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Year In Review 2017 Touches On Top Stories
Vet tech
Escalon senior Mary Valencia, foreground, demonstrated how to put a muzzle on a dog at the Veterinary Science table during Ag Day. Kipper, a Maltese service dog, was the willing model canine. Marg Jackson/The Times

This week, we begin a ‘look back’ at the top stories of 2017 that made news in The Escalon Times. January through June will be featured this week, with July to December news recapped in the Jan. 10 issue.



A well-known local care home, Magnolia Ranch, had extensive fire damage to a garage and adjoining apartment, but escaped with relatively minor smoke damage to the main facility. However, electricity was knocked out to the entire property in the 25000 block of Magnolia Avenue in Escalon in the fire on Wednesday, Dec. 28 and the facility will need some repairs.

Second grade students at Dent Elementary School made the holidays brighter for plenty of service members, sending off a dozen packages recently. One of them was received by Jarrod Lial, a staff sergeant and firefighter in the U.S. Air Force. From Oakdale, Lial now lives in Escalon and is serving with the 162nd Fighter Wing.

Escalon Police Chief Mike Borges said he is “knocking on wood” as the rain continues to fall this week but, so far, there have been no major issues associated with the series of storms that started late last week.

Nearly four inches of rain was recorded from Friday through Monday around the Escalon area, but Borges said the impact appeared minimal. Meanwhile, the San Joaquin County Public Works Department was scheduled to begin a lane closure on the Stanislaus River Bridge, south of Escalon on McHenry Avenue starting this past Monday, Jan. 9 and continuing for roughly a month.

From the youngest basketball player rushing down the court – sometimes shooting at the wrong basket – to those older kids looking to hone some skills, Escalon area youngsters are getting some solid instruction on the hardwood.

The Escalon Recreation basketball program is designed for kids from pre-kindergarten through first grade and runs Tuesday evenings for the Pre-K kids, Saturday mornings in the old gym at Escalon High School for the kindergarten and first grade students. With several local businesses and organizations serving as team sponsors, volunteer coaches help the kids learn the basics of the game as they compete in scrimmages.

A conference call with representatives of the FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – outlined the increasing air traffic over Escalon and gave city officials some information about why it’s there and what can be done about it.

For councilmember Ed Alves, it also crystallized one point – the city’s battle to reduce the number of low-flying aircraft is going to be with the Stockton Airport, not the FAA.

A fire called in to the Escalon Fire Department about 9:45 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30 caused extensive damage to the residence in the 2100 block of Franklin, and resulted in the loss of both a pet dog and cat, succumbing to smoke inside the home. Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rick Mello said the attack on the home was a coordinated effort, involving multiple fire agencies in addition to Escalon police and public works departments, Escalon ambulance and more.



In a rare six-way race for Escalon High School Homecoming King, Edgar Samano reigned supreme, taking the crown at halftime of Friday night’s varsity boys basketball game against Riverbank High School. Though the game went on the books as a loss the evening was a winning one for Samano, who was one of six candidates for the Homecoming honor.

In 2013, Governor Brown signed into law one of the most comprehensive educational reform laws California has ever experienced. This law significantly changed the school district planning process with the establishment of the Local Control Accountability Plan or LCAP. As part of this change, school districts are required to consult with their community and other stakeholders regarding school and district needs and programs as part of the planning process. For the last several years, Escalon Unified School District has held a series of Town Hall meetings for this purpose. This school year the district will again be holding a series of meetings to report on the implementation of this year’s LCAP and to consult with the community and other stakeholders with regard to school and district’s programs and needs.

Calls for service dropped from 2015 to 2016 for the Escalon Police Department, and overall crime was down as well. That was the gist of a year-end report from Escalon Police Chief Mike Borges, with the presentation of the crime statistics due on the agenda for the Escalon City Council on Monday night, Feb. 6.

“Our violent crime was higher than you’d like,” the chief added, noting that with a small sampling, even a couple more ‘Part I’ crimes than recent years can significantly raise the rates.

“We also took a patrolman off the streets and created a detective position in February,” the chief said, with Anthony Hardgraves filling that role.

Hoping for between 150 and 200 participants for their inaugural Color Run, organizers instead saw nearly 400 people – of all ages, sizes and abilities – take off from the parking lot at El Portal Middle School on Saturday morning, Feb. 11. There was both a one mile fun run and a longer 5k, but runners in each had to brave a couple of color stations, where a variety of colored powder was thrown on them as they ran by.

The latest storm system to blow through the region did not force any evacuations in the Escalon area, though there were some anxious moments a handful of miles to the west, in Manteca, with some evacuations there late Monday night, Feb. 20.

“Those evacuations were scaled back Tuesday morning,” said Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello, attending a county emergency services briefing in Stockton.

For local police, fire and City of Escalon Public Works crews, Friday, Feb. 17 was the busiest day of the last several, with multiple incidents reported. Rainfall continued throughout the weekend but it was the wind that wreaked some havoc on Friday. Round two of the storm system didn’t bring in the high winds that the first part did, noted Mello, so crews weren’t as busy over the weekend or on Monday.

The ‘roll out’ of nearly 600 Chromebooks was completed earlier this month, with all students at El Portal Middle School now equipped with the tool to use in a variety of classes. “They were handed out for all sixth through eighth graders, we’re talking 585 kids,” said El Portal assistant principal Mike Gaston. “It’s exciting, the technology, making them college and career ready.”

Just about a half dozen residents joined in a special Escalon City Council workshop on Tuesday, Feb. 21, focusing on Prop. 64. The marijuana legalization proposition that was passed in the November 2016 election has prompted many cities, Escalon among them, to enact local restrictions and the workshop was designed to provide some information. Police Chief Mike Borges provided the overview of the proposition and some of the avenues available to the city. Public input was also sought, said City Manager Tammy Alcantor.

“We laid out some of the issues the council needs to consider, such as whether we want to allow retail sales, commercial cultivation and delivery, whether we want to limit outdoor personal growth and put restrictions on indoor growth,” Alcantor explained.



March 1 will see a special event at the Escalon Public Library, 1540 Second St., to mark the occasion of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The program starts at 3 p.m. and parents and children are welcome to visit the library, which will be turned into a grove of Truffula trees, and create their own Cat in the Hat hat, which they can take home. Also, stop by the planting station outside the library to plant a seed and take the plant home, care for it and watch it grow.

From kindergarten students getting to enjoy some green eggs with their ham to a ‘who’s who’ of guest readers from the community and schools, the observance of Read Across America Day on Friday had it all.

The March 3 festivities played out on many school campuses in the Escalon Unified School District, with the focus on reading for pleasure. The readathon celebrated the birthday of children’s author Dr. Seuss, who penned a number of favorite rhyming books including ‘The Cat in the Hat and ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’

A two-vehicle head on collision in Farmington early Tuesday morning, March 14, claimed the life of one driver.

California Highway Patrol officers out of Stockton responded to the scene along with two ambulances and Farmington Fire Department personnel. The crash occurred along Highway 4 near Stanley Road, just west of Escalon-Bellota Road.

Changes announced recently regarding traffic flow at the busy Plaza Avenue area shopping center at the west end of the city have been clarified by city officials. An article in the March 8 issue of The Times indicated changes to some street traffic patterns in the area, but City Manager Tammy Alcantor clarified that the changes will not impact any city streets.

The national anthem was sung, teams introduced, the ceremonial first pitch tossed to home plate – and the 2017 Babe Ruth baseball season officially got underway on Saturday. Sunny skies, a breeze and brisk temperatures greeted the young players, their coaches, family and friends for the 8 a.m. opening ceremony at the Hogan-Ennis Park complex on March 11. A full slate of games was scheduled throughout the day and it turned out to be a perfect one for baseball, with temperatures creeping into the 70s.

Escalon High School is a busy place this week, with the ongoing Arts Alive showcase of student artwork set up in the old gym, an Open House set for Wednesday evening and an Ag Day slated for Friday.

The Open House for the community will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. this evening, Wednesday, March 22 and will provide the chance for residents to view the artwork on display in the old gym and meet with school administrators.

After taking one year off, the Love Escalon community service work day will return to the area next month.

“We have several churches that have been coming together, meeting for the last two months,” said Dana Corbin, serving as coordinator for the work day. “We will be meeting at 8 a.m. that day at the Main Street Park for a rally.”

After the kickoff rally, crews will fan out to a variety of projects at locations around the community. Projects are scheduled to start about 9 a.m. and work should be completed no later than noon.

From agronomy to veterinary science, college opportunities to identifying bugs, the Ag Day hosted at Escalon High School on March 24 provided an overview of the many careers the field of agriculture offers. Staged for El Portal Middle School seventh and eighth graders, the Ag Day featured many community presenters along with high school FFA members involved in presenting information about their field of interest and area of expertise.

After more than three decades in their Second Street location, the Escalon C.A.R.E. Center will soon be on the move. The Community Action Resources of Escalon organization, an outreach of the Escalon Ministerial Association, has been housed at 1531 Second St., Escalon, in a portion of the American Legion Hall, for years. With the Legion now looking to expand and offer more services for veterans in their location, the C.A.R.E. Center is also searching for a new facility.



In a lengthy discussion Monday night – in some cases reaching back to plans from 2009 – the Escalon City Council and several concerned city residents and business owners ultimately agreed to agree that they basically want the same thing for the recently vacated Prospect Street. The street, which runs between First Street and Roosevelt Avenue, cuts across a lot with the Escalon Lumber and Hardware business on one side and a group of businesses including a beauty salon and Escalon Transmission on the other.

Should Escalon serve as its own Groundwater Sustainability Agency – GSA – or should it join a consortium for that purpose? That was the question posed to Escalon City Council members at a recent session and although there was some concern about costs and the city getting adequate representation at a group level, they ultimately voted to join with the larger group.

Despite the heavy rain of Friday evening washing out a couple of planned projects, the Love Escalon community work day on Saturday, April 8 saw dozens of people fan out in multiple directions, all working to better their community. A group of churches joined together to put on the effort, hosting an 8 a.m. rally at the city’s Main Street Park before sending crews off to their various work stations and projects.

San Joaquin County officials will be in Escalon for a special Pre-Construction Open House on Monday, April 24 as work is about to get underway on the Improve McHenry project. The open house will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will be hosted at the Escalon Community Center, 1055 Escalon Ave.; interested residents are encouraged to stop by at any time during the 90-minute open house to learn more about the project.

Continued wet weather so far this spring, following an above average rainfall winter season, has prompted some concerns for local residents. San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District (District) officials said they have been receiving many calls for mosquitoes, as well as other insects. The District is getting calls on similar looking insects including midges and crane flies.

With a wet winter and now a period of warm, dry weather in the forecast, conditions will be ripe for a long – and possibly busy – fire season for local departments. Escalon City officials said they have already started the process of looking in to weed abatement, with residents being advised to cut back grass and clean out alleyways to help create a safe zone around homes. Meanwhile, Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello said the department has several locations they check annually in the weed abatement process and firefighters will be on high alert over the next few months.

Coffee, pastries, and a chance to sit down and visit with local police officers were all on the menu for Escalon residents on Saturday, April 29. The ‘Coffee with a Cop’ event was hosted at the local Starbucks, with several locals taking the time to stop in and take advantage of the opportunity to socialize with police officers in the informal setting.



Forty-two San Joaquin County transportation leaders, elected officials, and regional advocates are in Washington, D.C. through Thursday, May 4 to meet with key leaders in the Administration and Congress about specific policy issues and projects important to this region. The delegates, who traveled to Washington on April 30, are part of the annual San Joaquin One Voice effort coordinated by the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG), which serves as the metropolitan planning organization for San Joaquin County.

Striving to improve the communication between school and community, the Escalon Unified School District is once again offering a survey on the district website. “Last year we had over 100 people that responded,” said Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. “The goal is improving our communication, among staff and the community.”

Working in the Transportation Department for the Escalon Unified School District, John Lial has been selected as one of the top Classified Employees of the Year by the San Joaquin County Office of Education. The Teacher of the Year recipient will be revealed at dinner hosted by SJCOE and Premier Community Credit Union next month.

Winners of the San Joaquin County Teacher of the Year and Classified Employee of the Year are county nominees for California Department of Education recognition programs. Lial was among six Classified Employee of the Year selected, all representing different areas; he was honored in the Transportation category.

Music, laughter and the clinking of wine glasses filled the air in Escalon during the Chamber of Commerce annual wine stroll, hosted along Main Street on Thursday, May 11. A good sized crowd turned out to enjoy the festivities, with several businesses along Main Street, between First and Second streets, turning out to team up with wineries and beverage providers to serve finger foods and pour the wines.

Break-ins at three community mailbox locations in Escalon have been under investigation for the past couple of months and have led police to a Hughson man. The man, whose name was not released because he was not placed under arrest, is suspected of being involved in the theft of mail not only from Escalon but from several Stanislaus County communities as well.

Over $38,000 – and counting – was raised for the 2017 Relay For Life of Escalon, with teams gathering this past weekend on the campus of Escalon High School for the 24-hour signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. Teams ranged from families to high school students, business associates to 4-H kids, all taking part in the 24-hour event to fight back against cancer.

Members of the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District spent plenty of time out in the hot sun this weekend, offering their turnout boots to pasting motorists to collect cash, coins and checks to benefit the Firefighter’s Burn Institute in Sacramento. Staged at the Highway 120-McHenry Avenue-Escalon-Bellota intersection both Saturday and Sunday, the two day drive netted a record-setting $26,250 – well above last year’s then-record total, which was just under $24,000.

Avoid the rivers. That’s the simple message from Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello and many of his colleagues in the fire and rescue service, as water levels are extremely high, water temperatures are extremely cold and the current is flowing faster than most people expect.

“It is crazy out there,” Mello said on Tuesday, noting a large rescue operation by members of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District crews over the weekend on the Stanislaus River along Orange Blossom. Escalon crews also had to pluck a couple of people out of the river, clinging on to trees, at the McHenry Recreation Area on Saturday evening, May 20.



More than 200 graduates made their way into Memorial Stadium at Engel Field on Friday night, entering as Cougars and leaving as high school graduates.

The Class of 2017 took a full 15 minutes to file in to the stadium, to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, before taking their seats and celebrating their accomplishment with family, friends, school administrators and staff.

In a day and age where pastors often come and go in just a few years, Victor Berg-Haglund has been a model of consistency.

He was called to serve Saron Lutheran Church in Escalon on Nov. 24, 1985 and began his ministry at the local church on Jan. 15, 1986. Now, more than 30 years later, he is moving on.  To retirement. The congregation at Saron Lutheran hosted a special Retirement Celebration for their long-term pastor on Sunday, June 11 with a retrospective program and then a barbecue to mark the occasion. Berg-Haglund will officially retire as of Aug. 1, but Sunday was his last as pastor, taking vacation time prior to retiring.

Escalon Reserve Police Officer Zachary Pelham was tapped by the Civitan Clubs of Stanislaus as Officer of the Year in Escalon at Monday night’s Escalon City Council meeting. Pelham has been with the department since 2000 and now serves as the commander for the reserve program, overseeing the other 13 reserve officers.

A quickly organized vigil was hosted Monday night at the Escalon Youth Center, with members of the Class of 2011 from Escalon High School gathering to share memories of classmate Josue Sanchez, 23, who drowned in the Stanislaus River near Knights Ferry. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department officials indicated Tuesday morning that they are awaiting DNA test results before officially releasing the identity of the victim pulled from the water on June 14 but family members on hand at Monday night’s vigil said a funeral service and burial are scheduled for Sanchez.

By a unanimous 5-0 vote, members of the Escalon City Council approved the city’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget at their Monday night meeting. The spending plan, which comes in at around $13 million in expenditures, shows $9.4 million in revenue. The General Fund portion, which serves as the ‘day to day’ operating budget has operating revenues projected at $3.79 million, with expenditures listed at $3.9 million. That would see the city at an operating deficit of $122,130. But with an estimated reserve of $2.2 million as of July 1, 2017 it would carry through to see the city with a reserve at the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year as well.

When students return to Escalon High School in early August, they will see some significant changes. Not everything will be done ... but a large portion of summer renovation projects will be completed, providing a facelift for the campus. “When I started here, eight years ago, there was a group of parents that came with some concerns,” said Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa.

Chief among those concerns was the need for air conditioning in the main (new) gym. And that is one of the projects that is being worked on this summer. In addition, some new lockers are being installed, the bathrooms in the gym are being expanded to meet handicapped accessibility requirements and the large trophy case has been removed, to be replaced by a ‘viewing wall’ so people visiting the snack bar can eat their snacks and still watch the action in the gym.

Four ‘Safe and Sane’ fireworks booths open for business Wednesday, June 28 around the community and can sell the traditional holiday colorful noisemakers until midnight on Tuesday, July 4.