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Wrapping Up The Year
Stories that made the front page in the second half of 2008 were as varied as in the first six months. There was a groundbreaking for the new elementary school, fears about bank foreclosures on homes, especially in the Crossroads area, and an election race with two contenders for mayor and five rivals for two council seats. Other headlines covered a 60th birthday party for California Avenue School, a plan to turn the old ammo plant into an industrial park with emphasis on "green businesses" and anger among downtown merchants over the length of time redevelopment was taking. Also grabbing news space was a switch in animal control services from Stanislaus County to the City of Oakdale and problems with funding, both construction of a teen center and renovation of the old Del Rio Theater. Here are some of the top stories, month by month.


With the colorful pyrotechnics of Independence Day due, fireworks went on sale Saturday throughout Riverbank and Stanislaus County and have been flying off the shelves ever since. Following the tradition of letting only non-profit organizations sell fireworks as a fundraiser, the City of Riverbank issued permits to six local groups, a couple less than in previous years. The booths and their sponsors are Riverbank Christian Food Sharing, Central Valley Raiders (a Modesto-based youth sports group), Riverbank High School Athletic Boosters, Abundant Life Church, Riverbank Youth Baseball and Softball Association and Community Praise Tabernacle.

Foreclosures have hit Riverbank hard like every other place. Driving around town, you cannot help but notice the forlorn signs, the empty homes sometimes located several in a row, the once green lawns turning brown in the heat. Estimating the numbers of foreclosures within the city is difficult. But the City of Riverbank has a map compiled from title company reports that attempts to show the number and approximate location of foreclosures. "We have 191 dots on this map. It needs updating. This is a figure from three weeks ago. There are more coming in every day," said City Clerk Linda Abid-Cummings.

Senior citizens Wanda Blakley and Dave Sinjem kept their cool as a heat wave scorched Riverbank during the past week. Blakley was chatting away happily and Sinjem doing newspaper crossword puzzles as they spent some air-conditioned hours at the Scout Hall on High Street where the city had set up a cooling zone. As temperatures soared above 100 degrees for several days, Riverbank joined other communities in offering residents with poor or non-existent air conditioning a place to keep cool, at least for a few hours.

Outdoor adventure is as popular as ever with Riverbank children. "We went for an early morning walk. We saw a woodpecker and other birds. We saw a blue jay and we heard a hawk calling overhead," chorused the kids at the recent city recreation department camp in Jacob Myers Park. One little girl said she thought she saw an owl although those nocturnal hunters are generally asleep by dawn.

Be sure you take in the dinosaurs. A highlight of the Stanislaus County Fair, which continues through Aug. 3 in Turlock, is an exhibit called Jurassic Journey. The fascinating display features 40 life size models of dinosaurs ranging from a toothy, six-foot high tyrannosaurus to a 12-foot-long stegosaurus and a winged pterodactyl swooping overhead. Dubbed "the most elaborate and expensive exhibit ever featured at this fair," the exhibit was designed by Clayton and Elaine Everett of Turlock and financed by Sky Trek Aviation.


Once the haunt of the homeless and illegal campers, the south bank of the Stanislaus River east of Riverbank's First Street Bridge has been cleaned up and is now busy with swimmers, fishermen, people enjoying the wildlife and making legitimate day use of the river, according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers. "We've done a lot of clean up. There are no designated campgrounds down there (below Highway 108). The area is for day use only which we are encouraging with considerable success," said the Corps' Ranger in Charge Jason Faridi.

Residents gathered outdoors during the evening of Tuesday, Aug. 5 to meet their neighbors and the police, talk and eat and show a united front against crime in the annual National Night Out event. In Riverbank, as in numerous communities across the country, neighbors organized street parties and mingled with police officers, firefighters, city officials and others who toured the city and arrived with flashing emergency lights and the wail of sirens.

There will be a two-way race for mayor and five contenders for two city council seats, according to final filings for Riverbank City Council that closed on Wednesday, Aug. 13. Current Mayor Chris Crifasi will defend his post against current councilmember and challenger Virginia Madueno in the mayor's race on Nov. 4, said City Clerk Linda Abid-Cummings. Incumbent councilmember David I. White will face four rivals, Norman Comer, Ric McGinnis, Jessie James White and Jerry Whorton for his own seat and that of Madueno, who is seeking the mayor's post.

California Avenue School is 60 years old. Half a dozen teachers and principals who worked there in its first days were honored during Wednesday's celebration at the school when current parents and children also examined displays of fading photographs, watched a video interview of two early day teachers and sampled slices of birthday cake. The school actually opened on Sept. 13 of 1948, said teacher Paulette Roberson, who organized the event.


Fresh from a trip to the Beijing Summer Olympics that included giving color guard performances on the Great Wall of China and in Tiananmen Square, Riverbank High graduate Daisy Torres recently talked about her experiences as a member of the American contingent. She attended the Olympic Games with a 42-member band and color guard team from Beyer High that joined teams from schools throughout the United States, Australia, Japan and China in performing at the Games.

Riverbank adopted the final 2008-2009 budget for the Redevelopment Agency at a Monday night meeting, 4-1, but ran into problems with the City Council budget and by a 5-0 vote postponed action on that until the Sept. 22 meeting. "With a 20 percent projected decline in revenues, I don't think we can afford this," Councilmember Dave White said, comparing adoption of the Redevelopment Agency budget to gambling and registering the sole no vote. Councilmember Virginia Madueno, however, argued she expected it to bring new jobs and new businesses to the downtown.

Chief of Police Tim Beck has been promoted from Lieutenant to Captain and will be leaving his post in Riverbank so the city is again seeking a new chief from the ranks of the Sheriff's Department. Beck announced the change himself at the Sept. 8 City Council meeting. "I'm very grateful to the community and council for the opportunity to serve," he said later. "It was an excellent experience. I learned so much in the short time I've been here." The position would eventually be filled by Lt. Bill Pooley, named as the new chief for the department.

A plan to transform the former Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant into a manufacturing center and industrial park, concentrating on "green businesses" and calculated ultimately to provide 2,000 new jobs, was unveiled at the site Thursday by the Local Redevelopment Authority representing the City of Riverbank. "This plan represents an important opportunity to retain and attract new businesses and bring new jobs to the community," said Mayor Chris Crifasi, acting as chair of the LRA.


Downtown business owners learned recently that the second - or beautification - phase of redevelopment has begun and Santa Fe Street between Second and Third streets and between Third and Fourth streets will be closed to traffic 24 hours a day until late December. The bright spot is that Third Street will remain open across Santa Fe and pedestrians can continue to use Santa Fe's sidewalks and crosswalks to gain access to the stores, which will remain open.

Pretty as a picture in a short pink dress, Adriana Vigil was named Riverbank High's Homecoming Queen at halftime of Friday's varsity football game against the Waterford Wildcats. Following a reality TV show theme of "Survivor," the seniors displayed a castaway in a jungle scene to win the best class float prize.

Blessed by sunny but cool weather instead of the usual scorching heat, Riverbank's Cheese and Wine Expo went off without a hitch over the weekend. Construction on Santa Fe Street between Second and Fourth streets forced the Expo to move further east this year with much of it clustered in Community Park, which was dubbed Cellar Square for the occasion and fenced in because it held the wine tasting tables and beer garden.

Riverbank City Council member Virginia Madueno has secured a temporary restraining order against resident and former mayor Charles Neal, ordering him to stop harassing her and stay 100 yards away from Madueno, her vehicle and her home. Madueno claims former Riverbank police chief Tim Beck and two other witnesses saw Neal give her a "Nazi salute" outside the city council chambers.

A glimpse of gowned and masked surgeons cutting into a bloody corpse loomed out of the darkness near the start of the Halloween Haunted Hayride. This scene of a primitive autopsy put together by Riverbank Police Services was new this year and guaranteed to horrify. For six years now, Riverbank's Parks and Recreation Department plus numerous volunteers have marked Halloween by creating terrifying scenes in Jacob Myers Park and then pulling wagons full of people sitting on hay bales through the dark woods.


Riverbank's police station office is open on weekday evenings now although public demand is not as great as anticipated and closing time will probably be cut back from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., Chief of Police Bill Pooley told City Council members at their recent session. There are many other benefits to local citizens in the Sheriff's Department decentralization, basing of officers in the outlying areas, and stationing of officers of the North Area Command (NAC) in Riverbank, he explained.

The three winners in the Nov. 4 Riverbank City Council election appear to be Chris Crifasi for mayor and David I. White and Jesse James White for council members, although the election results will not be declared official until Dec. 3 and the winners seated on Dec. 8. Incumbent Mayor Chris Crifasi led councilmember Virginia Madueno, who challenged him for the position, by 2,421 votes to 2,174 or 52.35 percent to 47.01 percent according to the count of all 16 precincts announced Thursday.

Animal control is expected to be the hottest topic at Monday's Riverbank City Council meeting. Stanislaus County, which currently provides Riverbank with animal control services for about $50,000 per year, is proposing to raise the overall cost to around $201,000, said City Manager Rich Holmer. So staff has been looking at various options and will recommend Riverbank consider contracting with Oakdale for about $120,000.

Anticipating the new elementary school under construction at Eleanor Avenue and Mesa Drive will open in the fall of 2009, Riverbank Unified School District is debating future attendance areas for all its schools. A parents committee suggested the district keep its present system of schools serving kindergarten through fifth grade, maintain Rio Altura and California Avenue as "neighborhood schools" to which children can walk, and have students living in areas more remote go to the new school.


Claiming downtown redevelopment together with the poor economy is bringing their businesses to the verge of collapse, a number of merchants have asked the Riverbank City Council and Redevelopment Agency to pay their rents or provide other financial relief for a period of six months. The merchants presented a letter to the Agency suggesting the city pay six months worth of their rents, which average $700 per month per business, for a total of about $100,000.

The weather was foggy and chilly for the city's 40th annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, but a large crowd of spectators endured the bone-chilling cold to see the entries wind through the downtown, detouring along Fifth and Fourth streets this year to avoid the road construction on western Santa Fe street. The Best of Show silver plate went to the River Rats Motorcycle Club, a local group of six or seven young men, which rides noisy "hogs" for recreation but also does a lot of community service.

Police are investigating the firing of shots into an occupied house in Riverbank during the early morning hours of Dec. 10. Somebody discharged 26 shots from an assault rifle into a house in the 2500 block of Bradford Way at about 2 a.m. that day, according to deputies, adding at least two people were in the house at the time but there were no injuries.

Facing funding problems with awarding the contract for construction of the teen center, Riverbank City Council members on Monday put the project on hold until February. The project will have to be re-bid because a bid is only valid for 90 days and the bid opening was Nov. 20. But by mid-February, the city should have a judgment on a skate park lawsuit that affects funding and may also know more about the general fund budget and its property tax revenues.

Food for the Christmas feast and toys for the children brought a thousand or more Riverbank residents a brighter holiday during a massive distribution at the Community Center on Tuesday, Dec. 23. Organizers were expecting 450 to 500 people and ended up counting closer to 1,200 eager recipients of the donated food and gifts, said Donna Bridges, who helped coordinate the community effort.