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Morada's unofficial mayor is passionate about his community

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Posted: Thursday, November 25, 2004 10:00 pm

Ten years ago, Morada's community and political organizations were loosely knit and had little influence on the community's desire to remain a semi-rural community.

Today, the small community of slightly more than 3,000 has evolved into a political force that doggedly monitors what the city of Stockton, San Joaquin County, area water agencies and developers are doing.

And the major lightning rod in Morada's battle against urbanization -- the man many in the community turn to -- is Bill Fields, a 30-year Morada resident who grew up across Highway 99 in Stockton.

"He's in a roundabout way, the mayor of Morada," said Sharon Stewart, secretary for two local organizations, the Morada Area Association and the Morada Municipal Advisory Council.

Fields, 60, keeps a watchful eye on virtually every move at Stockton City Hall. He attends City Council, Planning Commission and General Plan committee meetings to monitor what he fears is Stockton's thirst to develop in and near Morada.

He is also trying to get a better understanding about the county's diminished groundwater supply and how future development will affect existing residents, businesses and agriculture.

Passionate about Morada

Fields' says his concerns about Stockton's movement eastward toward Morada have expanded to include the entire county, because the removal of farmland increases the demand for water.

The past few years, Fields narrowed his focus to two main proposals:

• Empire Ranch, located east of Highway 99 south of Foppiano Lane. The development could include 2,000 homes on 400 acres in the southern end of Morada.

• Cannery Park, a 448-acre site west of Highway 99 -- directly across the freeway from Morada -- that calls for 1,100 homes, multifamily housing and up to 50 industrial and commercial lots.

"Morada has graduated from selfish concerns to the overall concerns of everybody in this county," Fields said. "Morada is an agricultural community. Agriculture grows our food. Ag needs water."

Stockton's pending growth has also made the city of Lodi nervous, with Stockton eyeing bulldozers and concrete north of Eight Mile Road and adjacent to Lodi's White Slough Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Fields acknowledges that he may be the front man in Morada politics, but that's only because he's retired, which gives him time to pursue community affairs. Other activists are busy with full-time jobs and their families, he said.

"We try to bring the information to the community, and Bill's really good at doing that," Stewart said. "If he finds out about something, he'll step right into it."

John Sinclair, the area association president, added, "He can sit down, get your feelings on a situation and make you feel comfortable whether he agrees with you or not."

However, Fields is quick to deflect credit to others who are active in the association and the Municipal Advisory Council, an elected organization that makes recommendations to county officials. He singled out activists like Stewart, Sinclair, Richard Shaffer, Pat Ghotelli, Marilyn Frens and Ken Meleyco as people playing key roles in Morada.

But the people with whom Fields has locked horns with hesitate to assess Fields' effectiveness as a community leader.

Fields credits the late Louise Peterson for prodding him and other Morada residents in the early and middle 1990s, when Morada's two main organizations were dominated by developers and their allies.

Bill Fields

The Morada MAC, an elected board that makes recommendations to county officials, was dominated by developers or people who supported them, Fields said. Peterson encouraged Fields and other Morada residents to seek a MAC seat so that the council could be more representative of the community, Fields said.

Lifelong area resident

Born on Sept. 9, 1944, Fields grew up in Stockton and graduated in 1962 from St. Mary's High School.

He met his wife, Lenora, now a nurse, at St. Mary's. They married in 1964, when both were 20. Fields worked in sales, shipping, receiving, maintenance and engineering for 27 years before retiring on disability in 1987.

Fields sits on the Waterloo-Morada Rural Fire District board and is active with the community's Youth Accountability Board, which conducts hearings with first-time misdemeanor youth offenders in an effort to keep them out of the juvenile court system.

Worshipping Jesus

If there is anything he loves more than Morada and its residents, it is God and Jesus Christ.

"I ask God for guidance on everything I do," Fields said. "Without that guidance, I don't know what a man does."

Fields once attended St. Michael's Catholic Church in Morada, but now goes to different churches for his spiritual needs, including Berea Baptist and Stockton Baptist, both in Morada, and First Baptist in Stockton. He also attends the Lodi-based Beth Hallel Messianic Fellowship, a group of Jews who worship Jesus Christ.

"It's not about the denomination," Fields said. "It's about the relationship you have with Christ."

He continually submits letters to the News-Sentinel's Religion section, but he maintains it isn't to see his name in print.

"I like to make people think," Fields said. "A lot of people are starving to understand the word of God."

That beard

Field says he hasn't trimmed his beard in 15 to 18 years. It goes down to his chest, but if he didn't weave it on a daily basis, it would go to his navel.

"Don't commit a robbery. You'll never get away with it," someone once warned him.

"It's an attention getter in that it gets people to remember what I'm saying," Fields said. "If they remember you, they'll probably remember what you said."

Bill and Lorena Fields have seven grown children. Lorena lost an eighth child to a miscarriage. The child is buried on the family's property. They also have 13 grandchildren.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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