Council clears the way for modern logistics center on Grant Line Road

Plans for a large industrial building on 86 acres along the south side of Grant Line Road were cleared by the Tracy City Council on Tuesday. The project applicant was Prologis, developer of much of the land in the 870-acre Northeast Industrial Area as well as the International Park of Commerce on the west side of town. No mention was made during the council’s discussion of the potential user of the building, which is referred to as “Project Big Bird.”

In order to clear the project for development the Tracy City Council needed to approve an amendment to the Northeast Industrial Area Specific Plan, allowing buildings in the area to be as high as 125 feet, more than twice the height now allowed under that plan, provided the building is at least 250 feet from any property line. The council approved that amendment on a unanimous vote. The council also unanimously approved the development review for the building, which will be between Skylark Way and Chrisman Road, with the developer building a realigned Paradise Road at the south side of the project.

The footprint of 823,522 square feet includes 55,808 square feet of office space on the north side of the building and 767,714 square feet of warehouse space on the ground floor. Four levels of 133,024-square-foot robotics-occupied sorting floors above the ground floor bring it to a height of 99 feet with 1,355,618 square feet of space. In addition, each of the upper floors has 532,466 square feet of robotic storage platforms, accounting for another 2.1 million square feet of storage space. The project also includes a parking lot for more than 1,800 cars and more than 230 trailers between the building and Grant Line Road. All 40 loading dock bays would be on the south side of the building.

Representatives of Prologis’ San Francisco office would not identify the potential user, citing client confidentiality. Plans included with the city staff report include a drawing that depicts signage for Amazon, and another shows an Amazon logo on the side of the building. A representative of Amazon would not confirm if Amazon is the user, noting that the company does not comment on its future plans. Amazon has three major centers in town, including its OAK4 fulfillment center, opened in 2013, just south of the new building. Two more, including one that opened this week, are located in the Prologis International Park of Commerce on the west side of town. Ali Harandi, investment officer with Prologis, described Project Big Bird to the city council, without naming the user, as the type of facility that defines modern logistics. “The building is impressive. It represents the future of logistics in fulfillment real estate,” Harandi told the council. “Upon completion in 2022 the building is going to be the flagship of our client’s portfolio. It will retain over 700 city of Tracy jobs, good-paying jobs, while adding an additional 300 manufacturing jobs for the neighboring facility that they occupy. These are higher-paying managerial logistics jobs with heavy engineering and robotics inside of the building. “Also, it will probably generate hundreds of construction jobs, and these aren’t really short-term construction jobs. Based on the sophistication of this build this is going to be a 14- to 18-month construction duration.”

During the public comment part of the hearing several representatives of labor groups endorsed the project and recommended approval, citing the local jobs that such a large construction project would bring to Tracy and San Joaquin County. The council’s discussion about the project focused in part on what the new height limit would mean for the city, with fire protection a primary concern. South San Joaquin County Fire Authority Chief Randall Bradley told the council that after meeting with city staff and representatives of Prologis he is supportive of the project. The challenge for the fire department is that at 99 feet, Project Big Bird is about 40 to 50 feet taller than neighboring buildings, such as Crate and Barrel and Amazon’s OAK4. “While we’re supportive of the project, I do want to go on record as saying that this building is a very tall building, and once you exceed 75 feet it really changes from a suburban fire protection model to an urban fire protection model,” Bradley said.

Council members also cited the local jobs in voicing their support. “I think this is an incredible project,” said Councilman Dan Arriola. “As a council we so often depend on our economic development team to bring in new jobs into the city. This is one of those few opportunities we have as a council to enact policy which itself creates jobs which are those middle class prevailing-wage jobs, and really enhances and builds up that middle class.” The only issue where the council had a split vote was on a resolution that identified a $4 million community benefit that Prologis would provide. The language of the resolution cited a multi-purpose gymnasium “or similar recreational amenity,” but council members Rhodesia Ransom and Nancy Young dissented, stating that they expected a commitment to having the gymnasium as that benefit.

https://www.ttownmedia.com/tracy_press/news/council-clears-the-way-for-modern-logistics-center-on-grant-line-road/article_1582a28c-2531-11eb-b101-d7581b3b963e.html

Investing in the Port of Stockton, Building a natural American Soda Ash Terminal

Denmar U.S. is proposing to build and operate a new, state-of-the-art export facility for American natural soda ash at the Port of Stockton, California. This facility will represent a robust and lasting investment in Stockton and San Joaquin County, helping the Port grow the local economy while ensuring Denmar can help meet the global demand for a domestically-produced, naturally occurring product.

Soda ash is an essential raw material used most frequently in the manufacturing of glass, as well as detergents, electric car batteries, and other household products. Used in manufacturing for more than 5,000 years, Denmar’s American natural soda ash is derived from Green River, WY in the largest natural deposit of soda ash in the world.

Our goal is to build a modern, safe and reliable export facility to help meet the growing global demand for American natural soda ash. Ideally located to reach global markets, the Port of Stockton offers existing infrastructure that will allow us to operate a facility with enough capacity to meet the demand for this important domestic commodity. To ensure the project moves forward supporting local jobs, Denmar U.S. entered into a Letter-Of-Intent with the San Joaquin Building Trades Council for construction and will hire locally from Stockton’s strong workforce.

https://denmarus.com/

Robot-building siblings from Clovis have won some big money. Now, they plan to team up

Clovis North student John Benedict Estrada recently took home the $50,000 grand prize at the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. “It was a big shock, and I honestly didn’t expect anything, so hearing my name being called was really surprising, really exciting. That whole weekend was just really exciting from the win,” Estrada said. His model, a robot that detects plant drought, won him the grand prize. If a robot that detects how plant thirst sounds familiar to you, that is because another student also placed in a science fair recently.

Estrada’s sister, Pauline Victoria Allasas Estrada, a Granite Ridge Intermediate School student, won $10,000 in the national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics middle school competition the Broadcom Masters with a similar device during the fall of 2020. Although both models have the same function, they work differently and show off duo’s ingenuity and engineering talents. Both siblings had the opportunity to enter international science fairs due to their Fresno County science fair participation.

In fact, according to Jennifer Weibert, the Fresno County fair director, participating in the county fair could open doors for others the same why it did for the Estradas. “In my opinion, his win is amazing, and so I hope it opens the doors for more parents and students to be aware that this opportunity exists in Fresno. So, take advantage of it because it can change your life,” Weibert said.

Every year the Fresno County fair sends four kids to participate in the international science fair. The county covers all expenses for the final four participating students. “We have about 100 kids who enter in the high school division, and they can come from anywhere in the region. Because we are one of the only fairs in central California, besides Bakersfield or Sacramento, that gives kids a chance to move on to the international level,” Weibert said.

Estrada’s first-place project uses a robotic arm with an infrared camera to measure the light reflecting off of bell peppers. The infrared can help farmers identify “at-risk” plants, which will help them determine what measures need to be taken before long-term damage occurs. Estrada’s sister, Allasas Estrada, also uses an infrared camera; however, her model is a rover, and it detects drought stress from the ground. Ultimately both models will help farmers deal with a problem that has plagued Central Valley farmers for decades. “The $50,000 I won is going to be for a scholarship for college. Right now, my main focus is continuing to improve my project for the future because I already have some plans for what I want to do with my project later,” Estrada said. Both siblings hope to team up during next year’s science fair as high school students.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/robot-building-siblings-from-clovis-have-won-some-big-money-now-they-plan-to-team-up/ar-AAKZYJw?ocid=uxbndlbing

Major affordable housing project coming to Porterville

The Porterville City Council took swift action during its meeting on Tuesday on two matters that should substantially help deal with the issues of homelessness and providing services for the most vulnerable in the community. The council approved $20 million in financing to come through a state agency for an 80-unit affordable housing development to be located at 385 South E. Street. In addition, the council also approved a $175,000 grant for the Central California Family Crisis Center.

The Chicago based real estate company UPholdings is spearheading the affordable housing project. A representative from the company said the project is now fully funded and construction on the project is scheduled to begin in October. The company hopes to have the facility open by the spring of 2022. The Finca Serena Affordable Housing project will be located on 3 acres. The complex will also feature services to help those living in the development such as computers for job searching. Input was sought on what other services needs to be provided at the complex as well.

It’s planned for 40 of the units to be for housing the homeless and the other 40 units to be available to the general public. Those 40 units will be designed to be high quality, low income housing. The project is being termed as an Affordable and Permanent Support Housing Project. The project is the first of its kind in the Central Valley. Financing of the $20 million for the project is being done through the California Municipal Finance Authority which was created to help finance economic, cultural and community development and charitable causes in cities throughout the state.

The CMFA will issue $20 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project, which will be a multi-family rental housing facility for low-income households and to provide permanent, supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness and chronic homelessness. The city staff report stated “the City will have no financial, legal, moral obligation, liability or responsibility for the Project or the repayment of the Bonds for the financing of the Project.” The $175,000 grant awarded to CCFCC located at 211 N. Main comes a Community Development Block Grant funded by the federal CARES Act.

CCFCC stated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has had to reduce its in-person services, close its thrift store and has also sustained a reduction in grant funding. CCFCC said without the $175,000 grant it would have to reduce staff and cut additional services. CCFCC offers programs designed to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence, the homeless and their children.

https://www.recorderonline.com/news/major-affordable-housing-project-coming-to-porterville/article_316005e4-cf86-11eb-ab97-c355968f6067.html

SOLAR FIRM SELECTS SOUTH VALLEY FOR 300,000 SQUARE-FOOT WAREHOUSE

The Visalia Industrial Park snagged another high profile company this week as residential solar installer Sunrun agreed to lease a 300,000 square-foot industrial building on Riggin Avenue, across from Amazon. The building is one of two twin, tilt-up buildings recently completed by Visalia contractor BJ Perch and are ready for occupancy.

The buildings are owned by YS Buildings, LLC of Los Angeles. Agent for the company Freddie Molina says he has a signed agreement with the solar firm, which wants to start moving into the building right away. Molina continues to be active in building “spec buildings” — constructed before a tenant commits — in the Visalia Industrial park and plans more.

Molina says Sunrun will distribute solar panels and battery storage units used on homes across California. As for the number of jobs, no number has been confirmed. At least for now, Sunrun is not returning phone calls seeking more information. Both Fresno and Visalia brag they are strategically located mid-state to reach the Western US market in 2/3 days by ground transportation and one day to reach both the Bay Area and Southland. But Visalia had the availability of a large distribution building ready to lease — unlike Fresno, where supply is said to be limited.

Bay Area-based Sunrun is one of the nation’s top solar companies and the residential installation leader said to control about 25% of the market, according to Barron’s. Besides rooftop panels, the company now sells its rechargeable solar battery system, Brightbox, as of last year. Another recent development: In late 2020 the company announced the purchase of former rival Vivint Solar. Sunrun recently said it has more than 550,000 customers and an 18% year over year improvement including Vivint Solar. Besides installation of these energy units, SunRun is the largest provider of third-party-system finance for solar in the US.

Sunrun argues home owners will be better off with solar. “In December, PG&E, the largest utility in California, announced that customers will be hit with an average rate increase of 8%. Just this month many homeowners in Texas have been surprised with skyrocketing bills, many over $10,000. Utility rates have been increasing across the country, with retail rates in our markets increasing 3% per year on average for the last 15 year.”

In their most recent financial report, Sunrun raised its installed growth rate estimate to 25-30% for the year, and said that “the strong momentum that we saw in the fourth quarter has continued into 2021.” Sunrun maintained its position as the largest residential solar installer in the U.S. in the last quarter of 2019.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/solar-firm-selects-south-valley-for-300000-square-foot-warehouse/

2021’s Best California Wine Counties

California is the nation’s wine garden and wine cellar, but which counties produce the most award-winning reds and whites, host the most wine tours, and are most popular and affordable for wine connoisseurs to visit?

Is Napa County tops in all categories? Nada. Napa didn’t even produce the most award-winning wines in 2019-2020.

LawnStarter ranked California’s counties on the number of wine producers, wine tours, and award-winning wines. We also looked at wine tour reviews and the number and price ranges of hotels and B&Bs around the wineries.

Below, check out our ranking of wine counties in the Golden State, highlights and lowlights, and experts commenting on what makes California wines so special.

https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/studies/best-california-wine-counties/#rankings

 

Why tech giant Samsung wants to give these Tulare school students thousands of dollars

A group of Tulare Union High School students recently took home top honors at the national Samsung Solve for Tomorrow engineering competition. The students, led by teacher Erik York captured the Community Choice Award for their device that uses artificial intelligence to alert drivers about other vehicles, approaching intersections, and traffic lights, among other features.

The Tulare-based robotics team finished the competition’s top 10 and, along with winning the Community Choice Award, claimed about $80,000 in prize money. “It still doesn’t feel real,” said lead student engineer Jayen Bhakta. “I’m still in shock that a company like Samsung has awarded us a win.” At least some of the prize money will help the school purchase laptops for students. The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest is a national competition that gives students real-world problems to solve. Before entering the competition, York and his students experimented with artificial intelligence and felt the competition would be an excellent opportunity to flex their new skills.

STEM education is growing in importance in our country. According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 24%, while other occupations are growing at 4%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. STEM education also has other benefits. It teaches kids critical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. “A big role of our STEM program is to expose students to the different careers that are available in STEM. Different aspects of engineering and manufacturing, so we are putting a lot of those skills and a lot of those job opportunities in the hands of the students. It’s a hands-on course where they are using a lot of the materials,” York said. “This is further than we initially thought we ever could go. We set the bar so that next year’s kids can hopefully go even higher and hopefully win the grand prize of $130k,” Bhakta said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”

https://www.fresnobee.com/news/local/education-lab/article251539018.html

Merced College breaks ground on new Ag complex

Merced College supporters and government leaders joined in with educators to break ground Wednesday on the 29,000-square-foot Raj Kahlon Agriculture and Industrial Technology Complex, kicking off construction of the first new building on campus in more than a decade. “Merced College has been educating students in agriculture and related fields for decades in the historically underserved San Joaquin Valley,” said California’s Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who attended the event along with U.S. Rep. Jim Costa and State Assembly member Adam Gray. “Countless students in this region will benefit from this beautiful new space, and in turn they will bring benefits back to the region through their education and service. The future is bright in Merced.”

The ceremony highlighted the college’s flagship agricultural programs. Once moved into the state-of-the-art building, the program will be positioned to train more students for well-paying and plentiful jobs in agriculture, industrial technology, and other related workforce programs in this region. “This is a capital project many years in the making,” Merced College President Chris Vitellisaid. “As an agricultural community, and an institution of higher education committed to training our future workforce in ag and related industries, we are proud to provide this incredible new facility to better serve our students, faculty and partners.”

Assembly member Gray said: “This really shows what happens when state, local, and private resources all come together in the right way. Raj Kahlon’s generosity and President Vitelli’s leadership made this an easy sell. Working together, we brought then Lt. Governor Newsom down to tour Merced College and learn about this project firsthand. Just a few months later, we delivered by securing the final piece of funding in the State Budget. Sometimes we have to fight a little bit harder to get the recognition we deserve in the Valley, but in this case, I am proud to say we got our fair share.” Congressman Costa added, “It fills me with pride that Valley students who want to dedicate their lives to agriculture production will have a new, high-tech facility to hone their craft,” Costa said. “California agriculture feeds the world! I’m honored to have Lt. Gov. Kounalakishere to see how underserved students from the San Joaquin Valley have the opportunity to train for a career that has an impact across the globe.”

The Merced College Board of Trustees approved the $20,971,000 construction bid from F&H Construction out of Lodi on May 11. The full cost of the project will be $24,894,000. The Merced College AgIT building is a publicly funded project using $12.6 million from a 2002 local bond and $12.3 million in matching funds from the state via Proposition 51, a community college capital projects bond from 2016. Local farmer Raj Kahlon is contributing $5 million through a venture partnership with the college. It is the largest donation commitment in school history and the funds will go towards ongoing support of the agricultural programs. As a result, the complex is named after Kahlon. Construction is expected to take 15 months and should be completed in August 2022.

Darden Architects out of Fresno designed the complex on the northern edge of campus. Darden is a frequent collaborator with the College, having also designed the Plaza Project, the first phase of which was completed in 2019. The animal science, crop science, plant science and horticulture programs will move out of buildings original to the campus from the 1970s when they take up residence in the new AgIT building next year. The project will include new labs and an upgrade in training equipment for industrial technology programs in HVAC, industrial maintenance, electronics and computer networking.

Merced College ag department faculty, who had occupied offices in a handful of different buildings since the College opened, will now have a central home in the AgIT complex. The complex will also house conference rooms for staff and a dedicated room for agstudent leadership groups. There will be a courtyard area for events and a multi-use room that can accommodate large groups or be split into two classrooms.

https://mercedcountytimes.com/merced-college-breaks-ground-on-new-ag-complex/

Turlock-based solar company expanding quickly to meet demand

One of the nation’s fastest-growing solar energy companies has helped thousands across five different states make the switch to solar since it was founded in 2017, and its home office is right here in Turlock. Solar Energy Partners was first started four years ago by brothers Alex and Clint Williams along with Dave Madrid, who each had decades of experience in the solar industry already. The company offers a “white glove” service in researching, comparing, selecting and installing residential solar panels for customers, saving homeowners nearly $118 million since they first began.

SEP grew at an astounding rate of 500% during the pandemic, most recently announcing a merger with another solar company, The Standard — a move which will allow the company to expand its footprint into several other states in addition to those where they are already established, including California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas.  Though their corporate office is located in Turlock, SEP installs solar panels on homes whose owners are mainly Pacific Gas and Electric customers, Alex Williams said, as Turlock Irrigation District bills its customers for solar differently. TID customers with solar panels are billed according to a self-generation rate, which include time-of-use energy charges, whereas PG&E customers are able to see unused energy “rollover” to the next month.

In 2014, TID set a 5% cap for installed net metering meaning that once the limit was hit, new solar installations no longer qualified for the previous net metering program, which includes the opportunity to aggregate multiple solar systems or being netted on an annual basis.  “In Turlock, there are two groups of people who have solar,” Williams said. “They’re either in that original 5%, or they’re someone who wasn’t as worried about the economics of it and wanted solar so that they could be a part of the solution. Or, they’re just tech-savvy and want the latest solar technology. “Solar isn’t just the smarter way to do power financially for a lot of people, it’s the smarter way to do it period.”

As a result of the merger with The Standard, SEP now has 500 contractors throughout the five states where they operate, including California offices in Santa Rosa, San Jose, Stockton, Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego in addition to Turlock. Recent figures released by NASA show that 2020 came in close second to 2016 for the hottest year in recorded history, pushing 2019 to third place. With the increased heat has come increased solar popularity, both for energy cost savings as well as environmental purposes, Williams said.

The company is also constantly recruiting employees for its rapidly expanding business, with most making up to $100,000 per year according to Williams. Projections from Allied Market Research predict that the solar industry should reach $223.3 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 20.5% from 2019 to 2026.

While most looking to switch to solar energy are hoping for quick savings, Williams encouraged them to look at the long-term picture. “If you switch to solar because you want your bill to be lower next month you might be disappointed, but if you look at it on a longer scale the savings are there,” Williams said, noting most solar panels last up to 30 years. “Of course, on the 30-year scale there’s still a huge economic benefit to it, but the reality is that going solar is just the right thing to do. “If everybody just did the right thing, what kind of world would we live in?”

https://www.turlockjournal.com/news/local/turlock-based-solar-company-expanding-quickly-meet-demand/