Pacific Coast Business Times Proudly serving Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties 2016-02-12T23:25:37Z Staff Report <![CDATA[SBA offers tri-county crab fishermen low-interest loans]]> 2016-02-12T23:25:37Z 2016-02-12T23:25:37Z Read More →]]> Tri-county crab fishermen impacted by the four-month fishery closure can apply for low-interest federal disaster loans, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced on Feb. 12.

The SBA is offering working capital loans of up to $2 million with a 4 percent interest rate for small businesses and 2.625 percent for nonprofits with terms up to 30 years.

“SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact,” said Tanya Garfield, director of SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center – West. “These loans can provide vital economic assistance to fishing and fishing-dependent businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.”

Gov. Jerry Brown asked the federal government to give financial aid to those impacted by the fishery closure in a letter issued on Feb. 5. Officials have found high levels of domoic acid in crab found off of the California, Oregon and Washington coasts. The neurotoxin stems from an algal bloom spawned in warmer waters.

Rock and Dungeness crab seasons have been closed since Nov. 6, 2015. Rock crab season is year-round while Dungeness was supposed to open on Nov. 15.

The California Department of Public Health partially lifted the ban on Dec. 31, saying that all crab caught on the mainland south of Piedras Blancas Light Station in northern San Luis Obispo County was safe to eat.

But most of Santa Barbara County’s around $2 million rock crab industry comes from shellfish harvested around the San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands, which remain closed.

• Contact Alex Kacik at


Alex Kacik <![CDATA[Crude-by-rail plan spurs legal debate]]> 2016-02-12T19:59:05Z 2016-02-12T19:59:05Z


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Alex Kacik <![CDATA[Ventura County economy underperforming]]> 2016-02-12T19:51:35Z 2016-02-12T19:51:35Z


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Philip Joens <![CDATA[New app helps travelers reduce carbon footprint]]> 2016-02-12T19:42:44Z 2016-02-12T19:42:44Z Read More →]]> Phillip Joens

Philip Joens

A new app created by a Santa Barbara travel shop owner caught my eye when I walked into Vita Travel on Feb. 5 because it seems like the perfect app for eco-conscious Millennial travelers.

Greg Bellowe created VitaExplorer as a way to force people to think about their impact on the environment when they travel. Bellowe owns the Vita Travel Store at 12 W. Anapamu St in downtown Santa Barbara. After five years of development, a beta version of the app launched during a party at the store Feb. 11.

Bellowe created the app after moving to Santa Barbara six years ago. His background is in online travel technology. At one point Bellowe even held a minority stake in OneScreen, one of the first hotel booking and reservation systems where customers could book hotels and pay on the same screen.

“When I moved here I had the idea and the technology background, but I didn’t have a retail travel background,” Bellowe said. “I thought (the store) was the perfect way to have a consumer-facing place that we could promote travel and at the same time learn how people travel.”

Bellowe developed the app to create a portal that reduces the labor of booking hotels, finding places to eat and things to do in cities where travelers have never been before. He said the process can be very labor and time intensive.

“People typically will use at least 20 websites to plan their trip,” Bellowe said. “If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, you’re looking for websites to see where things are. Typically, you are looking at reviews but it’s hard to know what’s credible.”

Bellowe made the app Web-based, he said, because he wanted to avoid paying to have the app listed by iTunes in the App store and because it’s easier to update Web apps. VitaExplorer’s design makes it easy to use on tablets, phones or desktop computers. I personally prefer Web apps anyway because I’m constantly running out of storage space on my phone for apps, pictures and games.

The most notable thing about the VitaExplorer is that users are prompted to offset carbon emissions for their trips by entering the starting and ending points of their journey.

When prompted, users enter their destinations and the type of transportation they are taking to get there. The app then gives users a rough idea of how much it costs to pay to clean up carbon emissions from any one of the seven modes of transportation. Finally, a sponsor, like suitcase manufacturer Briggs & Riley, pays into a fund for tree planting organizations to offset those emissions.

Bellowe built the app to make eco-friendly travel easy for all people that use the app. It’s clear it’s not a hippie version of Orbitzbut could be a mainstream website like Orbitz one day.

Offsetting emissions is fairly easy. For instance, when I make one of my many summer excursions to Dodger Stadium, I drive 122 miles, emit about 93 pounds of carbon emissions, and it costs 20 cents to clean up those emissions.

Fliers can also calculate emissions generated by their seats on flights. So, when I fly home from Los Angeles to Sioux City, Iowa, I now know my seat on a 1,300 mile flight emits 1,000 pounds of carbon emissions and costs $2.21 to clean up.

Commuters can also use the app to offset their daily driving distances, though the app is not designed for daily use.

Users can also book hotels, find restaurants and things to do while building trips on the app. As I said earlier, the app is still in the beta stage. While the idea for the app is great, and it’s certainly useful, it still needs some work.

While planning a March trip to spring training in the Phoenix suburbs, I used the app to look for hotels, places to eat and things to do around Phoenix. No results came up for Phoenix, or any of the suburbs like Goodyear and Surprise where teams play.

I also tried to plan baseball trips to other destinations like Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City, Mo., without any luck. Hotel results did come up for places like Seattle, New York, Hawaii and a few other cities though.

Beta versions of apps have kinks to iron out and Bellowe knows that. With time, VitaExplorer should become a really useful app.

In the meantime, as I travel this summer, I’ll continue to offset my carbon footprint thanks to Briggs & Riley.

• Contact Philip Joens at

Henry Dubroff <![CDATA[Central banks losing ability to steer global economies]]> 2016-02-12T19:29:45Z 2016-02-12T19:29:45Z Read More →]]> Editor Henry Dubroff

Editor Henry Dubroff

Upheaval in the global markets in recent months may be signaling that the era of the all-powerful central bank may be coming to an end.

Evidence is mounting that central bank moves are having less and less of the desired impact on regional economies.

For Exhibit A we turn to the People’s Bank of China, whose interventions have failed to stop a massive capital exit, a stock market meltdown and a sharp decline in the yuan.

For Exhibit B we look at the Bank of Japan, which has taken the Japanese treasury market deep into negative interest rates without turning around its sagging stock market.

Exhibit C is the European Central Bank, which also is trying to stimulate growth with the opposite result that the Euro has strengthened against the dollar in recent days.

Finally, there is Exhibit D, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony before Congress on Feb. 10. She indicated the Fed is now backing away from its earlier goal to “normalize” interest rates with regular rate hikes over the next few years.

Instead, she testified that the Fed will be flexible, a pretty transparent signal that more rate hikes are on hold after a quarter-point rise in December triggered concerns that the U.S. was headed into recession.

I’m not alone in this sort of thinking. In his new book, “The Only Game in Town: Central Banks, Instability and Avoiding the Next Collapse,” author-columnist-financier Mohamed A. El-Erian argues that the Fed has pretty much reached the limits of its post-financial crisis ability to steer large global economies.

Instead, he says that policy makers must now step in to address systemic problems such as the enlarged role that financial institutions play in our economy, the dangerous tendency toward currency devaluation as a policy tool and rising income inequality in the industrial world.

In writing about the limits of central bank power, El-Erian, an experienced and highly conventional thinker about policy, is in agreement with Axel Merk, a maverick hard currency advocate.

Earlier this year, Merk had the audacity to warn about a potential bear market for equities when few people saw one in the offing. Shortly before Yellen’s testimony, he bluntly called the Federal Reserve “clueless” because of its reliance on labor data that is often backward looking.

While El-Erian and Merk occupy opposite ends of the investing spectrum, both are suggesting that monetary policy now must take a back seat to fiscal policy. For most experts that means a return to common sense ways to rein in spending, increase taxes or close loopholes, reform entitlements and get things back on a sustainable path.

In October 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker put central banking on the map when he began using monetary policy to set interest rates, a move that eventually succeeded in breaking the back of inflation and setting the nation on a course to decades of prosperity.

After the 2008 financial crisis, former Chair Ben Bernanke took the Fed into uncharted territory, injecting capital directly into banks, taking interest rates quickly to zero and buying trillions of dollars in government bonds to keep rates artificially low.

His successor, Yellen, has come under a lot of criticism for the Fed’s delay in raising rates over the summer and fall when the economy was looking a bit more crisp.

Reading between the lines of her comments to Congress on Feb. 10, you can sense a strong desire to get the Fed out of the limelight and gradually nudge interest rates back to the 2 percent range.

My guess is that she’d be relieved to see the end of the era of central bank supremacy – especially if the transition can be accomplished without going through yet another financial crisis.

It’s not clear whether or not she will get her wish.

• Reach Editor Henry Dubroff at

Alex Kacik <![CDATA[Oxnard food processor closing, tri-county farm workers laid off]]> 2016-02-12T19:22:13Z 2016-02-12T19:22:13Z Read More →]]> Alex Kacik

Alex Kacik

Oxnard-based food processing company Coastal Green Vegetable Co. is closing after 27 years in business.

Coastal Green contracts with growers of cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, kale, spinach and other produce, freezes the food and sends it to repackagers.

Increasing costs have slimmed margins, President and General Manager James Pickworth said. About 34 full-time employees and 100 seasonal workers will be out of a job in March. The company reported 88 permanent layoffs taking effect on March 18, according to the most recent Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Report posted by the California Employment Development Department.

“The pricing has gone up from growers and we haven’t been able to sustain on the sales side,” Pickworth told the Business Times.

Increasing water costs, regulations, wages, health care, changing food preferences and the strength of the dollar have cut into Coastal Green’s profit margin. A strong dollar is a double-edged sword for businesses, driving the cost of imports down but making exports more expensive.

Pickworth aims to sell the business, which would make sense for a vertically integrated company looking to scale up, he said.

“Oxnard and Ventura County are awesome places for this type of business,” Pickworth said. “It’s unfortunate the economics make it difficult to sustain.”

The high cost of land and labor has driven out many Ventura County food processing operations, said Bruce Stenslie, president and CEO of the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County. On top of that, zoning ordinances limit certain types of food processing like onsite cooking.

Increasing food processing capabilities would create thousands of jobs and double the value of the region’s agricultural land, Stenslie said, creating a $365 million economic impact and adding 2,600 to 5,400 jobs

“We are three to six times underinvested in food processing compared to our California peers,” Stenslie said.

Coastal Green has a 36,000-square-foot processing facility in Oxnard on about 3.7 acres at 650 Buena Vista Ave. Woolf Farming & Processing acquired the company in 2009.

Another Oxnard-based farm had to scale back its operations in Santa Maria.

El Dorado Berry Farms, which grows berries for Driscoll’s, laid off 654 workers last year due to “the rising cost of resources,” according to a news release.

Santa Maria-based Superior Farming also laid off 225 employees in August, according to the EDD.

Camarillo-based MAC Berry Farms laid off 90 workers as well in July.

New real estate firm

Commercial real estate broker Pam Scott, formerly of Lee & Associates, has broken out on her own.

Her new firm is called GPS Commercial Real Estate Services. Scott plans to use her 35 years of tri-county commercial real estate experience to help broker deals in the region’s retail market.

As part of Scott’s strategy, she intends to provide a better split for brokers choosing to work remotely, with her firm providing back-office processes like marketing, accounting and website management.

Commissions are split between the listing agents and the brokerage firms, which provide the technology and coordination to host listings, the marketing support to spread the word and client referrals.

After her new firm gains traction, she envisions getting into other CRE services such as property management.

Scott has recently finished long-term lease renewals of Wells Fargo branches at 11 E. Ponderosa Drive in Camarillo and 2831 Saviers Road in Oxnard, as well as the Bank of America at 2060 S. Broadway in Santa Maria.

Cooking up an expansion

Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery on Upper State Street is expanding.

Owners Gordon and Eleanor Hardy just signed a lease, orchestrated by Scott, for the 1,065-square-foot space at 3601 State St. It was formerly occupied by Denmun Office Solutions and Paul Brombal Coins & Jewelry, which moved into a space at 3000 State St.

The immediate need is parking for its 3607 State St. restaurant; a commercial kitchen would be a long-term goal pending city approval, Gordon Hardy said.

“Having three more spaces will bring us more income than the rental of the building and it would help build customer relationships,” Hardy told the Business Times.

In the meantime, Jeannine’s will use it to store some equipment from the Westlake location, which opened just more than a year ago and is doing well, Hardy said.

It’s a big undertaking to accommodate a few extra parking spaces but, then again, it is Santa Barbara.

• Contact Alex Kacik at

Alex Kacik <![CDATA[Compass manager sued by Coldwell Banker over ‘secrets’]]> 2016-02-12T19:15:33Z 2016-02-12T19:15:33Z Read More →]]> Coldwell Banker is suing a former employee for allegedly stealing the company’s trade secrets.

The residential real estate brokerage company is going after John Nisbet, who left Coldwell Banker’s Santa Barbara office to work for the rapidly expanding residential real estate firm Compass.

Coldwell Banker is accusing Nisbet of stealing confidential data, including market data, revenue reports, commission splits and compensation agreements of Coldwell sales associates, giving its new competitor an unfair advantage. The data contains proprietary “internal ranking metrics” that allows Compass to cherry-pick its top agents, Coldwell Banker claims.

“Based upon publicly available information and the facts of this case, this appears to be the next step in Compass’s overall corporate strategy to ‘take down’ its competitors by misappropriation,” the lawsuit filed in Santa Barbara Superior Court on Jan. 11 reads.

Compass responded to the lawsuit by saying that it never used the documents Nisbet sent to Compass. Even if it did, Compass argues, the information is widely available via the Major Listing Service and other means and does not constitute a “trade secret.” Nisbet claims he sent along the data only to prove his merit.

Coldwell Banker is resorting to legal action to “stop its losses in the real estate markets in Santa Barbra and Montecito,” Compass claims in a motion filing.

“(Coldwell Banker) is unable to win in the market so (Coldwell Banker) has taken its fight to the courtroom by bringing a ‘specious action as a preemptive strike for anticompetitive purposes,’” a motion filing reads.

Forensic evidence revealed the emails under question were not forwarded, the filing states. But Coldwell Banker contends that Nisbet sent texts to Compass CEO Robert Reffkin with a photo of Coldwell Banker agents and their contact information along with the text: “This list is the top tier of agents we want,” according to a motion filing.

“Their spinning of facts notwithstanding, Defendants are in the wrong and they know it,” Coldwell Banker said in the filing. “In ordinary course of business, executives don’t take photos of screens and text them. The only reason to do that is to conceal.”

For now, it seems Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle has sided with Compass. Anderle presided at a hearing on Feb. 2 over a preliminary injunction that would prohibit Compass from hiring other Coldwell Banker employees and force it to return the documents.

The information that Coldwell Banker classifies as a trade secret is readily ascertainable, Anderle said. California also has strong statutory laws supporting employee mobility.

“Based on the facts and the law presented at this juncture in this case, to maintain the (temporary restraining order) in place would be draconian,” Anderle said at the hearing. “The court would be doing indirectly exactly what the law forbids it to do directly.”

New York-based Compass uses in-house software that aims to cut down on brokers’ administrative work and streamline listing updates. Compass, which was co-founded in 2013 by Ori Allon, the former engineering director of Twitter’s New York office, has raised $125 million in investor capital. It doubled its number of agents over the past year and has more than $1.4 billion in luxury real estate listings.

Since launching in Manhattan, Compass has opened offices in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., Boston, Miami, the Hamptons, the Los Angeles area and Santa Barbara.

To fuel its frenetic expansion, Compass has lured top brokers and managers to the chagrin of its rivals. It recently selected Nisbet, who was a manager at Coldwell Banker and has more than 30 years of experience, to head a 4,400 square-foot office at 1283 Coast Village Circle in Montecito that will eventually house a staff of 50 to 100 people.

Compass provides a technology-driven platform and a culture that fosters entrepreneurship, he said.

“Compass puts all that data at the agent’s fingertips in one place, allowing them to be more efficient and effective,” Nisbet told the Business Times in January. “It’s really a revolutionary platform. That’s why it’s growing so fast.”

That technology has been disruptive. In 2014, two New York-based brokerages sued Compass, accusing them of accessing its propriety listing system and alleging former employees violated non-compete contract clauses. Both were settled and resulted in Compass returning data.

A third case filed by Hampton-based brokerage Saunders & Associates has led to a restraining order. Compass was ordered to return 11,600 listings and other confidential data allegedly obtained by fraudulent login credentials.

“Compass seemingly has determined that it is cheaper and faster to build its business by unlawfully poaching managers and independent sales associates from other brokers than to engage in lawful competition,” Coldwell Banker said in the lawsuit.

Anderle denied a preliminary injunction, dissolved a temporary restraining order issued on Jan. 14 and dismissed the Order to Show Cause.

“Coldwell Banker’s attempt to stifle competition by blocking its agents from leaving to join Compass was soundly rejected by the Court,” Compass said in a statement.

Coldwell Banker is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and payment for legal services.

“The case is far from over,” Coldwell Banker said in a statement. “The Court recognized our right to seek restitution and compensatory damages for the conduct alleged in the complaint and we will continue to pursue these legal remedies vigorously.”

The court will reconvene on April 29 over the lawsuit.

• Contact Alex Kacik at