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From triumph to tragedy: Lodi 2000

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Posted: Friday, December 29, 2000 10:00 pm

A tumultuous visit by a president-to-be.

A tragic death on the Mokelumne River.

The start of a sprawling new downtown theater.

For Lodi, 2000 was one of new beginnings, of celebration, as well as loss.

In recent days, News-Sentinel reporters and editors have scoured notes, files and articles to find the top stories of the year.

We came up with an even 12, an assortment that represents the biggest news stories as well as some major trends.

No. 1: Bush’s campaign whistle-stop in Lodi draws 11,000

The banner headline on the Aug. 11 front page of the News-Sentinel said it all: “Bush rocks Lodi.”

And indeed he did.

The then candidate, now president-elect, rolled into the city on a special Amtrak train during his “Change the Tone Tour” late on the afternoon of Aug. 10 to a tumultuous welcome from an estimated 11,000 supporters in what was destined to become the top local story of 2000.

The then-Republican presidential nominee, with the Norman Rockwell-like Lodi station as a backdrop, gave the sun-washed crowd a rousing, old-fashioned, political stump speech that was interrupted time and again by rousing choruses of cheers.

Bush, who was accompanied by his wife, Laura, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was the first presidential nominee to campaign in Lodi since Democrat William Jennings Bryan made a whistle-stop here in 1896.

Looking out over a sea of blue-and-white Bush-Cheney signs, the candidate told the crowd, which ranged from infants to great-grandparents, that if elected he would press for lower taxes, a strong agricultural economy and elimination of the death and marriage taxes.

He also pledged to offer the country better leadership than has existed under President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee for president, during the past eight years.

No. 2: A death on the river stirs debate, reforms

An 11-year-old boy was killed and his father was critically injured during a boating accident June 25 near Lodi Lake.

Boat Accident
Lodi police and fire personnel pull a canoe from the Mokelumne River behind Lodi Lake on June 25 after the canoe was involved in a fatal accident. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)

The accident was not only a high-profile tragedy, but it spurred increased and sustained controversy over safety on the river. The debate focused on whether power boats should be allowed on the Mokelumne River between Highway 99 and Woodbridge Dam.

Tommy Farnsworth of Manteca was fishing with his father, Thomas Farnsworth, 44, when a power boat driven by Carmelo Maggio III of Woodbridge crashed into Farnsworth’s canoe.

A seven-member task force appointed by San Joaquin County Supervisor Jack Sieglock to study boater safety conducted three public hearings in Lodi before recommending that power boats be banned between 7 p.m. and noon.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to deliberate the task force’s recommendations early in 2001, but the debate isn’t likely to end any time soon.

Maggio, 19, has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter with a vessel, and a civil suit has also been filed against Maggio and the owners of the boat, Joseph Mark Newfield and Sheila Newfield.

No. 3: Glassy-winged sharpshooter puts growers on alert

San Joaquin County agriculture — most notably vineyards — was threatened by a ravenous insect known as the glassy-winged sharpshooter in 2000.

The insect kills vineyards by spreading a malady known as Pierce’s disease. It was first discovered in the county at a Lodi apple orchard in September 1999.

Glassy-winged sharpshooters wreaked havoc on grapevines throughout the Central Valley.

Although no infestations were discovered this year by the army of vigilant trappers committed to the search, isolated finds of individual sharpshooters were made in several spots, including a Lockeford-area wholesale nursery.

In April, County Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson spearheaded a task force to detect and kill the pest.

A county ordinance to help battle the insect was passed in July following the find of a major infestation at a mobile home park in Rancho Cordova.

Ag officials can only wait and see if sharpshooter infestations emerge in the spring, and adds that his office is prepared to act swiftly should any such discovery be made, Hudson said.

No. 4: City spending draws controversy

During the year, spending by Lodi city officials drew strong citizen and taxpayer reaction.

A News-Sentinel investigation in August revealed that the city’s budget included a raft of questionable items, ranging from a trip to Disneyland for a police officer involved in a fatal accident, to miniature jock straps as party favors and a fancy dinner at Wine & Roses Country Inn for dignitaries from across the state.

In addition, former Mayor Steve Mann was criticized for billing the city for his college tuition at St. Mary’s College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1996.

Although Mann returned the money, more than $5,000, the subject opened a Pandora’s box and may have contributed to his unsuccessful run for re-election on Nov. 7.

But Mann wasn’t alone in his billing predicament, which was approved by City Manager Dixon Flynn. In August, the city’s human resources department released a list of 141 city employees who had been reimbursed for tuition costs since 1995.

Although the San Joaquin County Grand Jury ruled Mann’s disbursement legal, in November the City Council affirmed and clarified benefits available to its members to include, among other things, repayment on seminars and eligibility for various forms of insurance. Tuition reimbursement was removed from the list.

No. 5: November election brings cliff-hangers and a surprise

The 5th Senate District and one Galt City Council seat were not decided until three weeks after the Nov. 7 election.

In Lodi, the election was marked by the surprise election of 30-year-old Emily Howard to the City Council and the defeat of Mayor Steve Mann.

In the state Senate race, Democrat Mike Machado of Linden narrowly defeated Republican Alan Nakanishi of Lodi. At one point, Machado led by only 129 votes, but he eventually won by 1,379 votes three weeks after the election.

In Galt, Tim Raboy easily won election to the City Council, but Mayor Tony Gora was nearly ousted by challenger Darryl Clare. Gora won by six votes.

Howard is only the fourth woman elected to the Lodi City Council. Joining Susan Hitchcock, Howard’s election also marks the first time that two women have sat on the council at the same time during Lodi’s 94 years as a city.

No. 6: Deaths on the tracks bring innovative response

An alarming string of pedestrian deaths on the train tracks that run through Lodi drew an innovative response from city leaders this year.

The Lodi Police Department set out in the fall to take a hard look at railroad safety in response to the increasing number of fatalities on the tracks.

This year alone, there have been four fatalities, with the most recent victim being a 52-year-old transient who apparently died when he slumped over in front of an oncoming train in September.

In the last five years, there have been 11 fatalities on Lodi’s tracks; nine of the victims were found with drugs or alcohol in their systems.

Lodi Police Lt. Bruce McDaniel investigates a train accident involving a pedestrain on Sept. 11 at Lodi Station. (Jennifer Matthews-Howell/News-Sentinel)

In October, Lodi officers held a press conference to kick off a new campaign against railroad track fatalities. The department announced that it would post new signs and increase patrol along the railroad right of way.

In addition, the city is looking into railroad safety prevention billboards and distributing brochures to local Alcoholic Anonymous groups. New trespassing signs have already been posted along the tracks.

And, in mid-December, the department put words into action by launching a major crackdown on trespassers. In six hours alone, officers arrested 42 trespassers crossing the tracks between Turner Road and Harney Lane; most were bicyclists or mothers pushing strollers. The department plans to continue citing trespassers in the coming months.

No. 7: Big building plans move ahead in Lodi

It seems 2000 was the year for big buildings and big plans.

In the late summer, work began on a new 12-screen downtown theater, scheduled to open in May in time to take advantage of the summer box office profits. Progress has been steady, with the building’s walls going up in December.

Also, a three-story downtown garage to help serve the cinema should be kicked off in 2001, and approval has been given for a new public safety building with a price tag of nearly $20 million.

Plans were also moving forward for a new indoor recreation center at the site of the Parks and Recreation headquarters on Locust Street at Main Street.

Other construction projects approved by the City Council in 2000 and anticipated to be built next year include the skate park near Kofu Park, the BMX track at the Century Boulevard extension and the Veterans monument between Carnegie Forum and City Hall on Pine Street.

North of Lodi, a natural gas storage project that includes a new 31-mile pipeline running from Acampo to the Delta was given the blessing of state and state officials.

No. 8: Transition and testing for public schools

Concerns about education forced public schools in Lodi and across California into the spotlight in 2000, expanding the focus of the three R’s to include bonds, vouchers and standardized testing.

Two statewide measures touted as public school reform went before voters in November, returning mixed results.

Proposition 39, which was approved by voters, will ease the way for school bonds to pass. It lowered the approval rate needed from two-thirds to 55 percent, under certain conditions.

With the initiative’s approval, some school districts including Lodi Unified School District plan to try for another school bond in the new year.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the other initiative, which would have given parents vouchers to send their children to private schools.

Through a state testing and evaluation system, parents and taxpayers could see how well or poorly their local schools were performing. Consequently, educators felt the pressure to show progress and improve schools considered underperforming by the state. School administrators pushed for higher standardized test scores, with dozens showing improvements in state public school rankings. Seven Lodi Unified schools signed up for a state program to boost student achievement.

No. 9: Power crunch plays Grinch

A statewide power crisis struck during the holidays, with energy officials warning that things may get worse before they get better.

The flaws in California’s hastily deregulated electric power industry became clearly evident to Valley residents in 2000, as a demand-driven market caused the price of natural gas to skyrocket — causing shortages that have repeatedly put the state’s power grid in jeopardy of failure.

Over the holiday, residents were urged to conserve energy and to turn off their Christmas lights.

While the cost of delivering power to customers has climbed out of sight, the rate cap imposed by deregulation has left former electric power giants like Pacific Gas and Electric teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

Though Lodians were buffered from major increases and outages, Alan Vallow, Lodi’s electric utilities chief, was not optimistic.

“If things are this bad in winter, when power consumption is relatively low, then what’s it going to be like this summer when consumption goes way up?” Vallow said.

No. 10: Lodi housing was hot, some grapes were not

In 2000, real estate prices rose dramatically in Lodi, while prices for some grape varieties slumped.

The highs and lows reflected a national economy that was robust through most of the year. Skyrocketing stock prices cooled in November and December, with some predicting a downturn in 2001.

The median price of a single-family home in Lodi climbed to $130,000 in 2000, as real estate agents competed to make sales in a market heavy on buyers but low on inventory.

Driven by an influx of Bay Area high-tech entrepreneurs and employees, Lodi home prices will likely continue their climb in the upcoming year.

Through most of the year, homes in Lodi now typically sell in a matter of days rather than weeks or even months, as was previously the case.

The hot new demand sets the stage for a showdown between agricultural interests and developers as growing land prices make some forms of farming an increasingly less attractive financial option for many area landholders.

On the grape scene, Lodi’s bumper winegrape crop was a mixed blessing. While many received record prices for their best-quality fruit, others were forced to let their harvest rot on the vines as an oversupply of some varietals cut the need for Lodi grapes in key regions.

But the news for Lodi-area winemakers was mostly good — several won prestigious awards for their vintages, and the opening of the new Wine and Visitors Center has begun to attract substantial weekend crowds.

Wine Center
The Wine and Visitors Center, which opened in September, is one indication of Lodis’s growing wine industry. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)

There were other signs that the Lodi wine industry had come of age; The Lodi Appellation Winemaker’s Association was formed, and a new county-wide ordinance easing the way for the proliferation of boutique wineries appears destined for certain approval by the county board of supervisors.

The growing diversity of business in San Joaquin County became increasingly evident in 2000, as a growing number of telecommunications, high-tech and light manufacturing concerns made their homes here.

Mike Locke, of the San Joaquin Partnership, says he expects to see that trend continue into next year and well beyond, as the area becomes increasingly attractive to small and medium-sized Bay Area companies looking to grow.

No. 11: Rallying for a greenbelt

Lodi and Stockton residents, rural and urban alike, explored the idea of a buffer of open space and farmland between the two cities.

Citizens had their say at two public meetings in November on how they wanted to keep the two cities from growing together. Now it’s up to Dan Iacofano, a consultant, to develop a plan based on the results of those meetings for the county and cities to approve.

Iacofano’s role isn’t a simple one. Residents said they didn’t want the two cities to grow together, but didn’t agree upon an approach.

Funding to purchase land to create a permanent greenbelt or separation between the two cities was one of the largest obstacles residents recognized.

A land purchase by a governmental entity would have people question where the money is going to come from, Iacofano said at the public meeting in Stockton.

Acquiring land or easements to the land is probably one of the best ways to keep communities from growing together, he said.

Many cities in Northern California already seem to have successfully battled urban sprawl.

Vacaville and Dixon, which may be an example that Lodi and Stockton choose to follow, bought 1,003 acres of land between the two cities just off of Interstate 80. The cities managed to sell 200 of the acres in December 1995 and the final 800 in March 1996 with an easement on the property that stipulated it could only be used for farming.

Iacofano said he may have an open space or greenbelt plan ready for approval of the city councils and San Joaquin County supervisors by March.

No. 12: Lodi loses a sports great

Lodi lost one of its sports legends in 2000.

Bill Munson, perhaps the most celebrated athlete in Lodi’s history, drowned in a pool at his Lodi home July 10.

Munson, 58, played 16 years as a quarterback in the National Football League, including stints with the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills.

He was remembered as one of the best athletes ever to play for Lodi High, where he participated in basketball, baseball and football. He played for Utah State University before starting his pro career.

At a memorial service, he was recalled not only as a superb athlete but as a loving friend and a doting father. In a 1994 interview with the News-Sentinel, Munson talked of his love of football and those who play it.

“I really enjoyed my football career. Every day was a challenge. There were highs and lows in each game, no in-betweens. I enjoyed the people in the game, especially the players, and the friendships I made.”

Munson maintained homes in Lodi and in Birmingham, Mich. The San Joaquin County Coroner ruled Munson’s death an accidental drowning, citing a disease of the heart muscle and elevated levels of alcohol in Munson’s system.

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