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Year In Review: Looking Back At 2014
The air ambulance gets ready to touch down in the field off the north side of Stearns Road in early January, responding to a fatal accident near the intersection of South Stearns and Highway 120/108. Marg Jackson/The Leader


From budget issues and the eventual continuation of a city sales tax measure, to the annual celebrations of Rodeo Week, The Chocolate Festival, and school graduations, 2014 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 stories from the first half of the year, January through June.


The first snow survey readings of the winter conducted on Jan. 3 were the driest on record – tied with those from January of 2012, according to California’s Department of Water Resources. With a couple dry winters in a row, the lack of rain to that point in the year raised concerns in the agriculture industry.

An early afternoon multi-vehicle accident near the intersection of Highway 120/108 and South Stearns Road just east of Oakdale on Thursday, Jan. 9 claimed the lives of two local residents. Mary Morris, 61, a passenger in one of the vehicles involved, died at the scene of the crash and another driver, 75-year-old Robert Arnett, died over the weekend. Oakdale Police Sergeant Joe Johnson said the preliminary investigation showed a green pick-up truck that Morris was a passenger in was traveling westbound on Highway 120/108 and slowed preparing to make a left turn to Stearns Road. When it pulled into the left turn lane, it was rear-ended by a white truck driven by Arnett. The force of the impact caused the green truck to go into the path of an Acura van that was traveling east on Highway 108.

Decades worth of dedicated community service and generous volunteerism landed long-time Oakdale resident Wes Stewart the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him at the Chamber’s 68th Annual Awards Dinner, titled “Guiding Light,” on Friday, Jan. 17.

“This was a complete surprise to me,” Stewart said. “There are so many people that help the community that also deserve this. I’m very humbled.”

Stewart later passed away unexpectedly on May 24.

In what’s being described as a “newly refurbished” Oakdale Tourism and Visitor’s Bureau, recently appointed Chairman Keith Boggs has set course to give the group more effectiveness in bringing tourism to the city and the community more involvement in the direction it will take.

Boggs said that after input is received the community, the OTVB will put in effect what the direction is desired to be.



Oakdale city officials had made it no secret that without the additional revenue provided from Measure O, the city would be in a great hardship operationally. Revenues generated from Measure O were approximately $1.5 million per year or 17 percent of the city’s total General Fund revenues. Mayor Pat Paul proposed establishing a committee to explore the possibility of extending the one-half cent local sales tax measure as well as other revenue generating options.

Oakdale High School junior Rachelle Pabalan was named the recipient of the Distinguished Young Woman title on Saturday, Feb. 8. In addition to the $2,500 scholarship for the title award, Pabalan received two $200 scholarships in the Scholastics and Interview categories.

An Oakdale youth minister was arrested by the Ceres Police Department in Oakdale on Monday, Feb 17 after a tip that the 27-year-old was in possession of child pornography. Detectives received a tip that Tyler Bliss, the youth minster for Bethel Assembly of God Church on East G Street, was in possession of child pornography and an investigation was initiated. Ceres detectives took Bliss into custody and served two search warrants. The first was at Bliss’ residence in the 600 block of Hudson Avenue and the second was at the church in the 100 block of East G Street.

Among the festivities on Valentine’s Day at the Oakdale vs. Sonora boys basketball game, Winter Homecoming culminated with the crowning of new royalty. King Logan Schultz, Queen Alexis Tidball, Princess Isabella Corbarruvias and Prince Collin Harrity were named as the OHS court.

Oakdale’s new police canine, Chevy, sprang into action tracking the path of a fleeing wanted felon and eventually getting the hiding suspect to surrender to police via bark and threat of bite. On Sunday, Feb. 16, Officer Joseph Pereira observed a suspect wanted for felony possession of narcotics and who then fled from police in the alleyway near Church Avenue. Officer Andy Stever and his canine officer partner, Chevy, arrived and tracked the suspect approximately a quarter-mile to an apartment complex in the 300 block of South Third Avenue.

Young scientists from throughout the region, including a number representing Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School, competed at the 28th Annual Stanislaus County Regional Science Olympiad at Modesto Junior College West Campus Science Center. The OHS team took fourth overall and qualified for the Northern California Science Olympiad State Finals on April 12.



Finger pointing regarding bias, threats, mismanagement, and outright lies continued to fly in the drama involving the Oakdale Airport. On Friday, Feb. 28 hangar tenant Robert Metz prevailed in a Stanislaus Superior Court hearing and obtained a stay from the city evicting him from his hangar at the Oakdale Airport.

In the dispute, City Councilman Mike Brennan sent an email to airport commission members stating, “…if I hear any committee member helping this vermin in any way, shape or form, (except for completely out of the airport) no matter how much they have assisted the City in improving the airport, they are off the committee and will be run out of the airport if at all possible. Metz is a low life piece of … Please tell your airport acquaintances to distance themselves as far as possible from this excrement.”

In an interview with The Leader, Brennan further stated, “If this was the Old West, we’d have cut off the locks to the doors, burn his stuff, and take him out and hang him. That’s what he should get. He’s vermin, He’s a pest. You exterminate pests don’t you?”

Brennan later apologized for his comments.

To implement the Common Core State Standards, the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees approved the expenditure plan for it at the March 10 regular meeting. The standards were required to be in place for the 2014-2015 year and the funds had to be spent by July 1, 2015. As a condition of receiving the funds for implementation, the district was required to develop and adopt a plan explaining how the funds will be spent.

A report at the March 17 Oakdale City Council meeting by City Manager Bryan Whitemyer regarding the city budget, showed the city with only a $72,000 variance of its final budget proposed from October of last year. The majority of the funds spent, $56,000, was for fire department overtime from mutual aid requests that are reimbursable. The other $16,000 was the only real difference according to Whitemyer, but those funds were also covered by slight additional revenues to the city.

The Civil War came alive at the Knights Ferry Civil War Days event, put on by the American Civil War Association on Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23. The annual event drew visitors from around the area for Civil War reenactments where people viewed and interacted with living history with demonstrations of the soldiers’ daily life, as well as the women and children of the American Civil War. Between battles, re-enactors were available at their camps to demonstrate daily activities.

With the emcee and both guest speakers alumnus of Oakdale High School, Mustang Pride was prevalent in the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce’s 41st Annual Oakdale Ag Scholarship Luncheon held at the Bianchi Community Center on Thursday, March 20. Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Director Tom Orvis (OHS Class of ’85) emceed the event.

The first speaker, Marc Malone, Superintendent of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District (OHS Class of ’80) spoke about Common Core and FFA Advisor Troy Gravatt (OHS Class of ’88) spoke about FFA activities at the school and the development of students into the ag field including a recent trip to the State Capitol in Sacramento for Ag Week.

The Oakdale’s FES Hall was packed on Monday night, March 30 for the 33rd Annual Oakdale Testicle Festival. The Oakdale Rotary Club served over 400 pounds of bull testicles, better known as Rocky Mountain Oysters, accompanied with beans, Caesar salad, and French bread. This year’s festival honored one of Oakdale’s own, known to many in the professional rodeo community, none other than two-time PBR World Champion bucking bull Bushwacker.



The Academic Performance Index (API) score of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District was revised to reflect an increase. The district had an overall increase of one point, bringing its API to 807. Each of the four elementary schools also showed increases to its API scores, as well as the Home Charter. Cloverland went up three points to 839, Fair Oaks went up four points to 844, Magnolia went up four points to 841, Sierra View went up two points to 868, and Home Charter went up one point to 668.

Details were still being sorted out in the merger of Oakdale Rural Fire Department with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District and the City of Oakdale contracting with the fire district for fire services. During a Fire Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday, April 2 in Riverbank, officials from all three agencies discussed particulars as it applies to their respective areas. The city later agreed to contracting with the district for fire services and transferring its personnel over to Stanislaus Consolidated.

From one end of the community to the other, volunteers fanned out on Saturday, April 5 to attack overgrown lawns, clean up alleyways, spruce up planter boxes, help their neighbors and, just generally, Love Oakdale. The annual volunteer effort had multiple work teams assigned to different tasks, with literally dozens of volunteers making quick work of many projects.

The city celebrated “Rodeo Week” with the Cowgirl Luncheon on Thursday, April 10 and the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce and Oakdale Realtor’s Association “Arrest Your Boss” event. The final happening in nearly a week of festivities was the 63rd annual Oakdale PRCA Rodeo Parade on April 12, Saturday morning along F Street through downtown Oakdale drawing dozens of entries and hundreds of participants.

Fearing a 17 percent cut in city services with the loss of current Measure O funds, the Oakdale City Council on Monday, April 21 voted 4-1 in favor of requesting the county to place an initiative basically extending the current sales tax measure another five years on the November ballot. Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer introduced the resolution which was forwarded to the county board of supervisors for the Nov. 4, 2014 Gubernatorial General Election.

The search to lead the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District ended when the district’s board voted 4-0 and announced the appointment of its new fire chief, Randall Bradley, at its April 10 meeting. Bradley, 51, a 34-year veteran of firefighting, has extensive experience in fire administration, coming to Modesto after four years as chief of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District in Contra Costa County. He also was chief of the Lawrence Livermore Fire Department for six years and deputy chief of the Alameda County Fire Department for two years.

Though a downpour, lightning and thunder dampened preparation efforts on Friday, the 13th annual Relay For Life of Oakdale went on undaunted over the weekend with hundreds of participants raising thousands of dollars in the fight against cancer. The event saw cancer survivors celebrated, loved ones lost remembered and mourned, and participants dedicating themselves to keeping up their educational and fundraising efforts. Theme for the year was ‘Finish the Fight’ and more than 600 participants helped do just that over the 24-hour period.



Moments after receiving a proclamation honoring National Police Week by the Oakdale City Council, Police Chief Lester Jenkins was called to defend his department from additional cuts in response to inquiries regarding the possibility of contracting out dispatching services.

“Based on the analysis we have conducted, the city will not be able to realize the necessary savings to justify contracting with SR 911 for dispatch services,” said Jenkins in recommending maintaining current dispatch operations. “Contracting with a larger dispatch center causes residents to lose several key services they currently enjoy and would further increase the workload of an already overburdened police force.”

Jenkins’ presentation ended with applause from the audience consisting of many police supporters and police employees.

An early morning accident May 13 near Knights Ferry had the CHP and emergency crews on scene of the fatality on Highway 120/108 in the area known as Lovers Leap near Lancaster Road east of Oakdale. The Modesto CHP office reported that a big rig truck, traveling east on Highway 120 and a Mercedes Benz, traveling westbound at an undetermined speed, collided around 3:52 a.m. As a result of the collision, the driver of the Mercedes sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Just days later a deadly broadside collision involving a Ford sedan and a Harley Davidson motorcycle just before 5 p.m. on Friday, May 16 closed Yosemite Avenue at East E Street in downtown Oakdale and had the thoroughfare closed for nearly three hours. The driver of the motorcycle, Travis Wheeler, 43, of Oakdale, was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the Ford, an 18-year-old woman, also of Oakdale, and her passenger were not injured in the collision.

Mother Nature cooperated with pleasant weather for the 22nd Annual Oakdale Chocolate Festival on May 17 and 18. With this year’s theme “Chocolates Gone Nuts,” thousands came out to experience the entertainment, food, classic cars, merchandise and crafts, and most of all, the chocolate. According to Oakdale Chamber of Commerce CEO Mary Guardiola, this year’s festival brought out over 70,000 people for the two-day event.

Oakdale Joint Unified School District graduations took place Wednesday, May 21 through Friday May 23 with a total of 748 high school and junior high graduates who crossed the stage to receive their diplomas and advance to the next chapter of their lives. Each graduating class was presented to the OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone by their respective school principal.

The Oakdale High School Class of 2014 marched into the school stadium to the popular commencement tune performed by the OHS band. OHS had 330 seniors and two exchange students who graduated in its ceremony on Friday, May 23.



Because the Measure O sales tax enhancement carries the city through March 2015, the preliminary 2014-2015 budget presented by Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer at the Monday, June 2 city council meeting didn’t foresee any service cuts. Funds from the proposed sales tax measure for the November ballot, Measure Y, were not figured into the last quarter of the budget because the measure had not been passed. The 2014-2015 budget had $27.5 million in revenue and just over $28 million in expenditures.

Oakdale’s Super Summer Camp started on June 2. The eight-week summer program for children in kindergarten through sixth grades kept them engaged in fun activities, field trips, and learning opportunities five days a week. The first week, the kids were “Monkeying Around” and took a field trip to the Fresno Zoo.

The 2014-2015 school budget was approved by the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees at the June 9 regular meeting. The district had revenues of $44.2 million and expenditures of $44.87 million. This also included five percent in reserve for economic uncertainties of $2.2 million. The state requires a three percent reserve but the OJUSD board requires five percent.

Learning of the city’s move to go with Prudential Commercial Real Estate of Modesto to list the Downtown Hershey Building caused Oakdale real estate agents to voice their ire toward city officials at a monthly Realtors meeting at the Oakdale Country Club on Thursday, June 12. In return, the city reversed its decision to contract with Prudential Commercial Real Estate and reintroduced the item at Monday’s June 16 city council meeting where it was passed and a request for proposals to list the South Sierra Avenue property was opened up to interested parties.

The actions of former embattled Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Chief Steve Mayotte, who himself was the plaintiff of his own lawsuit in 2013, resulted in the approval of settlements in three separate actions filed by subordinate employees in 2011 and 2012. Members of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District Board approved those settlements on Thursday, June 19. The settlement in these cases was only around $40,000.

A late Saturday afternoon accident on June 21 before 5 p.m. resulted in fatal injuries to the motorcyclist involved and tied up traffic for hours as police investigated the crash. The intersection of West F Street and Reed Road was the scene of a collision between an SUV and a motorcycle. The motorcyclist, Randall Keith Alford, 53, of Oakdale was transported by ambulance to Memorial Hospital in Modesto where he was pronounced dead from his injuries.

The driver of the SUV was not injured.

Oakdale FFA members attended a three-day sectional leadership conference in Pinecrest from June 20 -22, at Camp Sylvester. During this time FFA chapters from the Stanislaus-Tuolumne section and the Tri-Rivers section went along with two delegates selected by their chapters. These delegates were to vote for the new sectional officers that would represent each section at regional meetings and events and also help run the section.

Oakdale’s Measure Y committee commenced its campaign with a meeting to discuss the approach for promoting the Nov. 4 ballot measure to continue the half-cent sales tax for the city’s general fund. Hosted at Medlen’s House of Beef on Friday, June 27, Co-Chairman Frank Clark told the group that in April, 2015, when the current Measure O half-cent sales tax measure ends, the city would be at risk of losing $1.5 million from its general fund annual budget.


Next week, a look at the top stories from July through December.