Vacaville leaders mingle at Chamber breakfast

February 28 2019

The Reporter By Nick Sestanovich | |

PUBLISHED: February 27, 2019 at 4:18 pm 

Everybody who is anybody in Vacaville was at the Opera House Wednesday morning for the Vacaville Chamber of Commerce’s Movers & Shakers Breakfast Summit.

Some of Vacaville’s top community and business leaders got to mingle while learning about the city’s highlights last year and enjoying a breakfast provided by Erica Marie’s Catering.

The guest list included Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Solano; Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Solano; Solano County supervisors Skip Thomson and John Vasquez; Mayor Ron Rowlett; the Vacaville City Council; the Vacaville school board; Solano Community College (SCC) President Celia Esposito-Noy; and Lisette Estrella-Henderson, the superintendent of the Solano County Office of Education. All of these figures were listed in the brochure as “movers.”

“To everyone else in the room, you are the shakers,” Scott Pardini, chairman of the chamber’s Board of Directors, said.

After a 30-minute promotional video highlighting accomplishments of the city, Solano County, Vacaville Unified School District and Solano Community College in the past year, a leaders’ panel was formed for members of the audience to ask questions of. The panel consisted of City Manager Jeremy Craig, Vacaville Unified School District (VUSD) Superintendent Jane Shamieh, Solano County Administrator Birgitta Corsello and Solano EDC Executive Director Bob Burris.

Craig was asked about the status of the East Main District project, a proposed 83-unit in-fill, mixed-use residential and commercial retail development at the corner of Bush, Depot and McClelland streets. Craig said construction drawings were coming through the city and he hopes to see construction begin in the spring.

“Construction’s not really a prime season right now with all the rains, but our hope is that we’ll see movement on that this spring,” he said.

Corey Penrose, a teacher at Vacaville High School, noted that school districts “exist in kind of a silo” and do not interact with the community as much as they could and asked that Shamieh discuss the importance of high quality schools. Craig said the city does not view VUSD as a silo and felt the two agencies had a good relationship. In fact, he said industries primarily look for two things: people who want to live in a community to attend its public schools and a talented workforce.

Shamieh agreed, noting that the growth of its Career Technical Education program has been able to grow with the help of the community.

“When we started developing more courses for Career Technical Ed, we reached out to the community and we looked at, in Solano in particular, all of the careers that are emerging,” she said.

Cheryl Bovee of Solano Mortgage said parking continued to be an issue, particularly downtown and by the Vacaville Premium Outlets, and asked if anything was being done to improve it. Craig said the city was focusing on a “complete streets” concept to encourage transit, walking and biking. However, he said improving parking would continue to be a priority.

“I think parking’s always going to be a bit of a tug of war, but ultimately we’re looking at alternative processes,” he said.

The panel was asked what they considered to be the biggest obstacles and opportunities for the year. Burris said the biggest obstacle for Solano was the lack of visibility. The biggest opportunity, however, was the growth of manufacturing businesses for life sciences, food and beverage, and advanced materials.

“We’re one of the few areas in California that saw a growth in manufacturing jobs compared to a loss,” he said. “We actually, in the last 10 years, increased our manufacturing base by 18 percent. Compare that to Los Angeles where they actually lost 22 percent of their manufacturing jobs over that same period.”

Shamieh said VUSD’s biggest challenges were fiscal matters and facilities. She said the district was doing better than most financially, but it had a slight deficit.

“We’re carrying a healthy fund balance, but as we project out the next few years, we see that fund balance going down if we don’t continue to be more conservative,” she said.

Additionally, Shamieh said VUSD facilities are not as large as they could be. She said the state does not provide much funding for them, and most of the upgrades have been done through Measure A funding. This is expected to create more problems as elementary enrollment is expected to increase.

“We have a couple elementary schools that are pretty large for elementary,” she said. “We’re concerned that we have enough facilities for all of our students.”

On the bright side, Shamieh said technology integration has gone well in the district and that coding has been incorporated into the curriculum as young as kindergarten.

“You have to make sure you’re staying innovative and on cutting edge and moving students forward,” she said.

Craig said many of the items for additional Measure M revenue are coming into fruition, including street and park maintenance, a facility study for renovation at Three Oaks Community Center and updating the city development code.

Challenges highlighted by Craig included unfunded liabilities, remaining stable long term and the retirements of experienced employees. Craig said the city was looking at a succession plan for hiring new employees.

“This is a different generation, and enticing them into government is a challenge,” he said.

Corsello said one of the county’s challenges is getting enough qualified staff to provide services. In terms of opportunity, she said the county has been working to support its partnerships.

“We have a lot closer working relationship with the superintendent of schools, Economic Development (Corporation), with the Transportation Authority,” she said. “The idea is if we can help the community lift, then we lift those that we’re dealing with as well.”