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Year in review
Amazon opening, return of events and new Congressional districts top stories of 2022
Year in review 1
Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Henry Yong, Amazon Turlock Senior Operations Manager Steve Ramirez and Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak cut the ceremonial ribbon in October to open the new Amazon fulfillment center at 3200 Fulkerth Road in Turlock (Journal file photo).

The theme of 2022 was “getting back to normal.” Mask mandates were finally lifted for almost all public places (excluding healthcare) and children no longer had to wear face coverings to school. A host of activities that were put on hold due to the pandemic saw a return in 2022.  Along with the return of group fun, 2022 saw the opening of what will become one of the largest employers in town when running at full capacity — the Amazon fulfillment center.

It wasn’t all festivals and grand openings, however, as the past year also saw an increase in fentanyl deaths and 2022 was the second driest year to date over the past 128 years.

November elections not only brought two new members to the Turlock City Council, but due to redistricting, two new Congressional district representatives that split the town.

Below are a few of the top stories of 2022 (according to the Turlock Journal editorial staff):


Mask mandate comes to an end

As case numbers of COVID-19 were on the wane in California, many mask mandates expired in February. Other requirements put into place during a surge of COVID-19 cases in 2021 also expired. Families could once again visit loved-ones in long-term care facilities and larger events were allowed to take place, such as concerts and festivals.

The school mask mandate was lifted in March, allowing children to once again interact with teachers and peers without a face covering.


Bloodless bullfights
Cesar Miranda of Grupo de Forcados Amadores de Turlock does the "dance with the bull" during the Bloodless Bullfights at the Stanislaus County Fair in July (Journal file photo).

Return of group fun

Many activities resumed after years-long hiatus due to COVID, including the Portuguese Festival and Love Turlock in April, roller derby action at the fairgrounds, first-ever Turlock Business Summit, the 10-day run of the Stanislaus County Fair with addition of bloodless bullfights, the Assyrian Festival in August and the Salvation Army Kettle Kickoff luncheon in November.

The return of the full run of the Stanislaus County Fair this summer following COVID restrictions was a resounding success as Fair officials announced over 270,000 visitors made their way to the Turlock fairgrounds to enjoy the petting zoo, BMX shows, duck races, midway rides, corn dogs and all the other attractions at the 109th Fair.

The Fair drew in over 270,447 guests during its 10-day run, a 4 percent increase from 2019.  The Fair opened on July 8 and concluded its annual run on July 17. Fair concessions were up 38 percent and Butler Amusement, the fair ride operator, was up 30 percent compared to 2019. 

"This year was a huge success with a lot of support from our local communities. After coming out of COVID, we were unsure what to expect, but the community knew what it wanted. It wanted a good summer fair,” said Matt Cranford, Chief Executive Officer of the Stanislaus County Fair in August.

After more than seven years serving as CEO of the Stanislaus County Fair, Matt Cranford announced in December he was leaving his position to oversee facility operations at California Exposition and State Fair.


New faces at City Hall; Bublak reelected

The Turlock City Council filled two of its top leadership positions in early 2022, with the hiring of Jason Hedden as police chief in January and former Stanislaus County CEO Reagan Wilson as Turlock City Manager in February.

A longtime Turlock resident, Hedden served as the acting police chief in Los Banos before being named as Turlock’s police chief. Hedden officially started on Feb. 16, taking over for Gary Hampton, who was appointed interim police chief in August 2021. Before Hampton, Capt. Miguel Pacheco and Capt. Steven Williams both served separate terms at the helm of the department following the retirement of Chief Nino Amirfar in September 2020.

It had been over a year since former city manager Toby Wells was first put on investigative leave by the Council in January 2021 when Wilson was approved by the Council. Interim city managers Gary Hampton, Dan Madden and Sarah Eddy served on a temporary basis between Wells and when Wilson was hired.

In November, Turlock voters approved Mayor Amy Bublak for a second term. Bublak beat out challenger Gil Esquer, a former city council member. Bublak, who served on the Turlock City Council for 10 years before she was elected mayor in 2018, garnered 9,506 (52.89%) votes to Esquer’s 8,468 votes (47.11%).

In the Turlock City Council District 1 race, Kevin Bixel defeated Chris Nichols for the seat. And in the four-way District 3 seat race, Cassandra Abram was victorious, garnering more votes than Kelly Higgins, Ryan Taylor and Ramin Odisho.

They were all sworn into office in December.

In January the Turlock City Council voted to enter into a contract with the Modesto Fire Department for administration, management and command services. Before the vote, Turlock Firefighters Local #2434 President Chad Hackett told the City Council that despite initially voicing concern over the proposal in December 2021, the union now supports the contract.

The contract fills the role of Turlock Fire Chief and provides access to the full support of the regional fire administrative team. The agreement is through June 2026, and will cost the City about $180,000 less than staffing its own command team over that same time period. 

The City of Turlock joined the City of Oakdale, Oakdale Fire Protection District, City of Ceres, Stanislaus Consolidated FPD and the City of Modesto as a participating member of a fully-staffed regional administration team, with Alan Ernst serving as Fire Chief.


Amazon comes to town; longtime businesses sold, closed

The Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock had its official grand opening in October with a ribbon cutting ceremony that featured several local dignitaries and the promise of more jobs to come.

The 1.1 million-square-foot plant had been in operation since Sept. 25, with nearly 300 employees currently at the MCE1 site — named for the Merced Airport code (all Amazon facilities are identified by the letter-code of a nearby airport).

“Eventually, we’ll be around 1,500 employees,” said Turlock resident Steve Ramirez, senior operations manager in October.

The Turlock facility is the second in Stanislaus County — a plant in Patterson that employs about 600 people opened in 2013 — and currently is less than 10 percent stocked.   It should be operating at full capacity by mid-February, according to Ramirez. The warehouse is in operation around the clock, seven days a week.

MCE1 is a classified as a non-sortable fulfillment center, meaning it specializes in heavier, bulkier items, such as exercise equipment, patio furniture, appliances and large bags of pet food.

Also in October, Texas Roadhouse opened its doors at its new location at 1665 Countryside Dr. in Turlock. At the site of the former HomeTown Buffet restaurant that closed during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the newly constructed Texas Roadhouse building sits at 8,300 square-feet and is able to seat over 400 guests.

The local poultry powerhouse Foster Farms is now under new ownership, as the sale of the family-owned business was announced in June to Atlas Holdings, a global conglomerate based out of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Also in June, Bilson’s Sport Shop closed its doors for good after serving the Turlock community for 66 years. The well-known shop was opened in 1955 by William Bilson. In 1997, Bilson handed the  business off to his son, Brad, and friend Steven Moe. After decades of a successful co-ownership, the rise of online retailers and continued supply chain shortages have led the team to call it quits.

A piece of Turlock culinary history was revived in 2022, when Crust & Crumb owners George and Ellen Kosmas decided to bring back Red Steer sandwiches. The Red Steer restaurant was founded in 1968 by Stan and Ray Maggard. In 2009, the original building on Golden State Boulevard burned down as a result of arson. But in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, many community members began reflecting on the history of Turlock, including their love for the Red Steer sandwiches.

“Many people were bringing up Red Steer, and some of our older customers were saying how they wish someone would try to bring the food back in some way,” said Ellen Kosmas in July. “And once people heard that customers were pitching the idea to us, we had people come in and try to give us recipes saying that they were the same ones from the original Red Steer.”

With the blessing of the Maggard family, Crust & Crumb was given the green light to use the Red Steer recipes and branding.

Another iconic restaurant site received new life in 2022 when Central Station Bar & Grill, situated just feet from the Southern Pacific railroad tracks, opened in November. The restaurant has embraced the train station motif that was abandoned by 10 East Kitchen & Tap House, its predecessor at 10 E. Main St. Before the restaurant was 10 East it was Wellington Station. Before that it was Traxx Bar & Grill, and before that it was called Track 29.


One pill can kill; drought continues

A town hall discussion held in November revealed concerning details on the fentanyl crisis in Turlock. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that comes in two forms. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is used for medical purposes with precise dosages and is administered to people with moderate to severe pain, especially after surgery and should typically only be taken under careful medical supervision. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is illegally sold without oversight or quality controls and varies in potency. The illicitly manufactured form is being mixed into other illegal drugs like meth, heroin and cocaine. It is also being pressed into counterfeit pills like Xanax, Oxy, Percocet and Adderall. Fentanyl is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Health officials said that three to four residents in Stanislaus County died per week due to overdose or opioid poisonings in 2021. And, concern reached an all-time high in November as 80 of 2022 deaths in the county so far had been linked to fentanyl-laced drugs. Eleven of those deaths were in Turlock.

Turlock — and the majority of the state of California — suffered through a third year of extreme drought conditions in 2022, which left a large impact on the ag industry and economy as a whole.

The 2020-2022 water years constitute the driest three-year period in California’s instrumented historical record.

A UC Merced report estimated direct economic impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion this year, up from $810 million in 2021 — representing a 4.9% and 3.4% impact on crop value added, respectively.

Beyond direct farm effects, impacts on food processing industries that rely on farm products were roughly $845 million in 2022, up from $590 million in 2021. Altogether these consequences total $2 billion in value-added losses this year alone (5.9% reduction with respect to 2019) and a loss of 19,420 jobs, the researchers calculated.

Congressional boundary splits city in half 

The state’s independent redistricting commission unanimously approved its final maps in December 2021, setting in stone the brand-new districts California voters used to elect legislators at the state and Congressional level in 2022. Congressional District 10, which used to include all of Turlock, was split in half as part of the redistricting process.

Turlock is now part of the new Districts 5 and 13. Turlock’s east side and Denair are included in District 5, which stretches from the eastern Sacramento area, through Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties and down into Kings Canyon, jutting west into Stanislaus County to include a portion of Modesto and all of Oakdale, Waterford and Hughson. 

District 13 includes downtown and the west side of Turlock, as well as some surrounding neighborhoods, and reaches up to Lathrop, down through Patterson and Mendota, and into Coalinga of Fresno County.

Following the November election, Republican John Duarte defeated Democratic challenger Adam Gray — in one of the closest contests in the country — for California’s 13th Congressional District seat by 546 votes.

Tom McClintock, a Republican who represented California’s 4th District in Congress, took the 5th Congressional District seat after defeating Democrat Mike Barkley by over 64,000 votes.


Mark de la Motte
The Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved in August the naming of the Turlock High Baseball Field in honor of long-time teacher and head baseball coach Mark de La Motte (Photo contributed).

A new semi-pro women’s soccer team, John Lazar Park, Olympic Mayor and Mark de la Motte Field

  • After plenty of success with its men’s team over the years, Turlock’s semi-professional soccer team Academic SC announced in January that it has joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League as a member of the 2022 expansion class. 
  • The City of Turlock continued its long-standing tradition of naming parks after former mayors following a City Council decision in February to name a future one after John Lazar. In a unanimous vote during the Feb. 8 meeting, the Council approved naming a new park in the Legends 3 subdivision after the former Turlock mayor, who served as the City’s head of government for eight years. 
  • Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak dusted off her throwing skills and showed that she still has what it takes to finish first when she took home gold medals in both the javelin and shot-put events at the 2022 United States Police & Fire Championships in June. Bublak, a retired police officer, competed for the Modesto Police Department at the national event held last week in San Diego.
  • The Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved in August the naming of the Turlock High Baseball Field in honor of long-time teacher and head baseball coach Mark de La Motte. The vote came nearly five years after the original proposal of naming the ball field was introduced to the Board and an abundance of revisions to the policy on naming campus facilities. De la Motte taught at Turlock High School for 38 years and coached baseball for a total of 42 years. During his 26-year tenure as head varsity baseball coach, the Bulldogs won over 500 games with eight Central California Conference championships and two section title appearances. He is the winningest baseball coach in the school’s history.