‘University Community Development’ dream is alive and well

The Virginia Smith Trust — which at one time controlled all the land that UC Merced is on, and the land south of the University on Old Lake Road — is still very active.

There’s a plan that’s moving along to boost an already significant scholarship fund for high school students across the county through the development of a University Community on the remaining VST land, near the campus.

This plan includes the construction of 4,000 dwelling units for all income levels, 862,000 square feet of retail/office space, a K-8 school, a fire station, sports park and recreation center, a MCOE Scholars Academy, and its own police sub-station.

All of this is making its way through the local government approval process and state review. The plan is expected to take 15 years for completion, and the backers of the project are optimistic of receiving the go-ahead. It is the only project which presently has all the environmental clearance for such a project in that northern area of Merced.

It is a major undertaking; however, when it’s completed, it will meet the dreams of the Virginia Smith family in providing scholarships for students to go to get their degree.

Not everyone is on board. There is an element of the city saying, “This is great for the north part of the city, but what about South Merced, and what about affordable housing?”

Steve Peck, the project manager, spoke at the Merced Rotary Club last week and answered questions about the plan and timetable for meetings with the various agencies. He said it was a case of completing the promise made many years ago.

“We don’t want to take anyone for granted,” Peck said. “This is really about providing a means for our local children to gain a college education.”

While the terms of the Virginia Trust make it clear the scholarship program is for four-year college programs, it does not exclude Merced College which now offers some four year degrees.

Without the Virginia Trust there is no way UC Merced would have located in the Merced area. When the decision was made to locate the UC campus, both Madera and Fresno were in the race and seemed to have the upper hand. Bob Carpenter and other people like Tim O’Neill were major players in bringing the university to Merced.

Even after Merced was named as the location for the university, a major legal challenge forced it to locate on a public golf course, and not on the other side of the lake where many thought it should be built. The opponents used the Fairy Shrimp species as a means of challenging the use of most of the land given to the UC Merced by the Virginia Smith Trust, which is essentially made up of Merced County Office of Education Board members.

In getting the California Regents to decide on Merced for its location, the local committee came up with a stroke of genius and asked the school children to sign post cards urging the Regents to locate in Merced. At a critical time those postcards arrived at the Regents meeting and the result was tremendous. Merced was decided as the best location.

As the Virginia Smith project winds its way though the labyrinth of meetings, the first one was held on July 12 at the county’s Planning Commission, to be followed by a second meeting of the commission on Aug. 9. The Merced County Board of Supervisors will hear the proposal on Aug. 22. Then a tentative meeting with the Merced City Council is set up for Oct. 6 over the need to annex the area, perhaps in December.

If all goes well, the Virginia Smith Project will start on January of 2025, and they are hoping to have the first homes for sale or rent on June in 2026. Completion of the project is slated for 2042.



PressBox Sports Grill owners Thomas and Davita Miller are in the process of opening a new Fresno restaurant they describe as modern California cuisine meets French technique. The Millers have been working with a local designer on the feel of “Bulle”, coming this summer to a former Chase bank building at Marks and Herndon avenues.

“Our design concept is a luxury modern garden feel,” Miller said. “The ambience will be lively.”

He describes the restaurant as “extreme farm to table,” using the finest local ingredients possible. Taking an heirloom approach to its cuisine, Bulle will avoid genetically modified foods and embrace sustainability. The protein will be free range and hormone free.

“So the goal is going to be using the most free of all the radical particles that we deal with in our society today,” said Miller.

French technique will be prevalent — think braising, boiling and other unique touches. The name “Bulle,” which means “bubble” in French, was chosen because bubbles are a joyful but possibly overlooked part of people’s lives, he said. They represent boiling temperatures for food and liquids. People love them in champagne.

The plan for Bulle is to open around July or August this year. Plumbing is being installed before any major cosmetics are completed. Miller said on Monday he’s paying for permits to get the ball rolling this week for bigger plans. Miller anticipates more features to be added as the process of creating the restaurant continues.

It’s going to be a busy year for the Sunset Square Shopping Center. Across from Bulle, in a former Rite Aid building, the 27,000 square-foot Syctron Freeplay Arena is set to open for families possibly by the end of March. The lease for the play arena and three new restaurants for the Sunset Square Shopping Center earned the 2023 CoStar Impact Award for lease of the year in 2023, selected for the real estate information firm by a panel of local industry professionals.

“This large retail vacancy was a blight on the area for many years,” said Jeff Pace, president of Colliers, a local judge. “Once occupied, the tenancy will add an innovative use to this neighborhood center and increase foot traffic for the benefit of other small retail tenants in the center. The use really compliments the neighborhood by providing a new facility for healthy indoor family recreation.”


2023 Moments & Milestones

As we round off 2023, we are excited to reflect back on some of the moments and milestones that made this year such a meaningful one for BEAM Circular and our community.

The Launch of BEAM Circular

January marked the official kickoff of the BioEconomy, Agriculture, & Manufacturing (BEAM) Initiative with a seed commitment of $10 million by Stanislaus County. BEAM was catalyzed by Stanislaus 2030 (Stan2030), a public-private partnership that advances a shared vision for economic prosperity. Stan2030 identified the growing bioeconomy as a unique opportunity for the region to generate quality jobs and recommended specific strategies to nurture the growth of bioindustry activities in our region. BEAM Circular was formed to drive these strategies forward, and to establish the tri-county North San Joaquin Valley as a global leader in the circular bioeconomy. We are now working alongside a growing coalition of public and private partners to align the resources, policies, talent, and innovation necessary to transform waste into economic and environmental solutions for local communities in the Valley and beyond.

National Science Foundation Engines Development Award

The announcement in May of a $1 million award from the NSF was a watershed moment for BEAM Circular and our partner coalition, CBIO Collaborative, co-led by UC Merced and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our team is among an inaugural cohort of just a few dozen projects across the U.S. supported by the new NSF Regional Innovation Engines program to catalyze economic, societal, and technological opportunities. The award recognizes our community’s promise as a rising leader in circular bioeconomy innovation, and it is supporting ongoing planning efforts to drive R&D and scale-up of bio-based products and climate solutions.

Hosting Leaders from Sacramento and Around the World

An especially meaningful part of our work is celebrating our unique region, forging new connections, and sharing learnings about the circular bioeconomy through site visits with leaders and collaborators from around the world. One of our favorite visits this year was a tour we hosted in February for Secretary Karen Ross of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). “This is exactly what we need for the future,” said Secretary Ross of BEAM. “This is about solving problems and finding productive solutions for our renewable resources, and about creating sustainable, community-inclusive economic growth and jobs to support families in the rural communities of the Central Valley.” (Read more about the tour in the CDFA Blog)

Another highlight was hosting a delegation from the Emerson Collective of climate solution leaders from around the world. The Emerson Fellow cohort joined us in the valley for a two-day learning tour in July to explore innovation at the intersections of food and agriculture, climate, and community. The visit included meetings with the Almond Board of California, Turlock Irrigation District, UC Merced and F3 Innovate, North Valley Labor Federation, Edge Collaborative, ARKEN Strategies and farmworker partners, including Binational of Central California, among other community leaders.

$3.6 Million California Economic Development Pilot Grant

In May, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $3.6 million pilot award to BEAM Circular as part of California Jobs First. The funding will help launch a variety of activities across BEAM’s portfolio, including an accelerator program, technical assistance for local businesses, community engagement work, research on the bioeconomy supply chain, and workforce development programs. The grant is part of a total $15.4 million committed to the BEAM Initiative over its first year from federal, state, local, and private sources, establishing a strong foundation for long-term investment in our community and vision for a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy.

The CBIO Collaborative Design Forum

In October, BEAM Circular convened over 100 diverse partners and collaborators at Modesto Junior College for a full day of interactive planning, learning sessions, design workshops, and engagement with leading bioeconomy innovators and community advocates. This CBIO Collaborative event was a critical opportunity for collaborators across sectors to shape the direction of our regional ecosystem, with outputs shared in the CBIO year-end report.

Building the BEAM Team

As we head into 2024, we are tremendously grateful and heartened by the countless enthusiastic and creative partners who have shaped our work to date. We want to particularly appreciate our incubating partner Opportunity Stanislaus, along with the CBIO Collaborative leadership team and the many subject matter advisers who have supported and guided our work to date.

We are also delighted to share that BEAM Circular is growing its staff team, with the recent addition of several key hires including Chief Operating & Financial Officer Maria Olide, Director of Community Engagement Matthew Godinez, and Program and Operations Associate Jessica Hilboldt.

We look forward to continuing to grow our community of partners, collaborators, and changemakers in the year to come, and to building upon the momentum of this inspiring first year. Thank you for being part of the journey!

In partnership,

Karen Warner

Founder and CEO, BEAM Circular


Big Lots opening in Madera? What does Ross sign mean?

Madera residents have made it known that they’d like more shopping options in their own city. The appearance of a Ross Stores sign at the Madera Marketplace shopping center sparked an excited social media conversation among them about when a location might open on Cleveland Avenue, just west of Highway 99. It’s the latest indication that bigger retail might be looking at the city of Madera more than it has in the past. In fact, Big Lots, the discount retailer, said several years ago that it would be coming back to Madera. Locals have been wondering if it will ever happen. The 36,760 square-foot space the discount retailer was set to occupy in the Country Club Village shopping center, just east of Highway 99, has been empty for two years. Big Lots said it has not abandoned plans to open a store at 1143 Country Club Dr.

“The original opening dates were pushed back due to some construction delays, but we’re on track for a summer 2024 grand opening,” company spokesperson Joshua Chaney said in an email to The Bee. Big Lots stores typically employ around 25 to 30 full and part-time associates, Chaney said. Jobs available for the Madera store will be posted on the company’s careers web page a few months ahead of the summer opening. As Madera grows, residents increasingly crave more retail options and often complain on social media that they’re tired of driving to Fresno and other far off points to find the big retail options they want. The city of 68,000 people has been growing, seeing a population increase of nearly 11% since 2010. In the past few months, they’ve seen the opening of a Smart & Final store and an In-N-Out restaurant in the same corridor where Ross is set to open. Ross Stores would not provide details about when it will open the store planned for the tenant space next to the city’s Smart & Final store. Pearson Companies CEO Peter J. Orlando, a real estate broker who works with Ross Stores in the Central Valley, wrote in an email to The Bee that it could be a few months before a date is known.


Library patrons can look forward to enhancements

Kings County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with 4Creeks, Incorporated to prepare a plan, specification, and estimate package for the Kings County Library remodel project Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Jan. 30, the Board approved the agreement and adopted the budget change. Hanford Library Manager Tanya Russell told The Sentinel she and staff see a need at both libraries.

“The Hanford and Lemoore libraries are in critical need of infrastructure modernization and life safety measures,” Russell said. “This is what prompted the application for the grant funds, and we are very happy to have been awarded.”

4Creeks, one of two bidders, will be compensated $1,317,000 in architectural design services as outlined in the agreement. The project will primarily cover fire systems, HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical systems, and address ADA accessibility and safety. In 2022, the Library received a California State Library Building Forward Infrastructure grant award for life safety and critical infrastructure needs.

The Library was awarded $13,639,097, according to a Building Forward Library Facilities Improvement Program document. There was $489 million made available in grant funding, marking the single largest investment ever in California libraries. The Hanford Library was built in 1968, and the Lemoore Library was built in 1952, and remodeled in 1981.

Library contingency funds, $279,300, are designated for architectural designs and estimates that cover optional items at both libraries. Russell said these optional remodel items include new study rooms, children’s sections and teen sections. Another optional remodel item at the Hanford library is the addition of a multi-purpose room with after-hour access.

A librarian’s office and a secondary entrance are optional items at the Lemoore Library.

“Throughout the years, the community has expressed the need for ADA-compliant restrooms to also include infant changing areas and security cameras to make people feel safer has been a request,” Russell said. “Enclosed quiet study rooms have been a request as well.”

Russell said that the library was also recently awarded $6,500 for the lunch at the library summer program. Stratford, Kettleman City, Avenal, and Armona schools are partnering with the library to give children free books for home and to provide essential nutrition information. Russell said officials and staff intend to host two to three community outreach updates throughout the remodeling project.


A battery energy storage complex that could provide the energy needs of 300,000 homes concurrently is being proposed 22 miles to the southwest of Manteca.

The 400-megawatt storage facility would tie into PG&E’s Tesla substation near the Alameda-San Joaquin County line.

As such, one day it could store electricity needed to help power homes and businesses in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop as California moves toward a goal of 100 percent “clean” energy by 2045.

Such battery storage farms are needed in order to save excess electricity generated when the sun is out, and the wind is blowing for use when solar panels and/or wind turbines aren’t generating power.

The Korda Energy Storage project will consist of 500 free standing batteries that are each 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 9.5 feet tall.

It will be one of the largest, if not the largest, battery energy storage farm in California when it becomes operational.

The project before the San Joaquin County Planning Commission when they meet Thursday at 6 p.m. in Stockton will be four times larger than a similar facility getting ready to move forward in Ripon.

The Ripon project with a capacity of 100 megawatts is being pursued immediately west of the Flying J Truck Plaza.

It is planned for a 4.9-acre triangle parcel bordered on the north by Santos Avenue, on the east by Frontage Road along with Highway 99, and Flying J.

A PG&E substation is located in the southern part of the property.

The Tesla mega battery packs — or similar batteries — will be placed in 11 rows. Eight of those rows will go the width of the property with eight feet between rows. The longest row will approach 600 feet in length.

Three shorter rows of battery packs will be place east of the Ripon substation.

The county project being proposed is south of Tracy along Patterson Pass Road some 2,000 feet south of Midway Road.

The 40-acre Korda site with be about 9/10th of a mile east of Interstate 580.

It is part of a 106-acre agricultural parcel. A $30,000 fee will need to be paid for withdrawing the 40 acres out of a Williamson Act contract that sets property assessments at a lower rate to help assure the economic viability of farming.

The 400-megawatt storage facility has a 35-year life expectancy. It is expected to be operational by 2025.

One megawatt, on average, supplies the needs of 750 homes.

For an idea of what that means, it is enough power for 26,000 plus homes or the equivalent of 11.5 cities the size of Manteca.

Manteca has roughly 26,000 housing units and a population of 90,000.

PG&E as of the end of 2023 had contracts for battery energy storage systems totaling more than 3,330 MW of capacity being deployed throughout California through 2024.


Tejon Ranch Co. Breaks Ground on 700,000 SF Nestlé USA Distribution Center in California

TEJON RANCH, CALIF. — Tejon Ranch Co. has begun construction on a distribution center for Nestlé USA Inc., the world’s largest food and beverage company. The development is located on 58 acres of Tejon Ranch Commerce Center (TRCC) in Tejon Ranch, approximately 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The multi-story, 700,000-square-foot building will be fully automated to serve Nestlé’s portfolio and designed to support future growth and expansion plans. No official opening date has been announced, but Nestlé is targeting 2025 for initial completion of construction and 2026 for commencement of operations.

TRCC represents more than 2.5 million square feet of industrial space either under construction or completed.

Mac Hewett, Mike McCrary and Brent Weirick of JLL represented Tejon Ranch Co. in the 58-acre land sale transaction.


US Cold Storage in Tulare plans $76 mil expansion after food package deal

United States Cold Storage Inc. expects to complete an 8.56- million-cubic-foot refrigerated addition at its Tulare North warehouse in Tulare come February 2025.

This $75.7 million expansion will include some of the industry’s latest storage and retrieval automation and bring the operation’s total space to more than 24.7 million cubic feet, the largest single footprint in the company’s network.

“I am thrilled for our fifth strategic expansion in Tulare,” said Rod Noll, USCS senior vice president for the Western Region. “This expansion reflects the continued growth of some of our major customers who are broadening their manufacturing capabilities. Specifically, we have a consumer-packaged goods customer relocating its business to northern California and to this facility.

“Meanwhile, we also look forward to contributing to the local Tulare business community and creating additional job opportunities.”

Tulare City Manager Marc Mondell added praise. “US Cold Storage has been a fantastic local employer and partner for over 20 years,” he said.  We are thrilled that they are making another large investment into their Tulare facility and look forward to many more years of successful collaboration.”

US Cold Storage plans to break ground for the attached expansion this month, which will ultimately include two new refrigerated rooms capable of storage down to -20F degrees. Officials expect by this November to complete a conventional storage space spanning 3.08 million cubic feet. A second, 5.48 million-cubic- foot room is scheduled to open in February 2025. That space will feature very narrow aisle storage serviced by a warehouse guidance system and semi-automated, turret-style storage and retrieval forklifts.

Upon completion, Tulare North will have approximately 98,500 available pallet positions. The addition also includes 23 more shipping and receiving doors for the operation’s dock, which will boast 73 doors after completion.

“Tulare North is one of our largest facilities in the West Region,” Noll added. “Being a multi-dimensional facility, it can handle a large range of storage temperature requirements. Offering the flexibility of food grade ambient, refrigerated, frozen, and ice cream storage temps allows us to customize our services for many types of customers and many stages of production.”

USCS first built its Tulare North operation in 2002 as a 3.4 million-cubic-foot dry warehouse. Tulare North also offers import and export services, rail handling and product re-pack services. It also is certified according to the BRCGS Food Safety Global Standard. USCS also services the area from a second Tulare operation, a 7.3 million-cubic-foot Tulare South facility, which also offers ambient and refrigerated storage. USCS’s cold storage and logistics network spans 40 sites from coast to coast, including nine California locations from Sacramento and south to Bakersfield.  The company is a subsidiary of the U.K.’s John Swire & Sons Ltd.