The fatal shooting of a Lodi murder suspect who lunged at a judge was the top story of 2009, according to News-Sentinel readers.
The No. 2 story was the controversy over prayer before Lodi City Council meetings.
More than 500 readers voted on stories suggested by the News-Sentinel editorial staff in an informal online poll. The following summaries were prepared by Maggie Creamer, News-Sentinel staff writer.
1. David Paradiso shot, killed in courtroom
A Lodi murder suspect put Lodi back into the national spotlight when he attacked a judge with a shank on March 4.
David Paradiso, 29, lunged at San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Cinda Fox as he was testifying in his own defense for the murder of his new girlfriend, Eileen Pelt, an Auburn resident.
Paradiso was charged with the Dec. 4, 2006, murder, accused of plunging a knife through Pelt's neck in the back seat of his mother's car in a West Oak Street alley in Lodi.
When Paradiso lunged at Fox and began stabbing at her neck, a bailiff tried to pull him off the judge, then Lodi Police Detective Eric Bradley fired three shots at close range. Fox was treated at the hospital for stab wounds to the neck and arm.
Investigators have yet to release their final report on how Paradiso may have gotten the shank into the courtroom, or how he was under the influence of drugs despite being jailed.
2. Prayer draws controversy
National media flocked to Lodi this summer and fall to document the often-heated discussion on whether a prayer should be allowed before the start of Lodi City Council meetings.
The most unexpected debate of the year started in May when the city received a letter from the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation threatening to sue if the council did not enforce its own policy limiting prayers to "non-sectarian and non-denominational."
What followed was more than 400 people and religious leaders, including Pray in Jesus' Name Gordon Klingenschmitt, gathering before a council meeting for a prayer rally. There also were counter-rallies sponsored by Lodi United, a group formed to oppose prayer.
|What was the top local news story of 2009?|
|We asked our readers in an informal poll at www.lodinews.com.|
|1. David Paradiso shot, killed when attacking judge||112||20|
|2. Prayer before council meetings||107||19|
|3. Budget woes deepen for schools, city||86||15|
|4. Costco coming to Lodi||69||12|
|5. Lockeford’s Kyle Coumas killed in Afghanistan||61||11|
|6. Car dealerships close||52||9|
|7. Lodi Memorial Hospital expands||21||4|
|8. (tie) Redevelopment bid fails||16||3|
|8. (tie) Double homicide in Galt||16||3|
|9. Liberty Ranch high opens||9||2|
|10. Kohl’s opens||7||1|
The debate resulted in the council adopting a policy that allows invocations to continue, but opens it up to secular groups to allows them to give a "Call of Responsibility."
3. The local budget crunch
All local agencies struggled this year to balance their budgets, as revenue from taxes declined and the state borrowed money to help balance its budget.
The city of Lodi has had to reduce staffing numbers through attrition and retirement incentives. San Joaquin County had to lay off employees from the District Attorneys office and Human Services Agency.
Meanwhile, Lodi Unified School District sent out pink slips and laid off or reduced the hours of more than 100 classified fulland part-time employees, which included 15 part-time library workers, two personal computer technicians and six administrative secretaries.
San Joaquin Delta College eliminated 86 positions in an attempt to slash $8.3 million from the college's $100 million operating budget.
4. Costco coming
Costco will be the first retail store in Reynolds Ranch on Harney Lane when it opens late next year. The 154,000 square-foot store will have a 16-pump gas station and set on 15 acres. The News-Sentinel reported the retailer would hire 150 part-time employees and 150 full-time workers with benefits. The Lodi location for the membership-only retail store that sells bulk items is the only Costco planned for construction in Northern California for 2010.
5. Kyle Coumas, fallen soldier
The local area experienced its first war causality in the Afghanistan War this year.
Kyle Coumas, a Lockeford resident, was killed when the vehicle he was driving was attacked by an improvised explosive device in the province of Kandahar.
He was the only son of Lori and Greg Coumas, and a 2005 graduate of St. Mary's High School in Stockton. Coumas began his tour of active duty in February 2007 and was assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash.
He was deployed to Afghanistan in July. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The community showed their support during Coumas' Nov. 3 funeral procession. People waved American flags during the procession along Victor Road, Highway 88 and Highway 12 from Lodi to Wilseyville, a small Calaveras County town at the 3,000-foot level.
Kyle Coumas is buried in Lori Coumas' family plot in Wilseyville.
6. Car dealerships close as economy struggles
The effects of the wobbly economy were apparent this year as two of Lodi's major car dealerships shut its doors.
In early February, Lodi Geweke Chrysler Jeep Dodge closed its doors after 42 years in business. About 10 of the 20 or so employees who worked at the dealership were given positions at the company's other stores in Lodi. The remaining employees were laid off.
A few weeks later, Plummer Automall also closed, putting 59 people out of work. The dealership had been in Lodi for more than 30 years and carried Cadillac, GMC, Pontiac and Buick vehicles.
The closings were a big blow for local agencies who relied on the dealerships large sales tax numbers. Plummer dealership's president Dennis Plummer said in 2008 the company generated $975,000 in sales tax revenue for the city of Lodi and San Joaquin County.
7. Lodi Memorial Hospital expands
The hospital completed an ambitious expansion project, adding 90 new beds for a total of 270.
The $187 million new wing was a decade in the making. It was Lodi Memorial's third major construction project in the nearly 60 years the hospital has been in Lodi. It opened in 1952 after two years of construction, then expanded in the 1960s.
The hospital worked to make the south wing more patientfriendly with warm tones of paint, laminate faux wood floors as opposed to cold tile, and plenty of windows to let natural light in.
It also has about 100 pieces of artwork, including contributions from about 45 local artists.
The new emergency room is scheduled to open in February.
8. (tie) Redevelopment sputters
In March, Lodi residents shot down an attempt by the majority of the Lodi City Council to establish a redevelopment agency.
The council first approved the agency in July 2008. A handful of grassroots opponents turned in a petition to force the plan to a vote. The council voted to hold a special election rather than wait for the next general election in November, and Measure W was placed on the ballot for March 3.
During the campaign, promoters of the redevelopment agency said it would revitalize the Eastside without raising taxes.
But opponents walked precincts, arguing that a redevelopment agency would lead to more city debt and strip future tax revenues from other local agencies.
Their local campaigning efforts won them votes, and citywide, Measure W failed after only receiving 46 percent of the vote.
Discussion has already started again on the possibility of a new plan for an agency that factors in some of the concerns aired during the election. The council has scheduled the next discussion on redevelopment for June 2010.
8. (tie) Double homicide
Galt had its first homicide in three years in November when 18-year-old Alfredo Daniel Tafoya, of Sacramento, allegedly shot two men at Estrellita Ballroom.
Tafoya was accused in the deaths of Efrain Zambrano, 20, of rural Galt, and 24-year-old Carlos Alonso Montes, of La Puente, east of Los Angeles. Both died at the scene.
All three men were at a quinceañera — a party held to mark a girl's 15th birthday. Galt Police Lt. Jim Uptegrove said the shooting started as a fist fight before escalating.
Police searched for Tafoya for about a week before finding him hiding in a south Sacramento apartment.
The last homicide in Galt was on July 2006, when two men were fatally shot at a party in west Galt; one man was charged with a single count of murder and took a plea deal that sent him to prison for seven years.
9. Liberty Ranch opens in Galt
As the first comprehensive high school to be built in Galt in more than half a century, Liberty Ranch opened its doors to 600 freshman and sophomores this August.
The school will continue to grow to its capacity of 1,400 students and host grades 11 and 12 as well.
The campus is a long time coming starting when voters approved a $29.5 million bond measure in 2005.
The school has three state-of-the-art computer labs, one of which is portable, and said there is also an engineering lab that students will be taught in.
Construction is still continuing on campus with Building 700, a classroom that will focus on agricultural education.
10. Kohl's opens Lodi gained a new place to buy clothes, shoes, bedding, kitchen supplies and other merchandise when Kohl's department store on Kettleman Lane opened for business in September. The store employs more than 100 people, most of them part-time.
The store replaced Mervyn's. The retailer is opening 35 new stores in former Mervyn's sites this week.