2007: Controversy and Community
Jan 02, 2008 | 2035 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print

A mostly unused airfield next to a town of 500 people might not earn much notice from passers-by, but its fate produced lots of noise among Stanislaus County residents this year. It’s safe to say few issues on the West Side have generated as much controversy at the county level in the past several decades as the future of the Crows Landing Air Facility, making it the Irrigator’s top story of the year.

Meanwhile, a gang brawl at Patterson High School this year also gave Patterson lots of attention. The same goes for a case against a woman who pleaded guilty to giving high school students alcohol and having sex with two teenage boys.

But not all was dire in 2007. Patterson High School dedicated its revamped community stadium before the football team went on to the section championship game, and its boys soccer team also had a stellar season.

The end result was a year that will not be soon forgotten by local historians, highlighted by the following events:

  • Controversy over the former Crows Landing Air Facility started brewing early in the year. In January, a county-appointed steering committee and selection committee favored Dallas–based Hillwood to develop the former naval airbase between Crows Landing and Patterson.

  • Many committee members took issue with a 12,830-acre master plan that the rival PCCP West Park initially had proposed for the surrounding area, saying it was way too big. They also opposed the project’s reliance on a short-haul rail link to the Port of Oakland, fearing the impact of trains going through Patterson. Others said they liked that West Park developer Gerry Kamilos had a different kind of vision, and some said Hillwood had used government subsidies to support past projects.

    When it came time for county voters to choose a proposal in February, they opted for the West Park plan, which had been scaled back to 4,800 acres but was still much larger than the 1,527-acre airfield.

    The board’s decision caused uproar among several West Side attendees at the meeting and kicked off a year in which West Park’s proposal took center stage in many public forums. The cities of Patterson and Newman, the Patterson and Newman-Crows Landing school districts and the local fire protection district all publicly opposed the plan, and a group of West Side residents organized in opposition. Meanwhile, West Park has helped organize a group of proponents, mostly from Newman.

    Now, West Park is working with the county to get state bond money to help pay for the project and is preparing a final master development agreement. If all goes as planned, the board of supervisors will review that agreement April 8. It all means the airfield will likely continue to play a prominent role in the stories of 2008.

  • The West Side became a winter wonderland in mid-January, after a week of temperatures in the mid-20s. Giant icicles formed on apricot and almond trees when growers flooded the orchards to protect their crops, wowing local residents unused to such sights.

  • Most of those trees remained undamaged, but farmers of citrus crops and winter crops such as broccoli were far less enchanted by the winter revelry, as many of them lost a substantial portion of their harvest to frost.

  • What started as an investigation into an automobile accident involving several teens early Jan. 20 soon became a small-town scandal that grabbed headlines across the nation. Investigators learned that 18-year-old Robert Garcia Jr., who had been driving an SUV that overturned, had been drinking at a party in Grayson, where the homeowner served alcohol to close to a dozen teens.

  • Anna Walker, 35, the wife of an Atwater police officer, allegedly kicked the Patterson High School students out of her house in the wee hours and paid Garcia to drive 11 youths to their homes in Patterson before the accident on Highway 33 near Sequoia Avenue.

    It was later learned that she also had sex with two boys, ages 15 and 16, during a party at her home Dec. 2, 2006, following a night of strip poker and drinking games.

    Walker ultimately pleaded guilty March 29 to having sex with the minors and to child endangerment. She was sentenced to 300 days in jail.

  • More than seven years after a blaze consumed more than 7 million tires near Westley, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control declared in March that the spot was pollutant-free. That followed a $20 million cleanup effort, a lawsuit from those who said they suffered ill health effects and national media attention.

  • In February, local developer and rancher Jeff Arambel bought the land that housed Ed Filbin’s former tire pile, the Modesto Energy tire plant and an adjacent service station and restaurant. Though Arambel hopes to develop property west of Interstate 5 in Patterson, he said he plans to keep the former tire-fire property as rangeland.

  • The Villages of Patterson, a 3,100-home development proposed for northeast Patterson, received final approval after the county Local Agency Formation Commission approved annexing land for the project into the city. Planned amenities include soccer fields, a shopping area patterned after Patterson’s downtown circle and neighborhoods with housing subsidized for residents with low and very low incomes.

  • By the end of the year, however, rumors were brewing about the project being for sale, and a slow housing economy has made it a safe bet that nothing will be built in the area for a long time.

  • The hills west of Patterson appeared to be victimized by arsonists in May, with a couple of possibly unrelated fires happening within a week of each other.

  • First, firefighters battled a series of brush fires along Diablo Grande Parkway and Oak Flat Road the night of May 10. No one was caught or cited for the matter, though investigators called it suspicious.

    Someone started a much bigger fire off Del Puerto Canyon Road on May 15, causing a 155-acre blaze. Fire crews had the flames under control within a day, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection ultimately deemed it arson.

    Meanwhile, the biggest fire in western Stanislaus County this year started as a complete accident. The Lick Fire, started Sept. 3 by a Henry Coe Park campfire near Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County, consumed 47,760 acres by the time it was all done, including parts of far west Stanislaus County. Firefighters from the West Stanislaus Fire Protection District and Cal Fire were among those who helped wrestle the blaze under control.

  • Police arrested a 15-year-old Patterson High School student, who turned himself in May 26, a few days after deputies found potentially explosive materials in a sport utility vehicle in front of his home on North El Circulo in Patterson. The boy had reportedly threatened to kill 50 fellow students at Patterson High School, making several parents, students and neighbors nervous.

  • Though it is difficult to learn the status of related court proceedings because it is a juvenile case, the incident seemed to be mostly forgotten by local residents by the end of the year.

  • The dream of never-ending increasing home values came to a crashing halt throughout the nation this year, and the northern San Joaquin Valley, including Patterson, was Ground Zero for the national real estate crisis. As people with adjustable mortgages watched their rates increase, many could not make payments, and foreclosures went through the roof. The local real estate industry was hit hard, as were local restaurants and sellers of luxury items, such as jewelry.
  • The city of Patterson shut down one of its wells temporarily in May and then permanently in June after excessive nitrates were found in the well water. The city asked residents in some of Patterson’s newer neighborhoods to temporarily ration water, and some complained of problems with low water pressure.

  • Meanwhile, West Side farmers found they also must be cautious with their water supply after pumping was curtailed for state and federal water projects because of fears for the Delta smelt, a threatened fish. A federal court decision by Judge Oliver Wanger later in the year indicated that smelt-related pumping curtailments will remain until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fixes a biological opinion regarding the fish.

    In other water news, Patterson city officials continued work with a consultant, the H2O Group, on a water plan. The city also began talks with the city of Newman about sharing a water treatment facility.

  • Several longtime employees expressed fears of the unknown after Patterson Frozen Foods announced in October 2006 that it would sell its 60-year-old local food processing plant.

  • But when the sale finally went through June 19, not much changed other than the owner and the name.

    Fresno-based Woolf Farming became the principal buyer of the new Patterson Vegetable Co., which acquired all of Patterson Frozen Foods’ assets. The other company owners consisted of Patterson Frozen Foods’ former executive team. One of the members of that team, vice president of sales Tom Ielmini, has since left the company. He was the last member on staff of the Ielmini family that started Patterson Frozen Foods in the 1940s.

    Meanwhile, the new company continues to plug along, having retaining most of the former plant’s workers.

  • Spurred by talk of development in Crows Landing, the city of Patterson began work on revising its general plan, projecting what the city should look like 40 years from now. That process has included public workshops, the formation of a citizen’s committee and talks between City Council members and planning commissioners. The City Council-appointed General Plan Advisory Committee and city consultant Dave Moran of Crawford Multari & Clark Associates have come up with different plans, and the council and commission continue to consider aspects of both of them.

  • The GPAC has advocated that Patterson aim for a population of about 154,000 in 2048, while council members and commissioners have talked about dropping that to about 100,000 people. The GPAC plan also includes development west of Interstate 5 and acres of ranchette housing along much of Patterson’s southern boundary, while Moran’s proposal has neither of those things.

    Initially, the City Council hoped to finish revising the general plan by November 2008, but the council and commission in October agreed to slow down the process because of confusion surrounding some of the proceedings.

  • A Patterson resident was murdered for the first time since 2004 when 18-year-old Emmanuel Moreno was shot Aug. 11 outside a party in Crows Landing.

  • Moreno was taken back to Patterson and later to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where he was pronounced dead. Local police say the shooting was gang-related, though at least one family member said that was not the case.

    Many members of the Runners, a Patterson-based gang, paid homage to Moreno with messages on their vehicles and on Internet sites. Four months later, the sheriff’s department still has no solid leads on the case.

  • A deal for a Modesto Junior College site in Patterson fell through in October, leading the Yosemite Community College District to seek other options. However, the district remains interested in building an eventual campus in Patterson and is even considering a joint-use agreement with the city and the Stanislaus County Library.

  • Developer Michael Miroyan previously had close to 30 acres under contract off Baldwin Road near Sperry Avenue, but he was not able to obtain title to the land by an Oct. 1 deadline. After the deal fell through, the college district received several offers for other sites, mostly from developers who hope to be included in the city’s future general plan.

    Patterson city officials announced in December that the city is talking with college district and county officials about sharing a 30,000-square-foot building that could be used as a West Side library and could temporarily house college classes for MJC. The building would go up next to the city’s future community center, though details about who would pay for the building and whether the college district would use it have yet to be resolved.

  • A forum hosted by Patterson Police Services turned tense Sept. 13, following allegations from attendees about police harassment.

    Several residents during the forum and at council meetings beforehand said they had been targeted by police because of their ethnicity or because of their attire.

    Police countered that in some of those cases, there was more to the story than their accusers said. They also said they tried to warn people not to wear certain colors in certain neighborhoods for their own safety because of the gangs in the area. No additional forums were scheduled, though some residents say they still have concerns.
  • Thousands turned out to the Patterson High School home football opener Sept. 14 to check out the official unveiling of the new field at Patterson Community Stadium. In addition to the $1 million-plus new artificial turf, a new scoreboard was installed, thanks to lots of financial help and hands-on work from volunteers. The end result was a stadium that became the envy of other high schools in the region. It seemed to bode well for both the soccer and football teams, which both finished with winning seasons.
  • The date Sept. 19, 2007, will be one of infamy at Patterson High School after a series of gang-related fights broke out on campus during the school’s morning nutrition break. Law enforcement agents responded from throughout the county after hearing initial reports that 150 students were involved in the brawl and that a student might have a gun on campus, and media crews showed up in droves.

  • Police later narrowed the fights down to about 12 to 15 students, and no gun was found. However, students were on lockdown in their classrooms for much of the school day, with many worried parents standing on the school lawn. Patterson Unified School District responded the next week with a forum, which attracted hundreds of concerned parents. Administrators said an assembly Oct. 3 with motivational speaker Michael Pritchard helped the school heal, along with direct talks between administrators, parents and students involved in the brawl.

  • A 17-year-old Patterson High School cheerleader died in a crash that the California Highway Patrol says may have been alcohol-related early Oct. 13, after returning from a party in Turlock. Korre Mitchell was driving westbound on West Main Street near Jennings Road when her vehicle crossed over the yellow line to the other side.

  • The driver, who was not belted, was thrown from the vehicle, which landed on top of her before bursting into flames. Her passenger, Jessyca Lopez, 18, of Turlock, was wearing a seat belt and had only minor injuries. Mitchell’s funeral at Sacred Heart Catholic Church was packed, and many students also attended a memorial service at the high school.

    It was a year of many tragic accidents, including a Nov. 17 collision on Jennings Road near Monte Vista Avenue that killed 33-year-old Patterson resident Berenice Mora Corral and 18-year-old David Morris of Modesto.

    Patterson’s Norma Ragsdale died in a crash near Newman on March 10 after her car hit a power pole, and Crows Landing resident Paul Bernard died Aug. 13 after his tractor plunged into the San Joaquin River near his family’s farm.

  • The company handling Patterson’s telecommunications needs changed for the second time in three years, when Frontier Communications Solutions took over Global Valley Networks’ operations in November. Previously, the Evans Cos. changed its name to Global Valley Networks in 2004, after New Jersey-based Country Road Communications bought the company in 2001.

  • Now, Frontier plans to offer new products to Patterson, such as satellite television service and digital phone technology, and it aims to increase high-speed Internet access in rural areas. The company said at the time of the acquisition that it had no plans to eliminate jobs in Patterson.

  • A new Patterson resident announced in late November her intent to put a slow-growth measure and a term-limits initiative on a future ballot, eliciting an outcry from many local residents.

  • Former Burbank resident Donna Worley, who has done advocacy work in the Southern California communities of Rialto and Malibu in the past, said she gets politically involved wherever she lives. However, several opponents of the West Park industrial park project in Crows Landing have accused her of being a paid consultant because of her pro-West Park stance.

    Both Worley and West Park developer Kamilos have denied the allegations, saying they do not even know each other. Kamilos also has said he does not think the slow-growth measure is such a good idea, as Patterson is revising its general plan.

    Worley’s term limits measure would limit the mayor and City Council members to two terms each. Her proposed slow-growth measure would limit the city to issuing 200 housing building permits each year.
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