Business

Friday, Dec 27 2013 09:29 PM

Business 2013: No run-of-the-mill year

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    An artist's rendering of The Outlets of Tejon Ranch, provided by The Outlets at Tejon Ranch.

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    Henry A. Barrios / The Californian Women for immigration reform protest loudly inside Congressman Kevin McCarthy's office in Bakersfield Wednesday.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    In this fle photo, Karen Hollweg protests the proposed HECA project in Kern County.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    David Crisp and his wife, Jennifer, walk up the steps to the U.S. District Court in Fresno where they would plead guilty to one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud in a mortgage fraud case.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Carl Cole was present at the U.S. District Court in Fresno where he was meeting with a reporter from the Financial Times for an interview. Cole's former business partner, David Crisp, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud the same day at the same location.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

The overall economy may have started down the road to normalcy, but 2013 was no humdrum year for local business.

With recovery came new challenges, from an overcrowded housing market to the threat of infested citrus groves.

There were dashed hopes relating to an ambitious baseball stadium, just as there was new anticipation surrounding an outlet center that developers expect will create 1,000 new jobs.

Here are some highlights:

* BAKERSFIELD HOUSING -- Forget new housing. The big action in 2013 was the conversion of existing homes to rentals.

Local and out of town funds gobbled up the available housing, shutting out some homebuyers in the process as sellers opted for quick and easy cash-only transactions.

The dynamics began to shift in late summer, when rising single-family home prices cut into the profitability of renting out property. One question now is how long the new landlords will hang on before selling out and investing elsewhere.

* CRISP & COLE -- The two men behind an extensive Bakersfield mortgage fraud scheme owned up to their crimes.

Former business partners David Crisp, 34, and Carl Cole, 66, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit bank, mail and wire fraud. They face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine at sentencing next year.

Crisp and Cole are among 14 defendants in the case with guilty pleas. That leaves only former operations manager Julie Farmer to face trial in February on various charges related to alleged mortgage fraud.

* STADIUM ABANDONED -- Sam Lynn Ball Park will have to suffice for a while longer.

The Bakersfield Blaze's former owners struck out trying to build a 3,500-seat stadium that was going to be the main attraction at Bakersfield Commons, the entertainment, retail, office and residential project slated for the corner of Coffee and Brimhall roads.

Although the Commons project is still a go, the stadium fell about 40 percent short of the $30 million team owners and would-be developers Gene Voiland and Chad Hathaway needed to cover construction costs.

With that, former Blaze owner D.G. Elmore exercised a contract option to reclaim the team, which faces an uncertain future in an aging ballpark that has been declared unfit for pro baseball.

* OIL BOOM -- As high oil prices kept pumping money into the Kern economy, more focus was on the controversial but effective oilfield technique known as fracking.

State lawmakers passed California's first rules specific to the practice, calling for scientific study and an environmental review of fracking and related technologies. The law, Senate Bill 4, requires oil companies to provide advance notification to neighbors before fracking, and to monitor groundwater before and after the fact, among other new measures.

Environmentalists nevertheless continued their campaign for a moratorium on the practice, even in the face of industry claims that fracking in the vast Monterey Shale formation underlying much of Kern might lead to a California oil boom.

* HECA PLANT -- Neighbors battled the permitting for a proposed clean coal plant in western Kern County.

Despite the promise of 200 permanent jobs, nearby residents voiced worries that the $4 billion fertilizer and power plant would worsen the area's already poor air quality, degrade roads and store dangerous chemicals. County officials weighed in with concerns that the plant would create more waste than Kern can handle.

The project's Massachusetts owner was also put on the defensive by state findings that the company had provided insufficient information for a full environmental review. Additionally, a federal audit concluded that the U.S. Department of Energy had violated its own guidelines when it raised the project's federal subsidy by $100 million to $408 million.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM -- Bakersfield became ground zero for the national immigration debate.

The United Farm Workers union joined with other groups in pressuring Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to call for a vote by the House of Representatives on a comprehensive immigration package the U.S. Senate passed in June.

The groups' months-long campaign included rallies at McCarthy's Bakersfield office, a caravan, letter-writing, fasting and even a rare show of unity with growers struggling with a labor shortage.

But McCarthy was resolute, saying any changes to immigration law must be carried out step-by-step and preceded by efforts to secure the border.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014:

* OUTLETS -- Tejon Ranch Co. has scheduled an Aug. 7 opening at the 320,000-square-foot outlet shopping center the Lebec company is building near the foot of the Grapevine.

Confirmed tenants are Aeropostale, A'gaci, Auntie Anne's, Carlisle, Chico's, Coach, Hot Topic, Lids, O'Shoes, Perfumes 4U, Puma, Rack Room, Skechers, Tilly's, White House Black Market and Wilsons.

The center is expected to support about 1,000 jobs and generate $128 million in sales per month.

* INVESTIGATIONS -- Cal-OSHA plans to release a report on what caused the Aug. 3 demolition accident at the old Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power plant on Coffee Road.

Debris from the 6 a.m. explosion flew up to 2,000 feet into a crowd of spectators, injuring several people.

Bakersfield sales and marketing director Jerry Wood, 44, suffered critical damage to his legs. He has since undergone two dozen medical procedures.

* CITRUS -- The future of Kern's $629 million citrus crop is riding on efforts to contain a pest known as the Asian citrus psyllid.

The moth-like bug was first spotted in the county in September at a residential property in Wasco. Inspectors say it was not carrying citrus greening disease, which ruins fruit and eventually kills trees.

State officials expanded a quarantine in the county to 125 acres in late November after finding a specimen north of Porterville.

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