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Morada residents love their town, don't care much for Stockton

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Posted: Friday, January 17, 2003 10:00 pm

What has a business district ranging from a funky ghost town and chicken restaurant to churches to an established neighborhood grocery store - all along one of California's main highways?

What has four mobile home parks in proximity with some million-dollar mansions and prime farm land?

It's Morada.

Located east of Highway 99 between Eight Mile Road and Hammer Lane, Morada boasts a well-hidden residential areas behind the commercial "strip."

Morada at a glance

Location: East of Highway 99 between Stockton and Lodi. Boundaries are Highway 99, Eight Mile Road, Foppiano Lane and Alpine Road. The Morada Municipal Advisory Council boundaries are slightly larger from Bear Creek south to the Calaveras River.

Population: 3,726.

Size: 3 square miles.

Housing: Mansions worth more than $1 million, ranch-style 1950s-vintage houses, four mobile home parks.

Head east of frontage road onto Eight Mile Road or Morada, Hildreth or Foppiano lanes and you'll find a mixture of ranch-style homes from the 1950s, recently built mansions pushing 10,000 square feet on ranchettes and two neighborhood schools.

It boasts doctors, lawyers, blue-collar retirees, farmers and multigenerational families who have remained in the community.

Residents describe Morada as a very close-knit neighborhood of about 3,700 people living in 1,900 homes, yet their property is generally large enough where they can be left alone.

"Everybody knows you," said Scott Byous, 32, a Waterloo-Morada firefighter who has lived in Morada since he was 2. "It's a great place to work. People always wave at you. They're happy to see you."

Marilyn Frens said she moved to Morada in 1974 because of its rural nature.

"We like being in the country, yet we're close enough to hospitals and stuff," Frens said. "We'd never move to Clements or Wallace or something.

"What we brag about on our cul-de-sac is our neighbors are there if we need them, but they don't camp out on our doorstep," Frens said.

Morada is also a community that draws fierce loyalty. Despite their Stockton mailing address, Morada residents are insulted if they are called Stocktonians.

In fact, them's fighting words.

"We've always said we don't want to be Stockton," said John Sinclair, chairman of the Morada Area Association, a group of community residents devoted to keeping Morada special.

It's bad enough that Stockton has grown northerly enough that it is separated from Morada only by the freeway, said Regina Burk, a Morada resident since 1987.

Stockton is so unappreciated by at least some Moradans that the association and another group, the Morada Municipal Advisory Council, are taking several steps to separate them from Stockton. They include:

- Asking Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, about Morada getting its own post office, complete with a Morada mailing address.

- Purchasing two entrance signs alerting people they are in Morada. They plan to buy several more.

- Exploring the creation of a community services district for Morada, primarily to control water and sewer allocations to potential developers.

"It isn't that we're negative; we want reasonable growth," Sinclair said. "We don't want developers going in there just to make a buck."

To keep the area rural, Moradans say they have no desire to upgrade their water and sewer system. They prefer their well water and septic systems. In fact, they recently

squashed overtures for Stockton to provide city water and sewer service.

- Requesting that the city of Stockton to refrain from including them from the Stockton General Plan, the city's land-use bible for future development. Although Moradans have clashed with San Joaquin County officials on development issues, they still want to remain under the county's auspices.

"We're afraid we're in line for annexation (into Stockton)," said Bill Fields, chairman of the Morada Municipal Advisory Council.

County Supervisor Jack Sieglock, who represents Morada, said he supports the community's desire to remain independent of Stockton.

"If I were Stockton, I wouldn't even go there," Sieglock said.

Morada residents show great affection for their community, which includes large residential lots, country atmosphere, privacy, proximity to shopping and a lot of people who know each other and enjoy each other's company.

"There's a close-knit neighborly friendship," Fields said. "I've been out here 27 years, and I never met a neighbor I didn't like."

"Morada's kind of centered around Little League," Fields said. "You see elderly people who just go out there and watch them play, and they don't even have any kids out there."

Another example came a few years ago, Fields said, when MarVal opened a supermarket on the frontage road.

"I can't tell you how many people said they weren't going to run Ernie Canepa out of business," Fields said. "To me, that says a lot about a community. I like that."

The Canepa family has been a fixture at Morada Market since 1936.

Although Morada is dominated by wealthy professionals, the community also has older homes and four mobile home parks.

"The doctors and attorneys are friendly; their kids play with your kids," Field said. "We don't have these class divisions you think you might have."

Morada also has a lot of farmers and old families, generation to generation.

"You hear the same Italian names - the Solaris, the Foppianos, the Lucchettis, the Ruganis," said Byous, the firefighter. "I think they take a lot of pride in Morada. They like to say it's Morada."

Morada is home to three schools and six churches in a relatively small area, generally bordered by Eight Mile Road on the north and Foppiano Lane on the south.

The schools, all in the Lodi Unified School District, are Davis Elementary School on Morada Lane, Morada Middle School on East Eastview Drive and University Public School, a charter school on the frontage road. Most Morada students attend Tokay High School in Lodi.

Three of the six churches are also on the highway frontage - Harvest Bible, Discovery Free Will Baptist and Bansuk, a Korean Presbyterian church.

Also in Morada, you can find Berea Baptist Church on Quasnick Road, Free Methodist Church on Foppiano Lane and St. Michael's Catholic Church on North Ashley Lane.

The greatest togetherness tends to be at school, church, meeting neighbors at Morada Market and through Morada Little League, another close-knit organization.

And Morada has more than its share of watch dogs, through the Morada MAC, which makes recommendations to county officials, and the Morada Area Association, a more informal but nevertheless an active organization.

News about the community is reported monthly in the Morada Monitor, a newsletter written by area association member Marilyn Frens.

There's plenty of overlap among the two organizations. In fact, Fields sits on both boards along with the Waterloo-Morada fire board.

Morada, which means "residence" in Spanish, was dominated by grain farms in 1900, but homes were built a short time later with construction of the Central California Traction tracks. A waiting station was constructed near Alhambra and Morada lanes, according to "Cities and Towns of San Joaquin County," a book written by Raymond Hillman and Leonard Covello.

In 1909, sidewalks were installed and a few houses were built near Oakwilde and Plum avenues.

By the mid-1920s, Davis Elementary School expanded from 1.5 classrooms to four. It was located west of Highway 99 near Morada Lane. The current school was built in 1951.

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