Pacific Coast Business Times Proudly serving Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties Fri, 22 May 2015 23:39:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Oil pipeline owners may face more than fines for Santa Barbara County spill Fri, 22 May 2015 23:05:17 +0000 A California Highway Patrol officer warns volunteers who showed up May 20 to clean up oil near Refugio State Beach from a 21,000-gallon pipeline spill to leave the area because it was too hazardous. Photo by Debra Giles

A California Highway Patrol officer warns volunteers who showed up May 20 to clean up oil near Refugio State Beach from a 21,000-gallon pipeline spill to leave the area because it was too hazardous.
Photo by Debra Giles

Officials at Plains All American Pipeline might have more than fines to worry about in the wake of the estimated 105,000-gallon oil spill May 19 that soiled Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris on Friday said her office is actively working with the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office and state and federal agencies to investigate the incident.

“California’s coastline is one of the state’s most precious natural treasures. This oil spill has scarred the scenic Santa Barbara coast, natural habitats and wildlife.  My office is working closely with our state and federal partners on an investigation of this conduct to ensure we hold responsible parties accountable,” said Harris.

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Cal Poly gets $500,000 grant for technology park planning Fri, 22 May 2015 21:37:41 +0000 Students on the campus of California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) in San Luis Obispo, California, U.S., on Friday, September 20, 2013. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Students on the campus of California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) in San Luis Obispo, California, U.S., on Friday, September 20, 2013. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg


California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo recently received $498,286 to further plan the expansion of its technology park.

Thanks to the award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, university officials hope to turn the development into a master planned “Innovation Complex.”

Cal Poly was one of 12 universities and economic development organizations around the country to receive an award from the EDA’s 2014 Science and Research Park Development Grants program.

Jim Dunning, head of the Office of Research & Economic Development for Cal Poly, broke the news to supporters of the project in an email.

“We received good news this morning. The EDA selected Cal Poly’s proposal to conduct planning studies for the next phase of the Technology Park on campus. This was a very competitive program,” he wrote.

The funds will go toward market feasibility and programming studies so that the build-out of the Cal Poly Innovation Complex meets the needs of the university and the region for the next 20-30 years, according to information from the EDA.

In a region plagued by low-paying jobs, underemployment, and a lack of affordable housing, the proposed project will help diversify and stimulate the economy by attracting businesses, developing new industry clusters, and creating high-paying jobs. Three common hurdles that local technology companies face in hiring new employees are the lack of high-wage jobs for spouses; the lack of alternatives if the original job proves unsatisfactory; and the high cost of housing. The Technology Park aims to address these hurdles by creating high-paying technical jobs and employment opportunities for professional spouses.

In 2004, Cal Poly commissioned an economic impact estimate of the first 25,000-square-foot technology park building. In that study, it was estimated that 83 jobs would be created, with earnings of $51,000 per job, per year. Using a multiplier to capture the direct and indirect economic impact of these expenditures, it was estimated that payroll impacts were $7.21 million per year.

The total economic impact, when taking into consideration goods and services, tourism and visitors, and new companies created from the tech park building was estimated to be $8.6 million per year. Based on three years of operations in the existing technology park building, Cal Poly estimates that each additional 25,000-square-foot building will add at least $10 million per year in net economic impact to the region.

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New ownership abruptly closes 70 Coco’s and Carrows restaurants, lays off staff Fri, 22 May 2015 18:50:08 +0000 Coco's Bakery Restaurant in Camarillo. (Nik Blaskovich Photo)

Coco’s Bakery Restaurant in Camarillo. (Nik Blaskovich Photo)


It happened almost overnight.

More than 70 Coco’s Bakery Restaurants and Carrows Restaurants were shut down in the span of a few days in early April, including nearly every location in the Tri-Counties.

Food Management Partners, the San Antonio-based firm that bought the chains in late March, closed the doors on many locations so fast, a number of employees’ first notices were after showing up for their shift only to find a note explaining the closure.

FMP issued a previous statement regarding the abrupt closures, saying the stores were underperforming and that difficult decisions were necessary to make the two brands stronger at both the company and franchise levels.

Carrows locations in Santa Barbara, Santa Paula, Ojai, Santa Maria and Oxnard were all shut down. Carrows in Ventura is still open for business. Coco’s in Atascadero, Santa Maria, Ventura and Camarillo were also closed. Locations in Simi Valley and Pismo Beach are still open. The Pismo Beach location is an independently-owned franchise and was unaffected by the mass closures. The Simi Valley location is the only corporate-owned holdout.

A manager at the Simi Valley Coco’s told the Business Times that the restaurant isn’t slated to close, but couldn’t disclose any further information about the other restaurants or their former employees.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the industry publication that originally reported the closures, former employees, unit-level team members and even suppliers weren’t notified until they showed up at the restaurants to work shifts or make deliveries.

Former employees who NRN spoke with said nearly all 100 people were laid off at the company’s Carlsbad headquarters and the closures affect an estimated 3,000 workers.
“I felt horrible, and I still do, for the restaurant managers and line cooks who showed up for work and the door was locked. There was no corporate email, no notification,” one anonymous employee told NRN.

“Some of them show up at 4:30 in the morning, and there’s just a sign on the door.”
Phone calls and emails to both FMP’s director of operations and director of marketing were not returned for this report.

Claims that some employees’ company cars were taken and FMP executives told those affected to find another way home, along with claims that FMP offered no severance pay and was ending medical insurance benefits one week from closing dates, couldn’t be confirmed.

In Santa Maria, the company’s actions are even more suspect. Video from local ABC News affiliate KEYT reportedly showed that just a few days after that location closed, the company disposed of sensitive employee information, including Social Security numbers and addresses, in the dumpster behind the building, which prompted identity theft concerns from former employees.

Now, at least one former employee has filed suit against FMP for failing to give fair notice of the layoffs.

Ronald Ross, who worked at both the Torrance and Compton locations, filed the suit April 8, and is pursuing class action status. The basis for the suit is that FMP didn’t comply with the WARN Act.
The federal WARN Act requires employers of 100 or more workers to give 60 days advance written notice of a plant or facility closing that impacts at least 50 full-time employees.

The WARN Act may also apply in cases of mass layoffs when it impacts between 50 and 499 full-time workers at a single site and that number is 33 percent of employees at the site, or if 500 or more full-time workers at a single site are laid off.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News’ Second 100 report, Coco’s had estimated U.S. systemwide sales of $141.5 million for fiscal 2013, a decline of 2 percent from the previous year. The chain had 113 units at the end of the year. Carrows had estimated domestic systemwide sales of $55.2 million, a 5-percent drop from the prior year. The chain ended fiscal 2013 with 58 units.

Both chains originated with the 1948 purchase of  The Snack Shop in Corona del Mar by John and Audrey McIntosh. The pair grew the concept and eventually morphed it into Coco’s.

The company was eventually sold, along with Carrows, in 2002 to Catalina Restaurant Group. In 2006, the company was a sold to Japan-based Zensho Co., before FMP bought the company in March.
It’s unclear whether FMP has plans to launch new concepts to replace the Coco’s and Carrows.


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Milo takes home top honors at UCSB’s New Venture Competition Fri, 22 May 2015 18:49:49 +0000 Daniel Imberman (left) and Bob Lansdorp are a part of the Milo team that created an electronic wristband that processes sweat to monitor blood alcohol level. Milo took home a total of $20,000 at the UCSB New Venture Competition Thursday evening.

Daniel Imberman (left) and Bob Lansdorp are a part of the Milo team that created an electronic wristband that processes sweat to monitor blood alcohol level. Milo took home a total of $20,000 at the UCSB New Venture Competition Thursday evening.


An electronic wristband that monitors blood alcohol level, eye-tracking software that quantifies advertising analytics and a chemotherapy toxicity screening technology were among the top winners at UC Santa Barbara’s annual New Venture Competition on May 21.

Six teams emerged from an initial 40 to vie for a pool of $41,500 in cash prizes at the competition, which has been around for 16 years and has produced companies like BioIQ, Phone Halo, Sirigen and Inogen. UCSB’s version of the popular TV show “Shark Tank” has paved the way for similar competitions throughout tri-county college and university campuses.

Winning the $10,000 grand prize, $7,500 for the Tech-Driven award category and another $2,500 People’s Choice award, Milo took home the top honors for developing an electronic wristband that monitors blood alcohol level through perspiration. Its sensor converts the ethanol in sweat to electricity to produce a blood alcohol level.

The team argued that personal breathalyzers are inconsistent, inaccurate and conspicuous. While breathalyzers are reactive products that rely on inebriated users to operate a multi-step process,Milo is a proactive solution that alerts users when blood alcohol levels exceed set boundaries, said Daniel Imberman, a UCSB master’s student in computer science.

“We’re in the middle of a sensor evolution,” he said. “There has been an explosion in personalized and wearable technologies all aimed at optimizing our lives.”

Imberman was joined by Evan Strenk, a film and media studies student, Bob Lansdorp, a mechanical engineering student, and Netzahvalcoyotl Arroyo, a post-doctorate student.

“This product has the potential to save lives,” said Imberman, adding that his team plans to market the product through universities and sell Milo in university stores and eventually through e-commerce sites like Amazon and Walmart.

Chemoguard Diagnostics was the second biggest winner, earning $8,500, for developing a screening test that takes a sample of a patient’s cells to predict how they will respond to chemotherapy and personalizing treatment accordingly. The first step to eliminating cancer is to make the drugs work a lot better, said Brett Cook, Chemoguard CEO and UCSB molecular biology graduate student.

“The cost of changing therapy after you show toxicities is really high,” Cook told the Business Times. “Then you let the cancer grow more, you’re in all this pain and you’re immune system is knocked out. So you want to get people on the right drug the first time.”

INSiiGHT, which won $7,500, is business-to-business software that enables advertisers and analytics-minded marketers to quantify what their customers look at, ignore and comprehend via eye-tracking technology.

The other teams included Slightly Nutty, a protein powder made from sustainably raised crickets, a smartphone-based hotel room key called Sesamo, and Caugnate, a visualization software that enables more efficient remote support.

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Big spending on big ideas brings big payoff Fri, 22 May 2015 18:40:24 +0000


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STEM investment, new engineering school at CSU Channel Islands priority Fri, 22 May 2015 18:36:41 +0000 By Jacqui Irwin

Ventura County is home to some of the most exciting and cutting edge companies in the world.

Nationally recognized corporations and entrepreneurial high-technology companies like Amgen, Haas Automation, SemTech, and Teledyne Technologies all have a footprint in Ventura County.  Additionally, Ventura County was recently designated as one of the state’s four innovation hubs designed to spur job growth in these industries. While this is good news for our community and the local economy, the bad news is that the county lacks enough qualified people to fill the jobs.  I believe that by creating an engineering school at CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) we will be in a better position to support our existing industries and encourage new companies to locate here.

Pacific Coast Business Times published an article on May 8, 2015 indicating how an engineering school at the youngest CSU could significantly help our local economy. According to that article, these high-tech businesses make up the Highway 101 Tech Corridor and offer hundreds of engineering jobs but often must hire employees from outside the region.

An engineering program at CSUCI is a natural progression for this growing university. It is essential for preparing students for the 21st century job market, and is also one of my top legislative priorities for my first term in office. The presence of an engineering program will enable CSUCI to better serve the needs of the regional economy and the state as a whole.

Ventura County sits between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties and while colleges and universities in both counties offer a strong engineering program, our region doesn’t. This causes us to have to compete with them to retain our workforce.

In 2012, CSUCI conducted a regional assessment of the need for an engineering school on campus.  The study found that Ventura County in particular suffers from a shortage of engineers compared to the neighboring counties of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.  Further, the study found that nearly half of the Ventura County employers that were interviewed are planning on hiring more engineers beyond the natural attrition rate. Due to this demand, CSUCI is in a unique position to attract and retain engineering talent in Ventura County.  Establishing an engineering school will address the needs of the regional economy by better preparing for the expanding job market.

Providing the opportunity to study engineering at CSUCI will be particularly impactful because it will offer access to groups that are typically underrepresented in engineering and STEM careers. Women earn nearly 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, but in California only 15 percent of engineering graduates are women.

According to a report from the American Association of University Women titled Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, expanding and developing the STEM workforce is a critical issue for government, industry leaders, and educators.

In addition, over the last decade less than 10 percent of engineering graduates have been Latino.  CSUCI is in a position to help provide more balance in this arena as 70 percent of the student body is female and the school is recognized as a “Hispanic-serving institution” where approximately 40 percent of undergraduates are Latino. This investment at CSUCI will provide opportunities for women and Latinos in engineering and other STEM careers.

CSUCI is proposing a measured approach to establishing the engineering school. It would begin by creating a Mechatronics major, which has been identified as an engineering degree in high demand both regionally and throughout the state. CSUCI currently offers a robust curriculum that can serve as the foundation of the new major and it also has several minors with similar requirements. A primary investment of $500,000 per year for the first three years would support three new faculty members and the equipment necessary to launch the program.

In addition, several local companies have expressed interest in supporting an engineering school through internships, campus recruiting and other involvement. This represents a targeted investment that will leverage one of the best areas of potential in California’s higher education system.

In March, I sent a letter to the chair of the Assembly Budget Committee requesting the funds necessary to start the engineering school.  Since then, I’ve had over 50 local organizations also send letters in support of the proposal.  Please join me in supporting this worthwhile investment that can result in an innovative public-private partnership to provide dividends locally and across the state for years to come. Visit and sign the petition to let Sacramento know this is an important priority for Ventura County.

• Jacqui Irwin is a District 44 Assembly member from Thousand Oaks.

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New vision for Isla Vista needs political courage Fri, 22 May 2015 18:32:14 +0000 We went to Goleta’s State of the City luncheon on May 14 and discovered a city in denial.
That’s partly because a decade after cityhood, Goleta has not found a winning formula for revitalizing its Old Town shopping district. New food shops and a sprinkling of sidewalk improvements, heavily touted at the event, simply will not get the job done.

Meanwhile the city is heavily dependent on new hotels for revenue, with TOT taxes now accounting for 34 percent of the city’s take.

But Goleta is not the only one in denial. Santa Barbara County has yet to confront the full-blown impact of last Memorial Day’s tragic rampage in Isla Vista.

One year after the tragedy, both the county and Goleta — a major stakeholder —  remain bitterly divided about what’s required to secure the long-term future of this important technology hub for the region and the state.

On May 20, both the Goleta City Council and Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors cast votes that were narrowly in favor of creating a special tax district to secure additional services for Isla Vista.

A bill that would put the creation of such a district before voters is on the floor of the California Legislature thanks to the efforts of Assembly member Das Williams.  We will know in early June if it passes. Some UC Santa Barbara trustees informally support such a district.

But the bigger problem is that to date only Chancellor Henry Yang and UCSB have stepped up with a larger vision of what needs to be done for Isla Vista and the greater community. New rules for guests, new barriers on the IV bluffs and a host of other improvements have made Isla Vista safer and more secure.
But to truly create a new vision for IV requires political courage and forward thinking, two things that are really missing at the county and within the city of Goleta.

Thanks to the innovation coming forth from UCSB, the Greater Goleta Valley and Isla Vista are emerging as a technology center that deserves a vastly better built environment, large capital expenditures and a much bigger tax base from which to fund civic improvements and enhanced public safety.

That should be the legacy of Isla Vista. Instead we get self-congratulatory palaver over sidewalk improvements in Old Town and an extremely modest proposal to improve public safety funding that may or may not become a reality.

Seventy-five years ago, the Sisters of Saint Francis embarked on a journey to build the largest health care facility between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo in Santa Maria.

On May 20, 1940 they founded the Marian Medical Center in North Santa Barbara County. Since then the hospital has flourished and built a reputation of serving the local population regardless of ability to pay.

Now operating under Dignity Health, Marian Regional Medical Center built a new 191-bed hospital that opened in 2012. It consistently ranks in the top 100 hospitals in the country and won kudos from Consumer Reports and others for low infection rates and successful patient outcomes.
Those are well-deserved kudos.

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