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.”

Rail Academy will train Valley youth for well-paying jobs on passenger, freight lines

Christian Sharma hopes to be among the first graduates of the Rail Academy of Central California, ready to work on a freight or passenger line. “I would mainly like to get behind the wheel of a locomotive,” the 18-year-old said at a May 25 open house in Stockton. “And help to maintain it, checking to see that it’s up to date.” The program will launch with about 70 students in August. They will take classes at a community college and get hands-on learning at the Stockton maintenance facility for the Altamont Corridor Express. The Rail Academy will provide up to two years of low-cost instruction for jobs starting at as much as $95,000 a year, the organizers said.

The alumni could help ACE and Amtrak carry out plans to grow well beyond their current passenger services. Or they could join a freight workforce that moves an already enormous volume of goods on the tracks. “In order for our expansion to be successful, we need the bodies to operate the trains, and to serve our public,” said Tamika Smith, director of rail services for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. That agency oversees ACE, which mainly serves commuters to Silicon Valley with four round trips each weekday. Amtrak has five round trips every day between Bakersfield and Oakland and a sixth branching north to Sacramento. AA Rail Academy 01.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.
Stanislaus students, others welcome. The educational partners are based in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties, but students from Stanislaus and beyond are welcome, Smith said.

The academy will begin with classes at Sacramento City College that prepare students to be engineers, conductors and passenger service agents. The planners hope at some point to add degrees in train and track maintenance at San Joaquin Delta College. The ACE facility hosted the open house and will be a key part of the academy going forward. It is about a mile and a half north of a station serving both ACE and Amtrak. The staff mainly services the commuter trains but is also preparing a new fleet of Amtrak coaches. The 157,000-square-foot site has several tracks for locomotives and passenger coaches, along with pits for working on their undersides. Two training rooms can hold up to 60 students.

Students will pay community college fees but can apply for financial aid. The academy aims to reach underrepresented communities and students not headed toward bachelor’s degrees, Smith said. It also will help the freight and passenger partners replace employees lost to retirement, she said. AA Rail Academy 05.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Head start for high-schoolers. The academy will have a program introducing high school students to rail careers through an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District. They will tour the maintenance facility and talk with rail workers. Sharma came to the open house on the evening before his graduation from Edison High School. He said he already enjoyed researching rail history from the steam era on and hopes to be part of the future workforce. That history is one of the community college courses, including the decline of passenger rail after World War II. Other classes will instruct students on safe and efficient operation of today’s trains. An entire course is devoted to the air brakes that can bring a mile-long freight train to a standstill.

The academy partners include Herzog Transit Services, which runs ACE under contract and is based in St. Joseph, Missouri. Another is the Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha and carrying freight across much of the United States. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is not involved in the academy but is hiring, too, in the Central Valley and elsewhere. AA Rail Academy 04.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Expanding toward high-speed rail. ACE and Amtrak are expanding with $900.5 million from state fuel taxes. Amtrak plans to add two trips on its northern branch by 2024, sharing stations with ACE in Lodi, Elk Grove and four Sacramento locations. ACE also will have a southern extension by 2024, with downtown stations in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto and Ceres. Service to Turlock, Livingston and Merced will follow in a few years. Future funding could bring hourly service at up to 130 mph, using tracks separate from freight trains and possibly a tunnel through the Altamont Pass. Valley residents would connect much more easily than they do now with BART and other systems.

The diesel locomotives would give way to renewable electricity under long-range plans for countering climate change. ACE and Amtrak also could connect in Merced with the first segment of California’s high-speed rail system. It would run at up to 220 mph to Bakersfield as soon as 2029 under current plans. The project continues to draw criticism due to cost overruns, construction delays and the high price of tunneling to Southern California and the Bay Area. The commission that oversees ACE is already negotiating to run the first leg of high-speed rail. It is chaired by Christina Fugazi, the vice mayor of Stockton. She also is vice principal at Edison High and invited some of the local students to the open house. “If we want to do more trains per day, we need more conductors, we need more engineers, we need more people to clean the trains, maintain the trains,” Fugazi said.

AA Rail Academy 02.JPGTechnicians Sebastian Eth, left, and Nick Fortune, right, demonstrate some of the work that is done at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility during an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility. AA Rail Academy 03.JPGAltamont Corridor Express maintenance facility in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. AA Rail Academy 06.jpgChristina Fugazi, chair of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission board, speaks to guests, with Edison High senior Christian Sharma, right, during an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Rail Academy of Central California to Launch This Fall

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission’s (SJRRC) ACE Rail Maintenance Facility will house the new Rail Academy of Central California (TRACC), which is seeking 70 students for instruction and hands-on-training. An open house was held earlier this month to generate interest and attract talent, according to SJRRC, the owner, operator and policy-making body for Altamont Corridor Express(ACE), which comprises an 86-mile corridor between Stockton and San Jose with 10 stations (see map below). Federal, state and local officials; railroad industry stakeholders; and prospective students and their families were in attendance.

TRACC’s aim is to address workforce shortages “by creating opportunities for meaningful careers for students and graduates that directly enhance the region’s economic growth and ensure both passenger and freight railroad reliability,” SJRRC reported on May 25. “Estimated starting salaries for graduates range from $35,000 to $95,000 per year.”

TRACC will draw students from San Joaquin County-area high schools, and will accept trainees over 18 years of age participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and Women, Infants and Children (WIC); as well as veterans and military spouses. Sacramento City College will provide the curriculum and two instructors. “We were honored to host the greater San Joaquin County community to raise awareness about this important workforce development program and generate interest from our community,” SJRRC Chair Christina Fugazi said. “We must do more to provide real economic and wealth generation opportunities for families in Stockton and the surrounding area.”

California one step closer to establishing high-speed rail with Silicon Valley to Merced line

After years of anticipation and developments, the state is one step closer to establishing a high-speed rail connection between Northern and Southern California. This week, California High-Speed Rail Authority officials approved a 90-mile stretch set to run from San Jose to Merced. This section would begin at San Jose’s Diridon Station and connect to a Central Valley site currently under construction. This connection will cut travel time between the two regions from roughly three hours to one hour.  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo says he sees the developments as good news for the local economy.  “Completion of this critically important high-speed rail project helps the state expand economic opportunity and affordable housing, two critical goals for all of us,” he said.

Monterey County resident Stefan Mora says he often travels up and down the state for work and believes the high speed rail is a good alternative for people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel.  “It’s a great way to travel,” he said. “You’ll save gas with the prices it’s at right now, and save plenty of time not dealing with traffic.” High-speed rail officials say this development helped achieve environmental clearance for nearly 400 miles of the project’s 500-mile Phase 1 alignment from San Francisco to the Los Angeles and Anaheim area. This includes a stretch from Merced to Palmdale, and Burbank to Los Angeles — a section cleared earlier this year.

The project is also set to “modernize and electrify” an existing rail corridor between San Jose and Gilroy, allowing for high speed rail and Caltrans services. This alignment includes more than 15 miles of tunnels through the Pacheco Pass in the Diablo Range. Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley is calling it “the next most significant transit hub” behind San Jose.  “Gilroy Transit Center is very much ready for this to happen,” Blankley said.   Salinas resident Christian Lopez says he hopes the high speed rail will make for a better traveling experience. “Maybe it can help take vehicles off the freeways and they can lessen how crowded it is at airports,” he said. Construction for the high-speed rail is ongoing along 119 miles in the Central Valley at 35 active job sites. “The authority is poised to make the vision of high-speed rail in the Bay Area a reality,” Authority CEO Brian Kelly said. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our federal, state and local partners to advance the project in Northern California.”

Local ag waste prized as fuel source, carbon for storage

To the lingering question of what to do with woody ag waste and other forms of Central Valley biomass, carbon scientists and investors agree on an answer: gasify it, sell some of the byproduct as fuel and bury the leftover carbon deep underground. Doing so would produce a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions while forestalling pollution from open burning and even preventing groundwater contamination if some of the waste involved is manure. What’s more, the whole process appears to be a moneymaker, thanks to a growing market for both hydrogen and carbon credits. At a symposium on carbon capture and storage Friday at Cal State Bakersfield, great hope was placed in the process, referred to during the inaugural meeting as BiCRS (pronounced “bikers”): bioenergy with carbon removal and storage. Two such projects have been proposed in Kern, but neither has taken more than early steps toward development. Expectations are that considerably more money will be invested as part of a wider push to capture and sequester carbon. Other means include removing it from smokestacks and pulling carbon dioxide straight out of the atmosphere.

Energy Program Chief Scientist Roger Aines at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told Friday’s audience BiCRS is a “clear winner” in combined economics and environmental benefit, as long as the biomass used is low-moisture and the carbon is not allowed to return to the atmosphere. If done right, he said, BiCRS results in an overall decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Aines dismissed the idea of merely burying biomass, as is sometimes done in local almond orchards, because he said it continues to emit methane. He said a better option is injecting it deep underground to keep it there permanently. He noted the process works with everything from almond shells to forest waste. Biomass used to be a greater producer of energy in the Central Valley than it is now. Utilities contracting for cleaner power found that other renewable sources of electricity beat the cost of most biomass plants. Plus, environmental justice groups have targeted them as significant producers of particulate air pollution. Gasification works differently. It does not combust but super-heats waste feedstock to break it down into gases like hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The process puts out much less air pollution.

If the process is used on manure, such as is produced in large quantities at local dairies, it avoids methane emissions and keeps nitrates out of local groundwater, which would reduce risks of cancer, fetal growth retardation and other negative health outcomes, Lawrence Livermore staff scientist Kim Mayfield noted at Friday’s symposium. Still, more research is needed to document the complete and complex carbon lifecycle of BiCRS, said Deputy Director Colin Murphy at the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy. He emphasized the concept has been greeted with some skepticism by California’s Spanish-speaking communities and others living in agricultural and industrial areas. His recommendation was for better engagement with such communities.

One project proposed in Kern would gasify local ag waste and turn it into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The latter byproduct would be stored permanently in concrete or injected into a depleted or nearly depleted oil or gas reservoir. Southern California-based Mote says it has begun preparations on a $100 million facility outside Bakersfield that would capture 150,000 metric tons of CO2 yearly starting as soon as 2024. The startup expects to sell hydrogen for use by heavy-duty trucks in the Central Valley. It would also cash in on federal tax credits, revenue from sales of carbon credits and state incentives. Speaking at Friday’s symposium, Mote co-founder and CTO Josh Stolaroff said the project’s economics allow it to gather biomass across a wider radius than conventional biomass power plants. BiCRS is also a relatively large job creator per dollar of investment, he said.

The other BiCRS project that has been disclosed publicly in Kern would work differently. It would produce methane for injection into a local natural gas pipeline for use as transportation fuel. CO2 from the process would be injected underground, while the carbon-rich byproduct biochar could be used in different ways, such as a soil amendment or water filtration or odor-absorber. Frontline Bioenergy LLC, the Iowa-based technology company behind the proposal, wants to build the plant in McFarland and employ about 50 local residents. It has estimated the plant would gasify about 300,000 tons per year of nut shells and other local ag waste and produce the natural gas equivalent of 22 million gallons of gasoline, plus 125 tons per day of biochar.

Bakersfield launches first-of-its-kind youth workforce program as part of state effort

For the first time ever, the city of Bakersfield will be offering internships and job opportunities tailored for local teenagers and college students in an attempt to spur interest in local government and address relatively high youth unemployment. Starting Friday, the city plans to release applications for summer internships, which will be available to local high school students. Other programs in its workforce development program include a yearlong college fellowship, an eight-week parks mobile team and another internship program based on the needs of the Kern Community Foundation and the Dream Resource Center. The city successfully applied for a roughly $5.4 million Californians For All Workforce Development grant, which will provide funds for the new positions. “The city’s No. 1 goal here is to get youth interested in public service and community service. We have a number of jobs here at the city of Bakersfield that are open, and it’s really an exciting time to work for the city of Bakersfield thanks to Measure N and many of the new initiatives that the city is starting,” said Anthony Valdez, assistant to the city manager. “We want to inspire this generation to be interested in public service.”

The Kern Community Foundation will manage the program for the city, and plans to expand from four to eight employees in order to handle the workload. The local nonprofit plans to target underserved areas and those who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system in its outreach. “We’re going to be giving these youngsters opportunities to look at maybe careers that they didn’t think about and things that are going to benefit the city in general,” said foundation President and CEO Aaron Falk. “I wish that in high school somebody had pulled me aside and said, ‘Did you know you can get an associate’s degree from BC and then get a six-figure job?’ I don’t think anybody is telling kids that.” The workforce development program comes at a time of high youth unemployment in Bakersfield. According to data provided by the city, teenagers aged 16 to 19 had a 25.6 percent unemployment rate in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available. Those aged 16 and over had a 7.6 percent unemployment rate in Bakersfield, compared to a statewide rate of 6.2 percent and a national rate of 5.4 percent. “The need is high to engage and employ youth and also get them excited about public and community service,” Valdez said. “We want youth to be inspired from Bakersfield to stay in Bakersfield and see themselves in careers and community and public service jobs that pay well, are stable and come with great benefits.”

The state’s 13 biggest cities were eligible to receive funding, but smaller cities and counties will also become involved in the project’s second phase. State leaders hope to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing California while providing youth with job opportunities and a career pathway to government service, in addition to at least a $15 per hour wage. Many of the new jobs across the state will focus on issues like climate change, homelessness and food insecurity. The $185 million program, paid for by federal coronavirus relief money, is expected to employ thousands of youth over the next several years. “We think what’s unique is that we are really focusing on a population that has either been excluded or doesn’t have these kinds of opportunities,” said Josh Fryday, California’s chief service officer, a position in the governor’s office. “We think that by focusing on that population and really making sure that we’re doing work that is focused on the community, that we’re doing something that is going to add value to everyone.”

The city hopes to hire 400 youth by 2026, when the program will have completed. “We have the opportunity to demonstrate that by investing in our young people, we can help them launch a meaningful and purposeful life, while also tackling our biggest issues,” Fryday said. “If we can do all of that together at the same time, I think we’re going to demonstrate a really important model for this work moving forward.”


An apartment sale in Visalia depicts the interest outside investors have shown in the Central Valley real estate market — particularly in the multi-family sector. The Mogharebi Group brokered the sale of ReNew, a two-story 128-unit apartment complex at 3315 Lovers Lane. The apartment complex built in 2008 sold for $30.65 million to a private Santa Barbara investment group from FPA Multifamily, according to a press release from the brokerage. There are 16 buildings on 6.76 acres, representing 18.9 units per acre with one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans. The complex also features a swimming pool, recreation room with wet bar, laundry facilities, clubhouse, spa and reserved parking.

“The Central Valley has long been thought of as strictly an agricultural area, but that is only one part of its economic story,” said Otto Ozen, executive vice president for The Mogharebi Group. “Government and healthcare are large and growing economic drivers, which combined with the region’s lower cost of living has resulted in an in-migration of people from higher-cost coastal cities. Yet new construction has not kept up with demand.  The strong regional economy and steady population growth combined with the high barriers to entry, has not been lost on investors.”

“Not only did we help the seller find ReNew a few years ago, but after 24 months, we were able to sell it for 50% higher price, which is indicative of growing investor interest for properties in the Central Valley,” Ozen said.

From Sacramento to Bakersfield, the region has 1,055 multifamily properties of 50 units or more. Over the last two years, 445 of those properties have traded hands, with The Mogharebi Group brokering 10% of those transactions, according to the release. Over those two years, the average sales price per unit increased 21% from $111,275 to $135,444. High end apartment complexes experienced the highest increases, growing 28% from $228,465 to $292,412.

Inland Port concept to flow more trade to Central Valley, cut pollution

A collaborative consortium of California port authorities, county governments, transportation agencies, air pollution control districts have joined forces to analyze the feasibility of developing a new, intermodal rail spine to connect seaports to key markets via the Central Valley. The plan is to develop a network of three or four “Inland Ports” in Central Valley cities with built-in access to freight rail and trucking routes. By developing a better intermodal system of moving freight, where trucks are used to transport cargo containers from ships to rail and then from rail to their destination instead of driving across the state, the project promises to cut greenhouse gasses, significantly improve air quality, reduce road congestion, boost traffic safety, and advance California’s extraordinarily large intra-state freight movement system. “Given the scale of California’s market, its geographic proximity, and its seaport infrastructure, the California Inland Port would become a nationally significant logistics and economic development project; a key to advancing California’s ambitious climate, economy, and equity goals which could then be modeled in other states,” stated a feasibility report conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council.

Tulare County has been on board with the project since its inception through its membership in the San Joaquin Valley Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Now the city of Visalia has joined efforts to become one of the Inland Ports although Fresno may have the inside track with access to both freight rail giants, Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). But Visalia is now a key logistics center adjacent to both Highway 99 and the main UP line. ”It’s on our radar,” says Devon Jones, economic development manager for the city of Visalia.

The objectives of the California Inland Port are:

  • Support new job creation and investment growth by fundamentally repositioning the economic competitiveness of the San Joaquin Valley region.
  • Create a more robust and efficient distribution system with a specific focus on high-value manufacturing, e-commerce, and the agriculture sectors.
  • Reducing shipping costs for shippers that manage global supply chains through direct intermodal rail service to/from the San Pedro seaports.
  • Significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of truck trips from the seaports complex in the Los Angeles region to the Central Valley and the Bay Area.
  • Reduce highway road congestion, with a parallel reduction in the requirement for road maintenance; accident-avoidance savings; all of this reducing cost.  There is currently no rail intermodal service from the Ports to intra-California markets.

Practically all containerized cargo being transported to and from California seaports from inland markets travel by truck. The report noted that in recent years, there has been considerable interest in better connecting the San Joaquin Valley to the international seaports in Southern California, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach.  These efforts have the potential to enhance economic opportunity in the Central Valley while simultaneously reducing air pollution. The Port of Los Angeles and Merced County kicked off the concept by developing the Mid-California International Trade District, a growing logistics and manufacturing hub in Merced County. Building on this effort, a group of business leaders and the Central Valley Community Foundation initiated the California Inland Port Feasibility Analysis (CIPFA) which set out to determine whether it would be feasible to establish a rail-served inland port project in California.

Based upon an analysis completed in spring 2020, proposed intermodal rail service would provide a significant reduction in annual emissions for cargo being shipped in and out of the San Joaquin Valley. Nitric oxide (NOx) emissions, the primary byproduct of burning fossil fuel, would be reduced by up to 83% while greenhouse gas emissions, such as ozone, would be reduced by up to 93%, according to a feasibility conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council. Moving large quantities of freight via rail would remove some freight trucks from the public highways, reducing congestion, improving traffic flow and safety on Highways 101, 99 and I-5.

Industry is On Board
The feasibility study also gathered input from key sectors of the shipping industry including large agricultural exporters, key exporters of manufactured products, inbound retailers, logistical companies like Amazon, and trucking companies and ocean carriers.  “In general, the input strongly suggested that industry felt that the introduction of intermodal rail through the California market would be beneficial to their current business and would support increased business in the future,” the report stated. “In terms of today’s condition, there was an overwhelming desire for reductions in shipping costs and more surety about stable logistics solutions to support growth.”

Agricultural processors, such as Tulare County citrus, indicated a desire for far more efficient field-to-port logistics.  They indicated that lower costs would increase their profit margins and support increased export production. Distribution centers, like Walmart, Joann’s and Amazon in Tulare County, saw rail as a way to offset shipping cost through fuel reductions and dynamics. Due to the challenges of securing drivers for longer hauls, the trucking community reacted positively to the concept of increased rail service to key hubs in the Central Valley.  They felt that an intermodal rail inland port would reduce their exposure to running longer haul trucks into the Los Angeles traffic zone and reduce their exposure to long wait times at the ports. Serving intermodal hubs in the Central Valley would allow them to substitute shorter and more profitable routes and would allow them to retain drivers.

Pulling Forward
The Inland Ports project is currently in Phase two of its feasibility study determining market readiness, industry acceptance, estimating costs and competitive impacts to the region while preparing for the environmental process moving forward. This phase is where the Executive Advisory Group (EAG) is formed, helping to inform decision making as the study moves forward. All major stakeholders will have a role in this group. The private sector, including major shippers and experts, will inform the EAG through a Shipper’s Committee. Phase Two is fully funded and is proceeding through GLDPartners under the management of the Fresno Council of Governments.

Phase Three will move the project forward to the delivery stage, detail a project financial performance model, develop a business plan for green, high-efficiency logistics/investment hubs around intermodal facilities, plan for an intermodal facility site selection, develop detailed capital cost programs, deliver a railroad agreement to collaborate, and develop public-private delivery options. Phase Three received a Caltrans Strategic Partnership grant for $388,000 in the 2021-22 funding cycle.

High-speed rail between San Jose, Central Valley receives final EIR certification

High-speed rail between San Jose and the Central Valley took a step closer to becoming reality after the final environmental impact report was certified Thursday. In a unanimous vote, the High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors approved the 90-mile section stretching from Diridon Station in San Jose to Merced. “Today’s approval represents another major milestone and brings us one step closer to delivering high-speed rail between the Silicon Valley and the Central Valley,” Authority CEO Brian Kelly said in a statement. “The Authority is poised to make the vision of high-speed rail in the Bay Area a reality.” The approval moves the project closer to being “shovel ready” once funding becomes available, officials said. Currently, construction is underway between Madera County and Bakersfield in the Central Valley.

Once high-speed rail is complete between San Jose and Fresno, officials said the travel time between the two cities would be one hour, compared to three hours by car. “Completion of this critically important high-speed rail project helps the state expand economic opportunity and affordable housing, two critical goals for all of us,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. In its decision, the board selected “Alternative 4” out of the four alignments studied. As part of the project, the existing rail corridor between San Jose and Gilroy would be electrified, allowing for both high-speed rail and Caltrain service. From Gilroy, the rail line would head east into the Central Valley, with 15 miles of tunnels through the Pacheco Pass in the Diablo Range. “Next to San Jose, Gilroy will be the next most significant transit hub on this stretch,” Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley said, noting the city’s transit center is “very much ready for this to happen.”

Despite years of delays and cost overruns, the project, which aims to connect the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California with high-speed trains, continues to have high support. A recent poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found Californians back high-speed rail by a five-to-three margin. According to officials, 400 miles out of the 500 mile alignment of the system have been environmentally cleared. Sections that remain to be cleared include San Francisco to San Jose, Palmdale to Burbank and Los Angeles to Anaheim. The agency’s board of directors said it would consider final EIR certification for the San Francisco to San Jose segment this summer.

Biodiesel refinery celebrates expansion that makes it largest of its kind in Western U.S.

A clean-energy project two years and more than $40 million in the making got a proper christening Thursday as Denver-based Crimson Renewable Energy Holdings LLC celebrated an expansion that cements its position as the largest producer of ultra-low carbon biodiesel in the Western United States. The company’s 11-year-old biodiesel plant along Millux Road a half-hour south and west of Bakersfield can now process an extra 13.3 million gallons per year of biodiesel made primarily from recycled cooking oil, trap grease and rendered animal fats. Its total capacity is now close to 50 million gallons per year, or about 3,300 barrels daily. Crimson’s expansion, supported by the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and funded in part by a $9.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission, builds on Kern County’s profile as the state’s leading producer of renewable energy and biofuels. Not only can the 56-acre plant process more materials than before, but it can also refine a wider variety of feedstocks from across the West, such as brown grease. “You can think of this as a kind of specialized recycling facility,” said President and CEO Harry Simpson of plant operator Crimson Renewable Energy LP. He added that there is no other facility like it in the country.

Biodiesel is generally blended with petroleum fuels on a 20 percent basis to reduce emissions of fine particulates and greenhouse gases. It is primarily used to fuel tractor-trailers traveling through the valley. For properly equipped vehicles, it can be used 100 percent in place of conventional diesel fuel. On Thursday, the plant literally hummed with activity under towering cylindrical tanks and two massive structures of intertwined pipes, vents and valves. Men in hardhats kept dozens of visitors on strict safety protocols amid a mildly pungent odor. CEO Markus Dielacher at the Austrian-based company that helped design and build the project, BDI BioEnergy International, said a plant with similar capabilities opened in January in Hungary, and another is planned for Belgium. The only byproduct is glycerine, which he said can be used in industrial applications. State officials commended Simpson and his company for helping California make progress toward its 2035 goal of carbon neutrality.

Executive Director Richard Corey of the California Air Resources Board said about half the state’s greenhouse gas emissions come from petroleum. But achieving the state’s climate goals won’t be as easy as suddenly switching to electric vehicles, he said: Biodiesel will be an important part of the solution. “The fact of the matter is, you can’t electrify everything,” Corey said. “We’re going to be on liquid fuels for quite some time.” Crimson employs 72 people, together with one of its sister companies nearby, Delta Trading LP, which handles and stores petroleum and renewable fuels coming in by railroad.