2017: beyond fire and floods

FIRE LINE The Gilroy Fire Department was first on the scene at the Ballybunion Fire Memorial Day weekend. A potential disaster was averted with no lives or homes lost. Photo by Cesar Vega

A mess, the rains down in South Valley

Rains of biblical fury descended on Gilroy in January, dumping close to two inches of rainwater on an area parched by the longstanding drought. The land’s thirst was more than parched by the rain which caused a mudslide that closed Hecker Pass and overwhelmed sewage lines dumped over 200,000 gallons of sewage into Llagas Creek.

The water spewing from Anderson Dam caused $100 million damage to homes in San Jose in February and forced the evacuation of 14,000 people. Around 500 families stayed out of their homes for more than a month. A flood report card issued in August by emergency consultant Witt O’Brien, gave San Jose an A for services delivered in the wake of disaster and an F for failing to take adequate preparations beforehand.

The city was “unnecessarily caught off guard, placing residents in a potentially dangerous situation,” according to the report.

Think globally, stop locally

Following the January inauguration of Donald Trump, about 30 Gilroyans took to the streets in protest of an executive order meant to bar immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations. The Gilroy Unified School District declared its support of all students, regardless of their immigration status. Meanwhile, traffic restrictions on Upper Welburn Avenue and Mantelli Drive brought resident’s blood to a boil as 200 of them packed the cafeteria at Luigi Aprea Elementary School for a town hall meeting.

The neighborhood inundated Mayor Roland Velasco with calls protesting the installation of a no-left-turn signs erected on Upper Welburn Avenue; installed as part of a $25,000 temporary measure to curb speeding on the block. It backfired. Traffic stacked up in the neighborhood, especially at Pacific Point Christian School, enraging residents and further taxing the limited resources of the GPD who was asked to direct traffic.

Despite packing the city council chambers in late February, complete with petitions and three hours of public commentary, the city council decided to keep the no-left-turn signs and conduct further traffic studies on Upper Welburn. That was until May, however, when the council decided to reverse course and take the controversial signs down. The incident reaffirms the popular dictum that “all politics is local.”  

High-Speed Rail in slow motion

The High-Speed Rail Authority came to Gilroy in April to listen to feedback from residents about where they favor putting new train tracks.

Plans for and decisions about where tracks will be placed in Gilroy were fast as a speeding caterpillar, as talks about the oncoming bullet train seem stuck in neutral. Members of the public, who like many on the city council, may wish that the High-Speed Rail would just go away; but those hopes may be forlorn. Legislation has already been passed and construction on parts of the line have already begun in the Central Valley.

The big questions in Gilroy regarding the High-Speed Rail line appears to be when it will be built and where the tracks will be located. The two choices are running it through the downtown, which opponents say would harm local businesses for years, or running it near the Outlets, where opponents fear it would stymie turning downtown into a commuter hub and spur business. They also fear it will cut through valuable farmland.

So far the first phase of the project, which is to connect a 520-mile line from San Francisco to L.A., is underway and slated to be completed by 2025. Travel time from downtown San Francisco to L.A. is expected to take 2 hours and 40 minutes. The High-Speed Rail Authority compares the train to other high-speed rail lines in Europe, China and Japan. Currently, 119 miles of line are under construction between Bakersfield and Merced which has cost approximately $3 billion.

Gilroy leaders were expected to have an answer to where the station should go by year’s end, but they have delayed it until the authority comes in with its environmental impact report.

Not a tree-mendous year for Gilroy trees

It was a rough year to be a tree in Gilroy in 2017. The city contracted West Coast Arborists to remove 275 trees that were deemed to be dead, dying or risks for dangerous falling limbs. Later in the year, it was revealed that Gilroy was no longer a Tree City USA after failing to re-register with the National Arbor Day Foundation.

In March Gilroyan Camille McCormack decided to stand tall for the condemned trees and hired attorney Laura Beaton to sue the city and stop the removal alleging that the city’s $258,000 contract with West Coast Arborist violated state law.  The lawsuit was eventually tossed and the removal went forward, but the city has pledged to replace the felled trees with 475 new trees over the next five years.

39th Garlic Festival one for the books – the Guinness Book of World Records that is

Now Gilroyans can boast of the Guinness Book of World Records Gilroy Garlic Festival. At a ceremony held in July on the main stage, Guinness Book of World Records official Christina Conlon bestowed on the Garlic Festival the title of being the largest garlic festival in the world.

This year’s festival attendance of 102,667 saw a 20,000 increase from the previous year, due in part to celebrity headliners, Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis and Master Chef Shaun O’Neale.  

Alexander Station Apartments: not so great, say many Gilroyans

Gilroy’s twin tallest buildings in the city also happen to be the most controversial. The Alexander Station Apartments sticks out like a sore thumb according to many Gilroyans who see the development as an anathema to Gilroy’s small-town ambiance.

Others, who either feel the economic pinch or sympathize with those who do, see the affordable living apartments as a necessity as rents continue to climb.

The Alexander Station Apartments are a hot topic on Facebook and rumors have persisted that low-income residents from Oakland would be bussed in to fill the apartments. When news broke that 162 of the project’s floors were sinking, doubt swirled even faster.

The project lurches forward towards its completion in the new year.

Great Wolf Dodge

Gilroy’s flirtation with Great Wolf Lodge brought the possibility of another behemoth building project to the city. Many Gilroyans howled in protestation and a Great Wolf Lodge representative, sent to woo the city and its citizens, was figuratively torn to shreds by a pack of angry Eagle Ridge residents.

The gates seemed to close owing to a more “shovel ready” location in Manteca, as Great Wolf spurned the city’s advances, asking for $20 million in incentives. For now, the land astride Gilroy Gardens will remain fallow, for it appears the opportunity has slipped away.

Fire on the mountain singes Labor Day Weekend

Clouds descending on Gilroy Labor Day Weekend, not by rain, but a 200-acre blaze accidentally lit on a dry grassy toe on the foothills near Ballybunion Court.

The Gilroy Fire Department was on the scene in minutes to assault the blaze, humping uphill in a battle against flame and time. Firefighters from across the state rallied upon the fire and with the help of CalFire and its air force, the blaze was contained within a week. No structures were damaged and no lives were lost, but later catastrophic fires throughout the state serve as a reminder of the capricious nature of mother nature itself.

As the GPD turns

When the salacious sex scandal surrounding the Gilroy Police Department in August, Gilroyans lapped in the lurid details alleged by former dispatcher Patricia Harrell in a civil lawsuit she filed against the city. Harrell named names, making the police department seem more like a fraternity house and less like a police department.

While the facts and the fiction of the tabloid-worthy cop love drama are yet to be determined, the city officials have met with the lawyer of the plaintiff behind closed doors.

Hail to the champions!

The Gilroy High Mustangs and Christopher High Cougars pulled a double Rocky Balboa this year, both winning their respective CCS division championships.  

Perhaps the Mustangs success tastes just a bit sweeter than that of crosstown Christopher High, owing to its 24-6 victory over the Cougars in October.

Imagine a crosstown rivalry, worthy of the legendary rivalry of Massillon High Tigers vs. the Canton McKinley Bulldogs, here in Gilroy – smalltown powerhouse football factories driving each other to be bigger and better for generations. A sports fan can dream.

Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero’s career goes the distance

Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, hung up the gloves this year, ending a 16-year professional boxing career for the title-winning southpaw from Gilroy with a career record of 33-6-1. In May Guerrero squared off with former WBC lightweight champion Omar Figueroa Jr. at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale New York when the fight was stopped after three rounds after Guerrero was dropped three times. Two days later Guerrero announced his retirement.

In his career, Guerrero held the IBF featherweight title in 2006 and 2008, the IBF junior lightweight title from 2009 to 2010, the WBA interim and WBO interim lightweight titles in 2011 and the WBC interim welterweight title from 2012 to 2013. In May 2013 Guerrero fought Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. for the WBC welterweight title, a fight he lost by unanimous decision by a score of 117-111.

In his farewell to boxing announcement, Guerrero remained the “kid from the small town of Gilroy,” who was given nothing and shed blood, sweat and tears to rise to the top of the boxing world.

Pot shops to Gilroy go up in smoke

Hopes to bring retail marijuana to Gilroy was reduced to stems and seeds in November when the Gilroy City Council voted unanimously to uphold existing laws prohibiting the sale and cultivation of marijuana in Gilroy despite changes to the law on the state level.

As neighboring Hollister works to incorporate marijuana retail into the community, despite opposition from many in the city, Gilroy stands firm on its prohibition, despite calls in its favor from Gilroyans who feel the economic benefits outweigh the dangers.

With laws already in existence addressing marijuana sales, the city government passed the emergency ordinance on November 20 to seize local control of the issue before changing state laws legalizing recreational marijuana consumption goes in affect at the beginning of the year.

Gilroy Wrestling pins fifth-place finish at state finals

In March, well before title dreams became a reality for Gilroy’s two football squads, the Gilroy High Mustangs wrestling team placed fifth at the California Interscholastic Federation State Championships highlighted by Tony Andrade and Nick Aguilar who were finalists at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.


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