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  Beyond Oil and Violence
February 13, 2005

I often marvel at what marvelous diversification of business and talent exists in Richmond. The external perception of Richmond still consists of an oil refinery surrounded by a high-crime residential area. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Surfing media websites in any given week reveals incredible secrets about Richmond residents and Richmond businesses at the top of their game. Following are some examples from just the last two or three days.


Maritime Industries


Check out Saturday’s San Francisco Chronicle on page E10 in the “Bay Folk Sketchbook” of brussell@sfchronicle.com featuring Jeff Rutherford and his boat shop at the Richmond Yacht Harbor where the Victorian-era stem yacht Cangarda is being restored. Cangarda was saved from sure extinction by Elizabeth Meyer, the doyenne of yacht preservation in the U.S., well know for her restoration of Endeavour. Jeff is affiliated with Tri-Coastal Marine, which is also involved in the Restoration of the sloop of war USS Constellation in Baltimore, MD. For the full story on Rurtherford and Tri-Coastal Marine, see http://www.tricoastal.com/Cangarda/Cangarda.html and

http://www.tricoastal.com/. Jeff can be reached at 320 W Cutting Blvd, chmond, CA 94804-2018, 510-233-5441 or 510/235-7770.


The Arts


Richmond’s thriving art community is always making headlines. For a virtual tour and list of websites, see http://www.pointrichmond.com/muse.htm. Of particular interest are the websites of the Arts and Culture Commission http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/%7Earts/ and the Richmond Arts Center http://www.therichmondartcenter.org/. You can even find my sketches at http://www.intres.com/sketches/.



On of Richmond’s biotechnology startups, Neurobiological Technologies Inc., (NTI) seems to always be in the news, seesawing between triumph and disaster. The firm used to be located in what is now City Hall on Marina Way South. I remember this because my firm, Interactive Resources, was the architect for the tenant improvements. NTI was located in the north end of the building where Redevelopment and the City Attorney is now. NIT is now located at Hilltop, 3260 Blume Drive Suite 500, San Pablo (Hilltop addresses use a San Pablo zip code for some strange reason), CA 94806, (510) 262-1730. See stories below:


January 28, 2005

NTI gets fast-track status for stroke drug candidate

Neurobiological Technologies Inc. said Friday it has been granted fast-track status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its investigational drug Viprinex. The drug candidate is being developed by the Richmond company (NASDAQ:NTII) for use in patients suffering from ischemic stroke, which occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked. NTI said less than 5 percent of ischemic stroke patients are suitable for current therapies, which must be administered within the initial three hours, and less than 3 percent actually receive treatment. Viprinex was the subject of approximately 2,000 patients in clinical studies in the U.S. and Europe. NTI President and CEO Paul Freiman, who has high hopes for the drug, said its success would elevate the company to "a very different" level.


February 1, 2005

Richmond drug company gets royalty payment

Neurobiological Technologies Inc. in Richmond said Tuesday it has gotten a $765,435 royalty payment from Merz Pharmaceuticals GmbH for an Alzheimer's drug. The company (NASDAQ: NTII) said the payment covered sales during the quarter ended Sept. 30 of Memantine. The payment was reduced by $107,574 by Merz to correct a mistake in calculating overseas royalties, NTI said. Paul Freeman, NTI's president and CEO, said U.S. distributor Forest Laboratories sold $101 million worth of the drug in the quarter that ended in December.


10:56 AM PST Wednesday

Richmond biotech loss doubles

Neurobiological Technologies Inc. said Wednesday its net loss for the second quarter ended in December was $2.7 million, compared with a loss of $1.1 million in the same quarter last year. Revenue at the Richmond biotech (NASDAQ: NTII) grew from $300,000 in the fourth quarter a year ago to $694,000 in the most recent quarter. NTI, which said it had cash and equivalents worth $15.1 million at quarter's end, announced recently that Viprinex, its drug to treat a type of stroke, was awarded fast-track status by the Food and Drug Administration.




From the January 21, 2005 print edition

Galaxy Desserts finds sweet deal in Richmond

2005-01-24 Katherine Conrad, East Bay Business Times
Perhaps it was the five freezers parked in the driveway of Galaxy Desserts that convinced the gourmet dessert company that it was time to move to the East Bay - even if it was two years ahead of schedule. All CEO Paul Levitan knows is that the company he and Jean-Yves Charon founded in 1998 had outgrown its 18,200-square-foot home in San Rafael - a space that Levitan had thought of as huge when he moved in six years ago. When he saw twice that much space in Richmond - completely outfitted for food manufacturing - he knew he had found his new headquarters.

"We found not only a food facility, but it was in wonderful condition. It had large freezers, everything," Levitan said. "We saw it and fireworks went off." The 5-year lease for 36,000 square feet with options to extend and expand was signed with the landlord, Marin County Employees Retirement Association, in December. No one would disclose the financial terms, but market rates of about 75 cents a square foot place the value of the lease at $1.6 million. "We did not move there because of the price. We moved there because of the space," Levitan said.

Levitan began looking for new quarters last summer. As his broker, Trevor Buck of Meridian Commercial Inc., noted, commercial space larger than 5,000 square feet is hard to find in Marin County so they didn't spend much time there. Persuading Marin County tenants to cross the Richmond-San Rafael bridge can be difficult, but once they do, the space options multiply, Buck said. "I looked at probably a couple hundred spaces in the last seven, eight months of 2004," Levitan said. "A lot in the East Bay and as far north as Petaluma and Santa Rosa. I found lots of good spots, but they required millions of dollars in improvements."

And then he found the food distribution warehouse at 1100 Marina Way South vacated by Cafferata Pasta, which was bought by Valley Fine Foods of Benicia in December. Another food tenant in the Richmond warehouse, Tom's Cookies, may take Galaxy's space in San Rafael. "We all know each other," Levitan explained. The warehouse also had been the food distribution facility for Viking Foods, which was acquired in 2000 by Columbus Distributing of Hayward.

"(The space) never really hit the market," said Jeff Leenhouts, a broker for BT Commercial, who represented the landlord. "I knew (Galaxy) was in the market. I had caught wind that my tenant was vacating so I called their broker and made the deal." Galaxy Desserts, which reached $10 million at the end of its last fiscal year, has much higher numbers in mind for June. "We keep growing," Levitan said. "Last fiscal year we doubled and at the end of this fiscal year, we plan to grow by 50 to 75 percent." Levitan will neither confirm nor deny a rumor that Galaxy Desserts will be satisfying Starbucks' sweet tooth and that the supposed deal contributed heavily to the decision to find larger quarters.

"We've gotten some large new accounts," Levitan admitted. "We are doing some work with Starbucks - it's not massive yet." Galaxy Desserts has experienced steady growth since Levitan and Charon united their two companies, the Cheesecake Lady and Paris Delights. The company experienced a huge leap when Oprah Winfrey listed Galaxy's Molten Chocolate Cake Batter on her "Favorite Things" show in 2003. She already had complimented the company's croissants in 2002 and included them again on her "O" list in 2003. "We were ready for somewhat of a rush after the Oprah show and we got it. We went to work around the clock from Thanksgiving to Christmas. One day, we shipped 11,000 packages of our assorted desserts by Fed-Ex and UPS," he said. "We love Oprah. That was certainly a major event in our growth and our history."

Even as busy as the catalog shipping has become, it represents only 10 percent of Galaxy's business. The bulk of the company's customers are high-end grocery retailers, such as Andronico's and Whole Foods in the East Bay. Much rides on the anticipation of the business that will be generated if Charon's audition for the QVC Inc. shopping channel goes well. Levitan hopes Charon's live segment will air sometime during the first quarter. Galaxy plans to be up and running Jan. 31 with most of its 100 employees in place. "Everyone is really excited about parking," Levitan said. "We have no parking in San Rafael. We double and triple and quadruple park."

Reach Conrad at kconrad@bizjournals.com or 925-598-1427.

Richmond: Outdoorsman turns lens on adventures to tempt novices into the wild

Tony Cooper, Chronicle Staff Writer, Friday, February 11, 2005,  http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/02/11/EBGTLB63HE1.DTL

Jeff Pflueger was a maven of the outdoors even as a teenager growing up in Mill Valley. While his peers were probably at the mall, Pflueger was likely to be leading nature trips. Pflueger laughs when he remembers guiding a group of backpackers at age 16. "I didn't tell anyone (in the group) how old I was,'' said Pflueger, now 35. "I played this game where I'd ask them to guess how old I was (when the hike was over). They thought I was in my 20s. It's funny -- they had no idea how old I was. I wouldn't have trusted a 16-year-old kid. I didn't even have a driver's license.''

But he knew his stuff. Pflueger's father, Otto, introduced him to backpacking and fishing at an early age, and his resume is jam-packed with accomplishments now. He has kayaked, climbed and rafted all over the world, including ascents of Denali and Mount Foraker in Alaska, as well as the big walls in Yosemite and alpine first ascents north of the Arctic Circle. Pflueger is also a noted nature guide and instructor, working with Outward Bound West, a national organization designed to expose young people to the natural world. These days, Pflueger's focus is photography, a passion for which he developed as he became a more experienced outdoorsman.

His skills with the camera and as an adventurer will be on display Tuesday at the REI in Berkeley. Pflueger will show slides of his climbs in Alaska and a kayaking venture down the Copper River and across Prince William Sound, among other trips. But Pflueger, who also builds photography-related Web sites, isn't just showing off. He aims to bring the outdoors to those who have little or no experience in camping, hiking and the like. "I've been outdoors all my life,'' said Pflueger, a Richmond resident. "I really enjoy the camaraderie of the people I've taken trips with and the solitude. (I want to make) the element of exploration and adventuring accessible.

"People have this perception that people who like the outdoors are scared of crowds and an urban environment. There's nothing antisocial about being outdoors. I think of it as kind of exciting -- I like the contrast. You can be in a dense, urban (area) and the next day be in the middle of nowhere with no one around you.'' In November, Pflueger presented his slide shows at four Bay Area REIs, including Concord and Fremont. Other shows earlier this month took place in Saratoga and San Francisco. "(The shows) have been received really well,'' said Pflueger, a graduate of Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, and UC Berkeley. "People get excited about it and ask a lot of questions. I tell people what they can do if they haven't had a lot of experience outdoors. I want to impart some knowledge in people and inspire them to take trips.''

Pflueger's monthlong kayaking trip through Prince William Sound covered 600 miles. "It was really memorable; I enjoyed it,'' he said. "To be able to make your own itinerary and not have to follow anyone's schedule is the ultimate solitude and liberation. "The Alaska course is one of the most challenging things (I've) done. Alaska water can be terrible.'' Then there's the cold. Pflueger said one of the biggest challenges of one trip was keeping his camera working in subzero temperatures. He had to sleep with it to keep it warm. The slides give a better picture of the severity of the conditions than any words could.

"Saying it's 30- or 40-below doesn't mean anything to anyone,'' Pflueger said. "If people see (the conditions) it makes it more accessible, more understandable.'' Mark Sundeen, a New York adventurer/writer, marvels at Pflueger's skills. He accompanied Pflueger two years ago on a climbing expedition to the Alaskan arctic for an article published in National Geographic Adventure. They've gone on other journeys as well. "He's just an ox and an incredible kayaker,'' Sundeen said. "He's great to work with and has so many outdoor skills. He'll paddle all day, then take pictures. He has a seemingly endless reserve of energy.''

Although photography and his Web-development endeavors take up most of his time, Pflueger takes trips whenever he can, including to nearby spots such as Point Reyes or the Sierra. He hopes to inspire others to do the same. "I'm surprised more people don't take advantage (of the resources) they have here,'' Pflueger said. 'There are people I know who live in San Francisco who've never even seen the beach. "You're just a couple of steps away from (getting out of) the urban environment, and don't even need a car or bus. You can be in San Francisco, walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, then walk to the Headlands to explore.''

Armchair adventure

Adventurer, guide and photographer Jeff Pflueger will give a slide presentation of six years' worth of trips to Alaska at 7 p.m. Tuesday at REI, 1338 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley. Free. (510) 527-4140, (510) 847-0650; www.jeffpflueger.com.

E-mail Tony Cooper at tcooper@sfchronicle.com.

Literacy for Every Adult


Working for a better Bay Area

- Suzanne Pullen
Sunday, February 13, 2005


Big turnout for Richmond reading program:

Everything is coming up roses at the Literacy for Every Adult Project, and project manager Rodney Ferguson says ChronicleWatch readers are to thank for it. After our item about the program's need for tutors last month, Ferguson received 44 inquiries, oriented 25 tutors and referred several people to other adult literacy programs. He also got calls from AAA, senior centers and representatives from Howard Dean's Democracy for America. "What a great response from your readership," said volunteer coordinator Virgil Weekes, who told us the program, also known as LEAP, has lost staff and closed offices due to recent budget cuts. "We were shocked at how many people wanted to help." Steve Rich of Alameda called LEAP after reading in ChronicleWatch that many of the center's clients were trying to improve their reading skills for job advancement. "The program gives them opportunities, not charity," said Rich, who was paired up with his student this week. "English is her second language and she has a job at Taco Bell," he said. "But she has higher aspirations for herself and wants to get a better job." LaVonne Rochon began volunteering for LEAP six months ago after she retired. "The one-on-one tutoring is so important. It gives adults the tools to empower themselves," she said. The center began in 1984 and serves a client base of 18- to 34-year-olds. Weekes says he considers the ability to read essential to building a strong community and country. "A free press and literate population are so important in our democracy," he said. To contact LEAP, call (510) 307-8084.

Who got it done: Rodney Ferguson, Project LEAP learning center manager, (510) 307-8084; rferguson@richmondworks.org