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Citys Year In Review: Looking Back At 2015
Gang Sweep
Over 40 law enforcement personnel, including SWAT teams from the Ceres Police, Turlock Police, and Stanislaus County Sheriffs departments along with Stanislaus County probation officers and agents from the Central Valley Gang Task Force simultaneously converged on four locations in Oakdale at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 12. RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader

From a proposed city motto change that caused a citizen reaction to OID water wars because of the drought, 2015 was filled with Oakdale Leader headlines both good and bad. This week, we start our annual ‘Year in Review’ by taking a look at the months gone by, with top stories from the first half of the year, January through June.



Acting on complaints from residents and the property owner of the nearby shopping center, the Oakdale Police Department took four truckloads of trash, discarded items, and unsightly debris from the river area near Cost Less Foods on New Year’s Eve. Homeless camps and squatting on public lands had been an issue with transients and stories of drunken fights and other anti-social behavior such as public urination, and drug usage in both the parks and areas of the encampments along the river.

A four-month investigation into a large gang fight from last summer resulted in a multi-agency gang sweep in Oakdale on the morning of Jan. 12. Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins said over 40 law enforcement personnel from allied police agencies simultaneously converged on four locations due to increased gang activity in the city. The sweep was a result of an Aug. 31 large gang fight where four citizens were severely beaten by a group of Norteños.

The Bacigalupi family, owners of the H-B Saloon, received this year’s coveted ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for their years of philanthropic giving and community service at the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce 69th Annual Awards. The Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Christie Camarillo, Executive Director of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum and the Junior Achievement Awards were presented to Veronica Becerra, a student at Oakdale Junior High School, and Stephanie Kupper of Oakdale High School. Cowboy Toffee Company was awarded the small business honor and Raley’s was presented the large business award.

The Jan. 20 city council meeting came to a surprising end when Councilman Don Petersen announced that he would be resigning his position effective Feb. 28. Petersen, stating the city was in much better shape than when he came aboard, said his priority was to spend more time traveling and spending time with family, most of which live out of the area.

For the second time the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has asked the court to grant them more time to decide if they will pursue criminal charges against Jura Aghassi, accused of sexually assaulting an employee at his Oakdale pizzeria. While at his Jan, 30 arraignment, Aghassi was told the district attorney’s office was given six more months to continue its investigation and decide if charges would be filed.



An Oakdale man was arrested by Tuolumne County Sheriff’s detectives at his Hampton Court residence on Feb. 2 for several sex crimes. Daniel Leon Clifton, 35, was arrested after a two-month long investigation into his alleged relationship with an underage female who resided in Tuolumne County. According to investigators, the relationship is suspected to have lasted for more than two years.

After sitting vacant for nearly three years, the City of Oakdale announced Feb. 4 that it had accepted an offer for the former Hershey Building at 120 S. Sierra Ave. Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer confirmed that the city accepted a $515,000 offer to purchase the property from Matt Budine and Brian Sundberg of Progressive Dairy Solutions.

On Feb. 7, the 35-member OHS Academic Decathlon team, for the 15th consecutive year, earned the coveted trophy as the overall winner of the 35th Annual Stanislaus County Academic Decathlon. Overall, Oakdale brought home 83 medals, as well as multiple individual trophies.

Following an exciting junior varsity boys overtime win on the basketball court Feb. 6, the crowd at Oakdale High School was treated to the 2015 Winter Homecoming coronation. Taking the honors were King Derrick Pennington, Queen Kaeli Sturtevant, Princess Emma Burke and Prince Matthew Kjeldgaard.

At the annual Distinguished Young Women of Oakdale program, on Feb. 21, Oakdale High School senior and current Distinguished Young Woman Rachelle Pabalan passed her title to Amy Craig, a junior at Oakdale High School.

The Oakdale community was reeling the weekend of Feb. 20-23 from recent losses. Magnolia Elementary School sixth grader Isaac Torres, 12, who had been suffering from the flu, died Feb. 19 while under a doctor’s care. A Feb. 22 vehicle vs. pedestrian accident on F Street at Third Avenue resulted in the death of Thomas Vernon Larson, 64, from the local area. An early morning crash along Highway 120 west of Escalon on Feb. 23 claimed the life of Robert MacFarlane, 57, of Oakdale.



Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau (OTVB) Director Keith Boggs told the city council at its first meeting of March that he and his volunteer cadre had been operating for 14 months developing a branding action plan for the city and showed a new, revised OTVB website featuring the “Find Your Inner Pioneer” theme as a theme or motto for the city. Many residents who have long felt recognition and pride with the city’s motto of “Cowboy Capital of the World,” expressed outrage, calling for the city and OTVB not to meddle with something already in place. Social media sites, city phone lines, and Leader email boxes were lit up with comments after The Leader published the article. In the end, after the city came forward stating it wasn’t considering changing its slogan, the OTVB recanted, stating it would forego the launch of “Pioneer Perfect” and would embrace the traditional community slogan “Cowboy Capital of the World.”

For the third consecutive month vacant seats were at a minimum for the Oakdale Joint Unified School Board meeting conducted March 9. City council chambers were filled to capacity as teachers and parents stood along the sides, back and spilled out into the entry way. The subject of teachers’ contracts and wage increases continued to be the hot topic.

With California in its third drought year, the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce’s 42nd Annual Ag Scholarship Luncheon on March 19 brought in known attorney, Valerie Kinkaid, to discuss its chosen topic, “Three Major Threats to Water Rights.”

Members of the Oakdale Rotary Club sliced, tenderized, battered, breaded, and fried up over 400 pounds of bull testicles, better known as Rocky Mountain oysters, for an always sold-out community fundraiser for the club and the Oakdale Cowboy Museum at the packed FES Hall on March 30.



The April 1 edition of the Leader had a front page article “Annual Pioneer Rodeo In Late Fall Offers Oakdale Lasting Success” with the first letter spelling out “APRIL FOOLS” spoofing the proposed city motto change. Some readers were stunned until the last line where the “committee” stated, “…we hope your readers understand us and they have a ‘Pioneer Perfect’ April Fool’s Day.”

For the first time in OID’s 105-year history, the district’s 2,900 agricultural customers will be limited to how much water they can use. The cap could be 24 to 30 inches.

With two members of the Oakdale City Council stating they wanted someone with the same “business sense” as former Councilman Don Petersen, the Oakdale City Council voted 3-1 to appoint local commercial real estate developer Richard Murdoch to the dais for the remaining two years left when Petersen resigned in February. Prior to the council’s regular meeting on Monday night, four candidates, including Murdoch, were interviewed by the council in a special public meeting. Picture perfect weather, near capacity crowds at the Oakdale Saddle Club rodeo grounds, a more than $4,400 payout to the All Around Cowboy – it was a hectic but successful Rodeo Week in Oakdale. Horse trailers arrived midweek, competitions began in earnest at the Saddle Club with the timed ‘slack’ events prior to the Saturday and Sunday main events, a new queen was crowned and tourism dollars poured in to the community.

With California in its fourth year of drought and Governor Jerry Brown putting out an executive order calling for cutbacks of 20 percent, the City of Oakdale announced that their figures show that the city and its residents have nearly met that mark based on 2013 figures. According to the State Water Resources Control Board, Oakdale has reduced its usage by 19.7 percent from 2013 to 2014.

In late April, Leader reporter Richard Paloma went undercover to explore the illicit operation of the Island Spa on West F Street. After several months of complaints to Oakdale officials and police, local attorney Michael Abbott and his clients, Arlin and Tammy Nusbaum of Nature’s Rx, filed a monetary claim with the city for its failure to enforce a city ordinance on massage parlors that operate as fronts to prostitution and brothels. Adult Web forums such as “Rub Map” that specialize in the underground world of erotic massage parlors, rated Island Spa as one of the most reviewed and highest-rated locations in the area. Customers openly commented on the site about the physical attributes of the masseuses, their willingness to perform certain sex acts along with the cost and ways to ask for those acts. After the article was published, Oakdale Police arrested a 54-year-old Asian masseuse for solicitation for prostitution on May 14, after conducting its own undercover operation at Island Spa.



An emotionally charged debate about water allocations broke out at the May 5 Oakdale Irrigation District board meeting. Directors voted 5-0 to give most customers an additional six inches of water based on positive analysis of early season irrigation patterns. The decision meant about 2,900 Tier 1 agricultural users would receive 36 inches of water per acre this year. But the action wasn’t enough for some, including a handful of angry farmers. They contended they could have even more water if OID would cut off Trinitas Farming, its only current Tier 2 customer. Trinitas’ 7,200 acres were annexed into the district in 2013.

Oakdale High School senior Rachelle Pabalan was recently named the Leo Volz Scholarship recipient for the 2015 graduating class at OHS. Pabalan earned a total of over $110,000 in scholarship money for her academic and extracurricular commitments. She will attend Stanford University in the fall.

Great weather and high attendance combined to make this year’s Oakdale Chocolate Festival a triumph on Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17. Oakdale Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Guardiola said the over 70,000 attendees wasn’t a record but was second best in the event’s 23-year history.

Third Avenue merchants expressed frustration as to why the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau moved the weekly farmers market from the downtown area to the Oakdale Community Center Plaza after just one week. Stores along North Third Avenue reported a minimum amount of traffic compared to past years when the whole market was in front of their stores. Many questioned the worth of staying open later. Administrator Pam Dumas said OTVB made the choice to have the produce sellers join the rest of the vendors on South Second Avenue off G Street adjacent to the Plaza starting on May 13.

Thirteen years of primary education officially came to a close for the Class of 2015 on May 22 at the Oakdale High Corral. The 7 p.m. graduation ceremony was their final moment on the field as Mustangs, only to then become alumni of the school. Leading the commencement ceremony were 2015 Valedictorian Jennifer Guzman and Salutatorian Emilie Crossman.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced that it would not prosecute the sexual assault case against Jura Aghassi, the owner of Jura’s Pizza, formerly located on North Yosemite Avenue, which closed in 2014. In September 2014, the Oakdale Police Department received a complaint from a 19-year-old woman who worked for Aghassi claiming she had been sexually assaulted by him while in his office at the pizza parlor.



Water flowing from beneath a roll-up door of a warehouse on Ackley Circle on June 3 led police to the discovery of 136 marijuana plants and a sophisticated grow operation. The tenant, Vincent Patrick Rivera, 34, of Oakdale, was arrested for marijuana cultivation while police also investigate additional building code violations.

OID directors voted to raise this year’s allocation to 40 inches from 36. When the irrigation season began in March, OID had told irrigators to expect 30 inches this year – the first time in its 105-year history it had put limits in place. The 40 inches OID’s irrigators received compares to 36 inches for those in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and was more than double what farmers in the Modesto and Turlock districts got this summer.

Oakdale Police responded to an assault with a deadly weapon on the campus of Oakdale High School on June 8 after a bloodied individual came into the school office with stab wounds. Emergency medical crews responded and treated two stab wounds to the victim’s chest and kidney area. The victim, a 16-year-old male student, was transported by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. After spending 19 years with Tracy Unified School District, with 11 as the Assistant Principal of Tracy High School, on June 9 the OJUSD named Joni McGinnis as the new Vice-Principal of Oakdale High School.

Oakdale resident Jennifer Daniel was $5 million richer after hitting the maximum jackpot on a $20 California Lottery Scratch-off ticket. The Lottery confirmed that a $5 million winning ticket from Stanislaus County was claimed by Daniel on June 17.

In its annual 2014-2015 published report, the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury found no fault with the Oakdale Airport or its operation with the exception of a minor issue that involved a segment of fencing being too low. The report was regarding a citizen’s complaint about the management of the airport citing issues extending back more than a decade. The safety and security issues were defined as lighting, obsolete entrance gates, no security cameras and inadequate perimeter fencing.


Look for the top stories from July to December in the Jan. 6, 2016 issue of The Leader.