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Looking Back At Second Half Of 2020
Moms and dads, sons and daughters were able to return to the playground equipment in local parks in mid-October. The City of Riverbank was able to officially open them, as long as the public follows the county health department guidelines still in effect. They include knowing when to stay home if sick, how to share space and avoid crowding, maintaining social distancing. Ric McGinnis/The News

Students remained on distance learning to start the new school year, the holidays looked decidedly different and COVID-19 continued to impact every aspect of people’s lives as the second half of 2020 unfolded. Here are excerpts from some of the top stories from The Riverbank News, July to December.




Bringing the youth and law enforcement together amidst the challenges of COVID-19, Riverbank Police Services recently hosted a successful Junior Police Academy. The five day academy was a success and the 10 participants were given a special graduation day ceremony. A normal academy would see students in a classroom type setting at the police department but with the virus restrictions staff at RPS had to get creative.

Giving back to the community is what Jaylene Ponce, owner of Jaylene’s Baking, is proudly known for. With all that is going on in the world today in regards to a focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Ponce knew showing her gratitude toward local police officers and firefighters was exactly what she wanted to do. The local baker notes that some 750 cookies have been delivered to local stations and even some Bay area stations over the past few weeks.

With fireworks active throughout town, Riverbank residents celebrated the Fourth of July with gusto, despite having to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Saturday afternoon, there were lines at many of the local fireworks stands, as buyers sought to score just a little more fuel for the evening ahead. Of course, most were observing the social distancing edict, and wearing masks.

There has been great debate as to whether or not students should go back to the classroom when the new 2020-21 school year begins. For Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) the first day is scheduled for Aug. 6. With the rise of confirmed coronavirus cases in Stanislaus County and after a discussion between County Superintendents and Public Health Officials, RUSD will not be opening for the traditional school year. However they will open for instruction with a Distance Learning type model.

It was just a regular Monday morning when Heather Erhard put on her running shoes and took off on her morning run in the Crossroads neighborhood. However it turned out to be anything but normal as unbeknownst to her she would be saving someone’s life on the morning of July 27. The preschool teacher and mother of two was on her normal morning run when she saw someone bobbing in the water in the canal, with just the head above water. As she approached the area she saw people on both sides of the canal watching a woman in the water. Erhard took off her headphones and got closer to investigate the situation as she wasn’t sure if someone was deliberately swimming in the canal or if they were in distress.

Riverbank High School graduates, or their families, lined up in the parking lot on campus this past week to receive the cases for their 2020 diplomas. Greeted by front office staff members Suzy Andalon and Donna Young-Bigelow, the pick-up was designed to adhere to “social distancing” guidelines, with no one getting out of their cars. It was held on Friday, July 24 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the parking lot on the Claus Road side of the RHS campus.



Back in mid-July, the Riverbank City Council approved an ordinance that requires all people entering, and while in businesses in town, to wear a face mask. It was in accordance with statewide guidelines established by Governor Gavin Newsom, hoping to stem the tide of increases in COVID-19 cases. The city ordinance provides for an increasing level of fines for violating the order, as high as $1,000 for continued infraction of the order, but officials have also provided a means to easily adhere to it.

Although you couldn’t tell it so much from looking around school campuses in Riverbank during the past week or so, classes began for the new school year as scheduled last week, on Thursday, Aug. 6. Monday through Wednesday last week, Aug. 3 through 5, teachers were in their classrooms and in meetings, organizing themselves for what is expected to be the ‘new normal,’ at least for the fall semester. Distance learning is the platform for all Riverbank Unified School District students and, in fact, is in place throughout Stanislaus County. The halls of the Riverbank High School campus were devoid of the normal hustle and bustle of school attendance, since students were at home, glued to their Chromebook computers. In the meantime, teachers were broadcasting from their classrooms, via the internet, trying to keep things as much like the past as possible.

What better thing to do in the heat of summer than offer a bit of a respite for the neighborhood? That’s exactly what 11-year-old Jayden Hayter of Riverbank is doing, the young entrepreneur setting up a lemonade and sno-cone stand in his Crossroads area. This past weekend, as temperatures soared past 100, he was set up early on Saturday morning to sell the cool, sweet treats.

Weekend motorists on the heavily traveled Patterson Road corridor in Riverbank were forced to dodge a bit of disturbance at the Roselle Avenue/Railroad Avenue intersection near downtown. A series of thick metal plates covered up excavation areas on both Patterson and Roselle, making turns in and out of traffic a bit bumpy.



Businesses in Riverbank have an opportunity to get some extra funds as City staff was directed by the Riverbank City Council at the end of August to proceed with the Riverbank Business Assistance Grant Program. The allocation of CARES act funds received from State and Federal government will be used to fund the grant. At the regular council meeting on Aug. 25, City Manager Sean Scully presented the city council members with the specifics of the grant where $250,000 will be allocated for the program. The city has collaborated with Opportunity Stanislaus for the development, creation, screening and administration of the grant program.

The City of Riverbank and Riverbank Police Services (RPS) hosted a free Community Drive-thru BBQ at Pioneer Park last Friday, Sept. 4. The participation was greater than expected and authorities were delighted to interact with the community and provide a meal. The traffic on First and High streets was a very telling sign of the highly attended drive-thru event. Volunteers out on the scene included RPS Chief Ed Ridenour, Mayor Richard O’Brien, Vice Mayor Luis Uribe, and City Manager Sean Scully as well as the Sheriff’s Employee Foundation’s Tactical Culinary Unit, three Explorers and three CSOs, Community Service Officers.

Members of the Riverbank City Council have unanimously authorized a Peace Officer Memorial Plaque to be placed at the Riverbank Police Services (RPS) building. The request for the plaque was prompted by Riverbank resident and Boy Scout, Joey Timpone, as he looks to complete the requirements to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.

Earlier this month at a regular Board of Trustees meeting, members of the Riverbank Unified School District discussed a few items including social media guidelines, statutory school fees, and another COVID-19 update which has become a regular topic at the meetings. With the mass usage of social media, the District has had to create social media guidelines. The guidelines were recently updated to cover expectations of employees and students along with the definition and what it should be used for.

The Stanislaus County Outreach and Engagement Team hit the streets of Riverbank on Friday morning, Sept. 18 to assist the homeless individuals. Vice Mayor Luis Uribe contacted the group to aid the less fortunate after volunteering with Christian Food Sharing earlier this month. The team visited several locations in Riverbank including the Scout Hall, St. Frances of Rome Church, and Jacob Myers Park to engage with the homeless.

A successful Thursday curbside dinner fundraiser and a Saturday evening ‘Drive-Thru Luminaria’ event in mid-September served to close out the year for the Relay For Life of Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon-Waterford. Though the in-person event was not able to be held this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams continued to stay active, fundraising and planning for the final event of the year, the Saturday night drive-thru.

The new 2020-21 school year has been in session with new guidelines, new rules, and new methods and at some school sites new teachers and new administration within the Riverbank Unified School District. New to administration and new to Cardozo Middle School is Assistant Principal Eduina Azevedo. COVID-19 has made the transition from teacher to assistant principal a bit challenging for many reasons, she added, but one thing that has been difficult is not seeing the students on a daily basis.

In Stanislaus County Superior Court action, the jury has reached a guilty verdict in a double homicide that occurred back in August of 2013. Riverbank businessman Scott Pettit and his wife Janet, both 59 at the time, were found murdered after an early morning fire in their Modesto home. Brandon Pettit, son of the couple, was found guilty on two counts of murder and that they were committed with premeditation, for financial gain, following the trial.



Riverbank City Council members recently learned of an alternative to disposing properly of unused or expired medications that might be lying around. Planning and Building Department Manager Donna Kenney reported at the last council meeting that she had received a new batch of packets used to dispose of the meds.

The elementary school sites in the Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) could be populated with students in the near future. After completion of the Elementary Waiver that was sent to the California Department of Public Health last week, the district is now waiting on the approval. The waiver has already been approved by the county. “Once we get that back the plan will be to meet with the teachers,” said RUSD Superintendent Christine Facella. “We will negotiate the effects and if there are any impacts of them coming back and having kids coming to the school.”

Riverbank residents, moms, dads, sons and daughters, had a little reason to rejoice over the weekend. The city has been able to reopen the playgrounds in its parks. City of Riverbank’s Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick advised that last week the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released new guidance to allow the reopening of playgrounds. She added that the guidance applies to playgrounds that are fully outdoors; operated by a city, state, county, or federal government; and designed primarily to serve nearby residents within half a mile.

Morris Newspapers of California (MNC) which includes The Manteca/Ripon Bulletin, Turlock Journal, Oakdale Leader, Ceres Courier, Escalon Times, Riverbank News and 209 Magazine — is being purchased by 209 Multimedia Corporation. The new company has deep roots in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Owners are Hank and Kelly Vander Veen, both Central Valley natives.

A small group gathered at Riverbank Police Services (RPS) for the dedication of a Peace Officer Memorial plaque conceived by Boy Scout Joey Timpone. The plaque was placed on the outside of building so that anyone from the community can pay their respects and remember the fallen officers that served the Riverbank community. There are two names on the plaque: Patrolman Harold B. Harless and Deputy Sheriff Antonio Hinostroza III. RPS Chief Ed Ridenour expressed that hopefully no other names get added.

Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) has a plan to open classrooms at Mesa Verde Elementary and California Avenue Elementary. Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten students will return to the classroom with a new look, new schedule and safety protocols in place for a smooth return on Monday, Nov. 2.



Residents in the Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon area will continue to have bipartisan representation at the state and federal level following the Nov. 3 election, as both of the incumbents representing Congressional District 10 – Josh Harder – and State Assembly District 12 – Heath Flora – held on to their seats.

The community organization Friends of Jacob Myers Park has been able to work through the COVID forced ‘vacation’ of the last several months, and has resumed meeting once again. One of its first actions, following getting caught up with activities at the park, was to hold its annual meeting and to name its new board of directors.

Wednesday, Nov. 11 was Veteran’s Day and with social distancing and guideline protocols in place, folks in Oakdale as well as Riverbank helped the local veterans have a special day. Jason Dillon and Infinite Athletics, Inc. joined forces with Oakdale City Council member Cher Bairos to organize the event.

Like many counties across the state, the coronavirus news was not good this week for Stanislaus County. Due to an increase in spread, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reassigned Stanislaus County into the most restrictive “Purple” tier. The reassignment announced on Monday, Nov. 16 is now in effect. Residents and businesses can view the status of allowable activities and operations on the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy webpage.

Adapting to a new normal and trying to continue tradition safely can be challenging. There are many in need during the holiday season and even more than usual this year. Riverbank Police Services will continue the annual Shop with a Cop event with some creative adjustments due to the pandemic. There are 40 children from approximately 12 families that will benefit from the program this year.



During a three-day period, officials with the local American Veterans First (AVF) delivered a little joy to veterans in Riverbank, Oakdale, and Modesto. They purchased $100 Visa gift cards from Save Mart and selected a few people within the community to disperse them to so they could purchase groceries or whatever needs they encountered during the holiday.

Riverbank Christian Food Sharing (RCFS) has been distributing food to the Riverbank community for many years and this year they have seen a rise in the number of people served. Case in point, the Friday before Thanksgiving, the volunteers there said food was distributed to 130 families in a drive thru fashion at the Scout Hall, out of which the organization operations.

The election results for the Riverbank City Council are now official and newly elected Rachel Hernandez with District 2 will be serving Riverbank for a four-year term. The Oath of Office was administered at the recent regularly scheduled City Council meeting for Mayor Richard O’Brien, Councilmember District 4 Darlene Barber-Martinez, and newly appointed Hernandez.

In an attempt to bring some Christmas cheer to the community, the Riverbank Parks and Recreation Department created a Holiday Home and Yard Decorating Contest that had multiple entries and, ultimately, three residents on the winners list. With a light show set to the sounds of the season, First place went to Riverbank resident Mathew Lindsey on 5621 Saxon Way.

There was a holiday hustle and bustle in front of Cardozo Middle School at midday on Saturday, Dec. 19 as the local Toys For Tots organization distributed items that had been donated during its earlier collection campaign.

English Teacher and Coach Monte Wood adapted his Riverbank High School classroom to resemble an actual classroom, but filled with stuffed animals instead of students for the time being. Virginia Still/The News
Riverbank Mayor Richard D. O’Brien lends a hand distributing free BBQ lunches in front of Scout Hall on High Street. The Sept. 4 event helped kick off the Labor Day holiday weekend and was hosted by the City and Riverbank Police Services. Ric McGinnis/The News