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Lots happened in 2017
Downtown makeover, movie production, cannabis dispensaries, water rate hikes highlight busy year
The filming of a movie in Ceres in July was one of the lead stories of the year. Here actor-director Corbin Bernsen directs a scene shot at the intersection of Magnolia and Kay streets. Also appearing in the scene was actress Marilu Henner. The film has yet to be released. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Ceres saw its downtown renovated, council approval of three cannabis businesses, the filming of a low-budget Hollywood movie by Corbin Bernsen and an unwelcome dramatic rising of water rates during an action-packed 2017.

It was the year that civic leaders heralded the big announcement that Ceres will be the site for a rail station when the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) commuter train is extended to Merced.

It was also the year that a group of citizens set out to see if they can raise a half-million dollars to have the city restore and paint the 1934 water tower.

The year 2017 was when the Courier received its highest number of website hits for a story - that of the closure of the Teriyaki King on Hatch Road for health and safety violations.

The Courier staff went back into its news archives for this recap of the year's biggest stories.

1). Cannabis dominated headlines
In May the Ceres City Council approved the county's first-ever medical manufacturing facility. Mike Reynolds, a former Central Valley High School coach, proposed the operation in an industrial area at 4111 Brew Master Drive after realizing that cannabis extracts helped his son, Kase Reynolds, reduce the amount of seizures he suffered from a medical condition. On the boy's fourth birthday on May 22, the City Council approved a developer agreement to allow Reynolds to build a 22,000-square-foot Kase Manufacturing plant. The prior zoning ordinance did not allow such facilities.

The approval not only took on the role of a birthday present for the Reynolds but for the city itself, which is scrambling to fill a $1.1 million budget deficit. The council seemed more than eager to shuttle forth the Kase Manufacturing proposal after Reynolds sweetened the deal with a pledge to pay the city jaw-dropping fees of $50,000 per month during the first year. His voluntary fee increases to $75,000 per month in the second year and $100,000 per month in the third year. The City Council decided to budget half of the expected $600,000 into the budget for the first half year of operation - before the project even gets off the ground.

The highly-regulated indoor facility is now operational with the first payment issued to City Hall this week.

Describing himself as a church-going conservative, Reynolds said he believes cannabis is the only product that has given his son "quality of life." He said Kase went from 1,000 seizures a day to under 10 because of cannabinoids extracted from marijuana.

n October, the City Council approved the first medical marijuana dispensary. Pacafi Cooperative, Inc., won approval to open a 6,000-square-foot medical marijuana dispensary in an industrial area north of Hatch Road at 1442 Angie Avenue. A month later, Reynolds was back in front of the council seeking approval for another developer agreement to allow Ceres' second dispensary, this one not far from his manufacturing facility. Both agreements outline that both operations must pay the city of Ceres a one-time fee of $80,000 and monthly fees to the city based on monthly gross receipts as follows: $40,000 per month if $500,000 or less in gross receipts are earned; $50,000 per month if between $500,001 and $800,000; $75,000 per month if between $800,001 and $1,100,000; and $100,000 per month if more than $1,100,001.

Many in the community were supportive of Reynolds' first proposal but some expressed concerns that Ceres was going to be known as the marijuana capital of the county. Rev. Adrian Condit told the council "if we don't put a brake on this, we'll have dispensaries all over town. This is something you guys need to take control of or we're going to have marijuana floating down the street."

The city has said it may be considering ways to allow other permits related to marijuana, such as testing labs and transportation operations.

2). Downtown Ceres renovation
Right after the Ceres Street Faire took place the weekend of May 6-7, the city commenced on a project to renovate the streetscape of Fourth Street. For months the main part of the downtown Ceres business district was gutted, bearing a dirt street closed off to vehicular traffic while posting signage directing shoppers to businesses still open.

The makeover of Fourth Street was accomplished by a $3.19 million investment of the city of Ceres using the proceeds from a Ceres Redevelopment Agency bond which the city was allowed to keep after Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved all such agencies.

While some have been critical of the expensive effort, city officials hope a more attractive downtown will spur private investment to upgrade facades, start new businesses and perhaps build new commercial space. The project also included the upgrading the storm drainage infrastructure to growth in downtown, including a lofty goal to eventually introduce mixed uses with ground-floor businesses and residential apartments on the second floor. Steve Hallam, the city's economic development manager, feels the project has already added "some new excitement" with interest building in downtown. Hallam said he is offering assistance to Delhart to draw up architectural designs for buildings at the south end of Fourth Street visible from the freeway.
The Downtown Specific Plan, commissioned by the Ceres City Council at a cost of about $350,000 and adopted in early 2011, envisioned a destination downtown with a movie theater, professional offices and retail spaces on ground floors and residential units on second floors, eateries to offer a nightlife atmosphere, additional parking, an expanded civic center and expanded streetscapes. An ingredient of that plan is to infuse 495 more residential units and 1,678 corresponding downtown dwellers in the downtown area. When the plan was adopted six years ago, Mayor Chris Vierra commented the blueprint would probably take 30 to 50 years to come to fruition "realistically."

3). Corbin Bernsen in town
Actor-producer Corbin Bernsen spent considerable time in Ceres and Turlock this past summer filming scenes for his new movie, "Life With Dog."

On July 9 the intersection of Magnolia and Kay streets became a short-lived movie set as Bernsen and actress Marilu Henner and crew filmed an accident scene for the movie. The hit-and-run accident scene featured actress Henner, who plays the wife of main character "Joe" - portrayed by Bernsen. In the movie Henner's character is fatally injured as she is struck by a car while riding a bicycle.

Bernsen, best known for playing divorce attorney Arnold Becker on the NBC-TV series, "L.A. Law," wrote the script and both directs and stars in the faith-based movie. This was the second time Bernsen filmed a movie in Stanislaus County; in 2013 he was in downtown Turlock filming "Christian Mingle."

Bernsen plays a retiree pressured to sell his older home for newer housing development.

"He's kind of the last property owner holding out against that and his wife is killed in a hit-and-run accident and he thinks that perhaps there was some foul play involved to get him to sell his property," said Matt Garman who is assisting in the production which wrapped up yesterday.

In the film, Bernsen's character gets tossed in jail after losing his cool at the local bank. Bernsen was granted permission to film in the holding cell at Ceres Police headquarters on July 1 and again on July 9.

Bernsen chose the area because of the cooperation of city and police officials. A number of police officers and sergeants volunteered for scenes.

Bernsen and his crew had been in Stanislaus County since the last week of June, filming most of the movie scenes inside an older white house on the Westside Ministries campus on Columbia Street in Turlock.

Also in July, Ceres was also included in hip-hop music recording artist Macklemore's new "Glorious" video when he visited Run Around Sue's bar on Mitchell Road and sang karaoke with his grandmother to celebrate her birthday.

Besides a host of other sites shot in Modesto, the video ends with a serene drive at Turlock Lake east of Waterford.

The video, which had over 10 million hits on YouTube in a week, is centered on a surprise visit to his 100-year-old grandmother's home in Modesto and showing her a good time around town in a gold-colored Cadillac. The pair is seen driving down I Street with the Modesto arch in the background on the way to egging a friend's house. Grandma Helen gets a pair of shoes at Hy-Step Shoes on McHenry Avenue and a visit to Second Chance Consignments. The shopping scene was shot at Winco Foods in Modesto.

The popular recording artist began appearing on social media in June after locals saw him making stops in Waterford and Roberts Ferry.

4). ACE train station pledged
City and Chamber leaders were ecstatic in April when word came that Ceres will be getting its own passenger rail station when the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train is extended from Lathrop all the way south to Merced. The Ceres station was part of the reason that state Senator Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, was the crucial pivot yes vote to pass Governor Jerry Brown's $52 billion tax increase in Senate Bill 1, to pay for highway and local road improvements. In exchange for his support for the bill, Cannella wrangled a pledge for the state to commit $400 million to his pet project of extending the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train to Ceres and Merced.

The city of Ceres expects the ACE train station will be constructed west of Highway 99 near the Whitmore Avenue freeway off-ramp.

The ACE train is often confused with the bullet train, or high-speed rail, but it's not. ACE involves using existing Union Pacific railroad tracks running alongside Highway 99.
The fuel tax hikes of SB 1 took effect Nov. 1, 2017 while the vehicle license fee increase will take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Cannella's vote, angered many conservatives in the Republican Party. On Friday, Cannella was blasted with hundreds of irate comments after he posted on his Facebook page: ""I think I'm going to stay off social media today..."

Others applauded the vote.
Cannella defended his "yes" vote, saying "For over two years, I have fought for real solutions to California's transportation problems," said Cannella. "This state cannot continue to just put asphalt band aids on potholes when what we really need is major road and rail surgery to keep Californians and their economy moving. In addition, this will be transformative for commerce and commuter travel throughout the Central Valley."

5). Saving the Ceres water tower.

In September a group of citizens set on raising an estimated half-million dollars for restoration and painting of the iconic Ceres water tower received the blessing of the City Council.

Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra said the city would restore the tower if the group successfully raises enough money, saying if the money is raised "we would be more than happy to refurbish the water tower."

Downtown businesswoman Brandy Meyer presented her ambitious goal with Sheila and Lee Brandt at her side. On Aug. 29, Meyer and the Brandts mustered up a group of about 30 residents to brainstorm ideas to raise the money to preserve the water tower, a fixture in downtown since 1934. The city owns the tower, which is rusting and slowly succumbing to the elements, but has no funds to restore it. One bid from Cornerstone Company obtained by the city in 2010 pegged the project cost at $450,000. The cost includes cost analysis, testing plans, developing specs, structural repairs, repainting, project management and inspection. Those costs could be as high as $530,000 today.

Meyer admitted that the group has a huge task before them in raising the money and said it could be years. Ideas for fundraising include obtaining grants, finding corporate sponsors, hosting annual fundraisers like golf tournaments and a vintage trailer show, a donation-driven time capsule, selling bricks with donors' names and a quest to have 2,500 residents pledge to donate $200 over a three-year period.

City Manager Toby Wells said there are no plans to raze the tower but time will eventually weaken it. The irony is that the cost of dismantling the tower - $20,000 - is how much the city spent to erect it in 1934.

The group won approval of the Ceres Community Foundation to accept donations on its behalf so that donors can receive a tax deduction.

The tank was last painted in early 2002 at a cost of $5,000 but not done properly. Wells noted that the next paint job - if there is one - will be expected to last 20 to 30 years depending on the quality of paint.

Wells said making the project expensive is the fact that the silver-colored coat of lead-based paint cannot be removed without being captured by a shroud. The job would be treated as a hazardous materials disposal.

The tower was built by Chicago Bridge & Ironworks Company in an era when placing a 50,000 tank of water 90 to 118 feet in the sky could supply all the water pressure needed in a small Ceres. It is no longer used to hold water and has since been punctured by plagued by rust and bullet holes.
6). Teriyaki King shut down
The single most visited story on the Ceres Courier's website ( for 2017 was that of the closure of the Teriyaki King restaurant. In September Stanislaus County health inspectors closed the restaurant at 1600 Hatch Road after yet another complaint of unsafe food preparation and storage practices.

Former employee Natasha Titsworth, who goes by the name of Natasha Luangsrinhotha on Facebook, called the county Health Department to complain about chicken being stored outside of freezers and refrigerators in a hot kitchen. On Sept. 5 she also posted a number of photos showing a cockroach sitting on uncooked chicken and maggots crawling on cabbage she claims was stored in a refrigerator that wasn't working.

The Stanislaus County Department of Environmental Resources posted on its website the order to close the facility pending the correction of significant and major health and safety violations. They included: A covered five-gallon bucket filled with raw chicken sitting in sauce was on the floor of the kitchen where the temperature was 86 degrees.
She said it was a common practice to defrost the chicken overnight in buckets stored in the warm kitchen. Titsworth said that's when she snapped a photo of an insect crawling on chicken.

7). Reservoirs rise as do water rates
The California drought was declared over in 2017 after an excessive amount of rainfall fell in the Valley and the foothills. For the first time since 1997, the spillway at Don Pedro Reservoir uphill from Ceres was opened because the lake was at capacity.

While reservoirs were filling, Ceres and Turlock were proceeding with plans to build a surface water treatment plant and delivery system at Fox Grove to steer away from 100 percent reliable on groundwater. The plant is expected to be built and operational by 2022 or 2023. To pay for Ceres' $100 million share of the plant's construction costs, the city ordered a series of rate hikes that took effect this week.

The increases start out with a 40 percent increase, followed by 37 percent the in 2019 . Smaller increases follow for the three years following.

The rate increases also will pay for the higher costs of operations and maintenance as well as capital projects to upgrade the existing water system. Capital costs continue to climb, including $10 million for wellhead treatment over the next five years.

The proposed rate increases cover the period from Jan. 1, 2018 to 2022. If enacted, the increases would result in the average Ceres single-family household water bill climbing from $40.13 per month now to $56.18 on Jan. 1, 2018; to $76.97 on Jan. 1, 2019; to $80.82 on Jan. 1, 2020; to $84.86 on Jan. 1, 2021; and $88.25 on Jan. 1, 2022.

After spending 32.5 years of his life employed by the city, Bryan Nicholes retired as Ceres' fire chief at the end of July. Nicholes started his career in the fire service as a fire explorer scout with Burbank-Paradise Fire District in 1972. In 1984, he came to Ceres Fire Department as the only paid firefighter. He was promoted to the rank of fire marshal in 1986, and left in 1987 to go back to Burbank-Paradise as the fire chief. He returned to Ceres Fire Department as fire marshal in March 1989.

Also retiring in 2017 was Ceres resident Stan Risen was the chief executive officer of Stanislaus County. He was replaced by Jody Hayes.

Center remodeled
Dramatic changes to the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center were completed in 2017 with the goal of increasing business traffic and filling vacant spaces. The shopping center, located at the southwest corner of Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road, is rife with vacancies but the makeover is intended to make it a vibrant area of economic activity. Renovation of the 1970s shopping center started in December 2015 with changes to the stand-alone Bank of America building.

The community dropped their jaw when they got their first peek at the renovated Save Mart store during the June 28 grand opening. The former Save Mart space will be filled with a Planet Fitness.

Among those honored in Ceres during 2017 were Sharon Caruso with the "Citizen of the Year: Lifetime Achievement Award" during the Ceres Chamber's annual January banquet. Also honored was Kendall Meyer as "Young Ceres Citizen of the Year," the Ceres Rotary Club honored with the "Distinguished Service Award," Lou Toste as "Volunteer of the Year," Classic Wine Vinegar Company with the "Business of the Year Award," Addy's Boutique as the "Downtown Business of the Year Award" and Save Mart Supermarket given the "Legacy Award."

At the Ceres Chamber of Commerce's annual Agribusiness Luncheon held in May, Westport area farmer Gary Thompson was honored as the Ceres Agribusiness Man of the Year while the Agribusiness Woman of the Year honor went to Westport area almond grower Karen Barindelli.

The year had its share of tragedies.

On May 23, Hughson truck driver Kamkyo Ramon Gnotsavath, 57, died in a massive fireball explosion when his 9,000-gallon load of diesel flipped over at the Applegate Road exit of Highway 99 in Atwater.

Two days later, Mo's Oasis store at the rural intersection of Geer and Whitmore near Hughson burned in an evening fire. The store, which is owned by Mohamed Mohsin and Abdelrahman "Charlie" Nagi, was declared a total loss.

The community mourned the loss of Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Jason on and Community Service Officer Raschel Johnson. Both died in a fiery May 13 crash Saturday near Crows Landing Road at Seventh Street. Garner had been with the Sheriff's Department for nine years and six months, while Johnson had put in 15 years and five months at the department, with the last eight years as a Community Service Officer. She had recently been promoted to a lead training CSO and had transferred from Patterson. The pair was responding to a report of a burglary when the patrol car crashed into Modesto Auto Wreckers. The patrol car was quickly engulfed in flames.Undersheriff Ralph Ghimenti said a neighboring business had surveillance footage showing the patrol car traveling at a high rate of speed before it crashed. He said it was not known why the vehicle was speeding because they were not responding to an in-progress call.

Special mentions
The year saw the Chamber's annual barbecue competition event switching venues to downtown Ceres at Whitmore Park Aug. 12. The Bands, Brews & BBQ event was a success, coming on the heels of the successful May 6-7 Ceres Street Faire in the same park.

Speaking of beer, 2017 was the year Blaker Brewing broke ground in southwest Ceres. The local brewery broke ground in March and is operational. Blaker Brewery started brewing craft beer in 2012 on the Lucas Dairy - operating on Fulkerth Road in rural Turlock since 1938 - where corn, wheat and hops are grown. Tom Lucas said his family wanted to expand the brewery from the farm-based operation and made arrangements with Millcreek Construction of Ceres to build a 6,000-square-foot metal structure for leasing on Monte Claire Drive.

Also in March, city leaders decided to tweak the 1997 General Plan to allow for more industrial and commercial growth west of Highway 99.

The City Council voted 3-2 to choose Alternative #1 of General Plan growth designs. Previously this month the Ceres Planning Commission decided that Alternative #2 was best.

With the alternative finally chosen, consultants Dyett & Bhatia will finalize the document and accomplish all of its environmental reviews before the end of the year. The end result will be a blueprint for how Ceres could grow for the next 20 years.

When the General Plan is completed it will be the foundation for an update of the Zoning Code and the nexus study for Public Facility Fees.

Ceres said goodbye to some notable people during 2017.

• Jean Condit, 87, the matriarch of the Ceres' most well-known family, died Feb. 13. The wife of Village Chapel Freewill Baptist Church pastor Adrian Condit and mother of former Congressman Gary Condit died Monday, Feb. 13. Battling Parkinson's and dementia, she died at the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson. Jean Condit came to Ceres in August 1967 from Tulsa, Okla., with her husband who was offered the pastorship at the small church across from Caswell Elementary School. Before coming to Ceres she gave birth to former Modesto Police Lt. Burl G. Condit in 1946, Gary Condit in 1948, Darrell Wayne "Hoppy" Condit in 1952 and daughter Dovie Elaine Condit Wilson in 1955.

• Former Ceres High coach Irving Wayne Hardin, who went on to become a nationally recognized college football coach, died April 12 in Abington, Pa., after suffering a massive stroke. He was 91. Hardin coached in Ceres in the 1950s. He served as the head football coach at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1959 to 1964 and at Temple University from 1970 to 1982, compiling a career college football record 118-74-5. Hardin led the Navy to appearances in the 1961 Orange Bowl and the 1964 Cotton Bowl Classic, and coached two midshipmen to the Heisman Trophy - Joe Bellino in 1960 and Roger Staubach in 1963.

• Robert "Rob" Richard Hidahl, the former pastor of Ceres Christian Church, died Aug. 7 at the age of 61.

• Lynne Anne Berryhill Trio, a sister of state Senator Tom Berryhill and former state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, died Oct. 19 after a brief battle with pneumonia. Mrs. Trio was a pancreatic cancer survivor and was in a clinical trial for lung cancer at the time of her passing. Lynne and her husband Sam Trio, once owned and operated Lone Tree Printing on Fourth Street in Ceres.

• Former Ceres resident Dr. Edward L. Hayes, who went on to become the fourth president of Denver Seminary, died Nov. 20 in Santa Barbara. He was 86. He also was executive director of the Mount Hermon Association in Santa Cruz prior to 1993.

• JoAnne Delhart, died in December, leaving by her husband, former Ceres Mayor Jim Delhart. Together for decades they owned Delhart's Home Furnishings in downtown Ceres. From 1982 to 2000, she operated Joann's Restaurant south of Hatch Road in the building now home to Hot Rod Diner. After her retirement from the restaurant, JoAnn focused on ministries at their Modesto church, The House.

• Helen Jacqueline Sneed, a longtime Ceres resident, died Feb. 15. Helen was a devoted Catholic and attended St. Jude's Catholic Church in Ceres for many years, rarely missing a Sunday Mass. She enjoyed her time volunteering at the church food pantry until she was no longer able to do so. Helen left behind her husband of 66 years, Floyd Sneed of Ceres.

• Destiny Rose Texeira Borges, 21, of Ceres, who was killed by a tree toppled by snow as she was standing outside of Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley on March 4. Borges was employed as an auditor with Retail Grocery Inventory Service (RGIS) in Modesto. She had attended Sam Vaughn Elementary School and Mae Hensley Junior High. Destiny was involved in drama while she attended Ceres High School.