High-Speed Rail Authority Completes Overpass, Opens Roadway to Traffic in Madera County

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. – The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority), in collaboration with contractor Tutor-Perini / Zachry / Parsons, announced today the Avenue 15 ½ Grade Separation in Madera County is now open to traffic. The new overpass is located at Road 29 / Santa Fe Drive, east of the City of Madera. It took 16 pre-cast concrete girders and nearly 117 pre-cast concrete deck panels to complete the structure, which spans 468 feet, is 40 feet wide and takes traffic over the existing BNSF rail and future high-speed rail lines.

Completing another structure in the Central Valley is the latest sign of progress for the high-speed rail project. At its Board of Directors meeting earlier this month, the Authority awarded two contracts to advance design along the Merced to Madera and Fresno to Bakersfield Locally Generated Alternative project sections, expanding the 119-mile segment to 171 miles of electrified high-speed rail under development and construction.

In addition, the Board also approved the environmental documents for the San Francisco to San Jose project section, meaning 422 of the 500-mile high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles has been environmentally cleared. Earlier this summer, the Authority announced the creation of more than 8,000 jobs since the start of the project, with a majority going to residents in the Central Valley.

NEWS RELEASE: High-Speed Rail Authority Completes Overpass, Opens Roadway to Traffic in Madera County – California High Speed Rail

Kings County supports basing new F-35 squadron at NAS Lemoore

This week the Kings County Board of Supervisors wrote a strong letter of support to add a new F-35 squadron to the base at NAS Lemoore with a nationwide four-location competition underway. In their letter of support, the supervisors said: “With an excess of 11,800 jobs attributed to the base, and a payroll exceeding $475 million, NAS Lemoore represents the single largest employer in Kings County. The continued success of NAS Lemoore is critical to our local economy. “We stand firm in our commitment to the support of NAS Lemoore – the nation’s premier Naval master jet base. Please know that the County of Kings and the Kings County Board of Supervisors highly support the Department of the Air Force and National Guard Bureau’s decision to consider locating the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore.”

The local competition includes Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Supervisor Doug Verboon said they support the plan to base the squadron, with some 80 new personnel, at Lemoore, and noted the noisy aircraft would impact more city residents in Fresno compared to the Kings County base, which is surrounded by farmland. The National Guard Bureau and Department of the Air Force are inviting the public to learn about the proposal to locate the F-35A Lightning II at NAS Lemoore. An informational meeting to learn more about the proposal, ask questions and to submit comments will be held in person on Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the L.T.A. Portuguese Hall located at 470 Champion St. in Lemoore.

Lemoore is one of the four preferred locations that are being considered for the beddown of F-35A aircraft that would replace the legacy F-15C/D aircraft. In addition to Fresno, the competing locations for the F-35A beddowns are:

• Barnes Air National Guard Base at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, Westfield, Massachusetts.

• NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Belle Chasse, Louisiana.

Faraday Future deal pending

Faraday Future and an investor have indicated a possible deal to invest $100,000 to $600,000 with the start-up car maker, enough to get production going in Hanford if the agreement is done. A filing with the SEC indicates a deal could be consummated Aug. 8.

Gas prices

Kings County gasoline prices are lower again this week dropping 60 cents in the past month, says AAA. Diesel is down 50 cents. The average in the county today is $5.51 a gallon but you can buy gas here for $4.64, $4.65 or $4.66 at local stations. As for oil, it is down to the $91 a barrel range from a high of $121 in mid-June. Oil prices fell more than 3% Wednesday after data showed U.S. inventories rose more than expected and as investors digested the latest OPEC+ decision to raise crude output by 100,000 barrels per day for next month. Last month, President Biden visited Saudi Arabia and called on OPEC to increase production, but capacity constraints and the inability of some member states to meet output targets made the prospect of any significant supply boost unlikely. Meanwhile, EIA data showed stocks of crude unexpectedly rose by 4.467 million barrels last week, the most in a month, and compared to forecasts of a 0.629 million fall.

Building homes

So far this year, Visalia-based San Joaquin Homes is the busiest home builder in Kings County, permitting 115 new single family residences compared to second place Lennar Homes with 40 home starts, according to figures from Construction Monitor.

What’s this?

A decline in the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage has had a positive effect on several areas of the real estate market in the past week. “The 30-year fixed rate saw the largest weekly decline since 2020, falling 31 basis points to 5.43%,” said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “The drop in rates led to increases in both refinance and purchase applications, but compared to a year ago, activity is still depressed.”

New pistachio plant slated for Westside

Western Fresno County already has had the big 100-silo Wonderful Pistachio plant and a big Assemi family plant (Touchstone) on the drawing board since 2018, a 49-silo project that has been challenged by Wonderful and delayed for four years in this highly competitive industry. Now the Stamoules family wants to join the party to build a large pistachio hulling, processing, and packing facility on 98 acres on the northwest corner of S. Newcomb and W. Muscat avenues approximately 9.7 mile south of Firebaugh. Once all phases are complete the plant would sport an impressive 60 silos. Stamoules Produce Co., Inc., based in Mendota, was launched in the 1920s as a cantaloupe grower when the Greek founder Spero Stamoules immigrated to the U.S. According to their application to the County, the proposed project would be implemented in four phases.

Visalia loses round in court to Sierra Club over ag mitigation

In a July 21 ruling Tulare County Superior Court Judge David Mathias ruled against the City of Visalia over their revised program to not require ag land mitigation from developers who want to bring farmland into the city for urban development. The previous policy, part of the General Plan, would have required developers – typically home builders – to pay into a fund that would set aside ag land elsewhere. The mitigation policy would apply to ag land in Tiers 11 and 111 – generally at the city’s urban edge. The city’s general plan, adopted in 2014, featured a three-tier system to encourage development first in Tier 1 before future subdivisions in Tier 11 and 111 were added.

The mitigation policy has been championed by those who want to discourage sprawl on the outskirts of the city and promote infill within the city. The fee developers would pay would help buy the mitigation land on a one-to-one basis. The judge did not rule on the merits of the ag mitigation policy but ruled against the city for not fully assessing the change in policy under CEQA that ended the Ag Mitigation Program (AMP). The ruling means that the ag mitigation program will stay for now. Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said he was “surprised – thinking the plan we made was ironclad.” Now he says he understands “this is not a minor fix and we need to know if this will delay us.”

Sierra Club attorney Babak Naficy commented “that the City of Visalia will be mandated to rescind their amended policy,” adding that the city consultant study on the plan was faulty. Court documents show that the Sierra Club and Central Valley Partnership challenged Visalia’s adopted amendment last August by filing a petition for writ of mandate, contending Visalia lacked substantial evidence to support removal of the AMP requirement; and that Visalia abused its discretion by preparing an “addendum” to a previously certified environmental impact report (EIR) for the policy change rather than a subsequent or supplemental EIR.

Judge Mathias agreed, saying ”The court finds use of an addendum in the circumstances of this case is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and, therefore, grants the petition. The court’s ruling is confined to this limited issue, and specifically does not extend to the ultimate issue of whether the AMP requirement may or should be removed from the general plan.”

Seven Visalia developments impacted now

For home builders wanting to build in Tier 11, the effect is the same until the city goes through a full EIR to remove the AMP from the general plan – a lengthy process that could put off new approvals for months or even years and with an uncertain outcome. Who will be impacted? Mayor Nelsen says he understands there are seven Visalia housing projects ready to move into Tier 11 in the pipeline after several years of a boom in permit activity. “For those seven projects to move forward, we need to iron this out,” he said. Now the Tulare County judge has ruled the city action needs to be rescinded – putting in limbo new applications for subdivisions in Tier 11, some 1,500 acres inside the urban boundary. The need for Tier 11 land to build is clear because most of the Tier 1 land in the city has been subdivided.


Amazon Picks Central Valley Town for First Package Deliveries by Drone

Retailing giant Amazon announced Monday it picked a small town in the Central Valley near Stockton to be the first location for public drone deliveries. Deliveries to Lockeford, a town of 3,500 on State Route 88, would begin later this year. This would be the first time Amazon makes drone deliveries to the American public, and it follows several pilot projects by companies such as Walmart, United Parcel Service and FedEx. The online retailer said it was working with Federal Aviation Administration and local officials to secure permits. The drones will have the capability to fly beyond-line-of-sight and will be programmed to drop parcels in the backyards of customers. “Lockeford residents will play an important role in defining the future,” Amazon said. “Their feedback about Prime Air, with drones delivering packages in their backyards, will help us create a service that will safely scale to meet the needs of customers everywhere.” The company predicted that drone delivery “could one day become just as common as seeing an Amazon delivery van pull up outside your house.” Amazon made its first customer delivery by drone in the United Kingdom in 2016 and had touted its plans for drone delivery for years before that.


Bitwise Industries opens in downtown Merced, offering ‘life-changing opportunities in tech’

Bitwise Industries, a Central Valley technology company geared toward giving low-income residents an opportunity to get a tech-based education, opened the doors of its downtown Merced business hub this week. Bitwise Industries, which was founded in 2013 in Fresno, offers workspace for its members and leases out office suites. It also offers workforce training classes and tech consulting for local businesses. The new business hub is located at 1635 M St., on the corner of M Street and Main Street. “Bitwise Industries goes into underestimated communities and we build tech ecosystems using our three-pronged approach, which includes real estate — having a place and space — it also includes workforce training programs and tech consulting services,” said Norma Cardona, who is the vice president of Bitwise Industries in Merced.

The 6,500-square-foot office houses a co-working space that features tables and desks available for members. It’s designed for budding entrepreneurs and startup companies like a solo Realtor, online marketer or micro business owner. “People can come in, they’ll have a desk, they’ll have a chair, they’ll also have access to 20 free black and white copies and access to a conference room,” Cardona said. Memberships cost $40 per month with a student rate at $25 per month. The working space is set up for 40 members, but is currently being limited to about 20 to 25 members due to COVID-19 protocols. The working space is always open.

There are three office suites that are all currently leased out. There are two classrooms that hold 25 to 40 people. There are also three Bitwise suites, a conference room and a phone booth for private conversations. Bitwise Industries offers workforce training in Merced. Along with the office space, Bitwise also offers workforce training. “We offer life-changing opportunities in tech careers,” Cardona said. “We do that by offering evening classes or, as we call it, pre-apprenticeship classes that are stepping stones into a one year, full-time paid apprenticeship program, where we pay people to learn careers in tech.” The pre-apprenticeship classes are two nights per week and last six weeks. The classes offered include website for beginners, mobile website for beginners and JavaScript for beginners.

Students from these classes have the opportunity to earn one-year, paid internships with Bitwise Industries. The classes are designed to give people from marginalized communities — which includes people who formerly were incarcerated, formerly homeless, women, people from working-class families, the LGBTQ+ community and people of color — the opportunity to learn skills that could lead to tech jobs. Right now the classes are only offered remotely due to the pandemic. For more information on the workforce training, visit the Bitwise Industries website. Bitwise Industries also offers tech consulting for area businesses, including smaller restaurants that lacked websites and nonprofits that struggled to attract donors, according to Bitwise vice president Katherine Verducci. “Our tech consulting really helps up-level all the businesses that are in the area,” Verducci said.

Bitwise aims to create tech economy in Merced. Bitwise has opened hubs in places like Fresno and Bakersfield. Merced has similar characteristics and became a desired destination for the company. “We saw that there was high unemployment or underemployment, we saw that there was a high poverty rate,” Cardona said. “Actually one of the great things that we saw was UC Merced and the investment into downtown. So all those things are things we considered and we said, ‘we want to go into Merced.'” “We want to create that tech economy that is going to ignite transformations throughout the community,” Cardona added. “So people who are left out of opportunities, people who are surviving, people who are underemployed can really take advantage of these opportunities and get into a place of really thriving.”

Originally officials were eyeing an opening date in early 2021, but the pandemic delayed the opening. Cardona says Bitwise is thrilled to finally open its doors in downtown Merced. “We are so excited that we have this here now,” Cardona said. “A lot of people have been talking about it, a lot of people have heard about it, but it’s not until you see it in person, it’s not until you’re here that you’re really able to capture it and feel what Bitwise is all about.”


Faraday Future Unveils First Production-Intent FF 91 EV Manufactured at its Hanford, Calif. Plant

Hanford, Calif. (Feb. 23, 2022) – Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc. (“FF”) (NASDAQ: FFIE), a California-based global shared intelligent electric mobility ecosystem company, today unveiled the first production-intent FF 91 ultra-luxury EV. This marks the company’s manufacturing Milestone #4, pre-production builds for final engineering validation and certification, now referred to as production-intent vehicles. FF remains on schedule for the FF 91 start of production (“SOP”) in Q3 2022.

“Building the first production-intent vehicle at the Hanford plant is an important step towards reaching the start of production in Q3. This iteration is the closest to the FF 91 production model we’ve seen to-date,” said Matt Tall, vice president of manufacturing at FF. “The FF 91 is expected to be the first ultra-luxury EV to reach the market, with a unique driver and passenger experience.”The company will build more production-intent vehicles over the coming months for vehicle testing and validation, as well as final certification. Production-intent vehicles feature production-specification components.

In October 2021, FF laid out seven manufacturing milestones leading into the FF 91’s SOP. Milestone #1 – Installation of pilot equipment in the Hanford manufacturing plant’s pre-production build area; Milestone #2 – Securing a Certificate of Occupancy, clearing the path for the company’s pre-production builds; and Milestone #3 – Begin foundation construction for all remaining production areas including body, paint, warehouse and vehicle assembly. The first three milestones have been reached, and today’s event marks Milestone #4 – Pre-production builds for final engineering validation and certification.

With the completion of the first production-intent vehicle, FF is launching the “Born in California, Global DNA” multi-channel communication campaign along with our “ieMedals” co-creation campaign. The FF 91 is designed and built in California by FF Co-Creators and the company’s global employees, with technology from many top tier suppliers from across the globe. To commemorate the production achievements of the FF 91, the company launched the ieMedals campaign. With each production-intent vehicle manufactured in the months leading up to the FF 91’s SOP, FF will honor a different supplier of the FF 91 from around the globe with a unique ieMedal. Users on the FF Intelligent App can earn the supplier ieMedals for their individual accounts by completing specific tasks or fulfilling co-creation challenge requirements. The ieMedals are electronic awards added to users’ FFID accounts on the FF Intelligent App.


Former Castle Air Force Base now used to test self-driving cars

The future of self-driving cars is becoming a reality in the North Valley. The former Castle Air Force Base is now a world-class testing facility for autonomous vehicles. The TRC California complex finished its $2.1 million expansion project in early August.

Since then, the testing field has attracted interest from the automotive industry. Manufacturers, suppliers, and innovators can use the 2.2-mile oval track to test drive their concepts and their vehicles. This is just the first phase for the facility. They will continue to focus on expanding testing capabilities for self-driving technology.


Merced County kicks off $2.1M expansion on research and test site for autonomous vehicles

Construction kicked off this month on a planned $2.1 million expansion of an autonomous vehicle research and testing site at Castle Commerce Center. The new expansion will allow vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and innovators to utilize test areas that mimic real-world highway, rural and urban landscapes, according to a Merced County news release. County officials have touted Castle’s proximity to Silicon Valley and expansive open space as a boon for tech companies like Google that have used the facility to test self-driving vehicles for some years.

“This site embodies the future of transportation, and these technology developments are taking place right in our backyards,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose district encompasses Castle Commerce Center, said in the release. “This project represents real-time job growth and economic development, with enormous potential as it continues to grow.”

Formerly called the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center, the 225-acre site has been renamed to TRC California for Transportation Research Center Inc., for the Ohio-based corporation that assumed facility operations earlier this year. A long-term goal for county officials was to pass facility management to a private third party expert that would take operations to the cutting edge of the developing autonomous vehicle industry. TRC is a leader in automotive testing and innovation that has led the facility’s design improvements, according to the release. “We are building out TRC California to offer a comprehensive, one-stop shop where automotive technology and mobility innovators can test and affirm the performance, safety, quality and competitiveness of new technologies that are changing the face of transportation worldwide,” Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC Inc., said in the release. “TRC is proud to partner with Merced County in this transformation.” A 2 mile high-speed test track is the subject of the current construction phase by Central Valley-based Avision Construction. Installation of privacy fencing along the perimeter, vehicle barriers and security improvements for confidentiality purposes are also in progress.


California’s first electric truck stop in the works

A California startup company has announced plans to build the state’s first solar-powered truck stop for heavy-duty, Class 8 electric trucks. WattEV Inc. said it is slated to receive a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to build the facility in Bakersfield, California. Additionally, the company said it has raised $6 million in private equity seed funding led by Canon Equity. Groundbreaking is expected in late October.

The announcement was made at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo 2021 in Long Beach, California, on Aug. 30. WattEV, based in El Segundo, California, said the CEC should approve the grant Sept. 8 at its monthly business meeting. “Our successful private-equity seed funding, in addition to the grant awarded for this project, are important milestones in our effort to deploy 12,000 electric heavy-duty trucks on the road by 2030,” said Salim Youssefzadeh, CEO of WattEV. “The electric truck stop in Bakersfield is the first step toward our commitment to help build the charging infrastructure network necessary to accelerate the heavy-duty trucking sector’s transition to electric drive,” he added. Partners joining WattEV and the CEC on the Bakersfield electric truck stop project include the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the Central California Asthma Collaborative, Greenlots, Power Electronics and several others.

In addition to the Bakersfield project, WattEV is in the planning stages for similar projects in San Bernardino and Gardena in Southern California. Both electric truck stops will serve the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, as well as the warehouses fed by goods coming through the ports. WattEV has also secured purchase incentive vouchers through the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project, and plans to initially buy six VNR Electric Class 8 trucks from Volvo Group. WattEV has has applied for 24 more electric truck HVIP vouchers for future purchases. All told, WattEV plans to run its own fleet of 30 heavy-duty electric trucks by the end of 2022. The fleet will be deployed under contract with several Southern California fleet customers.

The first fleet partnership is with Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI), which serves the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and has a presence in Bakersfield. TTSI will be offering electric transport freight services to shippers in Southern California on routes served by WattEV’s platform. To help accelerate the transition to electric goods movement, WattEV is developing an advanced software platform — trucks-as-a-service, or TaaS — designed specifically for the use of electric trucks within its network of charging stations on designated routes. The TaaS platform will offer an all-inclusive, charge-per-mile formula that will enable a transporter to use an electric truck to move goods normally handled with diesel trucks on the routes selected by shippers.


Faraday Future Expands Global Hiring After Business Combination

Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc. (“FF”) (NASDAQ: FFIE), a California-based global shared intelligent mobility ecosystem company, today announced plans to increase its employee headcount significantly over the next 12 months following the Business combination closing in July of this year. New hiring will help support the launch of its ultimate intelligent techluxury all electric flagship vehicle FF 91 in 2022.

“We are looking forward to adding a diverse group of innovative, creative and driven people to our rapidly growing team,” said Global CEO of Faraday Future Carsten Breitfeld. “We now have the capability to significantly grow our company with employees passionate about transforming the auto industry and the future of mobility. For the right candidates, an immense amount of opportunity abounds. I welcome talented and passionate applicants who are motivated to help move the company forward together along with the entire FF team.”

Hiring efforts will focus on filling positions in the areas of manufacturing, engineering, supply chain, design, marketing, brand, sales and other areas, along with the potential of higher-level executive positions. These positions are located out of the company’s three California locations including at FF’s headquarters in Los Angeles, tech-focused offices in Silicon Valley, and the FF 91 manufacturing facility in Hanford. FF will soon announce several key operational-focused executives who are expected to join FF soon. FF is also hiring key-positions for its China operations as it gears up to deliver FF vehicles in that market.


Faraday Future’s Ultimate Intelligent Techluxury FF 91 Validates Production Timeline

Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc. (“FF”) (NASDAQ: FFIE), a California-based global shared intelligent mobility ecosystem company, today announced that it recently completed a 2,270-mile testing and evaluation journey following the historic Route 66, a highway that crosses numerous U.S. states as it winds its way from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California.

Real world vehicle testing and evaluation, which followed FF’s public listing on Nasdaq last month in NYC, put the ultimate intelligent techluxury FF 91 through multiple tests in various conditions including extreme heat through the desert and on multiple road surfaces including various elevations. The completion of this testing and evaluation of the many vehicle systems, including battery and propulsion components during the 2,270-mile journey further validates FF 91 production timeline.

“This testing journey along historic Route 66 allowed us to put FF 91 through many diverse environments and conditions found only in the central and southwest portions of the U.S. and allowed us to capture real world data on FF 91,” said FF Global CEO Dr. Carsten Breitfeld. “FF’s overall testing and validation strategy will ensure best-in-market performance, safety and user confidence, and to make sure the battery, electric propulsion, chassis, suspension and other vehicle systems perform under these harsh conditions, while also ensuring a smooth and comfortable and connected experience with the driver and passengers in the FF 91.”

The long-distance road test that FF conducted is a great opportunity to evaluate FF’s unique third internet living space concept in real usage scenarios before it begins production next year. Dr. Breitfeld, an engineer by trade, had an integral part of the Route 66 testing and drove much of the trip, he also used the rear intelligent internet system and in-car video conference system from the rear-seat to participate in daily FF meetings along the way.

FF 91 is equipped with interior cameras and microphones that support videoconferencing features. When the Rear Seat Display (RSD) is turned on, users can access their contacts through conferencing applications to keep connected with friends, family, or business associates while on the road. The applications will run natively on the in-vehicle computer and be mirrored to the users’ mobile devices for remote control.

During vehicle testing, engineers logged volumes of data on the vehicle’s chassis, thermal, electric propulsion performance, and all vehicle systems. They also optimized software controls performance and calibrations in real world conditions. This critical work is providing some of the final levels of development on FF 91’s systems, as FF advances to the final stages of its program and a timely launch. In the coming months, FF will build additional pre-production FF 91 vehicles for further testing, vehicle development, improvements, and final readiness for launch in 2022.

The FF 91 Futurist Alliance Edition and FF 91 Futurist models represent the next generation of intelligent internet electric vehicle (EV) products. They are high-performance EVs, all-ability cars, and ultimate robotic vehicles, allowing users to experience the third internet living space. The models also encompass extreme technology, an ultimate user experience and a complete ecosystem.

Both models have an industry-leading 1050 horsepower, a 130kWh battery pack with immersive liquid cooling technology and 0-60 mph performance in 2.4 seconds. In addition, both employ tri-motor torque vectoring and rear wheels independently driven and controlled by dual rear motors. Both models are also equipped with the industry‘s only super AP for internet connection at “light speed”, video streaming on the passenger information display, a rear intelligent internet system, an in-car video conferencing system, intelligent seamless entry, FFID face recognition, multi-touch eyes-free control, and zero gravity rear seats with the industry’s largest seating angle of 150 degrees.