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YEAR IN REVIEW: 2021 sees loss of city leadership, kids back in school
Stan State nursing students
EDsmart ranked Stan State as the No. 1 Best Accelerated Nursing and BSN programs in the nation (Photo contributed).

There’s no doubt that 2021 was definitely a better year than 2020. With businesses reopening after pandemic closures and students returning to in-person learning on school campuses, Turlockers were hopeful of getting back to ‘normal. However, as with any year, there were also challenges. The loss of several city government leaders has seen uncertainty at City Hall and the return of drought conditions has been worrisome to local growers.

The past 12 months also saw the celebration of the Carnegie Arts Center’s 10-year anniversary and a renovated public library and updated university library for students and the community at-large to enjoy.

TUSD vaccine mandate protest
Turlock Unified School District families and community members protest the statewide vaccine mandate at Tuesday’s TUSD Board of Trustees meeting (PAWAN NAIDU/The Journal).

Back to school

Students from elementary through college started out 2021 with the continuation of distance learning due to COVID-19 school closures. The release of a COVID-19 vaccine was the key to getting back to normal and Stanislaus State’s nursing program helped Turlockers receive the life-changing immunization.

As a line of residents aged 65 and up snaked around the Fitzpatrick Arena on Jan. 21, a group of 12 nursing students were ready to help. The School of Nursing students provided much-needed support to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency during the all-day clinic, which saw more than 1,000 vaccinations administered in just seven hours. 

“This is historic and I think students really get it,” School of Nursing Director Mary Jo Stanley said. “...These people are scared and it really hit home with the students.”

Finally, in March 2021, Turlock middle school and high school students returned to in-person learning for the first time in a year. The students came back to a modified schedule of two days of in-class instruction and distance learning the other days. Elementary students returned in April. It wasn’t until the start of the fall 2021 semester that students got back to a regular, five-day a week in-class schedule. While students finally made it back to class, face coverings became mandated apparel for all levels.

The state mandate that all students, faculty and staff wear face coverings on school campuses has been a point of contention throughout the year.

Turlock Unified School District parents filled the seats at the Aug. 3 Board of Trustees meeting, calling for its members to seek alternatives to the masking requirements for students. The school district had to maintain the state-mandate face covering requirement, however, the discussion only escalated in December when TUSD school board member Jeffery Cortinas refused to wear a mask during a public board meeting and caused the two student representatives to have to leave the room. In the following meeting, Cortinas also did not wear a mask but this time he left the room and continued participating via Zoom.

Mask mandates are not the only issue parents and community members are protesting. Following the news that California will be mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students to attend school in 2022, Turlock residents made their voices heard during a protest against the mandate, both at a TUSD board meeting and during a county-wide protest in front of the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Upheaval at City Hall

The Turlock City Council started out 2021 with placing then-City Manager Toby Wells on investigative leave. The split decision to place Wells on investigative leave —with Mayor Amy Bublak, Council member Rebecka Monez and Council member Pam Franco voting ‘yes’ and Council member Andrew Nosrati and Council member Nicole Larson voting ‘no’ — was made during a special closed session meeting on Jan. 5.

After a four-month long investigation, the City Council (also in a split decision) voted in favor of a separation settlement. The City never stated its reasons for releasing Wells from his position or the focus of the investigation.

Gary Hampton made a return to Turlock City Hall, taking on the interim City Manager position from January to May, when human resources manager Sarah Eddy was then appointed to the interim post. This wasn’t the end of Hampton’s service to the City of Turlock in 2021, however.

In August 2021, Hampton returned to fill in as Interim Police Chief. Police Chief Nino Amirfar retired in October 2020 and the position had been filled by TPD’s two Captains.

In August Council also approved a $100,000 agreement with CPS HR Consulting for recruitment services related to the vacant positions of City Manager, Chief of Police, Fire Chief, Municipal Services Director, and Development Services Director.

In July, Maryn Pitt resigned her position as Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development after 15 years of working for the City of Turlock.

In September, Interim Fire Chief Gary Carlson announced his retirement. Carlson stepped into the role of interim fire chief more than two years ago after the City dismissed then chief Robert Talloni.

Interim Development Services Director Nathan Bray resigned at the end of October.

Individuals camping outside in the 200 block of W. Glenwood were moved out in April as part of the City of Turlock’s response to a 120-day emergency declaration made regarding homelessness in Turlock (Journal file photo).

Homelessness emergency

The Turlock City Council proclaimed a local emergency in March in response to the increase in individuals experiencing homelessness in Turlock. The City Council approved spending $498,417 to assist shelter providers with additional costs of operations and to accommodate the increase in people served.

As part of the local emergency plan, the City of Turlock cleaned out homeless encampments around town on public and private property.

The City Council ratified a second local emergency on July 13 which shifted the focus to helping those who remained homeless by re-appropriating unspent funds from the original proclamation to be used on the issue moving forward.

In collaboration with various local agencies, TPD has documented contact with 143 unhoused people and offered opportunities for services since the emergency began. In total, agencies have made 257 unique contacts with unhoused individuals by the beginning of December.

Praying for rain, again

Governor Gavin Newsom answered the pleas of Central Valley legislators in May by expanding the state’s emergency drought declaration in 2021 to a total of 41 counties, including Stanislaus. 

As of November, about 80% of the state was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, with 28% classified as experiencing exceptional drought.

The Turlock Irrigation District’s precipitation year, which runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31, was a second-straight year of drought conditions and put 2020-2021 in the record books as TID’s fourth-driest precipitation year on record.

California experienced an unprecedented loss of runoff in spring 2021 as water was either absorbed by parched soils or evaporated amid unusually warm temperatures before reaching streams and reservoirs. High temperatures also prompted water users to use water earlier and in greater volumes than in previous critically dry years. 

National Integrated Drought Information Center forecasters stated in November there is a 50% chance that California’s drought will worsen after this winter and just a 40% chance that water supplies will return to normal.

Recent rainfall is already making 2022 look like it will be a wetter year, however, it is too early to tell if it will have an affect on the drought conditions.

turlock library 1
The Turlock Library is one of the warming zones open to the public during cold weather (Journal file photo).

New and improved libraries

A project over two decades in the making came to fruition in August as the newly-renovated Turlock Library officially opened to the public. 

Stanislaus County officials celebrated the completed $12.7 million project with a Grand Opening ceremony and a ribbon cutting ceremony. The new library provides 60% more space than its predecessor, going from 10,000 square feet to now 16,530 square feet of expanded indoor and outdoor children’s areas, improved spaces for teens, a makerspace complete with a 3D printer and much, much more.

Funding for the project came from the County budget’s Library Savings, Tobacco Endowment Funds, Public Facilities Fees, Deferred Maintenance Funds and General Funds. The dedicated sales tax for County-wide Library services contributed to the savings for this project, and the Friends of the Turlock Public Library raised more than $1 million to augment the library’s features.

After 50 years of providing service to students, the Vasche Library on the campus of Stanislaus State closed its door the spring of 2019 for renovations to become a modernized space full of technology and study areas. Two years of construction, extended by delays stemming from the pandemic, and $59 million in costs later, the library reopened to students in October 2021.

According to Dean of Library Services Ron Rodriguez, the campus community’s suggestions weighed heavily on what the new space became. Some important features for students were a café, a 24/7 study area and quiet study areas. All those spaces are included in the renovation.

One feature that didn’t change, however, is the free-flowing staircase connecting the first floor to the second.

“The staircase is really one of the only things that was kept. I’m actually glad we did, because it has become iconic with the campus,” said Rodriguez.

A new mural adorns the wall by the staircase. It was inspired by the importance of agriculture to the Turlock community.

One of the most significant changes is to circulation. The library now has electronic compact shelving and can store more material in less space, which really opened up options to maximize the space of the library. Whenever a student wants to grab some material, they use they electronic panel to open the space and it closes back up whenever they are done. All the shelves are equipped with sensors so there isn’t a concern of a student being trapped as they are closing.

Carnegie banner pic1
Student artwork adorn lampposts along Main Street and Broadway in downtown Turlock with the theme of “10” in honor of the Carnegie Arts Center’s 10th anniversary of reopening (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

Carnegie celebrates its 10th anniversary

The Carnegie Arts Center started celebrating its 10th anniversary season in 2021, and will continue into 2022.

Following a fire in 2005 that destroyed most of the original Carnegie building on N. Broadway, the CAC reopened its doors to the public on Sept. 10, 2011 after several years of planning and construction. For the past 10 years, the CAC has welcomed and served the community as a space to learn about and enjoy art, music, dance, theater, poetry and film – becoming a true gathering place for the sharing of ideas and experiences.

To help spread the word of the Carnegie’s anniversary, 18 students’ artwork is on display on banners in downtown Turlock. The arts center opened its anniversary season with Making Your Mark exhibit. Showcasing more than 50 superb prints, drawings and photographs, this exhibition samples the breadth and beauty of the Hechinger Collection, which has the unique theme of hand tools and hardware. Focusing on the creative process, the featured works represent a variety of media and disciplines at an artist’s disposal. Audiences will learn about these varied techniques and see examples of how artists express themselves through their choice of media.