Visalia Times-Delta: Business News And Notes

On one item up for discussion at the latest city council retreat — “what about moving city hall to east Visalia?” — Councilman Warren Gubler says he does not favor relocating the police and fire department from its current location on Johnson any time soon.

“It’s a matter of priorities. I think our next move should be to plan on building a new Civic Center in east Visalia,” he said, noting that “we will get private development to follow.”

Still, that is some years off. In a closer time frame, the relocation of the Visalia Chamber from Santa Fe Avenue will allow the move of city administration to the municipal-owned building from the upper floor of the transit building later this year.

If the city is planning to retain their current Acequia property west of the hospital, Kaweah Delta appears to be planning to continue to move their way. This week the hospital held a closed door meeting that included the possible purchase of the Dr. Tom Mitts property on Acequia. The half-block includes Mitts’ medical building and two others including the old pharmacy. Kaweah Delta already owns the parking lot next to the buildings.

Mitts said when asked, “we told them we would be open to selling. We think a lot of the hospital.” Mitts has been scaling back his practice and says he now works about half time.

The hospital is in the early stages of planning for a second tower now that the state will not allow the old Mineral King wing to used for acute care after 2030.

Furniture store opening

Mor Furniture For Less will be holding their ribbon cutting ceremony on Mooney next Tuesday.

Cold storage expansion

Sundale Vineyards on Lovers Lane has broken ground on two cold storage projects including a new 51,220 square-foot, $4.6 million facility as well as a 21,115 square-foot expansion of an existing cold storage valued at $825,000.

New exec at BIA

Mike Lane has been named executive director of the Building Industry Association of Tulare and Kings counties. He replaces Bob Keenan, who has retired after 25 years leading the organization. Lane was past president and CEO of Lane Engineers Inc.

Local home builders busy

Two local home builders have recently broke ground on large new projects.

San Joaquin Valley Homes has started construction on a 26-acre single-family residential project called San Marino that will offer 95 detached homes in northwest Visalia. A grand opening is tentatively scheduled for April.

“We’re anticipating a very high demand due to a lack of inventory of larger new homes with high-end amenities,” said Lissa Walker, director of marketing for San Joaquin Valley Homes, which is based in Visalia. San Marino, located on a vacant piece of land at Riggin Avenue and South Shirk Road, will offer four floor plans and three elevations with three to six bedrooms. The homes will have tile roofs, courtyards, granite countertops and tile flooring.

Standing in line: Meanwhile, one of the busiest home tracts in the county is in Goshen where Smee Builders has broken ground on Cottontail Hollow — a 110 lot subdivision near Ave 308. Builder Gary Smee says when all phases are add in, there will be more than 300 homes. Prices go from $150,000 to $180,000.

“We got them standing in line to buy the product,” says Smee, in part because of attractive USDA financing offered to low income buyers.

Milk price slump

Exports of milk products in December are down 21 percent from a year earlier and the slump is hitting the dairyman in the pocketbook.

“Our milk prices are down 25 percent from November and it kind of puts a bind in the party,” said Tulare County dairyman Tom Barcellos. The drop in prices follows many months of good returns however, and Barcellos is stoic. “I can’t believe anyone would be surprised that something like this would happen.”

One major factor is the decision by China to shut down purchases of milk products from U.S. suppliers including local co-ops .

The drop in demand has hit member milk checks starting late this summer. “The Chinese appeared to overestimate demand as well as understate their own production.”

Regarding plans by the co-ops to move to a federal order Barcellos, who is president of Western United Dairymen, counsels a wait and see attitude noting the final deal is two years off. “We need to get the best prices from CDFA in the meantime,” he says, “or we will have more dairymen going out of business.”

The industry is Tulare County’s largest.

Pixley Biogas holds grand opening

A project that is the first California digester to use agricultural waste to create renewable natural gas to power another renewable energy facility was dedicated during the farm show this week. The project — Pixley Biogas — was controversial to some, utilizing 1.4 million gallons of dairy waste to power a Pixley ethanol plant.

Lyle Schlyer, President of Calgren Renewable Fuels says, “I am proud of the contribution that Calgren can make to this incredibly green, low-carbon intensity project. Digesters are often talked about, but actually building one and getting it into operation doesn’t happen all that often. This is a marriage of industrial and dairy interests.”

The California Energy Commission recently issued rules that could send the number of digester projects around the state skyrocketing, says one of the companies involved in the venture. Regenis vice president Bryan VanLoo said “Our mission is to reimagine reusable resources. In the case of California, that potential is almost limitless. Utilizing digesters would not only create hundreds of new construction and operation jobs in rural communities like Tulare County, but there is enough organic waste to power 2 to 3 million homes or to generate 2.5 billion gallons of clean, ultra-low carbon transportation fuels.”

Rare agreement on delta fish issue

The State Water Resources Control Board will hold a public workshop Feb 18 on a plan that could send more water south of the Delta. In a rare move of unanimity both federal and state fish and wildlife agencies have joined a bipartisan congressional effort promote “flexibility” in deciding whether to send water south that could help water-starved communities and farmers “in dire need.”

With the state in its fourth year of below average rain, Dan Nelson, director of the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority, says it is heartening to have these agencies on the same page for a change with only the staff executive director at the water board standing in the way. “The full board can unwind that decision Feb. 18,” adds Nelson.

A Feb. 11 letter signed by congressional Democrats and Republicans from the Central Valley and Diane Feinstein urges adoption of the flexibility measure noting that “we are running out of time and water” to make the adjustment.