important route in District 9.”  Hakimi, of KernCOG — which is the county’s transportation planning agency — and Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett have also been involved in the meetings, Smith said, along with city Development Services Director Jay Schlosser. Garrett and Smith have since reported that Caltrans has committed to funding and moving forward with the truck climbing lane project.

The segment of the project expected to be completed first is the most easterly of planned truck passing lanes on the eastbound side of Highway 58 between Bakersfield and Tehachapi, Smith said. The lower elevation section of the highway is part of Caltrans District 6, headquartered in Fresno, and details of when that part of the project might move forward are not currently available. District 9 is headquartered in Bishop.

Big mixed-use development planned for Hanford along Hwy. 198 | Around Kings County

Property owners on the north side of Hwy 198 between 11th and 12th avenues have filed an ambitious plan for a large mixed-use project just under 40 acres being processed by the City of Hanford. Named Hanford Place, consultant firm QK has submitted for a conditional use permit and mitigated negative declaration on the project. No developer or medical agent has been named.

The proposed project would include the following: a 22,525-square-foot ambulatory surgery center; a 12,445-square-foot specialty clinic; two 12,445-square-foot medical office buildings; a 12,445- square-foot psychiatric health facility; a 100,000-square-foot, a four-story 105-room hotel with a conference center and pool; a 35,000-square-foot nursing college; a 54,611-square-foot skilled nursing facility; a 34,480-square-foot memory care facility; a 34,380-square-foot assisted living facility; a three-story 90-unit multi-family apartment; 41,500 square feet of medical/commercial uses; and a five-acre bio infiltration basin. The application says construction should begin in March of 2024.

New vehicle registrations in California are predicted to approach 1.8 million units this year and increase 6.9 percent from 2022 according to the California New Car Dealers Assn.

Following three years of below average sales, pent-up demand is at elevated levels as the volume of postponed purchases continues to grow. This will be the driving force for the market for the remainder of the year, say the dealers. Weakening consumer affordability will hold back the release of pent-up demand, but improving vehicle inventories should be sufficient to push sales above current levels.

New light vehicle registrations in California increased 5.8 percent in the first quarter of this year versus the year earlier, slightly below the 8.4 percent improvement in national sales. New vehicle registrations in the state increased for the second consecutive quarter in 1Q ’23. Prior to the fourth quarter of last year, the market declined by more than 10 percent for four consecutive quarters. California’s new vehicle market is predicted to increase higher than last year’s results in the remaining three quarters of this year.

 Among items of interest, estimated electric vehicle market share approached 20 percent in 1Q ’23; Tesla Model Y was Best-Seller in California; Best Full Size Pickup: Ford F-Series; Toyota retained the title of Top Selling Brand in California in 1Q ’23.

Wonderful Renewable Energy, LLC filed an application for a development code text change to allow for permitted uses in the Light Industrial (IL) zone district to be permitted in the Rural Commercial (CR) zone district subject to the approval of a Site Plan Review zoning permit. Wonderful wants to establish a biomass wood yard to manage wood or nut waste for biomass conversion to power generation. The Kings County Planning Commission approved the application this month.

The Wonderful Company is the world’s largest almond and pistachio grower, generating 250,000 tons of nut waste per year, made up of wood, hulls and shells). The industry is looking to turn these liabilities into carbon-negative revenue via reliable electricity and bio-char production. Besides waste nuts and shells, the company removes large numbers of trees each year including thousands of nut tree acres due the drought, anticipating a lack of water to sustain some orchards. The Wonderful Company announced in 2019 it will use 100 percent renewable electricity across all its U.S. operations by 2025.

Cotton mapping for the San Joaquin Valley by CDFA was completed the week of June 1, 2023 confirming lower planting estimates in each county.

The current total mapped acreage for the SJV is 93,229 acres (down from 125,449 acres in 2022). The breakdown of cotton acreage is 30,799 acres in Fresno County (down from 34,290 acres in 2022), 7,226 acres in Kern County (down from 9,591 acres in 2022), 34,701 acres in Kings County (down from 46,988 acres in 2022), 18,875 acres in Merced County (down from 29,113 acres in 2022), 86 acres in Madera County (down from 254 acres in 2022), and 1,542 acres in Tulare County (down from 5,213 acres in 2022)

German power generation company RWE has announced that it has linked its 137MW utility-scale battery energy storage system (BESS), called Fifth Standard, to the California independent system operator. Located in western Fresno County, the BESS project is the company’s largest facility to date in the US. The project also includes a 150MWac solar PV facility, which is expected to be completed in August 2023.

It will feature 369,334 solar photovoltaic panels covering 1,600 acres. The facility will power 26,000 homes in the region and support California’s clean energy goals as the state works toward its net-zero target of 2045. The excess energy will not be sent to the grid, but instead will be stored in an on-site lithium-ion battery energy storage facility with up to 548 megawatt-hours of capacity. The power storage system will allow the plant to maximize its value by releasing solar energy when electric demand is highest.

RWE Clean Energy CEO Mark Noyes stated: “Projects like Fifth Standard, with its co-located battery storage system, will become increasingly important to help ensure that as renewables form a bigger part of the energy mix, the electricity produced can be used when it is needed most.

“In our case, future growth is backed by a project development pipeline comprising more than 24GW in onshore wind, solar and battery storage, one of the largest in the US.”

Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit (48C) Program

The Qualifying Advanced Energy Project Credit (48C) program was established by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and expanded with a $10 billion investment under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. The Advanced Energy Project Credit provides a tax credit for investments in advanced energy projects, as defined in 26 USC § 48C(c)(1).

The Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service, in partnership with DOE, have announced up to $4 billion in a first round of tax credits for projects that expand clean energy manufacturing and recycling and critical materials refining, processing and recycling, and for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions at industrial facilities.

Approximately $1.6 billion of this allocation will be set aside for projects in designated energy communities. The program will provide an investment tax credit of up to 30% of qualified investments for certified projects that meet prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.

This electric flying taxi has been approved for takeoff — sort of

Electric air taxis got one step closer to liftoff this week, when federal regulators gave one company the green light to start flight testing its new production prototype. California-based transportation company Joby Aviation announced Wednesday that the Federal Aviation Administration had granted its aircraft a “Special Airworthiness Certificate,” which allows it to operate in U.S. airspace with certain restrictions.

The FAA confirmed in an email to NPR that it had issued the certificate “for research and development purposes” on June 21. It said it had also granted one to a similar vehicle made by another company, Archer, the week before. This is actually the third Joby aircraft to get this certification, the FAA confirmed. The company has been building and flying pre-production prototypes thousands of miles since 2017. But this time around is significant, because it’s the first of its factory-built vehicles to be approved for test flights. Until now, Bloomberg explains, the company could only demo a prototype made by hand — as opposed to the ones now coming off its production line.

Joby aims to begin commercial passenger operations in the U.S. in 2025, pending FAA certification. It has partnered with Delta Air Lines to deliver a “transformational, sustainable home-to-airport transportation service” for fliers, set to roll out first in New York and Los Angeles. That means customers in those cities would be able to reserve a seat for air taxi trips to and from the airports when booking Delta flights, the companies say. An animation on Joby’s website shows one such journey, from a heliport in downtown Manhattan to John F. Kennedy International Airport, completed in seven minutes (as opposed to 49 minutes by car). Beyond airport trips, Joby advertises its air taxis as “an aerial rideshare service” that customers can book through an app, as an alternative to ground transportation — at least in some ways.

“Flying with us might feel more like getting into an SUV than boarding a plane,” its website says.

But, as safety regulators and urban planning experts told NPR, there’s a lot that needs to happen before then — and many accessibility and sustainability questions to address along the way.

What exactly is a flying taxi?

These Jetson-esque contraptions are technically known as eVTOL aircraft, which stands for “electric vertical take-off and landing.” Joby says theirs is designed to carry four passengers and one pilot at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, and can travel up to 150 miles on a single charge. The company says it will be significantly quieter than helicopters — and more affordable, too. Joby founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt told the Washington Post in 2021 the company hopes to begin services at an average price of around $3 per mile — comparable to that of an taxi or Uber — and eventually move that down to below $1 per mile.

“Our goal is to actually be competitive with the cost of ground transportation, but to deliver you to your destination … five times faster and with a dramatically better experience,” Bevirt told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday.

Many eVTOL companies are working closely with automakers to make their products a reality (which Flying Magazine attributes to automakers’ interest in electrification and manufacturing expertise). In Joby’s case, that partner — and its largest external shareholder — is Toyota. Toyota has invested some $400 million in the company since 2020, and collaborated on the design of its production line and the manufacturing of the aircraft itself. Dozens of its engineers work with the Joby team in California, and the two signed a long-term agreement in April for Toyota to supply key parts for the aircraft’s production.

What happens next?

On Wednesday, Joby unveiled the first aircraft to come off its pilot production line in Marina, Calif., in front of a crowd of employees and guests including California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Today’s achievement is the culmination of years of investment in our processes and technology and it marks a major step on our journey to scaled production,” Bevirt said in a statement.

Despite this week’s major milestones, Bevirt says the company is still in the “crawl phase” of its journey. The pilot manufacturing line currently has the potential to build just “a few tens of aircraft per year,” according to Bevirt. He says Joby is working with states to select a site for the first phase of manufacturing, where it can increase that number to hundreds. And before the air taxis will be available for airport rideshares, they’re going to the U.S. military. Several are headed to Edwards Air Force Base in California next year as part of Joby’s $131 million contract with the U.S. Air Force. They will be used to “demonstrate a range of potential logistics use cases, including cargo and passenger transportation.”

Regulators — and competitors — are laying the groundwork

The FAA says it’s steadily preparing for air taxi travel to become a reality — at least, at some point. In May, the agency released an updated blueprint for airspace and procedure changes to accommodate this type of aircraft. Earlier this month, it proposed a comprehensive rule for training and certifying pilots. And it says it will be releasing an implementation plan next month that shows how all of its efforts can help the industry scale safely.

“Safety will dictate the certification timeline, but we could see air taxis in the skies by 2024 or 2025,” the FAA said.

While Joby appears to be towards the front of the pack, it’s competing with dozens of companies. Another frontrunner, Archer, said earlier this month that it — and its partner, automaker Stellantis — are pivoting from the “concept” to “execution” phase, with its Georgia-based manufacturing facility set to come online by mid-2024. And companies in other countries, including Germany and China, are also working on similar vehicles. Europe could see flying taxis taking off relatively soon: French officials are hoping to offer a small fleet of them to people attending the Paris Olympics next summer.

Who gets to fly first?

Joby bills itself as providing a “faster, cleaner, and smarter way to carry people through their lives,” with “a green alternative to driving that’s bookable at the touch of an app.” But, experts say, that doesn’t necessarily mean this kind of transportation is going to be available to just anyone who wants to spend less time in rush hour traffic. It’s a great innovation for those with means, says Daniel Sperling, the founding chair of the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy at the University of California, Davis.

But, he writes in an email, the industry faces challenges, from noise to NIMBY concerns. There’s also the optics, he says: “Rich people flying above the rest of us normal folks.” Because this type of transportation will likely mainly be provided by private sector companies, there are concerns that it will exclude low-income people, says Petra Hurtado, the director of research and foresight at the American Planning Association.

“Unless there will be funding mechanisms to make this an affordable option to all, integrating it into existing transit systems, I don’t think it will be accessible to all,” she tells NPR over email, adding that local governments may not have a say in how they operate because the skies are regulated by the FAA.

Hurtado also points out that while air taxis are being billed as sustainable, that depends on how they’re being used.

“If it replaces the person who would be driving or taking a taxi, it might generate less [greenhouse gas] emissions for that one trip, but how many air taxis would we need to replace the majority of cars in one particular route?” she added. “I wouldn’t want to see a sky crowded with air taxis.”

In an ideal world, Hurtado says, air taxis would fill existing gaps in urban transportation systems rather than create new ones. She’d also like to see cities take a more proactive approach to transportation planning in general, and learn from past mistakes. That would mean, for example, considering the negative impacts not only of where air taxis land and take off, but along their route as well.

“Too often in the past have transportation projects impacted marginalized communities and disadvantaged populations,” she wrote, pointing to highways as an example. “I hope these mistakes won’t be repeated with this type of transportation system.”