Ranch threatened by fire

Connolly family members and friends held a fire break along a ridgetop at the Connolly Ranch the night of Aug. 18 as the SCU Lightning Complex Fire continued to spread northward.

There was a lot more to 2020 than just COVID-19, and while the pandemic affected nearly every aspect of the news much of the second half of the year included news that was not COVID-related.

JULY

Fire destroys multiple homes

A fast-moving fire on July 5 destroyed a row of homes on the 200 block of West Clover Road, leaving nine families homeless. The fire apparently started in a clump of trees but quickly ignited fences and buildings. The Tracy Family Resource Center stepped in to help, and it would take several weeks to get families into homes again.

Superintendent faces criticism

Protests continued across the country in response to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minnepolis Police. Locally, many parents in New Jerusalem School District called for the resignation or firing of Superintendent David Thoming after he and his wife posted memes on social media that appeared to advocate violence in response to riots that have happened during some of these protests. The New Jerusalem school board held a special meeting to hear from parents, including Thoming’s supporters, and took no action.

That same week the FBI was called to investigate a Tracy Police Department employee, who had posted remarks on a social media thread that appeared to advocate for violence against a journalist who regularly writes about injustice and racism. No arrests were made, but the employee was removed from his job.

Council puts downtown measure on ballot

The Tracy City Council agreed to put a measure on the November ballot allowing exemptions to the city’s growth management ordinance for transit-oriented development. The council was looking at the area around the Tracy Transit Station in downtown, with the expectation that as a stop for the Valley Link commuter rail line the station could become the centerpiece of the downtown area.

AUGUST

Equity Initiative endorsed

The Tracy City Council endorsed the Tracy Equity and Empowerment Initiative. Tracy City Council members Rhodesia Ransom and Dan Arriola drafted the initiative, an effort to inform citizens on how they could hold local government accountable should police be accused of misconduct. The initiative also includes a statement from police about how officers can minimize the use of force.

City agrees on aquatics center plan

The Tracy City Council agreed on a plan for the Ellis Aquatics Center, and will direct Measure V sales tax money to help pay for the project. The project is now expected to cost about $65 million, including a $10 million contribution from Surland Communities, LLC. Allocation of more than $18 million of Measure V money, part of a sales tax increment approved by voters in 2016, meant that there would be less money to complete Legacy Fields, the city’s sports park at the north end of town.

Wildfires come close

Wildfires sparked by lightning across the state put a smoky haze over the San Joaquin Valley as temperatures rose to triple digits. By the end of the month local teams from South County Fire Authority were deployed across the state.

The SCU Lightning Complex Fire continued its spread northward. Local rancher Mark Connolly scrambled to protect his ranch and livestock, and his ranch marked the northern limits of the fire, which burned 396,624 acres of the Diablo Range between Highway 152 and Tri-Valley area.

By the end of fire season the SCU Lightning Complex would be the third largest fire, in terms of acreage burned, ever recorded by Cal Fire. Five of the six largest fires in California history have happened in the 2020 fire season, including the 1-million-acre August Complex fire in the north part of the state.

New fire station planned

The city of Tracy and South San Joaquin County Fire Authority broke ground on a new fire station for Tracy Hills. The developer is putting up about $5.5 million toward the $6.6 million project, which is expected to be complete in the summer.

SEPTEMBER

Shelter site picked

The city of Tracy has picked a city-owned parcel on Arbor Road, next to the wastewater treatment plant, for a new homeless shelter. The $690,000 plan call for a group of temporary structures. The next step will be to find a service provider who can operate the shelter. By the end of October the project would face delays in obtaining federal grant money for the project.

Fire authority transition

The South San Joaquin County Fire Authority is ready to make the transition to a stand-alone agency that serves both the city of Tracy and Tracy Rural County Fire Protection District. The intent is to make sure that property taxes from newly developed areas -- such as the Northeast Industrial Area, Prologis International Park of Commerce and Tracy Hills -- will benefit fire protection efforts in both the city and the rural areas that the authority serves.

Virtual Boston Marathon

A couple of local long-distance runners competed in a virtual Boston Marathon. It was the seventh Boston Marathon for Noel Colina, 60, who picked out his own 26.2-mile course in Tracy and logged in with race officials to record his time. Dave Cutforth, 44, also ran a 26.2-mile course in his neighborhood a couple days earlier.

OCTOBER

Homicide charges dropped

The case against a man suspected of killing Parmjit Singh in August 2019 in Gretchen Talley Park was concluded, with the judge declaring that Tracy Police and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office did not present sufficient evidence to try Anthony Kreiter-Rhoads on a charge of murder.

Most of the evidence presented at the 3-day preliminary hearing centered on testimony that sought to establish that Kreiter-Rhoads was in the park at the time Singh was stabbed to death, and that security camera video that police recovered depicted him running from the scene.

However he was never positively identified as the person in the videos, and police did not present any physical evidence to link him to the crime.

Singh’s friends and family protested the outcome of the hearing, and in the following weeks United Sikhs called for a federal investigation into the homicide, including a press conference with local elected officials in Gretchen Talley Park on Oct. 15.

DVI to close

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced that Deuel Vocational Institution on Kasson Road would close by the fall of 2021. The state cited an overall decline in the prison population statewide, as well as a department budget that called for the closure of at least one prison in the state. The prison has a population of 1,500 inmates, and employs about 1,080 staff.

Irrigation district merger

The West Side and Byron Bethany irrigation districts have completed a merger that has been in the works since 2016. The merger is expected to facilitate more effective delivery of water to about 36,000 acres of local farmland.

Month of voting begins

The Nov. 3, 2020, election will be a full month of voting. The San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters sent out vote-by-mail ballots on Oct. 5, and also made drop boxes available for people to turn in their ballots. On the last four days of voting, Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, the Registrar of Voters had local voter service centers where people could vote in person, turn in ballots, and also register to vote and vote on the same day.

Lawsuit to affect aquatics center

The Tracy City Council considered the effect that a February ruling would have on how the city proceeds on the Ellis aquatics center. The ruling invalidated an amendment to a development agreement, which said in part that Surland Communities, LLC, would have control of the construction of the park. In light of the judge’s decision, the city would have to take control of the project.

NOVEMBER

New mayor, close race for supervisor

The Nov. 3 election saw Nancy Young elected as Tracy’s first African-American Mayor with nearly 34.85% of the vote, defeating four other candidates. Tracy voters would also select Eleassia Davis and Mateo Bedolla for the city council.

Tracy Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom led over Tracy Mayor Robert Rickman in the early vote count in the runoff for San Joaquin County Fifth District Supervisor, but it was a slim lead. Once the vote was certified a month a month later Rickman was the winner with 34,180 votes to Ransom’s 33,470 votes, a difference of 710 votes, just over 1%.

Measure Y, the downtown transit-oriented development measure, would fail, while Tracy voters would endorse a new tax on cannabis sales, and Banta voters agreed to form Banta Unified School District, clearing the way for a new River Islands High School.

Voters would pick Ana Blanco, Nathalia Hughes Erskine and Zach Hoffert for the Tracy Unified School District board of education, and Mountain House voters picked longtime incumbents Andy Su and Bernice King Tingle and newcomer Harry Dhillon for their community services district board of directors.

It was the largest voter turnout ever in the county. Of the 365,839 registered voters in San Joaquin County, 292,818, just over 80% cast ballots. The percentage in Tracy was even higher, with 82.53% of the city’s 47,222 registered voters casting ballots.

Amazon expands in Tracy

Amazon has announced the opening a 1 million square-foot sorting center in the Prologis International Park of Commerce. It’s the third local center for the online retail giant, which already had about 2,800 people working in Tracy prior to a hiring push that was intended to add another 1,100 people to Amazon’s Tracy workforce. The news comes during a week when the Tracy City Council has approved another Prologis project, a 1.4 million square-foot building in the Northeast Industrial Area. The user for that project was not named.

Road widening delayed

The Tracy City Council agreed to amendments to the Tracy Hills development agreement that would result in a delay in the widening of Corral Hollow Road. Instead, the developer committed to intersection improvements next to the development and at Linne Road designed to keep traffic moving through the area.

Bike riders gather

People are joining in ever-greater number for Thursday night “Rideouts,” events where bicycle riders gather, with lights on their bikes, helmets and wheels, to ride through town. It has become a popular family activity, but the cyclists, who tend to dominate the roadways when they gather in large groups, also have annoyed motorists.

DECEMBER

Club director honored

Tracy Boys and Girls Club director of operations Junior Cueva received a $15,000 check from Wayback Burgers in recognition of his efforts in keeping the club active, continuing to serve its members, during the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns.

Storm drain leads to dispute

The city of Tracy is in a dispute with a property owner over the value of a piece of land the city wants to use as a storm drain basin. The city valued 16 acres owned by Ronnoco Properties of Tracy II, L.P., at $765,000. The property owners responded by telling the city that it should be using land in the Ellis or Tracy Hills developments, which the basin is designed to serve.

MHCSD talks incorporation

The Mountain House Community Services District Board of Directors is getting a head start on 2021 by discussing the town’s next big issue, incorporation, during the board’s final meeting of 2020.

City established warming center

The Tracy City Council picked the Tracy Community Center as a warming center for the homeless, and authorized the city manager’s office to spend up to $250,000 to keep the center open every night for the rest of the winter. FIX’D Inc., a local veterans service group, got the contract to run the center, and on Dec. 30 the center opened up.

• Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 209-835-3030.

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