Benicia, county to study industrial park’s economic future

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Reporter

Benicia, county to study industrial park’s economic future

By Todd R. Hansen, March 09, 2016
The Valero refinery in operation in Benicia’s Industrial Park. (Daily Republic file)

FAIRFIELD — Smoke stacks and refinery buildings rise up from what was once a military arsenal site, and five decades later, the evolution of what is now the Benicia Industrial Park continues.

“Our industrial park is quite old,” said Jasmin Powell, president of the Benicia Industrial Park Association and head of operations at Dunlop Manufacturing, which has been at the park since 1972.

“So some of the issues that we have been bringing up (as an association) is higher-speed Internet access, which has gotten better over the last couple of years,” Powell said in a phone interview Tuesday. “And our roads are in need of repair.”

The Solano County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a letter of intent for a Collaborative Economic Development Initiative with Benicia, which could eventually create a redevelopment-style district to finance infrastructure improvements at the industrial park.

The city approved the initiative Feb. 23 and has earmarked $25,000 for a feasibility study that will likely come back to the City Council in June or July, Mario Giuliani, the Benicia Economic Development manager, said in a phone interview Monday.

The central focus of the study is the potential value of establishing an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District to use property tax increments toward improving and building infrastructure at the industrial park.

“Essentially it is another tool . . . for the city to utilize to try to get financing into the industrial park,” Giuliani said. “It is probably the one (option) we are focusing on the most, but that’s not to say that when we do our feasibility study there won’t be other (financing) options.”

In essence, the city would be taking its share of increased property tax in the district area and investing it toward infrastructure. Unlike the defunct redevelopment system, that property does not have to be considered blighted.

Benicia receives 24 cents on each dollar of property tax, money that is typically spread across all general fund uses that include police, fire and city administration, as well as parks and recreation.

Giuliani said one of the things the feasibility study will address is the impact – if any – the loss of tax increments would have on other city services. However, the ultimate goal is that the improvements made would generate even greater tax revenue for all of those services.

“That is a policy decision the City Council will have to make,” Giuliani said.

Also to be determined is whether the county would appropriate its share of the property tax from within the district toward the infrastructure improvements.

Supervisor Linda Seifert, who represents the area, said she will wait and see what the feasibility study shows before deciding what role she would lobby the county to take – including funding options.

“I do have an interest in the county doing what it can to improve (the industrial park),” Seifert said Monday.

Powell said the association has not been part of the city-county discussions, but she was aware such talks were taking place.

On the same night the Benicia council approved the development initiative with the county, it conducted a workshop on a proposed 547-acre mixed-use development within the industrial park.

The Northern Gateway Project, proposed by the Shorts Development Group, targets the same area of the failed Seeno project several years ago. The Shorts Group has a purchasing option on the property. Like the Seeno project, the new proposal does include a residential element.

Seifert said she would not base her decision about county financial support on a specific project, decisions about which she said should be left up to the city and its residents.

The port-oriented industrial park is comprised of 3,000 acres and 7 million square feet of developed space near the junction of Interstates 680 and 780, according to the city’s Office of Economic Development. The park has 450 businesses that employ 6,500 people.

Powell said the park has lost companies because of infrastructure problems, noting specifically Internet access. The city provided about $750,000 for broadband installation in its 2012 budget, and approved $625,000 in a grant/loan program to help park businesses upgrade equipment and buildings.

The law establishing the Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2015. It does not include school district shares of property tax.

Reach Todd R. Hansen at 427-6936 or

This version updates the original to reflect action taken Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.