Now that Fulton Street – closed to cars for more than 50 years – is reopened, people are waiting to see what new businesses appear there.
There still are many vacancies and metal gates pulled across storefronts. But restaurants are among the first new businesses working on plans to open on Fulton Street. It might take a while – not all have signed leases yet – but there is plenty of prep work happening.
As always, restaurant openings are notorious for their delays, so you’ll have to be patient. Several may not open for many months
Chicken Shack – The former Payless ShoeSource will be home to the second location of The Chicken Shack from Hanford. The store, at 1108 Fulton Street at the corner of Mariposa Mall, will be divided into two restaurants. It’s still a big, empty space without kitchens, though, so many months of work are ahead.
Chicken Shack owner Damon Miller hopes to open this summer.
The menu will be much like the restaurant in Hanford, featuring jumbo chicken wings and tenders with more than 30 sauces.
Miller was looking at spaces all over Fresno and got excited about downtown’s future.
“I’m pretty optimistic it’s going to do well,” he said. “There’s still a lot of rejuvenation to come to downtown Fresno and it’d be good to get in early.”
Renoir’s washer woman sculpture stands outside what will be known as Renoir Corner, where two restaurants, The Chicken Shack and Toshiko Japanese Cuisine, are planned at Mariposa and Fulton streets in downtown Fresno.
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The corner has been dubbed Renoir Corner for the washer woman sculpture there inspired by painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. (Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Renoir directed an assistant to create the statue. Fresno’s version is one of six worldwide and the only one the public is allowed to touch.)
Building owner Robert Gurfield – who also owns the two buildings just north of there – plans to put a sign with the Renoir Corner name on the building.
Toshiko Japanese Cuisine – Also hoping to open in the other half of the Payless space is another Hanford business, Toshiko Japanese Cuisine. The sushi and ramen restaurant has a banner up but has yet to sign a lease, so nothing is definite.
Tutis Fruties – The cart selling aguas frescas drinks, fruit and hot dogs on Fulton since 1986 is opening a storefront.
Called Tutis Fruties (not to be confused with the frozen yogurt franchise Tutti Frutti), the business will serve ice cream, aguas frescas, fruit cups and Mexican desserts and snacks like raspados and tostilocos.
The owners hope the restaurant will open by mid-January. They want to continue running the cart, but aren’t sure about its future
Tutis Fruties ice cream parlor nears opening on Fulton Street near Tulare Street in downtown Fresno.
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Quail State – This bar and restaurant doesn’t exist yet, but its sophisticated Instagram photos of cocktails has people intrigued.
The founder says he has the money to open and is in the final stages of negotiating for a space on Fulton Street. But a deal isn’t signed, so he’s not saying where.
Quail State would serve farm-to-table cuisine inspired by Fresno and California’s multicultural population. The name is nod to California and its state bird.
It would sell craft cocktails made from local, seasonal ingredients. The bar would make its own simple syrups, bitters and vermouth, and barrel-age its own cocktails.
If all goes as planned, it could open this summer.
Josh Islas and his partners are the people behind Quail State. Islas was born and raised in Dinuba and lived in Fresno for a year before moving to Southern California. He has spent 10 years working in bars and restaurants, including in management and marketing.
He has joined with his girlfriend, Hayley Wolf, who will be the chief financial officer, and Fresnan Clinton Jeffries.
His search for a spot on Fulton Street didn’t pan out, but he’s landed a location 100 feet away from the street.
He will sell coffee and tea out of Raizana Tea Co. at the corner of Fulton and Tuolumne streets, next to Warnors Theatre.
You see, he bought Raizana with the help of “angel investors.”
He will continue to fulfill orders for Raizana’s wholesale business, which includes selling through Amazon. He will roast coffee and run his coffee business out of the location, too.
“Our plan is to make it where Fulton Street Coffee and Raizana continue to grow separately, but as sister companies,” Vargas said.
The tea-bar part of the business, where people can come in and order a cup, also will sell coffee. It’s not clear what it will be called and Vargas has some prep work to do first, but he hopes it will be open with regular hours by the beginning of February.
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for everyone. During Fulton’s grand reopening celebration in October, another entrepreneur previewed the business she wanted to open.
It would have been the city’s first cider bar, plus bring a coffee shop to the northern end of Fulton. She couldn’t reach a deal on the Fulton Street location she wanted to rent, however.
She’s now managing the BroadwayEvents Center not far from Fulton. She still wants to open the cider and coffee business, but it’s probably going to take a little longer.
“I do still want to be on Fulton,” she said. “It’s unfortunate how many storefronts are still just sitting.”
Another business that was up and running when the mall was still closed to cars, Antojitos Mexican Restaurant, has closed. The owners of the business at 1234 Fulton Mall could not be reached for comment.
Little Bean Cafe plans to reopen in 2018 at its location on the corner of Mariposa and Fulton streets in downtown Fresno.
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Little Bean Cafe – This coffee shop was open on Fulton back when it was for pedestrians only. It closed after some electrical problems.
But Little Bean Cafe is planning a comeback. The shop, at the corner of Fulton Street and Mariposa Mall, has signs up that say “Coming Back 2018.”
Owner Guillermo Moreno confirmed the shop should open this year, but he couldn’t pin down a more specific time.
Just the Tip – This restaurant serving tri-tip sandwiches, salads and wraps moved to the area in October. It had outgrown its digs on Divisadero Street near Fresno Community Regional Center.
It moved to 2017 Mariposa Mall, near the corner of Fulton and Mariposa.
“It was perfect timing because of Fulton Street,” said Bianca “Binx” Lopez, one of three partners behind the restaurant.
The trio wasn’t necessarily looking to be on Fulton Street, but they are happy to be part of the changes downtown. They even renamed its sandwiches to reflect nearby streets. The Van Ness, for example, is their French dip sandwich.
Existing restaurants, from left, Donut Downtown, La Cocina de Mamá, Just the Tip and Kids Cafe 2019, are located in what will be known as Renoir Corner, near the artist’s washer woman sculpture at the corner of Mariposa and Fulton streets in downtown Fresno.
• Entry-level community expected to open for sale in Spring 2018
• Latest development by San Joaquin Valley Homes and Presidio Residential Capital
A new residential community called “Brighton” with 115 detached single-family homes more than 72 acres in Tulare is to be built by San Joaquin Valley Homes and Presidio Residential Capital.
Construction on model homes is scheduled to begin in January 2018, and the neighborhood is expected to be open for sale next spring. The retail value of the project is estimated by the developers to exceed $30 million.
“Brighton is ideally located for families and professionals with easy access to employment and entertainment opportunities in the Central Valley,” says Danny Garcia, vice president of sales at SJV Homes.
The development will feature entry-level homes with five floor plans ranging from 1,574 to 2,314 square feet and a move-up line ranging from 2,000 to 2,831 square feet on lots averaging 7,226 square feet. It will include a community park and a pond.
Founded in 2013 by Joe Leal, Jim Robinson and Randy Merrill, SJV Homes sold its 1,000th home in September. Brighton is SJV Homes’ 16th joint venture project with Presidio Residential Capital, a San Diego-based real estate investment company that funds 100 percent of the projects and operations of SJV Homes.
According to the National Association of Home Builders’ formula to determine the local impact of single-family housing in typical metro areas, adding 115 single-family homes will generate $33 million in local income, $9 million in taxes and other revenue for local governments and 453 local jobs, says SJV Homes.
One decade after Bass Pro Shops announced its intention to build a store in Bakersfield — a plan that has been marked with uncertainty amid economic downturn — the outdoor retail giant announced Wednesday that it would build its fifth California location in Kern County.
The Missouri-based outdoor retailer, which specializes in hunting, fishing and camping gear, will open a 100,000-square-foot store to anchor an 800,000-square-foot mixed-retail center at the northeast corner of Hosking Avenue and Highway 99 known as the Bakersfield Gateway.
It will be the retailer’s only store between Manteca and Rancho Cucamonga.
“We are very excited to be the lead anchor tenant for this innovative new development that is sure to have such a positive impac
t on Bakersfield, one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States,” Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris said in a prepared statement. “Our store will be a tribute to the great sporting tradition and heritage of the region and a celebration of the sporting men and women of California.”
No timeline or estimated date for when the store would open has been released.
Stephen Coslik, chairman of The Woodmont Company, the Texas-based developer planning the project, said he
’s now confident the Bakersfield Gateway would be a success, crediting Bass Pro Shops’ “incredible draw.”
Beyond anchoring the anticipated development, Bass Pro Shops could boost the local economy. It anticipates hiring between 250 and 300 employees, many of whom will be locals.
Bass Pro Shops announced its intention to open a 150,000-square-foot store in Bakersfield first in 2007 at the Bakersfield Gateway site, but the recession sidelined the project.
“The project never materialized,” company communications manager Katie Mitchell told The Californian in 2014.
Bass Pro Shops never pulled out of the deal, which some considered critical to the success of the 93-acre development, said Bakersfield Community Development Director Jacqui Kitchen, adding, “it was just a long and extended negotiation.”
“With all the changes the retail sector has seen in the last several years, I think Bass Pro took some time to reflect on their overall development plans nationwide, but ultimately they realized this is a great opportunity they had within the city of Bakersfield,” Kitchen said. “It’s something we’ve all known is coming the last several years, and we’re very happy they’ve moved ahead with their (announcement).”
Although plans have not yet been finalized, Bass Pro Shop officials said in a press release that the Bakersfield location would include a gift and nature center featuring a variety of outdoor related items “from lamps and dishes to bird feeders and furniture.” It would also include an expansive boat showroom offering Tracker, Nitro, Suntracker, Tahoe and Mako boats built by White River Marine Group.
Bakersfield planning and development officials have been working for the last five years to woo the retail giant to town, Kitchen said. Once the retailer gets site plans approved through the planning commission and applies for building permits, the city plans to help Bass Pro coast through the process, Kitchen added.
“The city is ready and willing to help them get through all the permitting process and make sure there’s as little red tape as possible,” Kitchen said.
Most exciting about the deal, Kitchen said, was the size of the store.
At 100,000-square-feet, it’s not the largest tier store Bass Pro Shops constructs, but it is larger than what’s been rumored, Kitchen said.
“We wanted to make sure Bakersfield residents get the best available amenity,” Kitchen said. “It seems Bass Pro is seeking to do just that.”
With virtually no vacant space in the Visalia Industrial Park a spurt of new construction is underway that will make room for both new tenants, local company expansions and relocations in coming months.
If there are few empty buildings to lease, Visalia sports about 1,000 acres of land “zoned and ready to go,” according to Visalia economic development manager staffer Devon Jones.
Developers looking to encourage companies who might want a location in the Central Valley are building several concrete tilt-up “spec buildings” in Visalia that can be ready for tenant improvements and occupancy in a matter of weeks.
Making new projects feasible, the city has a streamlined permitting process and lots are hooked up to sewer and water. In addition there has been a $130 million investment in roads over the past few years with easy access to Hwy 99 and the rest of California.
We are talking ’speedy delivery’ – not just for goods but for new buildings that will house future distribution and manufacturing hubs.
Visalia’s mid-state location makes it attractive for ground shipping of goods to the Western US, enabling parcels to arrive in one-day to many locations.
None other than United Parcel Service appears to be convinced, having invested in the purchase of 58 acres north Riggin at Plaza earlier this summer. Sources says UPS plans a phased development to start with – a modular sorting center to replace its current small distribution center on Goshen Ave. Then, a 400,000 permanent complex will be next for UPS – said to be the big company’s future main hub in the Central Valley. Growth around its Fresno facility has boxed them in say real estate sources. Visalia’s ample industrial acreage is apparently the answer.
The land is the first parcel to sell in the Central Valley Logistics Center industrial park on the northwest corner of Plaza and Riggin since it was zoned for development a decade ago.
Another big shipper is making Visalia its hub. Golden State Overnight (GSO) now owned by Britain’s Royal Mail, is building a 63,000sf distribution center at a cost of $2.3 million right now.Royal Mail bought GSO last year for $90 million.
“If Memphis is the biggest hub for FedEx and Louisville is the main UPS hub – Visalia is our most important hub for the future” says GSO’s McKinley.
The company has a smaller facility it leases now that has truck docks only on one side, says company VP Bob McKinley. The complex being built by Visalia based American Inc will offer triple the number of cargo doors on both sides with full automation on the conveyor system, he says.
The GSO hub will employ about 70 when it opens and likely double that in some years expects McKinley.
“If Memphis is a the biggest hub for FedEx and Louisville is the main UPS hub – Visalia is our most important hub for the future” says GSO’s McKinley.
Perhaps the most active developer who has long recognized the need to offer new industrial space in Visalia ahead of demand – is John Brelsford of Fresno who owns Diversified Development Group.
Last summer Brelsford broke ground on a fast-track construction project to build 3 clustered industrial buildings in a matter of weeks along Riggin near VF Corp, completing them – a total of 403,000sf – by late October of this year.
Commuters passing by each morning last month marveled at the rapid progress on construction each day.
While Mr Brelsford says he can’t reveal prospective tenants he is working with International Paper, who a has major paper cup manufacturing plant here, will use the most northerly building, a 140,000sf space according to the City of Visalia who received tenant improvement plans in recent days.
“They are about ready to move in” says city planner Jason Huckleberry.
A second space is close to being filled as well says Mr Brelsford.
Next Phase Coming
Because interest has been so brisk Brelsford is not waiting to build more “spec” space. He says he expects to build about 800,000sf beginning next March on 33 acres he owns on the southeast corner of Plaza and Riggin, a few blocks from his other project.
Last year Brelsford acquired another big parcel at Plaza and Riggin – 150 acres from Doe family – now fully entitled and in the city limits at the northwest corner of this same key intersection.The spot is just 1.5 miles from the new Betty Drive interchange on Hwy 99 that is expected to be complete in a few months.
If newcomers make the news, expansion of existing industrial park tenants are the bread and butter of Visalia’s economy.
While some worry that many new distribution companies looking here take larger spaces of source but actually have few employees. But some are both big on their space needs and offer lots of jobs
Consider VF Corp, the international clothing maker, who has a million square foot distribution center on Plaza Drive. VF, maker of Wrangler, Lee Jeans and NorthFace outdoor clothing, employs up to 1,100 people and most of them live within a 10-15-mile radius from the facility says the company.VF has recently completed a $3 million upgrade to their facility and plans more in 2018.
Another industrial park tenant that continues to grow larger is Perfection Pet Foods, a division of Western Milling, based in Goshen. The pet food maker is building a $6.2 million office and warehouse right now. Owner Kevin Kruse says they are replacing a 100,000sf warehouse a few miles away.”We wont have to move our products across town” from their manufacturing plant, he figures. The new warehouse will house products ready to ship to Walmart and other large customers. Perfection Pet Foods employs about 120 at their growing campus of buildings in the northwest part of the industrial park.
As interest in new buildings grow, the vacated space makes room for others who will likely gobble up this 100,000sf left by the pet food company, for example.
Meanwhile smaller players like local developer Danny Freitas says his various Visalia industrial park spaces are all spoken for and he will now build two new 40,000sf “spec” warehouses for lease, one on Kelsey and one on Sunnyview.
Also in the industrial park, Servall, the big appliance parts and repair company says they will open their new sales and distribution center in Visalia in December 2017 at 2247 N. Plaza Dr., Suite D, in am existing 35,000 sf building – one of the few vacant spots in the Mid-State 99 complex.
The company cited their ability to do one-day shipping of appliance parts to consumers and businesses throughout all of California.The business will employ 20.
The 1 million-square-foot building, which will sit within the 1,600-acre Wonderful Industrial Park in Shafter, Calif., is one of only a few developments of its kind in the market.
by Barbra Murray | Sep 20, 2017
Sep 20, 2017
The call for premier industrial space in California’s Central Valley is growing louder, and Wonderful Real Estate, formerly Roll Real Estate, is responding with a new project. The company is in the midst of developing a 1 million-square-foot speculative industrial property in Shafter, Calif., roughly 130 miles north of Los Angeles and 100 miles south of Fresno in the Central Valley.
It’s the right time and the right place. “Strengthening market fundamentals, growth of e-commerce and awareness of the Central Valley industrial market has given us the confidence to go spec,” Joe Vargas, president of Wonderful Real Estate Development, said in a prepared statement. WRE is constructing the new building at 4100 Express Ave., within the company’s 1,600-acre, rail-served Wonderful Industrial Park. The project holds the distinction of being one of just a few million-square-foot-plus spec industrial developments currently underway with 40-foot clear height, oversized large truck courts and access to four major U.S. Ports (Los Angeles, Long Beach, Hueneme and Oakland).
4100 Express’s location will provide users with even more than cutting-edge accommodations and coveted transportation infrastructure; it will also offer access to an ample pool of labor that is both qualified and committed. WRE notes that existing tenants at Wonderful Industrial Park consistently record annual labor turnover rates in the low single-digit range.
Central Valley takes center stage
Solid positive net absorption and strong rental growth have characterized the Central Valley industrial market for the last two years, according to a second quarter report by commercial real estate services firm JLL, which spearheads leasing activity at Wonderful Industrial Park. And even in the face of new development, the vacancy rate remains a respectable 5.3 percent and is expected to head downward. There’s something about the Central Valley.
“Demand is coming from primarily big-box users looking to capitalize on real estate costs and outbound distribution. Between super-regional distribution plays and e-commerce distribution the Central Valley is cementing itself as a Tier 1 distribution market within the Southwest U.S.,” Mac Hewett, vice president with JLL, told Commercial Property Executive.
WRE expects 4100 Express to be ready to welcome its first tenants in March 2018.
Newswire.ca FREMONT, Calif. Sept. 4, 2017
By Jade Luo
Sungrow, the global leading PV inverter system solution supplier, announced that it would supply 205MW of central inverters for a utility-scale solar project in California’s Central Valley.
The Central Valley is home to many of California’s solar farms because of its abundant land space and frequent sunshine. It experiences high temperatures in the summer months, putting significant wear-and-tear on solar hardware. The power plant is expected to be completed in late 2017 using Sungrow’s newest 1500V turnkey central inverter solution, the SG2500U.
The product is designed for easy integration–with a containerized pre-integrated option also available–and simplified installation making it the ideal plug and play solution for utility-scale systems. For O&M, all serviceable components can be accessed externally, meaning lower repair times and service costs. In addition, the product is one of the first 1500V inverters be listed with the stringent UL 1741-SA certification required for most North American projects.
“Sungrow is always committed to technical innovation which drives our rapid growth. We will continue to offer better products and solutions to customers globally”, said Professor Renxian Cao.
The project signifies Sungrow’s rapid growth into North America, being the company’s largest project win in the continent since it entered the market in 2011. Earlier this year, the company announced it shipped an unprecedented 10.9 GW in the first half of 2017, moving up from its already impressive 11.1GW number for 2016.
Sungrow is a global leading inverter solution supplier for renewables with over 49GW installed worldwide as of June 2017. Founded in 1997 by University Professor Renxian Cao, Sungrow is a global leader in research and development in solar inverters, with numerous patents and a broad product portfolio offering PV inverter systems as well as energy storage systems for utility-scale, commercial, and residential applications. With a 20-year track record of growth and success, Sungrow’s products are available in over 50 countries, maintaining a market share of around 25% in Germany and over 15% globally. Learn more about Sungrow by visiting: http://www.sungrowpower.com
In a corner of Alphabet’s campus, there is a team working on a piece of software that may be the key to self-driving cars. No journalist has ever seen it in action until now. They call it Carcraft, after the popular game World of Warcraft.
The software’s creator, a shaggy-haired, baby-faced young engineer named James Stout, is sitting next to me in the headphones-on quiet of the open-plan office. On the screen is a virtual representation of a roundabout. To human eyes, it is not much to look at: a simple line drawing rendered onto a road-textured background. We see a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica at medium resolution and a simple wireframe box indicating the presence of another vehicle.
Months ago, a self-driving car team encountered a roundabout like this in Texas. The speed and complexity of the situation flummoxed the car, so they decided to build a look-alike strip of physical pavement at a test facility. And what I’m looking at is the third step in the learning process: the digitization of the real-world driving. Here, a single real-world driving maneuver—like one car cutting off the other on a roundabout—can be amplified into thousands of simulated scenarios that probe the edges of the car’s capabilities.
Scenarios like this form the base for the company’s powerful simulation apparatus. “The vast majority of work done—new feature work—is motivated by stuff seen in simulation,” Stout tells me. This is the tool that’s accelerated the development of autonomous vehicles at Waymo, which Alphabet (née Google) spun out of its “moon-shot” research wing, X, in December of 2016.If Waymo can deliver fully autonomous vehicles in the next few years, Carcraft should be remembered as a virtual world that had an outsized role in reshaping the actual world on which it is based.
Originally developed as a way to “play back” scenes that the cars experienced while driving on public roads, Carcraft, and simulation generally, have taken on an ever-larger role within the self-driving program.
At any time, there are now 25,000 virtual self-driving cars making their way through fully modeled versions of Austin, Mountain View, and Phoenix, as well as test-track scenarios. Waymo might simulate driving down a particularly tricky road hundreds of thousands of times in a single day. Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.
The simulations are part of an intricate process that Waymo has developed. They’ve tightly interwoven the millions of miles their cars have traveled on public roads with a “structured testing” program they conduct at a secret base in the Central Valley they call Castle.
Waymo has never unveiled this system before. The miles they drive on regular roads show them areas where they need extra practice. They carve the spaces they need into the earth at Castle, which lets them run thousands of different scenarios in situ. And in both kinds of real-world testing, their cars capture enough data to create full digital recreations at any point in the future. In that virtual space, they can unhitch from the limits of real life and create thousands of variations of any single scenario, and then run a digital car through all of them. As the driving software improves, it’s downloaded back into the physical cars, which can drive more and harder miles, and the loop begins again.
To get to Castle, you drive east from San Francisco Bay and south on 99, the Central Valley highway that runs south to Fresno. Cornfields abut subdevelopments; the horizon disappears behind agricultural haze. It’s 30 degrees hotter than San Francisco and so flat that the grade of this “earthen sea,” as John McPhee called it, can only be measured with lasers. You exit near the small town of Atwater, once the home of the Castle Air Force Base, which used to employ 6,000 people to service the B-52 program. Now, it’s on the northern edge of the small Merced metro area, where unemployment broke 20 percent in the early 2010s, and still rarely dips below 10 percent. Forty percent of the people around here speak Spanish. We cross some railroad tracks and swing onto the 1,621 acres of the old base, which now hosts everything from Merced County Animal Control to the U.S. Penitentiary, Atwater.
The directions in my phone are not pointed to an address, but a set of GPS coordinates. We proceed along a tall opaque green fence until Google Maps tells us to stop. There’s nothing to indicate that there’s even a gate. It just looks like another section of fence, but my Waymo host is confident. And sure enough: A security guard appears and slips out a widening crack in the fence to check our credentials.
The self-driving cars are easy to pick out. They’re studded with sensors. The most prominent are the laser scanners (usually called LIDARs) on the tops of the cars. But the Pacificas also have smaller beer-can-sized LIDARs spinning near their side mirrors. And they have radars at the back which look disturbingly like white Shrek ears.
When a car’s sensors are engaged, even while parked, the spinning LIDARs make an odd sound. It’s somewhere between a whine and a whomp, unpleasant only because it’s so novel that my ears can’t filter it out like the rest of the car noises that I’ve grown up with.
There is one even more special car parked across the street from the main building. All over it, there are X’s of different sizes applied in red duct tape. That’s the Level Four car. The levels are Society of Automotive Engineers designations for the amount of autonomy that the car has. Most of what we hear about on the roads is Level One or Level Two, meant to allow for smart cruise control on highways. But the red-X car is a whole other animal. Not only is it fully autonomous, but it cannot be driven by the humans inside it, so they don’t want to get it mixed up with their other cars.As we pull into the parking lot, there are whiffs of Manhattan Project, of scientific outpost, of tech startup. Inside the main building, a classroom-sized portable, I meet the motive force behind this remarkable place. Her name is Steph Villegas.
Villegas wears a long, fitted white collared shirt, artfully torn jeans, and gray knit sneakers, every bit as fashionable as her pre-Google job at the San Francisco boutique Azalea might suggest. She grew up in the East Bay suburbs on the other side of the hills from Berkeley and was a fine-arts major at University of California, Berkeley before finding her way into the self-driving car program in 2011.
“You were a driver?” I ask.
“Always a driver,” Villegas says.
She spent countless hours going up and down 101 and 280, the highways that lead between San Francisco and Mountain View. Like the rest of the drivers, she came to develop a feel for how the cars performed on the open road. And this came to be seen as an important kind of knowledge within the self-driving program. They developed an intuition about what might be hard for the cars. “Doing some testing on newer software and having a bit of tenure on the team, I began to think about ways that we could potentially challenge the system,” she tells me.
So, Villegas and some engineers began to cook up and stage rare scenarios that might allow them to test new behaviors in a controlled way. They started to commandeer the parking lot across from Shoreline Amphitheater, stationing people at all the entrances to make sure only approved Googlers were there.
“That’s where it started,” she says. “It was me and a few drivers every week. We’d come up with a group of things that we wanted to test, get our supplies in a truck, and drive the truck down to the lot and run the tests.”These became the first structured tests in the self-driving program. It turns out that the hard part is not really the what-if-a-zombie-is-eating-a-person-in-the-road scenarios people dream up, but proceeding confidently and reliably like a human driver within the endless variation of normal traffic.
Villegas started gathering props from wherever she could find them: dummies, cones, fake plants, kids’ toys, skateboards, tricycles, dolls, balls, doodads. All of them went into the prop stash. (Eventually, the props were stored in a tent, and now at Castle, in a whole storage unit.)
They needed a base, a secret base. And that’s what Castle provided. They signed a lease and started to build out their dream fake city. “We made conscious decisions in designing to make residential streets, expressway-style streets, cul-de-sacs, parking lots, things like that,” she says, “so we’d have a representative concentration of features that we could drive around.”
We walk from the main trailer office to her car. She hands me a map as we pull away to travel the site. “Like at Disneyland, so you can follow along,” she says. The map has been meticulously constructed. In one corner, there is a Vegas-style sign that says, “Welcome to Fabulous Castle, California.” The different sections of the campus even have their own naming conventions. In the piece we’re traveling through, each road is named after a famous car (DeLorean, Bullitt) or after a car (e.g., Barbaro) from the original Prius fleet in the early days of the program.
We pass by a cluster of pinkish buildings, the old military dormitories, one of which has been renovated: That’s where the Waymo people sleep when they can’t make it back to the Bay. Other than that, there are no buildings in the testing area. It is truly a city for robotic cars: All that matters is what’s on and directly abutting the asphalt.
We pull up to a large, two-lane roundabout. In the center, there is a circle of white fencing. “This roundabout was specifically installed after we experienced a multilane roundabout in Austin, Texas,” Villegas says. “We initially had a single-lane roundabout and were like, ‘Oh, we’ve got it. We’ve got it covered.’ And then we encountered a multi-lane and were like, ‘Horse of a different color! Thanks, Texas.’ So, we installed this bad boy.”
She drives me back to the main office and we hop into a self-driving van, one of the Chrysler Pacificas. Our “left-seat” driver is Brandon Cain. His “right-seat” co-driver in the passenger seat will track the car’s performance on a laptop using software called XView.And then there are the test assistants, who they call “foxes,” a sobriquet that evolved from the word “faux.” They drive cars, create traffic, act as pedestrians, ride bikes, hold stop signs. They are actors, more or less, whose audience is the car.
The first test we’re gonna do is a “simple pass and cut-in,” but at high speed, which in this context means 45 miles per hour. We set up going straight on a wide road they call Autobahn.
After the fox cuts us off, the Waymo car will brake and the team will check a key data point: our deceleration. They are trying to generate scenarios that cause the car to have to brake hard. How hard? Somewhere between a “rats, not gonna make the light” hard stop and “my armpits started involuntarily sweating and my phone flew onto the floor” really hard stop.
Let me say something ridiculous: This is not my first trip in a self-driving vehicle. In the past, I’ve taken two different autonomous rides: first, in one of the Lexus SUVs, which drove me through the streets of Mountain View, and second, in Google’s cute little Firefly, which bopped around the roof of a Google building. They were both unremarkable rides, which was the point.
But, this is different. These are two fast-moving cars, one of which is supposed to cut us off with a move that will be, to use the Waymo term of art, “spicy.”It’s time to go. Cain gets us moving and with a little chime, the car says, “Autodriving.” The other car approaches and cuts us off like a Porsche driver trying to beat us to an exit. We brake hard and fast and smooth. I’m impressed.
Then they check the deceleration numbers and realize that we had not braked nearly hard enough. We have to do it again. And again. And again. The other car cuts us off at different angles and with different approaches. They call this getting “coverage.”
Two cars merging at high speed, one driving itself (Alexis Madrigal)
We go through three other tests: high-speed merges, encountering a car that’s backing out of a driveway while a third blocks the autonomous vehicle’s view, and smoothly rolling to a stop when pedestrians toss a basketball into our path. Each is impressive in its own way, but that cut-off test is the one that sticks with me.
As we line up for another run, Cain shifts in his seat. “Have you ever seen Pacific Rim?” Cain asks me. You know the Guillermo del Toro movie where the guys get synced up with huge robot suits to battle monsters. “I’m trying to get in sync with the car. We share some thoughts.”
I ask Cain to explain what he actually means by syncing with the car. “I’m trying to adjust to the weight difference of people in the car,” he says. “Being in the car a lot, I can feel what the car is doing—it sounds weird, but—with my butt. I kinda know what it wants to do.”
Far from the haze and heat of Castle, there is Google’s comfy headquarters in Mountain View. I’ve come to visit Waymo’s engineers, who are technically housed inside X, which you may know as Google X, the long-term, high-risk research wing of the company. In 2015, when Google restructured itself into a conglomerate called Alphabet, X dropped the Google from its name (their website is literally X.company). A year after the big restructuring, X/Alphabet decided to “graduate” the autonomous vehicle program into its own company as it had done with several other projects before, and that company is Waymo. Waymo is like Google’s child, once removed, or something.
So, Waymo’s offices are still inside the mother ship, though, like two cliques slowly sorting themselves out, the Waymo people all sit together now, I’m told.
The X/Waymo building is large and airy. There are prototypes of Project Wing’s flying drones hanging around. I catch a bit of the cute little Firefly car the company built. (“There’s something sweet about something you build yourself,” Villegas had said back at Castle. “But they had no A/C, so I don’t miss them.”)
Up from the cafeteria, tucked in a corner of a wing, is the Waymo simulation cluster. Here, everyone seems to have Carcraft and XView on their screens. Polygons on black backgrounds abound. These are the people creating the virtual worlds that Waymo’s cars drive through.
Waiting for me is James Stout, Carcraft’s creator. He’s never gotten to speak publicly about his project and his enthusiasm spills out. Carcraft is his child.
“I was just browsing through job posts and I saw that the self-driving car team was hiring,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that they just had a job posting up.” He got on the team and immediately started building the tool that now powers 8 million virtual miles per day.Back then, they primarily used the tool to see what their cars would have done in tricky situations in which human drivers have taken over control of the car. And they started making scenarios from these moments. “It quickly became clear that this was a really useful thing and we could build a lot out of this,” Stout says. The spatial extent of Carcraft’s capabilities grew to include whole cities, the number of cars grew into a huge virtual fleet.
Stout brings in Elena Kolarov, the head of what they call their “scenario maintenance” team to run the controls. She’s got two screens in front of her. On the right, she has up XView, the screen that shows what the car is “seeing.” The car uses cameras, radar, and laser scanning to identify objects in its field of view—and it represents them in the software as little wireframe shapes, outlines of the real world.
Green lines run out from the shapes to show the possible ways the car anticipates the objects could move. At the bottom, there is an image strip that displays what the regular (i.e., visible-light) cameras on the car captured. Kolarov can also turn on the data returned by the laser scanner (LIDAR), which is displayed in orange and purple points.
We see a playback of a real merge on the roundabout at Castle. Kolarov switches into a simulated version. It looks the same, but it’s no longer a data log but a new situation the car has to solve. The only difference is that at the top of the XView screen it says “Simulation” in big red letters. Stout says that they had to add that in because people were confusing simulation for reality.
“Our cars see the world. They understand the world. And then for anything that is a dynamic actor in the environment—a car, a pedestrian, a cyclist, a motorcycle—our cars understand intent. It’s not enough to just track a thing through a space. You have to understand what it is doing,” Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo’s vice president of engineering, tells me. “This is a key problem in building a capable and safe self-driving car. And that sort of modeling, that sort of understanding of the behaviors of other participants in the world, is very similar to this task of modeling them in simulation.”There is one key difference: In the real world, they have to take in fresh, real-time data about the environment and convert it into an understanding of the scene, which they then navigate. But now, after years of work on the program, they feel confident that they can do that because they’ve run “a bunch of tests that show that we can recognize a wide variety of pedestrians,” Stout says.
So, for most simulations, they skip that object-recognition step. Instead of feeding the car raw data it has to identify as a pedestrian, they simply tell the car: A pedestrian is here.
At the four-way stop, Kolarov is making things harder for the self-driving car. She hits V, a hot key for vehicle, and a new object appears in Carcraft. Then she mouses over to a drop-down menu on the righthand side, which has a bunch of different vehicle types, including my favorite: bird_squirrel.
The different objects can be told to follow the logic Waymo has modeled for them or the Carcraft scenario builder can program them to move in a precise way, in order to test specific behaviors. “There’s a nice spectrum between having control of a scenario and just dropping stuff in and letting them go,” Stout says.Once they have the basic structure of a scenario, they can test all the important variations it contains. So, imagine, for a four-way stop, you might want to test the arrival times of the various cars and pedestrians and bicyclists, how long they stop for, how fast they are moving, and whatever else. They simply put in reasonable ranges for those values and then the software creates and runs all the combinations of those scenarios.
They call it “fuzzing,” and in this case, there are 800 scenarios generated by this four-way stop. It creates a beautiful, lacy chart—and engineers can go in and see how different combinations of variables change the path that the car would decide to take.
Here we see a video that shows exactly such a situation. It’s a complex four-way stop that occurred in real life in Mountain View. As the car went to make a left, a bicycle approached, causing the car to stop in the road. Engineers took that class of problem and reworked the software to yield correctly. What the video shows is the real situation and then the simulation running atop it. As the two situations diverge, you’ll see the simulated car keep driving and then a dashed box appear with the label “shadow_vehicle_pose.” That dashed box shows what happened in real life. To Waymo people, this is the clearest visualization of progress.
Both Stout and the Waymo software lead Dolgov stressed that there were three core facets to simulation. One, they drive a lot more miles than would be possible with a physical fleet—and experience is good. Two, those miles focus on the interesting and still-difficult interactions for the cars rather than boring miles. And three, the development cycles for the software can be much, much faster.“That iteration cycle is tremendously important to us and all the work we’ve done on simulation allows us to shrink it dramatically,” Dolgov told me. “The cycle that would take us weeks in the early days of the program now is on the order of minutes.”
Well, I asked him, what about oil slicks on the road? Or blown tires, weird birds, sinkhole-sized potholes, general craziness. Did they simulate those? Dolgov was sanguine. He said, sure, they could, but “how high do you push the fidelity of the simulator along that axis? Maybe some of those problems you get better value or you get confirmation of your simulator by running a bunch of tests in the physical world.” (See: Castle.)
The power of the virtual worlds of Carcraft is not that they are a beautiful, perfect, photorealistic renderings of the real world. The power is that they mirror the real world in the ways that are significant to the self-driving car and allow it to get billions more miles than physical testing would allow. For the driving software running the simulation, it is not like making decisions out there in the real world. It is the same as making decisions out there in the real world.
Waymo drove 635,868 autonomous miles from December 2015 to November 2016. In all those miles, they only disengaged 124 times, for an average of about once every 5,000 miles, or 0.20 disengagements per 1,000 miles. The previous year, they drove 424,331 autonomous miles and had 272 disengagements, for an average of once every 890 miles, or 0.80 disengagements per 1,000 miles.While everyone takes pains to note that these are not exactly apples-to-apples numbers, let’s be real here: These are the best comparisons we’ve got and in California, at least, everybody else drove about 20,000 miles. Combined.
The tack that Waymo has taken is not surprising to outside experts. “Right now, you can almost measure the sophistication of an autonomy team—a drone team, a car team—by how seriously they take simulation,” said Chris Dixon, a venture capitalist at Andreessen Horowitz who led the firm’s investment in the simulation company Improbable. “And Waymo is at the very top, the most sophisticated.”
I asked Allstate Insurance’s head of innovation, Sunil Chintakindi, about Waymo’s program. “Without a robust simulation infrastructure, there is no way you can build [higher levels of autonomy into vehicles].” he said. “And I would not engage in conversation with anyone who thinks otherwise.”
Other self-driving car researchers are also pursuing similar paths. Huei Peng is the director of Mcity, the University of Michigan’s autonomous- and connected- vehicle lab. Peng said that any system that works for self driving cars will be “a combination of more than 99 percent simulation plus some carefully designed structured testing plus some on-road testing.”
He and a graduate student proposed a system for interweaving road miles with simulation to rapidly accelerate testing. It’s not unlike what Waymo has executed. “So what we are arguing is just cut off the boring part of driving and focus on the interesting part,” Peng said. “And that can let you accelerate hundreds of times: A thousand miles becomes a million miles.”
What is surprising is the scale, organization, and intensity of Waymo’s project. I described the structured testing that Google had done to Peng, including the 20,000 scenarios that had made it into simulation from the structured testing team at Castle. But he misheard me and began to say, “Those 2,000 scenarios are impressive,”—when I cut in and corrected him—“It was 20,000 scenarios.” He paused. “20,000,” he said, thinking it over. “That’s impressive.”And in reality, those 20,000 scenarios only represent a fraction of the total scenarios that Waymo has tested. They’re just what’s been created from structured tests. They have even more scenarios than that derived from public driving and imagination.
“They are doing really well,” Peng said. “They are far ahead of everyone else in terms of Level Four,” using the jargon shorthand for full autonomy in a car.
But Peng also presented the position of the traditional automakers. He said that they are trying to do something fundamentally different. Instead of aiming for the full autonomy moon shot, they are trying to add driver-assistance technologies, “make a little money,” and then step forward toward full autonomy. It’s not fair to compare Waymo, which has the resources and corporate freedom to put a $70,000 laser range finder on top of a car, with an automaker like Chevy that might see $40,000 as its price ceiling for mass-market adoption.
“GM, Ford, Toyota, and others are saying ‘Let me reduce the number of crashes and fatalities and increase safety for the mass market.’ Their target is totally different,” Peng said. “We need to think about the millions of vehicles, not just a few thousand.”And even just within the race for full autonomy, Waymo now has more challengers than it used to, Tesla in particular. Chris Gerdes is the director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. Eighteen months ago, he told my colleague Adrienne LaFrance that Waymo “has much greater insight into the depth of the problems and how close we are [to solving them] than anyone else.” When I asked him last week if he still thought that was true, he said that “a lot has changed.”
“Auto manufacturers such as Ford and GM have deployed their own vehicles and built on-road data sets,” he said. “Tesla has now amassed an extraordinary amount of data from Autopilot deployment, learning how the system operates in exactly the conditions its customers experience. Their ability to test algorithms on board in a silent mode and their rapidly expanding base of vehicles combine to form an amazing testbed.”
In the realm of simulation, Gerdes said that he had seen multiple competitors with substantial programs. “I am sure there is quite a range of simulation capabilities but I have seen a number of things that look solid,” he said. “Waymo no longer looks so unique in this respect. They certainly jumped out to an early lead but there are now a lot of groups looking at similar approaches. So it is now more of a question of who can do this best.”
This is not a low-stakes demonstration of a neural network’s “brain-like” capacities. This is making a massive leap forward in artificial intelligence, even for a company inside Alphabet, which has been aggressive in adopting AI. This is not Google Photos, where a mistake doesn’t mean much. This is a system that will live and interact in the human world completely autonomously. It will understand our rules, communicate its desires, be legible to our eyes and minds.Waymo seems like it has driving as a technical skill—the speed and direction parts of it—down. It is driving as a human social activity that they’re working on now. What is it to drive “normally,” not just “legally”? And how does one teach an artificial intelligence what that means?
It turns out that building this kind of artificial intelligence does not simply require endless data and engineering prowess. Those are necessary, but not sufficient. Instead, building this AI requires humans to sync with the cars, understanding the world as they do. As much as anyone can, the drivers out at Castle know what it is to be one of these cars, to see and make decisions like them. Maybe that goes both ways, too: The deeper humans understand the cars, the deeper the cars understand humans.
A memory of a roundabout in Austin becomes a piece of Castle becomes a self-driving car data log becomes a Carcraft scenario becomes a web of simulations becomes new software that finally heads back out on a physical self-driving car to that roundabout in Texas.
Even within the polygon abstraction of the simulation the AI uses to know the world, there are traces of human dreams, fragments of recollections, feelings of drivers. And these components are not mistakes or a human stain to be scrubbed off, but necessary pieces of the system that could revolutionize transportation, cities, and damn near everything else.
Jul 31, 2017 by Jody Meacham Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Merced County is in the process of developing a 2,000-acre site encompassing the former Castle Air Force Base, which it hopes will become the center for testing, development and manufacturing of automotive technology, including for many of the self-driving cars being developed in Silicon Valley.
Adam Wasserman, managing partner of Scottsdale, Arizona-based GLDPartners, which consults with international companies on optimizing their supply chains, said the project expects to announce its first tenant — likely linked to Silicon Valley’s R&D efforts on autonomous driving R&D — by early fall.
Google is already using a site adjacent to Merced County’s planned Mid-California AutoTech Testing, Development and Production Campus for its self-driving car testing. (photo courtesy of Google Inc).
Google is already using a 91-acre site for its own autonomous car testing program adjacent to the planned Mid-California AutoTech Testing, Development and Production Campus, county officials said.
At full build-out, the development plan calls for 8 million square feet of industrial space employing about 9,300 people.
“It just puts us on that technology map that everybody in Silicon Valley is enjoying,” said Daron McDaniel, chair of the county’s board of supervisors.
Merced County hired GLDPartners after several failed attempts to commercialize the Castle property, which it took ownership of in 2006 following the air base’s 1995 closure.
The county’s median family income was about $43,000 in 2016, about 80 percent of the national median, and about a quarter of its 262,000 residents live below the poverty line, according to census figures.
Before settling on auto technology, the company researched several other business sectors including food production, medical products, commercial space systems, industrial machines and specialty chemicals based on how they might fit in those sectors’ supply chains.
“The project takes advantage of the dire lack of testing facilities anywhere in the country, much less in California, where much of the research that is shaping the global auto industry is now taking place,” Wasserman wrote in an email.
The site works because of the concentration of international auto tech research in Silicon Valley, the proximity of Bay Area universities and 13-year-old UC Merced, which is forecast to double its enrollment to 14,000 students within three years and already has solar energy and drone facilities at Castle.
That is coupled with transportation infrastructure including an airfield capable of handling the largest cargo planes and two major railroads connected to ports in Stockton and Oakland so that the site can handle manufacturing as well as testing.
The county is securing $200 million to connect the site to State Route 99 by a road to be called the Atwater-Merced Expressway.
“We strongly believe — and it’s obviously been evidenced by Google and the work they do onsite with their autonomous vehicle program — we’re going to be incredibly competitive in the auto tech sector,” said Mark Hendrickson, the county’s economic development director.
Part of the site was originally pitched by the county to California high-speed rail officials for the system’s heavy maintenance facility, which is to be located in the San Joaquin Valley, but McDaniel said there has been no indication when they would make a decision.
“If high-speed rail wants us they need to pull the trigger right away,” he said.
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Published on Jason Gremillion Wonderful Real Estate
We are excited to announce our newest success at Wonderful Industrial Park. WRE has signed a 10 year lease for a new 405ksf BTS facility. WRE worked closely with the tenant over the past two months utilizing WRE’s ProCore software to create a seamless and expedited design process. The result will allow WRE to commence construction by mid-June 2017 and deliver the completed facility by February 2018!
The 209’s most unique — and what could become the most prestigious — residential address will become available this spring.
River Islands at Lathrop plans to sell the first of 990 lots set aside for custom executive-style homes overlooking the San Joaquin River, Paradise Cut, and the Old River that will also back up to an 18-mile greenbelt park along the water’s edge encircling the 11,000-home planned community.
Lots will range in size from 8,000 to 20,000 square feet and will start at $200,000. To put that in perspective if all of the lots were to sell for $200,000 regardless of size or factoring in inflation over the years it takes for all to be sold, it represents $198 million in land sales alone.
And given the expectations the homes will all exceed $1 million, River Islands will one day be ringed by $1 billion worth of homes.
River Islands Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso indicated initial plans will be to develop 65 lots with no more than 10 lots ever being offered at one time. River Islands is likely to roll out the lots in conjunction with various phases over the community’s projected 20-year buildout.
Dell’Osso said the lots will be offered for a period of a month or so to the 250 people that are on an interest list before they are made available to the general buying public.
When completed it will be the largest concentration of executive-style homes in the Great Central Valley if not Northern California outside of well-to-do enclaves such as Atherton when it is based on housing style and not simply price. There are $1 million homes in San Jose, as an example, that are previously owned KB tract homes that have been closing escrow as well as 60-year-old flattops with less than 1,800 square feet in Marin County.
The homes on the River Islands custom lots will be at least three times the median home value in Lathrop ($357,000) and Manteca ($345,000). To get a financially comparable property in the Bay Area it would have to sell for more than $3 million.
There is nowhere in the Central Valley where you can buy a home site next to a river that overlooks it. That’s because other locations where homes are sold next to the river have their view blocked by towering levees. The custom home sites at River Islands are on top of 300-foot wide super levees — at least six times wider than a typical levee. They have been certified to withstand the maximum flood that the Army Corps of Engineers rate levees for which is a 200-year flood or an event that has a 1 in 200 chance of happening in any given year.
Dell’Osso said the state is in the final stages of reviewing plans for the greenbelt looping River Islands. Besides a path suitable for bicycling, walking, and jogging plans call for exercise par courses throughout as well as planting native shrubs and vegetation.
It will also be universally accessible meaning anyone including non-River Islands residents can use the greenbelt. It also could end up with one — or no — interruptions. Last year River Islands modified the original design for the main entrance via the new bridge across the San Joaquin River so that the greenbelt trail would be connected by a bridge that is now in place across the four-lane road.
The current access road from Manthey Road will eventually be closed eliminating that disruption in the loop trail. The future western access to River Islands may also have a bridge across it to allow the entire trail not to have to cross a road.
That is something that the valley’s existing premier urban riverside trail — the American River Parkway in Sacramento — can’t claim.
To get an idea how far the 18 mile River Island loop trail would be, it is 18.5 miles from downtown Manteca to downtown Modesto.
While the exact name of the trail hasn’t been selected, Dell’Osso said it will be named after Lathrop’s quintessential couple — Bennie and Joyce Gatto.