Category: Quality of Life

Planned Merced ACE train reaches new milestone, bringing prospect of more tourism, new jobs

The long-anticipated Altamont Corridor Express train connection to Merced recently reached a new milestone, bringing the project another step closer to fruition. Last month, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission released a draft environmental report outlining details of the planned ACE Ceres–Merced Extension Project.

Once completed, the Merced region will be connected via rail with the Bay Area and the Sacramento airport. “It’s a phenomenal project,” said Merced Mayor Matt Serratto. “You can go straight to a 49ers game on that train.” The Ceres-Merced Extension is part of the Valley Rail Program — a larger vision of several ACE extensions north and south. Three other ACE-related Valley Rail projects are currently in development to expand the ACE service.

The railway, Serratto said, will help streamline the city’s broader visions for developing downtown Merced, long-term economic growth, and bolstering tourism. ACE train service at new stations in Merced, Livingston, or Atwater, and Turlock may kick off operations as early as 2025, according to the environmental report. Expansion to Ceres and Sacramento County could be ready earlier, by 2023. Before any building begins, the final environmental report will be published and certified by the end of the year. Construction is projected to start in 2022 and wrap up in 2024.

The project will result in 26 miles of new track, three stations, infrastructure upgrades, and a 140,000-square-foot downtown Merced maintenance and layover facility. The facility would support train layovers, storage, maintenance, and extension operations. The downtown Merced facility is especially exciting to local officials. The biggest thing about the project overall, Serratto said, is the jobs that the facility will bring to the Merced area. “We would anticipate jobs being created there,” said ACE marketing manager David Lipari. “All these activities really create an industry here in the Valley.” The Merced station would be built downtown between R and O streets and include 380 parking spots.

When the project finishes, Merced-area passengers riding for business or pleasure will board two-story trains furnished with comfortable seating, ample electrical plugs, WiFi, and bike parking, Lipari said. The public can review the report and provide comments through June 7. In addition to enhancing regional connectivity, Lipari said the increased train service would help the Valley’s rising population of residents get conveniently to and from work — without adding more polluting single-passenger vehicles to already traffic-congested roads.

Merced County and the City of Merced, in particular, have each recently been distinguished as hot spots of population growth. Meanwhile, many California cities outside of the Valley and the state overall are seeing residents leave. “As our communities continue to grow, we need to become better at planning our transportation outside of expanding highway capacity,” Lipari said. “It (the train) is a clean, efficient way to get to work.” Going to work has taken on a new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many employees still working from home rather than commuting to offices. Ridership on both ACE and Amtrak trains plunged as low as 5%, and some commuter services were cut. While numbers are now steadily increasing, there is still a long way to go to reach normal passenger levels. Reaching that threshold largely depends on when employers and counties still promoting remote work policies revert to in-office work. But a recent survey of over 500 passengers showed that 92% intend to return to riding the train once they also return to in-person work, Lipari said.

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/article251674683.html

Migration has turned the Central Valley into a suddenly hot housing market

A dozen years ago, the sprawling subdivisions of San Joaquin County became a national symbol of the financial crisis: cul-de-sacs lined with foreclosed homes and half-built neighborhoods abandoned by bankrupt speculators. Now builders in places like Tracy, Lathrop and Mountain House have a new problem. They can’t build homes fast enough to meet the demand of families looking to relocate from the Bay Area.The pandemic-driven desire for more living space, coupled with the freedoms afforded by corporate work-from-home rules, is luring thousands of Bay Area families over the Altamont Pass to planned communities where homes are often bigger — and 50% cheaper — than they are in Dublin or Fremont or San Leandro. Nowhere is the trend more pronounced than River Islands, a 5,000-acre development on the San Joaquin River in Lathrop that includes 13 man-made lakes and miles of riverfront trails. Schools, ball fields, parks and fire stations make up a community that will eventually include 11,000 single-family homes and another 4,000 apartments and condos clustered around a new town center.

After selling 371 homes in 2019, River Islands saw a 57% increase in 2020, with 641 sales. And the share of its buyers relocating from the Bay Area jumped, from 55% to 76%. About 2,300 families have moved in so far, and there are 1,500 kids — a number expected to eventually reach 9,000, according to the developer. “Our builders have so much demand they have waiting lists,” said River Islands Development President Susan Dell’Osso. “They are basically doing custom builds for every home buyer.”

Data from the United States Postal Service backs up the claim that the out-migration from the Bay Area to San Joaquin County is picking up. Between March and November, at least 6,320 households moved to ZIP codes in San Joaquin County from one of these Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Marin. That’s a 22% increase over 2019. Sales are also exceeding expectations at Tracy Hills, a 5,000-home development west of Lathrop, according to John Stanek, a partner with Integral Communities, the master developer. Tracy Hills sold 400 homes in 2020. The project opened in the late spring of 2019, so there is nothing to compare the sales to, but the pace easily exceeded expectations.

The out-migration to the Central Valley is being driven by the Bay Area’s astronomical home prices and the fact that builders have failed to create enough housing to satisfy demand. Neighborhood opposition to development is widespread, and Bay Area developers often spend years bogged down in lawsuits before winning approvals. Homes at River Island average about $225 a square foot, compared to $375 in Hercules, $506 in Livermore, $533 in San Leandro and $711 in Fremont.

While many of the new residents are currently able to work from home, the danger is that remote employment may not last and that the Central Valley influx will worsen the environmental issues the Bay Area has been grappling with for years — clogged freeways, marathon commutes and cars pumping even more carbon dioxide into the air, according to David Garcia, policy director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation. A 2019 study by the Bay Area Economic Institute found 80,000 commuters drive between the northern end of San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, an average of 120 miles, 75% of them alone in a car. “Traffic was very bad before COVID, and may be worse after COVID,” said Garcia, who was raised in Stockton and used to make the 2 ½-hour commute to Berkeley. “Having the Central Valley be the Bay Area’s affordable housing option is not an optimal outcome.”

Virgra Banaag, who goes by the name Bing, said that she was not really in the market for a new home when she checked out River Island while visiting her sister nearby. Her family of four — her husband is an electrician and her kids are 7 and 13 — were living in Hercules and had expected to stay. When she toured an open house in River Islands, “the house called to me.” They decided to move. “I had never even heard of River Islands before, and now everybody wants to live here,” she said. “It’s the talk of my friends right now.”

Leslie and Chad Bourdon moved to River Islands with their two kids just a few months before the pandemic hit. They had previously lived for 13 years in San Francisco and four years in Marin. Chad Bourdon is a co-owner of 25 Lusk, the fine-dining establishment in downtown San Francisco. Leslie Bourdon said they had been looking for a year for a house that had good schools and enough living space. Having grown up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, she was drawn to the waterfront. The family put in a pool and have a private dock where they keep paddleboards, kayaks and a pedal boat. She said her Bay Area friends were surprised by the move. “You say ‘Lathrop,’ and people say, ‘Where is that?’ You say ‘Central Valley’ and people from the Bay Area cringe, thinking, ‘yikes.’”

Paul Jorge Dizon, a nurse who works at Kaiser Permanente, was paying $3,100 a month for his apartment in Hayward. He set out looking to buy something and quickly determined that on his budget, between $500,000 and $600,000, he could not afford anything in the Bay Area. In Tracy Hills he found a 2,500-square-foot house for $570,000. “You are away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area, but not too far,” he said.

Dean Wehrli, Northern California principal for John Burns Real Estate Consulting, said that River Islands is the best-selling planned community in the state. Wehrli said the influx has been driven by Silicon Valley workers who are more likely to be able to continue to work from home at least some of the time. “In the back of their mind, they are thinking that if they are called back into the office two or three days a week, it’s a terrible but doable commute,” he said. “Whereas Fresno or Reno or Boise are not.”

Newark-based mover Jose Martinez said about 20% of his business is Central Valley relocations, up from 10% a year ago. “Every time it’s always the same story,” he said. “Prices in the Bay Area are skyrocketing, and people find it easier these days to live in a home with bigger dimensions.” He is considering making a move himself. “I definitely have my eye on Manteca.”

ELECTRIC VEHICLE FAST CHARGERS NOW AVAILABLE ON CENTRAL CA HIGHWAYS

Electric vehicle (EV) drivers now have more fast-charging options along state highways in Central California — including at the popular Tejon Pass Rest Area near the Los Angeles/Kern County line — with the installation of 22 new EV fast chargers at nine locations by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). “Fast chargers are essential to continue growing EV adoption in California and meeting our state’s goals for combating climate change,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “Expanding the availability of convenient fast-charging stations along state highways is significant for the future of California transportation.”

The Level 3 DC fast chargers provide an approximate 80 percent charge in 30 minutes to EVs with fast-charging capability. The chargers have universal connectors and are able to serve all EVs on the market, including Teslas with an adapter. Charging is free with no time limit. “With four new EV fast chargers at the Tejon Pass Rest Area on Interstate 5, and 18 others staggered approximately 40 miles apart, Caltrans has reduced recharging concerns for plug-in EV drivers on long-distance trips through the Central Valley,” said District 7 Director Tony Tavares, whose district includes Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

According to the California Air Resources Board, 70 percent of California transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions come from light-duty vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs and light-duty trucks. “This project is a tremendous example of how public agencies can collaborate with the private sector to fill gaps in the zero emission vehicle (ZEV) market,” said Tyson Eckerle, Deputy Director of ZEV Market Development at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). “More chargers throughout the state will help to incentivize the purchase of EVs, getting us closer to Governor Newsom’s goal of 100 percent ZEV sales by 2035.”

The Tejon Pass Rest Area is about 60 miles north of Los Angeles and 40 miles south of Bakersfield and is a popular stopping point for drivers traveling along I-5. The four new fast chargers are located on the southbound side of the interstate. Motorists traveling north on I-5 can exit at the Lebec off-ramp to Lebec Road, which loops over the highway, to access the fast chargers, including one that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Other New Locations:

  • Junction Route 58/Route 184 in Bakersfield
  • Caltrans Maintenance Station on Route 41 and next to I-5 in Kettleman City
  • Caltrans Maintenance Station, 805 S. Lexington St., next to Route 99 in Delano
  • C.H. Warlow Rest Area NB/SB Route 99 in Kingsburg
  • Philip S. Raine Rest Area at SB Route 99 near Tulare
  • Philip S. Raine Rest Area at NB Route 99 near Tulare
  • Caltrans District 6 Office, 1283 N. West Ave., next to Route 99 in Fresno
  • Caltrans Maintenance Station, 125 W. Almond Ave., next to Route 99 in Madera

The $4.5 million project is funded by Caltrans and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in Fresno. The prime contractor is Cal Valley Construction of Fresno. BTCPower (Broadband TelCom Power, Inc.) of Santa Ana provided and installed the DC EV Fast Chargers with assistance from electrical subcontractor CSI (Civil Substations, Inc.) of Clovis. Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison are the electrical service providers. In addition to the new chargers in the Central Valley, Caltrans has six Level 3 DC fast chargers in San Diego County, two in Monterey County and one in San Luis Obispo County, and two Level 2 charging stations in Napa County and three in Contra Costa County – all available to the public.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a searchable database on public alternative fuel stations in California and nationwide. Motorists can find real-time traffic information and rest area locations at Caltrans’ Quickmap by clicking on the Options menu.    Caltrans reminds drivers to “Be Work Zone Alert” and to “Slow for the Cone Zone.”

https://www.edhat.com/news/electric-vehicle-fast-chargers-now-available-on-central-ca-highways#:~:text=Electric%20vehicle%20(EV)%20drivers%20now%20have%20more%20fast-charging,locations%20by%20the%20California%20Department%20of%20Transportation%20(Caltrans).

The Hottest Housing Markets Right Now In 2020

15 Housing Markets That Are Hot in 2020

The 15 hottest housing markets in 2020 are spread out across the U.S., though there are some geographic patterns. Out west, California, Idaho and Utah are home to several of the hottest housing markets. In the east, the hottest housing markets can be found in the Mid-Atlantic region and New England. Beyond that, Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas are the other remaining places home to the hottest housing markets. The coldest housing markets, on the other hand, are heavily centered on vacation spots — like cities in Florida, Hawaii and Nevada — as well as densely-populated coastal metropolises like San Francisco and New York, the latter of which was hit the heaviest by the Covid-19 pandemic in its early stages. Read on to find out the 15 hottest housing markets of 2020.

7. Stockton, California

Stockton has been on a sustained path of growth over the years in terms of its population and economy. The Stockton metro area offers homes that are more affordable compared to other major cities in the California housing market, but prices are rising. The median list price for a home in the Stockton area was under $390,000 two years ago, but has now reached $472,250, a 21.6% increase — roughly $84,000 — from September 2018 to September 2020.

Rising home prices have been coupled with tightening inventory and fewer days on market. Last September, Stockton homes spent a median of 27 days on the market before being sold. Only a year later, the average amount of time is down to a mere 10 days on the market before getting grabbed up. With houses flying off the shelf in the Stockton metro area, available inventory has dwindled. From having more than 1,700 homes for sale in September 2018, Stockton now has only 616 available homes as of September 2020 — a decline in inventory of nearly 65% in only two years.

11. Fresno, California

The Fresno metro area is another California housing market that’s hot this year, with homes flying off the market shortly after they’ve been put up. Since 2012, the record for fewest number of days a home spent on the market in Fresno was 14 days back in July 2017. That record, however, was trounced in September 2020 when homes spent a median of just 9 days on the market before being sold. As a result, Fresno’s housing inventory has shrunk from nearly 2,000 available homes for sale in September 2018, to only 805 homes as of September 2020. Like many other housing markets on our list, Fresno’s inventory has dropped by more than half in only two years, putting a serious squeeze on homebuyers to find places for sale, let alone finding deals.

How One Central Valley City is Supporting Entrepreneurs

One of the first cities in U.S. history to pilot a universal basic income, or UBI, program, Stockton, California is not a city afraid of a little experimentation. That kind of creative thinking isn’t limited to the city’s social programs, either. Recognizing that entrepreneurship is — and will be — at the heart of the economy of today and tomorrow, the city offers a range of innovative economic development programs that have already attracted entrepreneurs from across the region and around the country to establish their businesses in Stockton. As young businesses and startups — particularly in their infancy — require a lot of support, that’s where public sector policies and programs make a real difference. These programs assist these emerging companies while entrepreneurs refine their ideas and business plans, seek investment, and scale their operations.

Here’s how the city of Stockton has created a strong support network for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship grants The city of Stockton created its Entrepreneurship Grant program, funded by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, which aims to promote economic opportunity for low and moderate-income individuals. The Entrepreneurship Grant program offers funding to Stockton-based business service providers and entrepreneurs, startups and established businesses in the city. 2020 was the first year that the grant, which offers up to $200,000 in total funding, was extended to Stockton entrepreneurs directly. In prior years, the grant was only available to business service organizations that provided services and assistance to Stockton-based small businesses or entrepreneurs. The extension has been well-received by the Stockton business community, and work is already underway by the city to bring the program back again next year. Information on how to apply for a 2021 grant will be announced soon.

Non-traditional spaces One of the most enduring concepts to arise out of major entrepreneurship ecosystems is the co-working office space. These innovative shared offices combine the infrastructure and service level of commercial office rentals, the economy of a flexible, scalable workspace, and the comfort and community of a neighborhood coffee shop. Co-working spaces help foster a culture of entrepreneurship in a city, and have even led to innovative synergies with other startups under the same roof. Entrepreneurs who make the move to Stockton will feel at home in one of the city’s familiar, though distinctive, co-working spaces. Via Ventures offers the comfort coworking veterans are accustomed to in a design-centric setting, while Huddle x Launch Pad serves as the Stockton annex for Launch Pad’s national network of quality neighborhood office spaces. Located just a couple blocks from each other, the spaces have been a welcomed addition to Downtown Stockton, a vibrant district located along the San Joaquin River filled with attractions such as cafes, shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, theaters, and a minor league ballpark, home to the Stockton Ports, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.

Guidance and mentorship The most diverse city in the country according to a U.S. News and World Report analysis, Stockton is creating an entrepreneurship ecosystem that reflects diversity and leverages the strengths of the city’s community. Historically underserved entrepreneurs often lack the access and know-how to navigate entrepreneurial spaces and ecosystems. Strategic interventions can help reduce that gap. Supported in part by the city of Stockton, the Launch Pad Foundation (the nonprofit arm of the Launch Pad co-working network) has developed an innovative scholarship program aimed to reduce gaps in opportunity and access to entrepreneurial spaces. The foundation provides free full memberships for co-working spaces to qualified entrepreneurs, who are selected together with strategic partners in the city. The program also provides access to curricula and programming designed to help entrepreneurs and their businesses achieve success.

Stockton also offers a number of mentorship and training programs available to minority entrepreneurs, such as Centro Community Partners’ Basic Entrepreneurship Program, which offers business planning instruction in both English and Spanish to local entrepreneurs. Other minority-geared programs include the African American Chamber of Commerce’s BRIDGES Entrepreneur program, which holds workshops and webinars geared towards African American business owners and entrepreneurs, and the Main Street Entrepreneur-In-Residence program, which includes a 10-week business training boot camp, office space, financial capital, a monthly stipend and more to eligible Stockton-based African-American business owners accepted into the program. All three programs are either currently funded or have previously been funded in part by Stockton Entrepreneurship Grants. Also noteworthy is local nonprofit Stockton Community Kitchen, which works to help under-resourced food entrepreneurs succeed by offering mentorship and education in the skills necessary to succeed in the food industry. Utilizing its fully-staffed commercial kitchen and classroom spaces, the Community Kitchen provides low-income entrepreneurs with innovative food concepts a program rich in technical and emotional support. Accepting applications on a rolling schedule, Stockton Community Kitchen programs are offered three times per year.

Artists and makers welcome Artists and makers feeling shut out by the prohibitive cost of living and lack of resources for emerging creatives in many major cities will find Stockton’s low cost of living and high quality of life a welcome change. For young creatives looking to develop their technique and sensibility, resources such as Hatch Workshop Center for Emerging Makers are available. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offers low-cost memberships to the workshop’s ceramic, wood and metal-working, and fabrication tools and machinery as well as expert training and education from makers and artists. Creatives will also benefit from a strong local demand for their work fostered by marketplaces like Stockmarket, which (due to Covid-19) currently functions as an all-online virtual artists and makers fair until open air markets are once again deemed safe.

https://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2020/10/13/how-one-central-valley-city-is-supporting-entrepre.html

Research shows more people migrating to Central Valley during pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — The pandemic has resulted in many people not only working from home, but they’re also looking for ways to reduce their rent payments. As a result, the Valley has seen more people moving here from outside the area. Luxury apartments at The Residences at the Row in northeast Fresno have been quickly filled as the complex builds out the new complex. Many units were leased before they even became available.

Manco Abbott specializes in property management. Chief Operating Officer Adam Goldfarb said, “We see a lot of influx this year, especially with the brand new construction properties with a lot of the new amenities, are moving there and quite often it’s from out of town.” The website Apartment List helps people find apartments but research it has been conducting revealed an interesting trend when it comes to Fresno apartments. A large number of searches for Fresno units were coming from different parts of the state, especially Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Apartment List Research Associate Rob Warnock explained, “This year, people from outside Fresno accounted for 35% so we saw about a 6-7% point increase in that search activity from people outside of the region.” Goldfarb said luxury properties were appealing to many people coming here from outside the region. Rents at The Row ranged from $1600 to $2300 a month but the complex also featured a fitness center and a pool. Many people who were working from home were drawn to the free high-speed internet that was offered. Goldfarb noted, “They’re going to the higher-end communities moving from big metropolitan areas. They’re used to apartments with all the bells and whistles.” But as money becomes tighter, more families seemed to be looking to relocate in more affordable areas Warnock said, “A lot of people need to find a cheaper place to live as a result of the economic fallout of the pandemic.”

Apartment List added its research showed roughly the same amount of people moving here from out of town, about 35%, were also looking to move out of the Valley. Last year the number was higher – at 42%.

‘We’re all COVID-free:’ Pro-surfers back in the Valley, compete in WSL’s Rumble at the Ranch for charity

Madera Drive-in Reopens to Sold-out Crowd

MADERA, California (KSEE) – The Madera Drive-in reopened to moviegoers Friday to a packed audience. Vice President of Operations Bob Gran Jr. said they were just about to kick off the season when the pandemic hit. “We’ve worked hand in hand with the Madera County Health Department to mitigate all those measures against the virus,” he said.

The more than 300 car capacity lot has been cut to about 200, allowing at least ten feet between vehicles. Markers for social distancing were placed leading to the now outdoor snack bar and everyone is asked to stay inside their vehicles unless they have to get out (then masks are required). Despite all the new rules, the crowd still came. “Oh, it’s going to be a sell out,” Gran Jr. said. He was right, a line of moviegoers wrapped around the block. Among them was Ralph Westcott, who says the rules are worth the reward. “This, not having to set anything up yourself at home, it’s just the family time,” he said.

“It is nice to see them reopen – especially with a lot of people taking safety precautions, so that way we’re still conscious of other people’s health and safety, so that’s why I think this is way better than sitting in a regular movie theater,” said Erica Chuvichien. Gran said he wants everyone to willingly comply with the new guidelines, but they will be enforced, and people who don’t follow will be asked to leave. “If you can, please wait until we return to normal. You can come out and enjoy the normal drive-in experience. Right now it’s a special drive-in experience,,” Gran Jr. said.

This week the theater is playing Trolls World Tour and Doolittle on side one, and Knives Out and the Hunt on side two.

https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/local-news/madera-drive-in-reopens-to-sold-out-crowd/#:~:text=MADERA%2C%20California%20(KSEE)%20%E2%80%93,season%20when%20the%20pandemic%20hit.

Plant sales increase as more people take on gardening

Throughout the Central Valley nurseries are deemed essential because they sale fruits, vegetables, and outdoor plants. With numerous businesses temporary closed to stay at home restrictions, more and more people are turning to gardening swamping local nurseries with their business.

https://www.yourcentralvalley.com/news/plant-sales-increase-as-more-people-take-on-gardening/

Virtual wine trail in Madera County brings community together

Madera County is home to a variety of wineries like Toca Madera Winery, which are now coming to you with virtual tastings. “We’ve turned into a virtual winery basically. So virtual tastings on Instagram and Facebook on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday at 5. We do private virtual tastings and doorstep delivery has become our thing,” said Shayne Vetter, a winemaker for Toca Madera Winery. Vetter says they’ve seen a lot of support from local wine drinkers. People purchase their estate wines, tune-in and drink up.

https://www.yosemitethisyear.com/eventdetail/15081/virtual-wine-tasting