Pacific Coast Business Times http://www.pacbiztimes.com Proudly serving Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties Sat, 31 Jan 2015 00:16:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Oasis counts on Titan: Tax credits will help add 357 jobs http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/oasis-counts-on-titan-tax-credits-will-help-add-357-jobs/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/oasis-counts-on-titan-tax-credits-will-help-add-357-jobs/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:02:57 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21595 George Baldonado of Oasis Technology with the company’s Titan anti-hacking device. (Nik Blaskovich photo)

George Baldonado of Oasis Technology with the company’s Titan anti-hacking device. (Nik Blaskovich photo)

Oasis Technology, a Camarillo IT firm specializing in cybersecurity, grew its workforce by 50 percent last year. And that is just the beginning.

Thanks to corporate clients’ growing demand for security solutions and $2 million in California tax credits, Oasis plans to multiply its workforce nine-fold and create 357 jobs in the next three years.

The tax credits, announced Jan. 15, are part of a $31 million allocation from Go-Biz, the governor’s office of business development. Oasis is among 56 companies that will receive funds expanding and creating jobs in California.

At the end of 2013, Oasis had just 43 employees. It added 23 over the course of 2014 for a total of 66 but plans to accelerate recruitment even further, bringing on 65 this year to double its workforce. The terms of the credit require Oasis to make at least 357 new hires by the end of fiscal 2018.

Oasis Technology was founded by CEO George Baldonado in 1979 as a custom software outfit. It has since evolved to a multi-purpose hardware, software and IT firm that works with big-name clients such as Amgen and Verizon, which still uses software written by Oasis.

Baldonado said the company will first aim to escalate its sales and marketing efforts. It currently houses these operations in facilities across the Midwest, but Baldonado said the company is working to develop its West Coast sales team.

However, Baldonado said this expansion won’t even show up in its employee count since there is “no way of knowing for sure” what this dispersed and frequently shifting team amounts to.

But Baldonado does keep a close eye on in-house staff working in R&D, support and development programming that build the company’s devices. Oasis’ flagship product, the Titan anti-hacking device, gave it an edge over the other 286 tax credit applicants after a year of high-profile corporate breaches that dealt a blow to business in the state.

The Titan is a black box that users insert — with a downtime of only 30 seconds — between an incoming Internet connection and their existing network to monitor traffic and block hack attempts before they can even reach a firewall.

“We’ve actually found that we protect against hacking better than new-generation firewalls,” Baldonado said. “All the protection happens before the firewall starts, right as soon as that wire comes in from the Internet.”

Baldonado said the tax breaks came at the perfect time, when the Titan is still new in the field but has been fully vetted.

“People have used it and it’s actually working exactly the way we expected it to work,” he said. “Some of our customers don’t want to turn it off for any reason because it’s been so good at protecting their network.”

Early local adopters include the city of Camarillo, Saint Bonaventure High School in Ventura and BNK Petroleum, an oil company with operations in the region. Baldonado said the product has also been popular in Hollywood, and a major studio will soon go public with its partnership with Oasis.

The product has been rolling out in increments across the U.S. The company began its efforts in the Midwest, a region Baldonado said is neglected by the IT industry but in reality is more open to adopting new products.

He said efforts are now beginning to shift toward the east and west coasts, with plans to bring on staff for 24-hour support centers.

“We’re able to do a lot of development because hack attempts are changing, technology is changing — everything’s changing,” Baldonado said. “We have to keep up.”

But Baldonado said the whirlwind pace security specialists must innovate at to keep up with hackers is part of what he loves about his job.

“Keeping up with technology is fun, and the people we have here enjoy it as well. They all feel challenged,” Baldonado said, and as the company hires it will seek “people who feel just as challenged about innovating new technology.”

He said he expects new staff to come on very soon and already has a few candidates picked out. The new hires will put hands on deck for Oasis’ next project, Prometheus, a sister product to Titan that protects against attacks coming from within a network such as a virus.

While all within the company appears to be running smoothly, Baldonado said it faces a huge challenge from outside in businesses’ general cybersecurity apathy.

Oasis offers free network scans to tell companies whether their network is vulnerable and what the vulnerabilities are. But, Baldonado said, usually the company either doesn’t want the scan at all or ignores recommendations to address network weaknesses.

“We ask for permission, Baldonado said. “Hackers don’t ask for permission; they’re going to do it anyway. It’s getting customers to decide, ‘You know what? We need protection.’ ”

Baldonado said it ultimately doesn’t pay to be cheap or lazy.

“Our product is so simple, they don’t have to do anything. We do everything for them. They’re afraid of doing anything,” Baldonado said. “It’s hard to understand. In light of Target and Home Depot and everyone that’s been hacked, the smaller businesses will start getting hacked.”

California Competes was created in 2013 to replace the state’s Enterprise Zone program. This is the initiative’s second fiscal year and the first of three application periods scheduled for fiscal year 2014-15.

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Wine firm wins crushing victory in tax case http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/wine-firm-wins-crushing-victory-in-tax-case/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/wine-firm-wins-crushing-victory-in-tax-case/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:01:18 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21598 A Buellton wine company had a $400,000 tax bill erased in a Board of Equalization decision that could set a precedent for classifying “custom crush” producers and microbreweries that lease space and equipment to other vendors.

On Jan. 21 the Board of Equalization voted 3-2 in favor of an appeal filed by Terravant Wines, a custom crush operation that argued it should not be responsible for a onetime sales tax on the purchase price of winemaking equipment or acquisition but instead pay use taxes over time based on its contract agreements with other “alternating proprietor,” or AP, vintners. The board decided that the company’s previous payment of $182,408 in use taxes over a four-year audit period between January 2008 and December 2011 was sufficient, and thus its remaining balance of $416,457 could be eliminated. Terravant Wines declined to comment on the matter.

In an earlier decision, the board decided that Terravant Wines owed a total balance of nearly $600,000, which included a tax redetermination amount of $390,323, seven years’ worth of interest through Jan. 31 totaling $169,509 and a negligence penalty of $39,032. The board stated in a hearing summary that Terravant Wines owed this total because its contract agreements with outside vintners did not qualify as leases since these winemakers did not have full possession and control of the equipment and premises.

“While the AP vintner provides instructions for each stage of the winemaking process and may be present during any stage of the process, the AP vintner may not operate any of the equipment used to produce the wine at any time,” the report states. “The fact that [Terravant Wines] employees actually operate the equipment means that [Terravant Wines] did not lease the equipment to the AP vintners, but instead provided a service.”

At the time, Terravant had countered that it did lease equipment and space to the AP vintners and did so under “alternating proprietor agreements,” or APAs, even if its staff helped these outside vintners with operating machinery and other winemaking processes.

“[Terravant Wines] asserts that it leases its premises and equipment to third-party licensed winemakers under the APAs and that the APAs constitute leases, pursuant to California Code of Regulations, title 18, section 1660, because the AP vintners exercise true control over [the Terravant Wines] facility and employees during the winemaking process under those agreements.”

According to Fiona Ma, a CPA and member of the Board of Equalization, the board originally ruled against the winery on the grounds that it should pay a full one-time sales tax on the purchase price if it was using the equipment rather than leasing it.

“They wanted Terravant to pay upfront on the equipment because they said that Terravant was using it themselves,” Ma said. “And because the equipment was physically on Terravant’s property and controlled by their personnel [so] they said Terravant should have paid a onetime sales tax.”

However, Ma voted in favor of Terravant’s appeal because, she explained, the winery’s agreements with AP vintners do qualify as lease agreements because these winemakers have “constructive possession and actual control” over Terravant’s facility at the time of each lease.

“Terravant is not using the equipment themselves,” she said. “They bought the equipment with that business model in mind.”

As dozens of custom crush wineries line the wine trails of Paso Robles, the Santa Ynez Valley and other wine destinations throughout the Tri-Counties, the decision could be precedent-setting for the financial sustainability of these businesses, according to Ma.

“Because of our ruling, this is going to encourage the growth of this industry because this is an emerging trend,” she said. “We’re the No. 1 wine-producing state in the country so we should keep up with the times.”

A former assemblymember, Ma won a seat on the five-member Board of Equalization in November. This was her first meeting.

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Amgen profit tops analysts’ estimates on drug sales, tax credit http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/amgen-profit-tops-analysts-estimates-on-drug-sales-tax-credit/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/amgen-profit-tops-analysts-estimates-on-drug-sales-tax-credit/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:00:47 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21576 Amgen CEO Robert Bradway said the company, which released earnings this week that beat analyst expectations, plans to focus on developing early stage drugs, particularly for cancer treatment. (Bloomberg News file photo)

Amgen CEO Robert Bradway said the company, which released earnings this week that beat analyst expectations, plans to focus on developing early stage drugs, particularly for cancer treatment. (Bloomberg News file photo)

 

Amgen, the nation’s biggest biotech company, reported fourth-quarter profits that beat analysts’ estimates, aided by a tax benefit and higher-than-estimated sales of arthritis drug Enbrel.

Revenue increased 6.4 percent to $5.33 billion, the company said in a statement Tuesday, and earnings excluding one-time items were $2.16 a share, topping by 11 cents the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Enbrel sales climbed 11 percent to $1.34 billion, beating the $1.21 billion average of analysts’ estimates. The drugmaker also benefited from the extension of the federal research and experimentation tax credit, which resulted in a $109 million benefit in the fourth quarter, according to the release.

“With respect to allocating capital to growing the business for the long term, our focus is on earlier stage opportunities at the moment, particularly in exciting areas like immunoncology, an area where we already have two medications on file with regulators globally,” Amgen CEO Robert Bradway said at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference in January.

Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, also said Jan. 27 it has filed applications in the U.S. and Europe for use of Kyprolis, its cancer drug, in patients with relapsed multiple myeloma who have received at least one prior therapy, and whose disease has worsened during or within 60 days of their last therapy. The drug is getting an accelerated assessment from the European Medicines Agency.

Kyprolis is already approved for patients with multiple myeloma who have already received at least two other treatments and whose disease has gotten worse on their last therapy. The new application would bring the drug to a broader group of patients.

Amgen has said it expects to gain regulatory approval this year for a new type of cholesterol drug that is competing with Sanofi’s candidate to be first to come to market. The potential patient population for the drug is more than 25 million, Bradway said at the conference. The drug will be called Repatha, according to a Jan. 27 statement.

The drugmaker is also continuing to develop its oncology portfolio. Its immunotherapy treatment Blincyto was approved in December for lymphoblastic leukemia, priced at $178,000 for a standard course of treatment.

Amgen’s drug joins the ranks of several immunotherapy treatments for cancer that will cost the average U.S. patient more than $100,000 — prices that are under increasing scrutiny by health insurers and lawmakers.

Amgen is also developing a cancer vaccine, T-vec, and in January announced a partnership with Kite Pharma, a biotech firm that is a leader in CAR treatments, which modify a patient’s T-cells to create a customized therapy against cancer tumors.

Under the accord, Amgen is eligible to receive as much as $525 million in milestone payments per Kite program. Meanwhile, Kite Pharma will receive an upfront payment of $60 million and would be eligible for up to $525 million in regulatory and sales milestone payments per Amgen program.

“Those types of transactions are the ones we’re focused on from a business development standpoint going forward,” Bradway said at the conference.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended by three months its deadline for a decision to approve T-vec and Corlanor, which Amgen is developing for chronic heart failure, the company said in its release. Amgen has submitted additional manufacturing data for T-vec and clinical data for Corlanor at the agency’s request.

Still, Amgen and its rivals are playing catch-up with Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which pioneered the field and has two approved drugs.

Corlanor’s new FDA action date is May 28 and T-vec’s is Oct. 27, spokesman Cuyler Mayer said by email.

Fourth-quarter net income rose to $1.29 billion, or $1.68 a share, from $1.02 billion, or $1.33 a share, a year earlier.

As the Business Times went to press, Amgen shares were trading down 2.7 percent to close at $154.64. Its shares have gained 34 percent in the last 12 months.

– Business Times staff and Bloomberg News compiled this report

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Region’s crop producers take stock http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/regions-crop-producers-take-stock/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/regions-crop-producers-take-stock/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:00:46 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21593 The region’s main avocado and citrus growers are facing two very different situations — one bright, the other less so.

Santa Paula-based Limoneira Co., which recently reported revenue of about $7 million for fiscal year 2014, along with a $2.8 million net income loss for the year’s fourth quarter is hoping to capitalize on increased packing capabilities and shed more costs in 2015. The company has also mentioned it is in discussions for more mergers and acquisition activity this year.

At the same time, Calavo Growers, based in Carpinteria, has been blindsided by a number of class actions lawsuits from investors, after the company announced its financial misstatements related to its acquisitions of Renaissance Food Group. On Jan. 15 the company also reported a fiscal fourth quarter loss of $208 million.

As a result, Calavo’s stock has faltered, and shares of the company are down more than 16 percent since Dec. 30. The company did not respond to requests for comment on its course of action following the restatements and how it will respond to the lawsuits.

Despite being thrown off balance with recent events, Calavo is still anticipating growth for 2015. The company expects record revenue and earnings per share in the year ahead. All the indicators are positive, CEO Lee Cole said in a statement. “By all industry and company expectations, fresh avocado consumption is expected to resume its upward advance in the coming year after a ‘breather’ in 2014 from the dramatic growth of the past decade,” he said.

According to industry forecasts, U.S. fresh avocado consumption, based on the all-source avocado availability from California, Mexico and South America, is on track to exceed two billion pounds in the current year, the company said. Additionally, the acquisition of Renaissance Food Group is expected to contribute significantly to the company’s bottom line.

“This fast-growth business unit has exceeded every performance target set for it, while expanding the company in a meaningful way into the refrigerated fresh-packaged goods segment of the retail grocery channel — one of the industry’s fastest growing sectors,” Cole said. “We believe this category remains poised for further growth and RFG is well positioned with a great portfolio of offerings, augmented by formidable product development capabilities. Its ability to produce on demand and strength in ‘just-in-time’ distribution have us optimistic about the future.”

Projected revenue and gross-profit margins in the RFG business segment are expected to grow by 20 percent in fiscal 2015, the company said.

With sales climbing in both the retail and food service categories, the company is confident about prospects for future growth, with revenue and gross profit pegged to expand by double-digits in fiscal 2015.

For Limoneira, despite a recent fall in profits, the company increased total revenue for the fourth quarter to $16.3 million, up from $14.3 million for that same period in 2013.

Limoneira recorded revenue of $103.5 million in 2014, up from $84.9 million for the previous year. According to company filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, this 22 percent revenue increase is mostly due to higher lemon profits, which brought in $79.7 million in 2014.

“The increase in fiscal year 2014 was primarily the result of higher prices for fresh lemons sold partially offset by decreased volume,” the filings state.

The upticks mean the company’s expansion and acquisition efforts are starting to pay off. The Business Times previously reported that Limoneira bought a citrus packing house in Yuma, Arizona, in June 2014 and has invested in another citrus packing operation in La Serena, Chile.

“These acquisitions enhance Limoneira’s ability to be a year-round supplier of lemons and expand our participation in the international market,” President and CEO Harold Edwards said in a release. “We remain on track to complete the expansion of our lemon packing facilities in Santa Paula during fiscal year 2015, which, once complete, is expected to approximately double our annual lemon packing capacity and reduce per carton packing costs.”

For the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2015, the company expects to sell between 3.2 million and 3.4 million cartons of fresh lemons at an average price of approximately $22.00 per carton, and expects to sell approximately 6.5 to 7.5 million pounds of avocados at approximately $1.00 per pound. However, some of the company’s avocado orchards recently experienced freezing temperatures that likely caused damage to a portion of the fiscal year 2015 crop. The extent of the damage is being assessed, which is not expected to be known until the second quarter of fiscal year 2015.

The company expects operating income and net income for fiscal year 2015 to be similar to fiscal year 2014 operating income and net income as a result of higher anticipated avocado revenue due to the potential for increased production, depending on the extent of avocado freeze damage.

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A two-wineries-for-one sale with a Funk Zone locale in play http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/a-two-wineries-for-one-sale-with-a-funk-zone-locale-in-play/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/a-two-wineries-for-one-sale-with-a-funk-zone-locale-in-play/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:00:42 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21583 Elijah Brumback

Elijah Brumback

If you’re in the market to purchase a full-scale winery, then why not buy one with a prime piece of Santa Barbara Funk Zone real estate thrown in the deal?

Agua Dulce Winery in the Sierra Pelona Valley, about an hour north of Los Angeles, was recently put on the market for $23.5 million. It was founded in 1999 and released its first product in 2001.

The vineyard covers nearly 100 acres and produces six grape varietals. The property includes a 5,000-square-foot home that sits on its own 10 acres, with 26,000 square feet of commercial space that includes a tasting room, bottling facilities and a retail store. The property also has a scattering of guest residences.

The entire wine-making business and inventory are on the block, and the sellers are also including the property of its sister brand, Oreana Winery & Marketplace in Santa Barbara, as part of the deal.

In addition to Oreana’s tasting room located in the trendy Funk Zone, the property includes two adjoining warehouses, a tasting room and market.

The winery, formerly Cellar 205, occupies a historic building at 205 Anacapa St. and can produce up to 10,000 cases annually.

Both wineries are owned by Bel Air-based entrepreneur Barry Goldfarb. According to property records, Goldfarb bought the Oreana Property in 2009 for $1.6 million.

According to a release from Christie’s International Real Estate, which is marketing the property through its Los Angeles affiliate Hilton & Hyland, a separate Agua Dulce tasting room is currently under construction on the Oreana property.

Danny Miles, Oreana’s winemaker and production manager, told the Business Times he was unware of Goldfarb’s intent to sell the property.

Thousand Oaks portfolio sells

Retail Opportunity Investment Corp., a San Diego-based real estate investment trust, became the new owner of three multi-tenant shopping centers on the South Coast in a $109 million transaction.

Included in the deal is the Parks Oaks shopping center in Thousand Oaks. The 110,000-square-foot  property, anchored by a Vons grocery store, is located at 1790 N. Moorpark Road.

L.A.-based Decron Properties, the seller of the 370,400-square-foot portfolio, originally bought the Park Oaks property in 2005 for about $43 million.

The records show the property was sold to ROI Corp. for $48.5 million, nearly half of the total portfolio sale price.

According to a release from Savills Studley, the brokers of the deal, the property was not up for sale under a competitive bidding process. However, ROI put in an additional bid.

ROI owns 43 shopping centers in California. The REIT already owned two tri-county retail properties: the 94,000-square-foot Seabridge Marketplace in Oxnard and the nearly 140,000-square-foot Moorpark Town Center in Moorpark.

Deals of the week

• Lassen’s Natural Foods & Vitamins has signed a 15-year lease to open a 14,161-square-foot location at University Square Shopping Center in San Luis Obispo.

Lassen’s has provided local, organic and natural products since 1971 when its first store opened in Camarillo. University Square will be Lassen’s 12th location in California. An opening date has yet to be set.

Rob Devericks with Hagelis Group represented the tenant in the transaction.

• Keith Simon of Lee & Associates negotiated a 10-year lease for a nearly 4,600-square-foot office building.

The building, at 600 Quintana Road in Morro Bay, is located in front of the Cypress Plaza Shopping Center.

The new tenant, San Luis Obispo County Social Services, plans to begin occupying the space sometime in the first quarter of 2015.

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E-records mandated by ACA spur growth in IT http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/e-records-mandated-by-aca-spur-growth-in-it/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/e-records-mandated-by-aca-spur-growth-in-it/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:00:39 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21579 Among many looming health care compliance benchmarks is the requirement that providers demonstrate meaningful use of electronic health records throughout the entirety of 2015.

Health care providers have been scrambling to migrate from paper to electronic records, also known as EHRs, to avoid getting slapped with reimbursement penalties from Medicare and Medicaid. To avoid the penalties and qualify for incentive payments, providers must show they use technology that improves the quality, safety, transparency, efficiency and coordination of clinical care while maintaining the privacy of patient information.

A tall order indeed, but so far about 450,000 hospitals and other providers have fulfilled the first stage of requirements, eliciting a total $20.5 billion in incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid since the program started in 2011. Regionally, the government’s challenge has been tackled internally by large medical organizations as well as by private IT companies, who have been able to expand their business thanks to the specialized demand emerging from the health care sector.

Earlier this month, TekTegrity — the largest IT service provider in San Luis Obispo County — acquired Innovative I.T., a firm out of Fresno that specializes in health care services.

“The two companies are very complimentary in the services we provide,” TekTegrity CEO Russ Levanway said. “Our acquisitions are about being able to build out that expertise on a higher level. TekTegrity provides more long-term, proactive solutions, while Innovative I.T. does a lot of work that’s project-specific and infrastructure-based, especially with health care.”

With the merger, TekTegrity gains much more than expertise in electronic records and HIPPA compliance. Levanway said he was especially impressed by Innovative I.T.’s consulting services, through which it designs custom networks and platforms for clients with complex needs such as a medical organization.

“For most companies, the need is in the processes and the solutions,” Levanway said. “That’s the consulting level and it’s about people. It’s about high-level engagement and providing solutions, not just about fixing hardware and fixing systems.”

The deal also raised TekTegrity’s client count from 200 to 300. While the firm provides IT services to all types of businesses, professional services and health care firms make up the vast majority of its client base, Levanway said, so the company is aiming to continue building value in those sectors.

“There’s a lack of really skilled companies that can make [a network] for health care providers,” Levanway said. “We’re trying to give them that and peace of mind.”

But as the ACA moves further into practice, health care IT startups are beginning to attract a lot of funding, especially from insurance firms seeking an alternative way to grow investment returns now that the law requires at least 80 percent of their premium revenue be spent on patient care.

According to a report compiled by Mercom Capital Group, venture capital funding in the health care IT sector more than doubled in 2014, coming in at $4.7 billion across 670 deals. That number compares to $2.2 billion across 571 deals for 2013. The sector also produced six IPOs and raised $2.1 billion in debt financing, bringing its corporate funding total to $7 billion for 2014.

“The health care IT sector, in the five years since we started tracking funding data, raised $8.8 billion in VC funding and another $3.6 billion in public market and debt financings bringing the total to $12.4 billion — largely driven by the [Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act] and Affordable Care Act,” Raj Prabhu, CEO and co-founder of Mercom Capital Group, said in a news release that detailed the findings.

California led all states in health care IT fundraising last year with 174 deals, followed by New York with 50 and Massachusetts with 33.

The trend is beginning to pop up in the Tri-Counties. On Jan. 22, real estate software developer Yardi announced the launch of Yardi EHR, a browser-based electronic health records platform for the senior living industry. The Goleta company’s product is the first that allows users to manage health care services, finances and community operations on one platform.

Yardi EHR’s medical functions include resident assessments, care planning, staff assignment oversight, medication administration, incident tracking, wound care and behavior management, which Vice President of Senior Living Eric Kolber said will reduce clients’ risk exposure and provide enhanced oversight to clinical leadership.

“First-generation electronic health records were simply electronic versions of their paper-based predecessors,” Kolber said in a press release. “Our extensive team of senior living industry experts and engineers, in partnership with a number of our clients, focused on improving upon those old workflows.”

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Water shortage spurs string of tri-county drought dilemmas http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/water-shortage-spurs-string-of-tri-county-drought-dilemmas/ http://www.pacbiztimes.com/2015/01/30/water-shortage-spurs-string-of-tri-county-drought-dilemmas/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:00:36 +0000 http://www.pacbiztimes.com/?p=21581 The emergency drought of 2014 and persistently dry conditions since then have made for difficulties in almost every industry, as the state has grappled with a way to resolve the issue of quickly depleting groundwater.

So far the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which officially took effect Jan. 1, has been the answer; but the groundwater management agencies the law intends to form, as well as the rules and regulations for them to abide by, will take a few years to establish. In lieu of a quick solution and the inability for water to stop being essential to life, the state has taken other steps.

On Jan. 23, the state awarded $2 million to the Lake Cachuma pumping project, which provides drinking water to 220,000 South Coast residents. State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Das Williams were on hand to present the funding during a conference at the Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board offices in Santa Barbara.

Funding was provided by the Department of Water Resources and State Water Resources Control Board, and the lake — which is currently at 28 percent capacity — provides water to the cities of Carpinteria, Goleta, Santa Barbara and Montecito.

Montecito’s suspicions

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury recently ruled that Montecito residents are paying what they should be for water, overturning the claim that customers of the Montecito Water District could be overpaying for their water usage.

The jury found that the water district’s billing statements were confusing, as they failed to distinguish between water for residential use and for agricultural use.

“For water customers who used both agricultural and residential allocations, the resulting water bills did not segregate the two allocations,” a jury statement explains. “This led users to believe they were not getting any water for residential use, yet were being charged for it.”

Meanwhile, Montecito residents are tied up in another water dilemma with the filing of a lawsuit against Goleta-based Slippery Rock Ranch.

The 725-acre avocado farm has said that it has access to a groundwater basin below its property that could hold as much as water as Lake Cachuma. When talks arose of the ranch drilling up and selling the water to nearby cities, Montecito took interest but Goleta declined and has now taken legal action against the ranch.

The city of Goleta filed the lawsuit two days after a delegate from the Montecito water District pleaded with board members to allow Slippery Rock to go forth with its water-selling plans, even offering to spend $500,000 to get the 500 to 1,000 acre feet of water that Montecito is seeking, according to a report from the Santa Barbara Independent.

Last year the district spent $1.4 million buying supplemental water supplies from agencies in Santa Ynez, Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Central Valley.

Harvard buys thirsty Paso land

Brodiaea Inc., owned by the $36 billion endowment fund for Harvard University, has spent $60 million on roughly 10,000 acres of farmland in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties since 2012.

With the purchases, Harvard University has become one of the Top 20 growers in the Paso Robles region. Reuters reported that Harvard purchased water well drilling permits for its California vineyards just days before new pumping in the area was banned by local officials.

Simi firm settles

Waste Management G.I. Industries in Simi Valley has reached a settlement with the Ventura-based nonprofit Wishtoyo Foundation and its stormwater protection agency, the Ventura Coastkeeper Program.

WM G.I. Industries has been ordered to implement pollution prevention and control measures that would protect water quality in the nearby area, in addition to paying $40,000 to the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, to conduct at least 25 community clean-up programs.

The lawsuit was first filed in March 2014, when the Wishtoyo Foundation alleged that the Simi Valley firm was violating its general industrial stormwater permit by reporting too high of pollution levels. The suit was filed in federal court under the Clean Water Act but was later dismissed and replaced with a settlement agreement.

“The settlement not only protects Ventura County’s coastal waters, Mugu Lagoon, and Arroyo Simi from discharges of toxic metals, trash and E. coli from the G.I. Industries Facility, but from other industrial facilities that otherwise may be ignoring the law to the detriment of our current and future generations,” said Wishtoyo General Counsel and Water Initiative Director Jason Weiner in a press release.

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