Tuesday, September 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Birds find home in abandoned subdivision in Rio Vista

A housing subdivision on Liberty Island Road just outside Rio Vista was started in 2005 and abandoned, due to falling home prices, in 2007. There are 13 model homes at the site, as well as streetlights and a network of roads. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republi

The sidewalk becomes overgrown with vegetation in the abandoned subdivision on Liberty Island Road just outside Rio Vista. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | January 25, 2014 |

RIO VISTA — It could be a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds.”

The only noise in the windy, desolate area off Liberty Island Road is the cooing of hundreds of pigeons that have taken up residence on the earthen-tone, abandoned model homes that were supposed to be part of the upscale Liberty subdivision just outside Rio Vista.

A snapping twig sent the hundreds of birds up and into a circular pattern, only to land on another abandoned, boarded-up model home across the street – there are 13 in all – in the defunct subdivision that is the poster child of what went wrong during the Great Recession.

Nothing much has changed since late 2007 – save for missing copper wiring that thieves stripped from the lights, damaged street signs and various other vandalism issues that have effected the area over the years.

“That area is sort of isolated out there,” said Cecil Dillon, the city’s engineer. “It got hit pretty hard. Those homes are pretty much shells.”

The area of 663 residential lots was supposed to be an ambitious, upscale haven featuring four neighborhoods – Lavender, Hyacinth, Hearth and Home, and Front Porch – of homes that ranged in size from 1,872 square feet to 3,876 square feet. Some lot sizes were 7,000 square feet. The larger homes came complete with extra quarters designed for in-laws or a potential renter.

The project began around 2005 with the city’s approval of a tentative map that allowed for the subdividing of the property locally known as Gibbs Ranch. The final maps were approved in 2006 and in March 2007, Shea Homes Limited Partnership received building permits for model construction.

“The 2006-07 era was just a different timeframe,” said Don Hofer, vice president of community development for Shea Homes. “At that time, (housing) prices in the Bay Area – and other areas of Solano County like Fairfield and into Stockton – had gone up aggressively. The marketing approach for the community was that (you) could (have) a nice large home in Rio Vista for a good value.”

But then the housing market began to soften and by late 2007, the project was put on hold. Hofer said that most people think the problems began in 2008, but he said the issues were seen in the outlying areas first, which is what happened in Rio Vista.

“We were pretty sure if we continued to move forward we would have problems selling those homes,” he said.

When Shea Homes pulled the plug on the project, it left behind a virtual ghost town, complete with improvements such as sewer, water, roads, curbs, gutters and sidewalks, and street lamps. An ornate roundabout at the subdivision entryway sits alone and utility wires still jut from each lot. Commonplace signs such as stop signs and bike lane indicators manage to take on an eerie look in this out-of-the-way eastern corner of Solano County.

Monetarily, there was a lot lost when the project went dormant.

Hofer declined to tell how much money was put into the project but said it was a “considerable amount.” A range of figures from city officials go from about $15 million to $24 million.

“Shea took a huge hit for this project,” Hofer said. “It was painful.”

Painful not only from a business standpoint. Hofer said that workers involved in the project lost their jobs. He called it a difficult situation.

“A lot of people’s lives were impacted,” he said.

The city of Rio Vista also took a hit, but came out a bit ahead due to timing.

Former City Manager Hector De La Rosa, who took his post as the model homes were finishing up, said the city was counting on the development to generate various fees, such as permits and development impact fees. The city also lost on the snowball effect of increased development, such as an upward swing in sales tax revenues.

Would-be property tax increases took a hit as development not only from Liberty but from other planned areas, such as additional homes in Trilogy, ground to a halt.

But with Liberty, the city had not yet accepted, or signed off on, most of the developer’s improvements, which needed to be OK’d by the city before it took control from the developer. The result is that most of the area’s maintenance is currently still the burden of Shea Homes.

No one knows the shape of the underground pipes and today the grass is growing in joints between the concrete. The area has expansive soil, said Dillon, the city engineer, that allows for the expansion and constriction of the land. As the cracks in the road grow, the damage increases, leaving the roads not in the same ready-to-go shape they were in 2008.

“If the city had accepted, it would have been the city’s liability,” Dillon said. “Now, unfortunately, repairs need to be done before acceptance (by the city).”

Shea Homes initially looked at selling the project. Public Works Director Dave Melilli said Hofer brought in some Lewis Homes representatives last year to discuss the possible purchase of the project. Melilli said developers who have approached the city lost interest upon learning the city had not yet signed off on the improvements – leaving whoever bought the project responsible for damages from the past seven or so years – and the possibility of the initial work not meeting city specifications.

“Anyone buying those lots and sites has to finish bringing it up to snuff,” Melilli said. “The whole thing is problematic . . . for someone who wants to walk out there and buy it. They kind of have a little freak-out moment with me (when they find it’s not accepted yet).”

Hofer said Shea Homes is not actively looking to sell the project. He declined to name the dollar figure set for sale but said, “we couldn’t sell it for what we wanted to get out of it.”

As the economy picked up, Shea Homes began to swing hammers again in Trilogy, but there is no timeline for taking up the Liberty project again. The focus has turned, however, to a reposition of the project, such as smaller homes but using the same lots. Hofer and city officials both agreed that there isn’t a market for the larger homes anymore.

“Whatever the mindset was six or seven years ago, certainly isn’t now,” Dillon said. He said the focus is on the affordable instead of the large homes that take up most of the lot.

“Certainly that’s not the market, at least not in Rio Vista,” he said.

In the meantime, city police and occasionally the county sheriff’s deputy patrol the area with the aid of a mobile surveillance system set up by Shea Homes after the models were built. Hofer said the unit seems to have deterred the petty thief and vandal. He said the project has fared pretty well against vandals because of its remote location and because it’s not widely known that the project is even there.

“It’s pretty lonely out there,” De La Rosa said.

Except for the birds.

Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or swinlow@dailyrepublic.net. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Weather for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

Police investigate deadly Vallejo shooting

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5

 
 
 
Police report missing man was found

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5

 
Support group to host domestic violence event

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A5

 
Lake Berryessa hike set in October

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

 
Work scheduled for Rio Vista Bridge

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

.

US / World

California wildfire crews brace for weather shift

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Reserves narrowing for California water wholesaler

By The Associated Press | From Page:

LA County sheriff’s deputies testing body cameras

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Bear suspected to have killed New Jersey hiker

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Poll: Support for gay marriage may be leveling off

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Islamic State militants kill 40 Iraqi troops

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Sierra Leone, Liberia brace for new Ebola cases

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Islamist group kidnaps Frenchman in Algeria

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Pennsylvania governor confident ambush suspect will be caught

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Focus on UVa employee in student’s disappearance

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

State police: 3 missing Afghan soldiers in custody

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Prosecutor: 800 rounds found in intruder case

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Islamic State offensive poses problems for Turkey

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Study links changing winds to warming in Pacific

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Crews work to clear debris from Shasta mudslide

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

Editorial cartoon for Sept. 23, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page:

 
Still searching for the bottom in Iraq

By John M. Crisp | From Page:

Academia needs to act to protect college women

By Dan K. Thomasson | From Page:

 
Question of the week: Will the drought end this year?

By Daily Republic | From Page: A8

.

Living

Today in History: Sept. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
My daughter doesn’t like my cruise plans, but she ignored me first

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page:

Community Calendar: Sept. 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

Kris Jenner files to divorce Bruce Jenner

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Alaska TV reporter quits on air to promote pot

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Shonda Rhimes lays claim to Thursday nights on ABC

By Frazier Moore | From Page: | Gallery

 
Giuliani to help fight Noriega’s video game suit

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

‘The Lion King’ earns record box office

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Eric Lynch, Howard Stern’s diminutive foil, dies

By The Associated Press | From Page:

TVGrid Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
.

Sports

Giants get closer, beat Dodgers 5-2 in 13 innings

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Prep boys water polo: Mustangs go 3-0 in Dixon tourney

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

 
Prep boys soccer: Mustangs hold Indians to 0-0 draw

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

 
MNF: Bears hold on to beat Jets 27-19

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Jeff Samardzija pitches A’s past Angels 8-4

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Nebraska’s Abdullah: Jameis Winston must grow up

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Raiders have to settle for moral victory

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Home of 49ers lineman Ray McDonald burglarized

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Undisciplined play sends 49ers to 1-2 start

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Kicking game: It is called football, after all

By Barry Wilner | From Page:

US Soccer stands by Solo decision

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
FIFA ethics judge hesitates on World Cup

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Braves fire GM Frank Wren after missing playoffs

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Royals beat Indians 2-0, gain on Tigers

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Bettman says NHL proactive about off-ice conduct

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Silver: NBA will review domestic violence policies

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Concern over McIlroy, McDowell more about results

By The Associated Press | From Page:

NFL vetting process: There are no sure things

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Owner: ‘No misinformation’ by Ravens on Rice

By The Associated Press | From Page:

This date in sports history for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Kent creates scholarship for Cal women’s athletics

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
.

Business

Treasury to unveil steps to curb tax inversions

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Tesco suspends execs over inflated profit report

By The Associated Press | From Page:

GM expert says 21 deaths eligible for compensation

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Apple: 10 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sold

By The Associated Press | From Page:

US existing home sales fall in August

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Investors fret Yahoo’s future, stock dips

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Businesses and investors pressing for green policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Garfield Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baby Blues Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Zits Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Beetle Bailey Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Bridge Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Crossword Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Pickles Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Rose is Rose Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
B.C. Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard of Id Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts Sept 23

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6