Top Five of 2013: Turlock News Stories

Alex Cantatore|

How can 2013 be summed up in just five simple stories?

In TurlockCityNews.com’s estimation, it wasn’t all that hard. These five stories reigned supreme in 2013.

Number 5: Turlock’s Public Safety Facility Opens

Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson called it “a monumental event.” Turlock Mayor John Lazar called it “A new foundation for Downtown Turlock.”

By any measure, the long-awaited opening of the new, $33 million Public Safety Facility was one of the biggest stories of 2013.

The new home of Turlock’s Police Department and Fire Administration covers 4.13 acres at the corner of Olive Avenue and Broadway, adjacent to the Carnegie Arts Center. It is is the largest public building in the City of Turlock’s history, offering more than 59,000 square-feet of office space, 4.5 miles of walls, 292 doors, and 11,000 data cables.

The Public Safety Facility was dedicated on Sep. 28, after more than two years of construction.

The new building will help police fight crime and solve the many justice problems facing Turlock, city officials say. Toward the top of that list will be issues of panhandling and loitering, both of which became serious problems in 2013 following realignment.

With the new comes an end to the old. Turlock’s previous police station on Palm Street closed its doors for good, following the move to the new Public Safety Facility.

But the old police station could soon have a second life, as the Turlock Irrigation District is set to buy the property. That sale will, however, require the closure of the existing Brandon Koch Memorial Skate Park, which transitions nicely into No. 4 on our list.

Number 4: Issues With Turlock Parks

Bocce ball. Dog parks. Skate parks.

All three were major topics of discussion in 2013. And as of the year’s end, one project is abandoned, one is on hold, and one is moving forward – begrudgingly.

The Turlock Rotary Club first proposed installing bocce ball courts in a Turlock park in June 2012. In May, the project came crashing to a halt after Turlockers living near three different proposed locations all voiced their opposition.

Most neighbors said they would prefer open space, and were opposed to the traffic and noise that bocce ball could bring.

“It’s unfortunate,” Turlock Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Superintendent Erik Schulze said. “There was a lot of staff time that went in to it. The commission spent a lot of time on it.”

In April, the City of Turlock took the wraps off the renamed Brandon Koch Memorial Skate Park. The facility was named in honor of Koch, a skateboard enthusiast and Turlock resident who lost his battle with adrenocortical cancer at the age of 26.

But just months later, in July, the City of Turlock revealed plans to sell the skate park to the Turlock Irrigation District. The sale would come as part of the sale of the police station building; both share a parcel.

Residents were initially outraged, but were placated when the city revealed plans to rebuild a “bigger and better” Brandon Koch Memorial Skate Park in Donnelly Park. However, that project is currently on hold; the State of California must approve the move, as state grant funding was used to build the existing skate park.

Lastly, the City of Turlock will soon have its second dog park – in the controversially renamed Swanson Centennial Park, on Countryside Drive.

Turlock’s Swanson Family offered to donate $35,000 toward the cost of building a dog park at the site, but asked for the park to be renamed in their honor. That renaming took months to approve, as Parks Commissioners expressed concern about renaming a landmark Turlock park.

In accepting the Swansons’ donation, the City of Turlock ignored two larger proposed donations from local veterinarians Rob Santos and Irene Bohlender, both of whom offered funding without asking the park be renamed.

Number 3: Corbin Bernsen Comes to Turlock

Few would confuse Turlock for Hollywood, but the bright stars of the silver screen were all over Turlock in 2013.

Corbin Bernsen, of “L.A. Law” and “Psych” fame, filmed his newest movie in Turlock – “Christian Mingle.” The family-friendly romantic comedy follows a woman tired of dating jerks who turns to a Christian dating website. She finds Mr. Right, but there’s one problem – she’s not really all that Christian.

Bernsen and the film’s other stars like Lacey Chabert (“Mean Girls”), Jonathan Patrick Wood (“L.A. Complex”), Stephen Tobolowsky (“Groundhog Day”), and John O’Hurley (“Seinfeld”) spent three weeks in Turlock this December. Cell phone pictures of celebrity sightings flooded Facebook daily.

Film crews were frequently seen on Main Street, as Turlock businesses like Lisa’s Cookie Jar, Main Street Footers, and 10 East Kitchen and Tap Room were transformed into movie sets.

And the citizens of Turlock got involved in the production, too. Nearly 1,200 people tried out for roles as extras in the film, with hundreds making the cut.

The film is set for release in Spring.

Number 2: Turlock Irrigation District Elections Turn Nasty

An ongoing battle between union workers and Turlock Irrigation District administrators took center stage during this year’s TID elections.

TID and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have been engaged in a labor dispute since December 2011, when the IBEW’s last contract with the district expired. IBEW members have been working without a contract since that time.

The labor dispute resulted in a power outage which left 49 customers without electricity for 45 hours, from Sep. 28 to 30, 2012. During that weekend outage TID staff attempted many times to contact line crews, represented by IBEW, to no avail. All 40 qualified TID electric workers did not answer their phones when called for help.

After that public display of the dispute, things quieted down – until election season kicked off in 2013, and labor-friendly candidates squared off with the established incumbents.

The ensuing argument dominated TurlockCityNews.com comments, and inspired the publication to host its first-ever candidate forum.

At that forum both Division 5 challengers, incumbent farmer Ron Macedo and retired irrigation worker Darrel Monroe squared off. Division 3 incumbent agribusinessman Joe Alamo attended, but challenger Dan Agundez, a retired electric supervisor, was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.

Monroe referred to an ongoing “conspiracy,” saying that TID’s problems could not be fixed without replacing both upper management and the board. Macedo and Alamo said they were both working in good faith, in the best interests of both ratepayers and the district.

In the end, Macedo and Alamo both retained their seats. An agreement with the IBEW has yet to be reached.

Number 1: Blue Diamond Opens Turlock Plant

Blue Diamond Growers opened the doors of its state-of-the-art Turlock almond processing facility in June, bringing hundreds of jobs to town and revolutionizing the almond industry in the process.

Construction on the 200,000 square-foot facility took just 14 months. The plant contains three almond processing lines, handling both raw, in-the-skin almonds and blanched almonds.

The facility is being termed as the “largest capital investment in the history of the almond industry,” though Blue Diamond is not releasing the specific dollar cost of the facility.

The facility already employs up to 300 people in its first phase. But demand has been so exceptional that the second phase, originally planned for 2015, could come as soon as next year.

The second phase will add another “couple hundred thousand” square feet said Bruce Lish, Blue Diamond General Manager of Industrial Operations. With the expansion will come scores of new jobs – far more than the first phase will employ.

“The job count will be considerably higher,” Lish said. “I think I can confidently say that.”

Despite the high-profile acquisition of Blue Diamond, Turlock isn’t resting on its laurels. A new Mayor’s Economic Development Task Force is working on a plan to attract more businesses to the city’s shovel-ready Turlock Regional Industrial Park, which was lauded by Blue Diamond executives for making the project possible.

And it’s not just the Turlock Regional Industrial Park set to expand next year: Turlock’s Monte Vista Crossings shopping center could begin construction on its long-awaited next phase. That next stage of expansion could bring 12 new tenants – although they will be sure to be subject to tenant screening. AAOA has further information on tenant screening and offers services to help with the tenant screening process.

But the Monte Vista Crossings development is currently stalled, due to a City of Turlock condition requiring developers to provide a connecting driveway to an adjoining parcel not owned by Monte Vista Crossings. A final decision on whether or not that condition will be lifted is expected in the next month.

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