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The Buckhorn

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Winters Express
312 Railroad Avenue, Winters, CA 95694
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Future of PG&E
training facility
still undecided

Hotel projects hinge on PG&E
training facility
construction


By DEBRA DeANGELO
Express editor
Although Winters residents, businesses and city staff have embraced the proposed PG&E training facility with open arms, PG&E still hasn’t signed on the dotted line. Discussions with PG&E staff and city staff have been ongoing over the last several months, and engineers from both entities are interacting, but the decision to make the plan a reality remains just out of grasp at the city’s fingertips.
City Manager John Donlevy says city and PG&E staff have meet as recently as this week, but the final decision still hasn’t materialized. But, he said it will hopefully be soon.
“The magic’s gonna be either next week, or the following week,” said Donlevy, referring to the chain reaction that is anticipated with the construction of the project, including improvements to the Putah Creek Nature Park Trail, the construction of a downtown boutique hotel and the possible construction of one or more hotels near the Chevron station on East Grant Avenue and possibly in that area across from Grant Avenue as well.
Donlevy says PG&E is still at the “due diligence” stage, checking into all the various things that can impact a project, from traffic to environmental concerns. Recently PG&E was having the soil tested on the two properties involved, which are located on East Grant Avenue, east of Red Bud Lane and commonly called “the McClish property” and “the Jordan property.”
“PG&E is very cautious. They want to cover all their bases by doing a full-scope EIR (Environmental Impact Report),” says Donlevy, acknowledging that there were some “ag contamination” issues on the both the McClish and Jordan properties that must be addressed.
Besides environmental studies, Donlevy says the city has already provided a “processing calendar” to PG&E, and has consultant Heidi Tschudin and city engineer Alan Mitchell working closely with PG&E staff.
Donlevy confirms that PG&E has been considering other areas for their state of the art natural gas line training facility over the past several months, but he thinks Winters’ chances are still excellent, estimating “about 85 percent chance that they will come here.”
“Winters is still the preferred location,” asserts Donlevy, noting that there are two other local contenders, which he did not name.
PG&E of course has been dealing with hefty fines related to the San Bruno explosions issued over the summer, which certainly has commanded the bulk of their attention and may have delayed a final decision on the training facility. Donlevy would only say that they are having “internal issues and are working through them.” Unfortunately, multiple emails and phone calls from the Express to PG&E’s public relations officer have gone unanswered, so PG&E’s exact position on the delay or what other options they are considering is yet unknown.
“There’s a very intense debate within PG&E on what’s going to go where” says Donlevy.
Despite the delay in tying the knot on this deal, Donlevy says, “I think we’re solidly there,” noting that city and PG&E staff recently pored over designs for the building and included both the planning commission and city council in the discussion. PG&E staff also provided the most recent site plan for the facility. One significant change is that PG&E would like to move the facility closer to Interstate 505, which Donlevy endorses.
“We really like their site plan. It takes elements that would make noise out by the freeway,” says Donlevy, noting that this new plan moves the facility an additional 500 feet away from homes on Red Bud Lane. The excavation training area would then be located on the east side of property and south toward Putah Creek.
In the event that all the wrinkles are smoothed out, and the project goes forward as hoped, Donlevy expects the facility would break ground late next summer. The construction schedule would then affect plans for new hotels.
“It will impact the hotel decisions,” says Donlevy. “The prospect of PG&E developing a facility has a big impact on whether we get one or two hotels here. We know that Winters can support at least one hotel. The ability to support two without PG&E facility would probably be an issue.”
And if it all falls through? Donlevy says he expects that the downtown hotel project could still happen.
“The highest priority is the downtown hotel. We want the downtown project. Most likely, anything that goes downtown will be small — 50 rooms, versus anything that goes out by freeway will probably be 70 or more.”
Considered to be in the funning for the projects are “Royal Guests,” for the downtown hotel project. The developers currently run the Aggie Inn, the Palm Court Hotel and Café Bernardo in Davis. Donlevy did not name the potential developers of hotels near the PG&E facility, but said that one is expected to be a Best Western, to be located adjacent to Chevron. The developer is “a combination of Chevron owners and potential investors,” who Donlevy says do not yet want to be identified.
But all of this depends on what PG&E does next.
“I think if PG&E is in here, the downtown hotel project will blast off. If it gets going, we will see both hotels get hustling very quickly. They’ll need a place for construction workers to stay and it will provide a marketplace.”
Donlevy said an announcement from PG&E should be forthcoming. As for a story in an area newspaper on Sept. 16 stating that Diede Construction already has an approved project to build a Best Western hotel in Winters, Donlevy stated that although he is familiar with the developer, the story is completely untrue and that no decision on this project has been made.