2018: a year of crazy headlines in Gilroy

Crime, water, weapons, teachers, garlic, cowboys mark the year

NEW NEIGHBORHOOD East of the Gilroy Municipal Golf Course, the North Hecker Pass Residential Cluster will see the development of 72 new homes. Picture by: Bryce Stoepfel

Conflicting views of local land use continued to dominate many South County residents’ lives in 2018.

This was the case with the release this summer of the proposed Cordoba Center’s Environmental Impact Report. The mosque and community center project is proposed by the South Valley Islamic Community on Monterey Road near California Avenue in San Martin.

The project has been in the initial planning stages for years, but the release of the EIR marks a key milestone in making the mosque a reality. After county planning staff and the public have completed a review of the study of the property, county officials will begin the project permitting and approval process, which will likely last through 2019.

In 2019, city and county officials will likely continue to butt heads over what is the best way to preserve farmland while respecting property owners in the Southeast Quadrant.

From elections, to the re-emergence of the rodeo, it was a year of crazy headlines in the Garlic City.


Sal protected wife and daughter

On Jan. 6, during the Saturday evening dinner rush at Pinocchio’s Pizza, Sal Oliveri’s restaurant at Church and Welburn, a man rushed in waving a large knife. When he lunged at his daughter, Gina Oliveri Polhaupessy, Oliveri and his son-in-law Duke leaped into action, pushing the man toward the door.

They ended up on one of the tables, and the man swung the knife toward Oliveri’s throat. When Oliveri raised his arm to block the blow, the assailant slashed it with his knife, then fled the store, as Duke was able to lock the door.

Gina was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher throughout the frightening fracas, and the attacker was arrested without incident a blocks away a few minutes later.

Oliveri’s right arm has a brace and heavy bandage from his bicep to his fingers. He has use of his hand, but more surgeries lie ahead before he knows whether he will regain full use of his arm to be able to throw pizza dough as he has for four decades.


Gilroy loves its contest winners

The Gilroy Downtown Business Association announced winners of its second annual “Downtown is for Lovers” essay contest and promotion.

Alyssa Sutton wrote the winning essay about her continuing romance with husband Levi. The winner was selected by judges at the Gilroy Dispatch from multiple entries.

The winning essay read:

“We fell head over heels for each other the first day we laid eyes on each other. We had our first date at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. We spent that first date holding hands and kissing on the Ferris wheel. Ever since that day we haven’t gone a day without talking to each other. Even with our hectic work lives, we still make time to add to our love story. He spends his days on a firetruck, I spend mine answering 911 calls. We may only get to see each other once or twice a week sometimes, but those days are the best days of my life. We bought our first house together here in this amazing garlic city. We love spending our nights together at our favorite restaurants and shops in town. We love going on bike rides to get ice cream or just enjoy the daylight together. We’re newlyweds that argue like an old couple, but we are also newlyweds that love like an old married couple. We share our love and hope our love we have for each other can radiate to everyone around us.”

Alyssa and Levi Sutton


‘Justice for Stevie’

In response to the death of Stevie Juarez while in police custody in Old Gilroy, the nonprofit Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS) joined up with Juarez’ friends and family to begin the “Justice for Stevie” campaign.

The effort began Saturday, March 10, with a protest march starting at 11am on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street, where Juarez was involved in a struggle with Gilroy police officers in January of 2018 that ended in his death.

Juarez died shortly after police responded to a 911 call on Feb. 25 reporting a suspicious person in a residential yard on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street.

When Juarez saw the responding officers, he fled on foot, over fences and onto rooftops of other homes, according to police. When officers caught up to him lying on the ground in front of a home, they tried to arrest him, but Juarez allegedly struggled against them. Police said they used a variety of force techniques to subdue him, including a Taser and a carotid restraint. During the struggle, Juarez fell into medical distress and was transported to San Jose Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.


Mayor Hughan gets her portrait

The Gilroy City County agreed to give former Mayor Roberta Hughan an oil portrait, in connection with a house cleaning effort at the Wiley Cultural Center.

The painting was done by Gilroy artist Carol Peters in 2007. Hughan asked the city if she could have the painting, at the same time that the council was looking at disposing of a number of paintings and old furniture that had accumulated at the Gilroy Museum over the years.

The former mayor was the city’s first elected female council member, in 1977, and served as Gilroy’s first and only female mayor from 1983 to 1991.


Mayor quits working for Wasserman

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco left his job as an aide to Santa County Supervisor Mike Wasserman because he wanted to focus full time on his part-time role at City Hall.

Velasco, elected to his first term in 2016, said this week he left his job with the county on May 7. He had been a policy aide for Wasserman, specializing in land use issues in unincorporated areas.

“Right now there are a lot of things happening in Gilroy,” he said in an interview. “I want to have more flexibility to make sure things are happening.”

As mayor, Velasco is paid $15,084 a year. Council members are paid annual salaries of $10,056; the full-time city administrator has an annual salary of $210,000.

“The voters expect me to focus all of my energy and attention on Gilroy, even if it is only a small monthly stipend,” he said.


Hecker Pass is growth battleground

After a raucous debate on June 7, the planning commission deadlocked over the “agri-tourist” Hecker Pass development proposal.

The commission’s inconclusive 3-3 tie vote meant that the Gilroy City Council would vote on the plan’s approval.

The development, on six acres between Lone Oak Lane and Hecker Pass Highway, will be a mixed-use, residential/commercial development that features three buildings with 32,758 square feet of commercial space.

The plan calls for a winery, restaurants, a deli, a wine shop and 22 live/work apartments. The project would have 178 parking spots for customers and 39 for the residential units.

After four hours of debate and impassioned pleas from Gilroy citizens for and against the development, the council approved the plans in a 4-3 vote. Council members Fred Tovar, Cat Tucker, Dan Harney and Peter Leroe-Muñoz voted in favor of the project.


Plans for $1 billion reservoir advance
The Santa Clara Valley Water District is moving forward with plans to build a new Pacheco Pass reservoir in Santa Clara County, which the district describes as a “game-changer” to ease the impact of future droughts in the Bay Area.

If $485 million in state funds are approved this month, supporters say they could raise the rest of the $969 million project budget from federal grants and increased water rates to build the largest reservoir constructed in the Bay Area in the past 20 years.

The water district board on June 26 approved a memorandum of understanding between the Santa Clara Valley, Pacheco Pass and San Benito County water districts and approved an option to buy land with the Pacheco Pass Water District for the massive dam and reservoir project, which has been in the planning stages for a decade.


Officer fires gun to stop car

A Gilroy police officer fired his service weapon at a suspect who drove a stolen vehicle through the Gilroy High School campus, where hundreds of children and parents had gathered at midday on Sept. 9, according to authorities.

The single shot fired by the officer struck the front of the vehicle and did not result in any injuries to the suspect or bystanders, police said. The discharged round disabled the vehicle, allowing arriving police to subdue the driver, who Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras said had been driving recklessly.

One adult male bystander who had entered the stolen vehicle in an effort to stop the suspect was uninjured, Deras said. The civilian, who was associated with a youth football game underway at the high school stadium at the time of the disturbance, was inside the vehicle when the Gilroy officer fired his handgun, but the officer did not know this at the time.

Deras said the officer fired his weapon as the suspect, Chad Browning, 42, of Fresno, drove a stolen Kia SUV directly toward the officer on a fenced-in service road from which the officer had “no escape.”

Browning was ultimately arrested on suspicion of auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and possession of methamphetamine, according to police.


Gilroy teachers, district reach agreement

After many negotiations and what looked like a possible teacher strike, the Gilroy Unified School District announced Sept. 18 it had reached a tentative agreement with the Gilroy Teachers Association on a new labor contract for certificated employees.

The agreement covers three years, and provides a 2 percent increase per year from July 2017.

“With a term ending June 30, 2020, it provides for a 2 percent ongoing increase to certificated salary schedules effective July 1, 2017; a 2 percent ongoing increase to certificated salary schedules effective Jan. 1, 2018; as well as a 2 percent ongoing increase to certificated salary schedules effective Jan. 1, 2019,” the district said.

Additionally, the district agreed to an increase in contributions to health benefits, an increase to the hourly rate and an increase to extra duty stipends.


Gilroy greets new mural spotlighting regional wineries

In case you missed it, there is a new mural in town, and Gilroy’s downtown business community celebrated it with a ribbon cutting. The mural celebrates the wineries of Santa Clara Valley, and is located on the north side of the CMAP TV building at 7500 Monterey St.

Commissioned by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, the mural was painted by the same Italian artist who created the now iconic “Garlic City” mural across the parking lot in the heart of downtown. The Chamber hosted a ribbon-cutting for the mural on Oct. 23.

Mark Turner, president and CEO of the Chamber, was enthusiastic about the work of Gianni Martino, who paid his own way from Torino, Italy, to complete the month-long project just in time for the celebration. He painted the other mural in 1993, and the styles of the two are very similar.


Election upset in council race

In the major upset of Election Day in Gilroy, incumbent Dan Harney lost to slow-growth advocate Carol Marques for a two-year seat on the city council.

Harney and Marques had engaged in a contentious campaign, with Harney raising more money and Marques banking on solid neighborhood support. Marques led by more than 2,000 votes one week after the election, in unofficial returns from the Nov. 6 vote.

The three incumbents running for four-year seats all easily won by wide margins.

Marie Blankley, who was appointed to her council seat less than a year ago, won her first election and was the top vote-getter among all candidates. Dion Bracco and Peter Leroe-Muñoz both were re-elected.

The Gavilan bond measure passed in both San Benito and Santa Clara counties, approving a $248 million bond for a variety of upgrades and an additional campus in San Benito County.


County will buy Saint Louise

Santa Clara County emerged as the sole bidder for O’Connor and Saint Louise hospitals, clearing the way for the county to buy the two private hospitals for $235 million, County Executive Jeff Smith disclosed.

Once the deal closes, the 129-year-old O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and the 29-year-old Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy will join the 142-year-old Valley Medical Center in a significantly expanded publicly owned and managed healthcare system.