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Building, taxes, economy dominated 2008 news
The bad economy, tax hike attempts, the building of the Ceres Community Center and the start of the Whitmore interchange project dominated headlines in the Courier during 2008.

The Courier staff pored over every edition of the old year for this review of our top news stories.


The new year just started when Ceres High School P.E. teacher and head varsity baseball coach Bret Durossette was named to succeed Rob Phipps on the Ceres City Council Jan. 3. Phipps, 44, died Dec. 2, 2007 before he could be seated to another four-year term. The council decided to fill the vacancy by appointment rather than hold a special election.

History preservationist Phil Reynders was named Citizen of the Year for helping to establish the Ceres Historical Museum. Reynders, 78, received the honor at the 39th annual Ceres Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Dinner on Jan. 19.

In January the first walls of the new Ceres Community Center started going up. The new $6.8 million facility will be completed by March, 2009.

A shocking crime occurred in Keyes on Jan. 23, when a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt robbed Keyes Supermarket and shot the owner in the leg, all on surveillance video. Sheriff's deputies were unable to apprehend the robber, described as an Asian male in his mid-20s, of medium build and standing between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-9.

Former council candidate Mike Kline was appointed to the Ceres Planning Commission on Jan. 28.


A freak night-time accident with dirt bikes on Feb. 3 took the lives of four persons on a rural canal bank near Crows Landing and West Taylor roads. Authorities said two dirt bikes collided head-on as they were being driven without headlights. Killed were Modesto couple Thomas "Ed" Moore, 33, and Kelly Moore, 30; and Ed Moore's sister, Cynthia Prickette, 29, and her boyfriend, Michael Stokes, 33, both of Ceres.

Ceres high school students were among 500 area high school students tested their knowledge in 23 occupational competitive events Feb. 20 and some walked away with medals in the 23rd annual Occupational Olympics. The event was held at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock.


The city engaged the public into a visioning process for downtown Ceres. Residents got their first opportunity to give the city input on the future of downtown Ceres on March 11. Revitalizing downtown is a key element of the City Council's Strategic Plan and in October 2007, consultant Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) was hired to begin an analysis of the area. DC&E will complete a comprehensive study - costing $350,000 - of existing and potential markets for retail, office and residential, as well as traffic, parking and infrastructure issues.

A Sunday afternoon beach outing of a church group turned tragic on March 16 when a father and daughter drowned attempting to save a teen who got swept into the surf. Ceres Seventh-day Adventist members Jessica Darrough, 23, and her father, Mark Darrough, 47, both of South Modesto, died in the mishap at Monastery Beach at the Carmel River State Beach Park in Monterey County.

The best of Ceres' finest were honored on March 15 at the annual Law & Order Night sponsored by Ceres American Legion Post 491. Honored were: Police Officer of the Year Sgt. Rick Collins, Firefighter of the Year Captain Dan Foster, Reserve Firefighter of the Year Kenny Burrows, and Support Person of the Year Theresa Tejeda. Bob Panos was posthumously given the Reserve Police Officer of the Year award.

The relationship between Supervisor Jim DeMartini and former intern Serena Essapour was scrutinized in court beginning in March. Essapour was found guilty of illegally using DeMartini's identity to obtain and run up credit cards. Her high-priced lawyer, Mark Geragos, insinuated in court that DeMartini and Essapour had a more intimate relationship. Essapour, 23, pled no contest in July to felony false impersonation, felony misuse of personal identifying information, and felony grand theft. The charges stemmed from allegations that Essapour used DeMartini's Social Security number to open up credit card accounts and charge close to $10,000 in a month's time span. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years probation.


On April 14 the Ceres City Council approved plans to build a classy-looking 30-unit senior citizens complex near the Clinton Whitmore Mansion at 2732 Fifth Street. Cary and Nancy Pope, owners of the Whitmore mansion property are proposing to split the 2.6-acre parcel into three separate parcels ranging in size from 11,925 square feet to 30,789 square feet. The Popes plan on keeping the mansion available as an event center but build senior housing.

In April Ceres High School hosted a mock DUI crash that took the lives or injures their peers as part of the Every 15 Minutes program. The intent was to give students - at the outset of the traditional partying season - a graphic representation of the real-life consequences of drunk driving.

On April 19 the community pitched in to clean up Herndon Avenue south of Hatch Road. The effort cleaned up 13.4 tons of garbage and debris.

The 67-unit Ceres Christian Terrace was sold in April for $4 million as the result of a complicated foreclosure matter. The sale to California Corporation of Westlake Village officially separated the facility from its founding agency, the Ceres Christian Terrace Corporation. Its board was led by Pastor Gary Hall.

Edgar Romo was tapped April 28 to replace Bill Berryhill on the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees. The 33-year-old chiropractor said he applied to the School Board to help his community. Berryhill resigned from the board to launch a successful candidacy for state Assembly.


Great weather and a happy crowd made for a successful 20th annual Ceres Street Faire May 3-4.

Bonzi Recycling sustained a huge fire May 13 at its Morgan Road yard which consumed large bundles of recyclable papers and plastics.

The fire was de ja vu for firefighters from throughout the county who battled a similar blaze at the facility on Sept. 14, 2006. The fire sent a thick black column of smoke that drew notice all over Ceres.

Despite triple-digit temperatures, hundreds of volunteers took turns walking around the Ceres High School track May 17-18 to raise money for cancer research and cancer awareness in the third annual Ceres Relay for Life. The event raised $70,651.

The Rhapsody residential community in Hughson dedicated a park in memory of slain CHP officer Earl Scott on May 15. Scott moved to 7205 Rhapsody Lane in Hughson in 2004 not long before he was fatally gunned down during a Feb. 17, 2006 traffic stop near Salida. He was just 36.

Blaker Kinser teacher Michael James was named "Agribusiness Man of the Year" by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce in May. He was singled out for his efforts to teaching the importance of agriculture in the classroom.

A three-story, 162-room Hampton Inn hotel won the green light from the Ceres Planning Commission on May 19 as did a tentative parcel map to split 16 acres into nine parcels at the southwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads. The approval lays the groundwork for the development of a huge chunk of the area known as the Southern Gateway.

The husband of an 85-year-old Rose Avenue woman who was fatally stabbed to death May 25 was arrested for murder. Piara Johal, 85, of Ceres, was charged with the stabbing death of wife Jagir Johal inside the couple's home in the 2600 block of Rose Avenue.

The Ceres City Council approved an ordinance designed to curb the blight of abandoned shopping carts throughout the community. The ordinance focuses on making stores more responsible for keeping carts corralled and authorizes the city to impound loose shopping carts if they're not picked up by store premises within three days of the city notifying the store. Carts not reclaimed from the city impound center may be sold within 30 days.


Hughson farmer Vito Chiesa defeated former Sheriff Les Weidman for the District 2 Board of Supervisors seat on June 3. When the dust settled, however, Chiesa had secured a convincing 17 percent margin of victory, with 2,100 more votes in his favor than Weidman had been able to garner.

Jim DeMartini proved that his reputation has been unharmed by recent courtroom allegations to keep his District 5 seat.

History was made at Central Valley High School on June 5 when the school called out the name of Vinnie Sottile to become the first graduate in the school's history. The school opened three years ago with only freshmen. Special recognition was made for valedictorian Husein Rashid and salutatorians Christopher Azevedo, Alex Morales, Yama Noorzai and Lupita Zaragoza.

On June 6, Ceres High ushered 255 students into the world at graduation. Valedictorian Sydney Featherstone and co-salutatorians Kevin Fliflet and George Polovin delivered one-of-a-kind speeches.

Armando Perez, a volunteer assistant football coach at Central Valley last fall, was arrested and charged on June 16 with distributing cocaine and conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine.


A new Street Crimes Unit began working the streets for the first time in July, the result of the community passing Measure H, a half-cent sales tax increase in 2007. The unit focuses on proactively cracking down on gangs and drugs and other street crimes.

Mayor Anthony Cannella gave his "State of the City Address" on July 14 to outline goals for Ceres, including ensuring that the city operate in a fiscally prudent manner and upgrading the water and sewer systems.

Members of the Ceres City Council took action in July to get a better handle on cleaning up property eyesores. Under the old system, when a property owner fails to correct a nuisance and the city steps in and pays for the work to be done, the cost went against the property as a lien. That debt typically isn't paid until the property is sold, whenever that may be. The July 14 ordinance allows those abatement costs to be place on the tax roll as a "special assessment," meaning the debt would be due the next time annual property taxes are paid. Property taxes are billed in two payments, the first in December and the second in April.


The Ceres City shot down plans for an affordable apartment complex on Whitmore Avenue on Aug. 11. The proposed 48-unit Cambridge Park Apartments was shot down in a 4-0 vote after the developer admitted he didn't want to see the 3.1 acres west of Rockefeller Drive being rezoned from commercial to residential if the city couldn't commit $4.3 million to the project.

Councilmembers dismissed any prospect for Ceres mobilehome park rent controls on Aug. 25 but not before slamming the lone mobilehome park owner who has stirred so much angst among his tenants. The council unanimously gave final rejection of enacting rent controls saying they would not give tenants of tenants in Colony Park Mobilehome Estates on Central Avenue the relief they seek.


The long-awaited Whitmore interchange broke ground Sept. 5. The ground-breaking ceremony for the Whitmore/Hwy. 99 interchange kicks off two years' worth of construction to make traffic flow better along Whitmore Avenue near Highway 99. Construction bids for the project came in at $16.4 million, far less than the engineer's estimate of $22.8 million. Right of way land acquisition and other costs bring the project to a total cost of $26 million. The new interchange will eliminate serious rush hour bottlenecking of traffic by making Whitmore four lanes between Central Avenue and Blaker Road. The overpass will include sidewalks on both north and south shoulders.

The centennial of Ceres High School was celebrated Sept. 12-14 through a number of activities. Alice Dora Caulkins Melugin, 98, was honored as the oldest living CHS graduate present. Melugin was in the class of 1928. The oldest living graduate of CHS, Mary Edith Forney Thompson, 101, of Santa Rosa, was unable to attend the celebration. She left Ceres in 1926 after graduating from Ceres High School in 1925.

September brought good news to the Ceres Unified School District. The state said 15 of the 21 schools in CUSD have exceeded state growth targets in the release of Academic Performance Index (API) statistics. Ten of those 15 schools made more than a 20-point gain since the last API scores were released. Most notably, 9 of 11 CUSD elementary schools made gains in student achievement above the previous year, with Virginia Parks Elementary, Whitmore Charter School of Technology and Summit Charter Academy maintaining scores above 800.

Ceres Christian Church celebrated its centennial on Sept. 27-28. The church's roots go back to the spring of 1908 when a small group of people met in the Fourth Street home of Charles H. Edison to organize a new church in Ceres. The church was first named the First Church of Christ and was at the corner of Third and North streets (site of the present-day Masonic Lodge). The church has moved around a number of times in the last century. Most of that time the church was located on the sight of the construction of the new Ceres Community Center. The church relocated to its current site at 3502 Roeding Road just east of Mitchell Road.


The man known as the "Band-Aid Bandit" who struck Ceres businesses in a long crime spree, was arrested on Oct. 30. Andrew Jason Gonzalez, 23, was arrested in Merced. He's the one who was believed to have robbed the Staples store on Hatch Road in Ceres on Sept. 5 and the Stars Studio at 1520 E. Hatch three days later. Gonzalez may have been responsible for approximately 30 robberies in Ceres, Modesto, Turlock, Tracy, Manteca, Lathrop, Livermore and East Bay.


Wal-Mart corporation officials announced in November that they plan to close the Ceres Wal-Mart store if the city approves a Supercenter. The Wal-Mart Supercenter is the proposed anchor of a proposed 26-acre project at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. The site is owned by Florida-based Regency Realty Group, the company proposing development. The entire center will consist of 304,000 square feet of retail space but the Supercenter will take up 208,172 square feet. The store would devote 36,167 square feet to grocery sales.

Ceres churches paid homage on Nov. 8 to area veterans at Whitmore Park. The second annual Veterans Day observance, which drew the very young and the very old, was hosted by Ceres churches.

Voters in the Ceres Unified School District passed Measure U on Nov. 4. Measure U allows CUSD to issue $60 million in bonds to upgrade all Ceres schools and designate $25 million for a third junior high school. Matching funds from the state would also be provided to help pay for the upgrades. To pay back the debt service on Measure U, an assessment of up to $60 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation will be placed on property annually for 30 years. A property with an assessed valuation of $200,000 would be assessed by another $120 per year.

On the same day that America elected Barack Obama as president, Bill Berryhill defeated Turlock farmer John Eisenhut for the state Assembly's District 26 seat. Berryhill, a former member of the Ceres Unified School District Board, received 55,940 votes, or 52 percent, to Eisenhut's 52,308 votes, or 48 percent.

Finding no success on Nov. 4 was Measure S, the proposed countywide half-cent sales tax measure for road projects. It failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed for passage. The measure fell short by 383 votes.

Juries convicted Jerry Benge, 49, of manslaughter and nephew Sean Benge, 30, of lying in wait during murder in connection with the Jan. 4, 2005 murder victim Steven Glenn Brown of Ceres. Jerry Benge was convicted of manslaughter after prosecutors presented a case that Benge wanted to get rid of Brown in order to romantically pursue Brown's wife, Katherine Brown. The slaying was carried out by Sean Benge. The trial focussed on motives and the relationship between Jerry Benge and Katherine Brown.

Proposed water and sewer rate increases dominate time of councilmen in November as the city plans for a Jan. 26 protest hearing. City officials say that water and sewer rates must be raised since revenue is not covering expenses. The city is proposing to rate water rates from the current $15.30 per month per single-family home. Rates would jump to $22.30 in 2008-09 fiscal year, $26.85 by 2009, $28.20 by 2010 and $31.40 by 2012-13.

Sewer rates would need to go from $22.25 per month to $58.75 per month by 2012 in north Ceres and $43.99 per month in other parts of Ceres. The rates would be higher in north Ceres because wastewater is processed at the city of Modesto plant.

A teen was shot outside of Central Valley High School during Nov. 18 adult night school classes. The shooter was identified as Enrique Garcia, 18, of Ceres. The shooting of Francisco Ramero took place following an argument. Ceres Police Sgt. Allen McKay said the Ramero and Garcia were students in the same Ceres Adult School class and that the shooting was may have been gang related.


Ceres celebrated Christmas and the opening of Christmas Tree Lane on Dec. 6 at Smyrna Park.

Sheriff's detectives arrested the parents of 16-month-old Andrew Paffendorf of South Modesto on Dec. 8. The child died of blunt force trauma on Tuesday, Dec. 2 in the 3600 block of Crows Landing Road. Andrew Paffendorf, 22, of Modesto, was charged with murder and assault on a child causing great bodily injury or death. The baby's mother, Alicia Paffendorf, 22, was charged with causing willful harm to a child.

The Ceres Flea Market, a Ceres mainstay since 1947, is succumbing to economic conditions as of Dec. 28.