It’s that time of year again; time to look back at the past 12 months and reflect on the good times as well as the bad. As with most years, 2019 had a mixture of positive happenings — the opening of a long-awaited bowling alley — around Turlock and not so good.
There were also a few historic happenings this year including the leadership of Turlock’s first female mayor, Amy Bublak, and the appointment of Michelle Reimers as the Turlock Irrigation District’s first female CEO.
2019 was a historic year for the Turlock Journal as well. After 78 years of calling 138 S. Center St. home, the newspaper moved its offices all the way across the street. The Journal is now located on the second floor of 121 S. Center St., above the F&M Bank.
Before looking ahead to all the possibilities of 2020, take a minute to review all that happened in 2019.
City in financial straits
The Turlock City Council spent most of 2019 trying to find a way out of a gaining financial crisis.
In February, the Council received a report saying that if the City continued in its current deficit spending pattern, the General Fund Reserves would be below $3 million by June 2020. The Turlock Municipal Code mandates that the City maintain at least a 7 percent reserve ($3.027 million).
In June, the Council adopted a budget for the next fiscal year that sees a drastic tightening of the City’s financial belt and significantly impacts what services are provided to Turlock residents. While the adopted budget did not lay off any employees, it did defund 16 vacant or soon to be vacant positions and drastically cut public safety overtime budgets that put fewer police officers and firefighters on duty on a weekly basis.
Many customer service offices at City departments now have limited hours due to staffing cuts. Parks and Recreation, Planning and Police Records offices are now only open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In light of the financial crisis, a series of public meetings were held at the end of 2019 where Interim City Manager Michael Cooke explained the City’s current status and input was sought on revenue generating ideas, including a possible tax on the November 2020 ballot.
Cannabis comes to town
The City of Turlock reversed its ban on marijuana operations in May, with the adoption of a cannabis pilot program that will allow up to four cannabis dispensaries in the City of Turlock, along with an unspecified number of commercial manufacturing, testing and distribution businesses. The program was adopted in a split vote, 3-2, with Mayor Amy Bublak and Council member Rebecca Arellano opposing.
In late July that City staff selected its top four candidates to operate retail dispensaries in town — a competitive contest that saw over 30 applicants vying for a spot. The City also received eight applications for cannabis manufacturing, testing and/or distribution operations.
In the months that followed, both the Planning Commission and City Council approved Development Agreements for the various businesses. The next stage in the process is for the two governing bodies to approve Conditional Use Permits for each location — a step that has yet to take place, pushing the opening of cannabis related businesses into 2020.
City leadership departures
In 2019, the City of Turlock lost three of its top leadership.
In June, the City of Turlock fired Turlock Fire Chief Robert Talloni. The City declined to state a reason why Talloni was fired, other than that it was a personnel issue. In a news release the City said the termination would be effective as of July 1 and expressed thanks to “Chief Talloni for his service and wishes him well in his future endeavors.” Gary Carlson was appointed Interim Fire Chief and has been running the Turlock Fire Department since then.
In August, Turlock City Manager Bob Lawton announced that he was resigning from the position he held for just over one year to pursue new opportunities. When Lawton was hired by the City of Turlock, he agreed to a three-year contract. The City Council appointed Michael Cooke as interim city manager through 2020. Cooke served as the City of Turlock's Municipal Services Director.
Administrative Services Director Kellie Jacobs-Hunter turned in her resignation in September.
Carson, brothers found not guilty
Defense attorney Frank Carson and brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who own the Pop N’ Cork stores in Turlock, were facing criminal charges for the death of 26-year-old Turlock resident Korey Kauffman. The jury of 10 women and two men reached not guilty verdicts for all three defendants on charges of first- and second-degree murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice on June 28. The jury also came back with not guilty verdicts for the brothers on voluntary manslaughter charges.
In August 2015, Carson, Atwal, Athwal and five others were
arrested in connection to Kauffman’s death. Carson’s wife Georgia DeFilippo and
former California Highway Patrol Officer Walter Wells were both charged with
Kauffman’s murder, while Carson’s stepdaughter, Christina DeFilippo, and former
CHP officers Eduardo Quintanar and Scott McFarlane were charged with conspiracy
and being accessories in the death and cover-up.
At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing Judge Barbara Zuniga ruled there was not sufficient cause to hold Georgia DeFilippo, Christina DeFilippo, and Quintanar over for trial on the charges lodged against them. She did rule Wells should face trial on charges of conspiracy and acting as an accessory. His case is pending, as is McFarland’s, who was being tried separately.
The trial was expected to last six months, but instead went for 14 months. The case set a record for the longest preliminary hearing in Stanislaus County at 18 months and has seen an assortment of ancillary issues arise, including two current civil lawsuits. Georgia DeFilippo and Christina DeFilippo have filed a lawsuit against Stanislaus County, the City of Modesto, the City of Turlock, the City of Ceres and members of law enforcement and the district attorney’s office for violation of their civil rights, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. Quintanar has also filed a similar lawsuit. Both were on hold pending the outcome of the criminal trial and are now expected to resume. Georgia DeFilippo said Carson could be joining her lawsuit or start his own.
Turlock High student tragedies
The students, staff and faculty of Turlock High School suffered a number of tragic deaths in 2019.
FFA and student athlete Kaden Farro died Sept. 7 in an all-terrain vehicle accident.
Farro was driving a 2006 Suzuki ATV while working in an orchard at Hawkins Road, north of Keyes Road. According to the CHP, Farro turned to the left to make a U-turn when the ATV rolled to the right.
Farro was thrown off the ATV, which then rolled on top of him, causing fatal injuries. Farro was pronounced deceased at the scene.
Senior Thaily Gutierrez was killed in a car crash on Oct. 12. The collision that claimed Gutierrez’s life also critically injured another 17-year-old girl, according to the police department.
Gutierrez was a passenger in a sedan being driven by the 17-year-old girl. The sedan had stopped at a posted stop sign at the intersection of West Avenue South and Angelus Street. The intersection only has stop signs on Angelus.
The sedan was traveling west on Angelus and had stopped at the stop sign. The driver drove the car into the intersection, directly into the path of a sports utility vehicle that was headed south on West Avenue South. The driver of the SUV, an 18-year-old man, whose name was not released, did not have a stop sign at the intersection.
The SUV broadsided the sedan on the passenger side. The impact caused Gutierrez to be pinned inside the vehicle and she had to be extricated by the Turlock Fire Department.
Bystanders to the collision rushed to aid the two teen girls. The bystanders were able to pull the driver from the vehicle and began giving her CPR, which resulted in her regaining consciousness at the scene, according to the police department.
Both of the teen girls were seriously injured in the collision and were rushed to a local hospital by ambulance. Gutierrez died from her injuries a few hours after the collision, the police department reported.
Turlock High sophomore Estevan Nuno was drinking with friends at Crane Park in the afternoon Oct. 21 when he fell unconscious and stopped breathing. Officers arrived on scene within minutes and immediately began to administer CPR on the teenager. Turlock Fire and American Medical Response personnel arrived at the park and took over CPR, but despite the life-saving measures undertaken, Nuno was pronounced deceased at the park.
This marked the third death the THS campus has experienced since the start of the school year.
Turlock welcomes new businesses, says goodbye to longtime favorites
The city saw some gains in economic development over the past year, with the opening of exciting new offerings in food and entertainment, while also seeing the shuttering of a few longtime businesses.
Less than seven years after Blue Diamond Growers broke ground on its Turlock facility, representatives from the almond marketer and processor once again pulled out the golden shovels in January as they celebrated the plant’s expansion. With an estimated completion date of spring 2020, the Blue Diamond expansion consists of 52,000 square feet which will be used specifically to create an integrated almond beverage base line, where, for the first time, everything needed for the product will be manufactured in the same facility.
The long-time dream of a bowling alley returning to Turlock was made reality in May, when the Ten Pin Fun Center opened its doors. The 62,000 square foot family entertainment center includes 34 bowling lanes, an arcade with 60 games, a 10,000 square foot laser tag attraction, outdoor bocce ball courts and a full-scale restaurant.
It’s not very often that you can find dishes with Indian, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese influences as part of one deliciously-cohesive menu, but that’s exactly what restaurateurs Jennifer Doerksen and LeRoy Walker accomplished in opening their second downtown endeavor, First & Main, in August.
In September, MedicAlert Foundation celebrated its return to Turlock. The medical information company was founded in 1953 by Dr. Marion and Chrissie Collins, who started the business in their Turlock home. The MedicAlert emblem is now globally recognized by first responders and emergency personnel, who connect with MedicAlert’s 24/7 Emergency Response Team for a member’s health record. MedicAlert remained a part of the Turlock community until 2015, when the Foundation moved to Salida. It returned to Turlock this year when it moved into 101 Lander Ave.
After 15 years as part of the downtown Turlock community, Red Brick Bar & Grill owners Steve Backus and Ed Samo closed the popular nightlife spot for good in June. Backus and Samo’s longtime Turlock business first started out as On Broadway with Two Guys Catering in 2004, located across the street from City Hall on the corner of South Broadway and A Street. Three years later, the duo converted one of the catering hall’s banquet rooms and its connecting parking lot into a bar and patio, which for two more years served as a venue for weddings and other special occasions.
Following the recession, Backus and Samo decided to shift the space into a bar and restaurant atmosphere and Red Brick was born, kicking off an exciting decade that would eventually attract visitors to Turlock by the thousands over the years. On June 30, the two owners closed the door on an era as their building’s lease expired.
Throughout its nearly 70 years in business, National Market’s meat counter had provided customers with not only its excellent cuts, but amicable service that comes along with a purchase. Owner Don Ow had worked at National Market since he was a young boy, spending his time outside of school and sports sorting bottles, stocking the shelves and even working behind the meat counter as a teen. His grandfather Jue and father Jing opened the market in 1951, making Ow the third generation to operate the store.
Some of life’s most precious moments are immortalized through jewelry, and the Geigers know that best. The family’s longtime downtown jewelry store is preparing to close its doors by the end of the year after 37 years of providing the Turlock community with rings, necklaces, watches and memories that will last a lifetime.
One of Turlock’s most-beloved restaurants now has a new owner — and kind of a new name. Latif’s by Pedretti — formerly known as Latif’s Restaurant — was purchased in November by Turlock native Nick Pedretti, who former owner Bob Stevens says he’s “passing the torch” to in good faith. Stevens has been a part of Latif’s since 1981, working in the restaurant first under his parents, Jim and Shirley Stevens, and eventually partnering with them before becoming the sole owner in 1997. Pedretti will be the third family name to take over Latif’s since it opened in June of 1960, and he said he’s eager — and nervous — to take over the famed restaurant after serving as the downtown Dust Bowl taproom’s general manager for nearly nine years.
Measure L funds put to use, finally
The City of Turlock celebrated the completion of its first Measure L project with a public ribbon cutting of West Main Street on Nov. 1.
Measure L — Local Roads First Transportation Funding — was approved by voters in November 2016 and went into effect April 1, 2017. The 25-year one-half cent countywide special sales tax is to be used exclusively for regional and local transportation, as well as other transit improvements.
The West Main project was the City’s first Measure L project and included a complete reconstruction of the areas between Lander and South Walnut in two phases. The project took a long time to start and had a few delays during construction.
The City began soliciting public input for the West Main Street project in January 2016, with the hopes that construction could start in August 2017. Conflicting opinion on how the oldest part of West Main should be realigned and a rushed bid process delayed the project. Construction finally began in summer 2018.