Water: Rising rivers, rates and penalties
After years of drought in California the Tuolumne River Watershed had its wettest year in recorded history in 2017.
On Feb. 20, rains pushed the water at Don Pedro Reservoir past its maximum capacity of 830 feet and forced officials to open one of three controlled spillway gates for the first time in 20 years, sending water rushing out at 18,000 cubic feet per second.
Rivers rose and in turn drownings increased throughout the area, specifically in the month of June. On June 23, Nelson Guerra, 21 of Turlock, drowned at the Modesto Reservoir.
In addition to drownings, many individuals were forced to evacuate their homes like Grayson resident Gina Dawson who took refuge at the American Red Cross shelter at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock for more than a week.
“We were trying to keep as much water out as possible when the bern broke and 40,000 gallons of water came in,” Dawson said. “I was watching the water come in and I was dumbfounded. It was overwhelming.”
While the rivers were rising, the City of Turlock rolled out its new Excessive Water Use Penalty on June water bills, and approximately 695 customers used more than the allotted 40,000 gallons in May and were assessed a $25 fee.
The Turlock City Council adopted the Excessive Water Use Penalty in January, following a State mandate under Senate Bill 814, which requires urban water suppliers to establish a method to identify and discourage residential excessive water use.
"This is not that difficult. We're not talking about turning it off; we're not talking about excessive use, we're talking about responsible use," said Council member Bill DeHart in January.
On Dec. 12, the Turlock City Council voted to adopt a new water rate schedule that will see customers’ bills almost double over the next five years. The rate increases will go to treat the City’s current groundwater wells and help fund a new surface water treatment plant.
The public hearing saw a number of members of the community express their opposition to the rate increase. Many objected to the financial burden the rate increases will have on the communities’ poorest residents.
“Quite a few years ago when I served on this Council, I made every effort to postpone this project because I didn’t believe it was in the best interest in the City of Turlock or its citizens. It still isn’t,” said former Council member Ron Hillberg at the December public hearing.
Council members said that it was a difficult, yet necessary decision to secure a reliable source of drinking water for the residents of Turlock.
“We don’t want to become the next Flint, Michigan. We need to invest; it’s an investment for our future, for the 50 years of Turlock residents…I think this is a prudent investment in the future. But I need everybody here to continue to hold not just this Council, but future Councils, accountable,” said Vice Mayor Matthew Jacob.
There were nine homicides reported in Turlock for 2017, as of Thursday, and while the number is high — compared to seven in 2016 and two in 2015 — what’s really remarkable is that there’s only been an arrest in one of the cases.
Six of the cases occurred in the jurisdiction of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and three are being investigated by the Turlock Police Department.
The homicide count started with the discovery of the burned remains of Juan Carlos Ledesma-Infante, 39, of Stockton on Jan. 29 in a vehicle in the 5300 block of Griffin Road, between Taylor and Keyes roads.
Javier Manuel Zuniga, 46, of Turlock, was shot to death on Feb. 9 at the Venice Motel at 1114 N. Golden State Blvd.
Joga Shergill, 54, of Turlock was shot to death on June 15 and found in a dirt lot in the area of W. Glenwood and Lander avenues.
Norberto Martinez, 36, of Turlock was found shot to death on July 25 in the 1500 block of Golf Road.
Gregory Mendoza, 29, of Turlock died from injuries he sustained in an attack on Aug. 1 in the 100 block of West F Street.
Victor Enriquez, 27, of Turlock was fatally shot multiple times on Aug. 26 in the 100 block of Simmons Road.
Adam Wagner was shot Sept. 30 in the 200 Block of H Street. Jaymar Brown of Turlock was arrested as a suspect at the scene of the shooting — the only homicide arrest made this year.
Rudy Yvanes, 59, was discovered shot to death Oct. 21 in the 200 block of I Street.
Justin Anderson, 38, of Turlock shot to death Oct. 29 in the 300 block of Angelus Street.
The Turlock Police Department is investigating the deaths of Zuniga, Shergill and Anderson.
Rise in hate speech
Racism was not only a talked-about topic on the national scale in 2017, it also took center stage in Turlock this year.
Last year, Stanislaus State student Nathan Damigo made himself known throughout town as a white supremacist and leader of the alt-right group “Identity Evropa” when he posted fliers on campus that propagated the group’s views. This year, Damigo took credit for helping plan white supremacist rallies that made national headlines over the summer, and the fliers returned to Stanislaus State once again, along with alt-right stickers that popped up on the northside of Turlock.
In response to the stickers and after calls for action from the community, the Turlock City Council unanimously adopted an anti-hate resolution on Sept. 26. In response to Damigo, Stanislaus State students staged protests — and one fiery exchange took place during Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn’s annual Fall Address on Aug. 21.
The issue of racism was also brought to light at Turlock High School in late October, when derogative social media posts created by students on Instagram and Snapchat ignited a firestorm of fury as they were screenshotted and shared thousands of times.
THS senior Jadyn Tubbs shared one of the posts, which featured a racist joke, on twitter, where it amassed over 20,000 interactions.
“It takes someone that is pretty closed minded to make comments as such, and it takes a lot of nerve to post something like that on social media,” Tubbs told the Journal. “It’s hard seeing things like that, and makes you questions what is wrong in some people’s heads to racially profile and make such hateful comments, not thinking about the consequences or damage their words can do.
“I will 100 percent of the time call someone out on things like this because no matter their age, they should be held accountable for their words.”
While Turlock welcome many new businesses in 2017, there were two large developments that opened this year.
The Vista, Turlock’s newest student housing option, welcomed its first tenants in August. The privately-owned apartment complex for college students is located across the street from Stanislaus State and is now the tallest buildings in town.
The complex is able to accommodate 660 residents in a four-building complex. The complex also has a computer lab, a resort-style pool, outdoor TV lounge, volleyball court, game room, theatre, outdoor grilling, basketball court, fully-loaded clubhouse, 24-hour fitness center, cyber cafe with coffee, 24-hour emergency maintenance, after-hours courtesy patrol — all in a gated community with electronic controlled access.
Turlock’s long-awaited Hobby Lobby location celebrated its grand opening in September, and the community made its way to the retailer by the hundreds to browse the 55,000 square feet of hobby supplies.
When it first opened, the business hired about 70 employees, according to store manager Natali Salas, who said she hopes that Hobby Lobby can contribute to the city’s economy by not just continuing to welcome large crowds of shoppers, but by also providing supplies for local crafters who make a living by creating their own products.
— Turlock Journal reporters Sabra Stafford, Angelina Martin and Frankie Tovar contributed to this report.