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Looking back at 2018
Elections, homeless top stories over past year
amy bublak election night
Amy Bublak (standing in center with a red blouse and grey jacket) celebrates with family, friends and supporters at Jura’s Pizza on Election night (Journal file photo).

It’s always hard to sum up a year’s worth of news into one recap story.  This year, I decided to take a look at issues that we repeatedly covered throughout the year. This one article is in no means a true review of everything important that happened in 2018. The good thing is every story, photo, column and comment is available for your review at TurlockJournal.com! I encourage you to peruse our website over a hot cup of coffee this coming week — or something stronger — and remember the good times and the bad throughout 2018.

2018 Elections bring change

While the 2016 Presidential Election may have had a bigger impact on the country at large, the 2018 elections brought about significant changes for local residents including a Democratic representative for Congress and Turlock’s first-ever female mayor.

One week after voters cast their ballots in the 2018 November Midterm Election, first-time candidate and Democratic challenger Josh Harder was declared the victor over Republican incumbent Jeff Denham in the race to see who would represent California’s 10th Congressional District.

The high-profile race was targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee early on as part of their campaign to flip Republican-controlled districts over to Democrats, and this year’s midterms marked the fourth straight election that Denham has had to defend his incumbency against the “blue wave.” In 2016, Denham defeated Democratic challenger Michael Eggman by just three percentage points.

The Congressional race was heated from the start. As both candidates called Turlock their place of residence, the Journal was fortunate enough for a ringside seat in the battle for the 10th District. Both Harder and Denham sat down with Journal reporter Angelina Martin for a long-form interview through our 209 Podcast format.

In September, both candidates agreed (surprisingly) to face off against each other in a live audience debate hosted by the Journal that was also livestreamed on our youtube channel and televised on the local Univision station.

Those hoping for an energetic debate most likely left the Carnegie Arts Center pleased after Denham and Harder spent an hour and a half arguing about topics like healthcare, immigration, water and more, all while throwing in a few personal barbs throughout.

While the Denham-Harder race was heating up throughout the summer and fall months of 2018, it didn’t hold a candle to the drama surrounding the Turlock mayoral candidates.

Turlock residents active on social media may have characterized the 2018 mayoral race as a no-holds-barred smackdown between competing camps, with incumbent Gary Soiseth facing challengers in then-Council member Amy Bublak, former mayor Brad Bates and Jaime Franco. Bublak and Bates were prolific on social media stating what wrongs they saw at City Hall and their plans to fix them.

The Journal also hosted a live audience debate between the four mayoral candidates and livestreamed the event. The four candidates shared their views on water, the city budget, roads and cannabis during the forum, challenging each other’s assertions along the way.

Come Nov. 6, Turlock voters made their choice and elected the city’s first-ever female mayor in Bublak. Along with being the first female mayor, Bublak may also be the first police officer to hold the office. Bublak is a retired City of Modesto police officer. On election night, Bublak said that she didn’t consider her gender when deciding to run for office.

“I hope to just be that person who just reaches out and has everybody working with me…I think that’s my leadership in a nutshell,” she said at the time.

Did you miss some of the 2018 Election action? Don’t worry, both the Denham-Harder and the Turlock Mayoral Candidate Forum videos can be viewed at TurlockJournal.com.

 

City, community tackle homelessness and vagrancy issues

The year started out with the Turlock Gospel Mission inviting the community to come see the completed year-round shelter for homeless individuals that was years in the making.

homeless tent city pic1
A man takes a nap with his dog after packing up his belongings Thursday morning at the homeless camp formerly located underneath the Golden State Boulevard overpass in Turlock (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

Throughout 2018, however, a growing and visible homeless population prompted action from City Hall and community at large.

In May and June, meetings co-hosted by the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association, the City of Turlock and homeless service providers Turlock Gospel Mission, We Care Program and United Samaritans Foundation, allowed business owners to voice grievances about vagrancy issues that were having a negative affect on business while at the same time helping to come up with solutions to help those in need.

In July, a special City Council meeting was held to discuss what actions the City could take — which led to

In August, the Turlock City Council approved a number of actions to help alleviate vagrancy issues, especially in the downtown area. The Council agreed to partner with the Turlock Gospel Mission to fund Outreach, Navigation, and Diversion Program Services. This program put a Homeless Navigator on the street level to work case management and help homeless individuals find and utilize the services they need to help get them off the streets.

The City Council also:

  • Modified the hours that all City of Turlock parks are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. to dusk, on a trial basis with a report back on its effect on crime to the City Council in January;
  • Amended the Turlock Municipal Code regarding the removal of personal property illegally stored in a city park, street or public area from seven days to 24 hours after giving notice of impending impoundment.

Right before the holiday season, the issue of homelessness was once more put in the spotlight when the Stanislaus County Public Works Department dismantled a homeless tent city erected under the Golden State Boulevard overpass just outside the Turlock city limits.

Turlock’s municipal code states it is unlawful for any person to camp, occupy camp facilities or use camp paraphernalia in any park, on any street or at any public parking lot or public area, improved or unimproved. In September, the City stopped enforcing the ordinance in the wake of the court’s decision and it continues to be suspended. The City does have an ordinance which prohibits people from constructing or erecting “any building or structure of whatever kind, whether permanent or temporary in character” on any public lands, including tents in public parks.

Several of the homeless individuals who had to move from the Golden State Boulevard encampment relocated to Broadway Park in downtown Turlock. After multiple notices to vacate were posted by City of Turlock workers, a cleanup of the park was enforcement on Nov. 27.

In December, the Turlock City Council approved a motion to declare a shelter crisis in the city, opening up access to funds from the state earmarked for homelessness issues. The City of Turlock had to make the declaration to gain access to the $7.2 million in funds from the Homeless Emergency Aid Program that has been allocated to Stanislaus Community System of Care. The funding is based on population and the 2017 point in time homeless count.

Exactly how much of those funds and how they will be used in the City of Turlock have yet to be determined.

Other notable events in 2018:

  • In January, the Turlock City Council voted to deny approval to three cannabis operations hoping to open near Turlock on county land. The Council also adopted a policy to deny approval to any future cannabis-related enterprise within Turlock’s sphere of influence. Cannabis operations — and the City’s ban — was a campaign issue and is expected to be revisited in 2019.
  • Turlock mourned the loss of former mayor Dale Pinkney. He died on April 14 at the age of 86. Pinkney left behind a legacy of public service. He was appointed to the Turlock Planning Commission by former mayor Enoch Christoffersen and served from 1968 to 1970. He then ran and was elected to the Turlock City Council and served from 1970 to 1978. He was then elected Turlock’s 18th mayor and served from 1978 to 1982.
  • Turlock and most of the San Joaquin Valley experienced the worst air in history as smoke wafting in from the County Fire burning in Napa, Lake and Yolo counties and the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County in July and then the Camp Fire in Butte County in November prompted multiple health cautions and cancellations at many area schools and most outdoor events.
  • The City of Turlock welcomed a new City Manager in July with Robert Lawton. He relieved Turlock Fire Chief Robert Talloni, who had been serving as Interim City Manager since Gary Hampton left the City in July 2017.
  • The City of Turlock started seeing the fruits of the countywide road tax voters narrowly approved in 2016 when the West Main Street reconstruction and rehabilitation project got underway in July.
  • In September, the City of Turlock dedicated its new transit center on the corner of N. Golden State Boulevard and Hawkeye Avenue in memory of former transportation manager Roger K. Fall.
  • A brand new mural graces the walls of the Columbia Park pool, following a collaborative effort between Stanislaus State art students and community volunteers. The mural, which features images in nature all done in a vibrant color scheme, was dedicated in October.