Serving the community since 1922

Wasco's year in review – the second half

[BEGIN ITAL]This second-half review follows last week's summary that also is available online at WascoTribune. com[END ITAL]

Veronica Jacuinde

Wasco Tribune

The 2022 year started on a high note, with the Wonderful Company awarding $1.2 million in grants to 32 nonprofit organizations in the Central Valley.

In Wasco, the Kern County Library received a grant to provide residents with books, resources and literacy programs. In addition, money was allocated to convert a sprinter van into a library on wheels for outreach events.

Also, in January, the council began preparations for redistricting due to the 2020 census.

At a special meeting, City Manager Scott Hurlbert explained that although the population in the city had not changed much, there was a shift in the districts. This was because, he said, the labor camp was relocated from one district to another, and the inmate population residence before incarceration.

Hurlbert provided an update on the four companies interested in bidding for the project of analyzing the census data and coming up with a redistricting plan.

FLO Analytics was selected subject to review and approval by the city attorney.

February saw the City Council continue discussing and analyzing a proposed city sanitation rate increase.

This was because rates had not been increased in five years. Over that time, the costs to provide those services increased significantly.

In addition, the city now must comply with SB 1383, which establishes aggressive statewide targets to reduce the amount of organic waste disposed of in landfills, a reduction of 75% by 2025.

The city staff report noted that to comply, residential and commercial services rate increases are necessary.

The proposed increased rate adjustment would be a cumulative increase of 78% for residential and 180% for commercial accounts.

While the City needs to raise rates at this time, it may also consider outsourcing the City's municipal solid waste operations to the private sector as a potential means for reducing solid waste rates.

Mayor Gilberto Reyna said of the proposed increases, "Historically, we have not been collecting enough money to break even, and that is why we need to raise the rates."

In March, the council conducted the first public hearing regarding the introduction and overview of the upcoming redistricting process.

Flo Analytics created a modular tool on the City of Wasco web page. It allowed community members to draw preliminary redistricting maps to submit for their input.

"The goal is to keep the districts as compact as possible, preserve communities of mutual interest, and preserve the use of existing administrative and natural boundaries," Alex Brasch of Flo Analytics said.

Based upon public and council input, Flo Analytics produced five draft maps that were posted on the city's redistricting webpage.

The final map was posted and then presented at a public hearing. It incorporated city council, public input, and the revised draft maps elements.

"All statutory redistricting criteria will be upheld, including the Voting Rights Act, and be vetted by legal professionals reflecting public sentiment. It will be a compromise," Brasch said.

April was a month when the council held a strategic planning workshop for the 2022/2023 fiscal year.

Many issues were discussed and prioritized for the upcoming months while committed to their mission, vision and core values.

The city's vision is to provide its citizens and business community with effective municipal services while maintaining a historical sense of community values.

Community values are trust, respect, integrity, teamwork, ownership and innovation.

"We are committed to a purpose greater than ourselves," Hurlbert said. "What we strive to do is to make a positive difference and leave a proud legacy."

The 2022/2023 six areas of focus were 1) improve and maintain the city's infrastructure, 2) enhance and modernize city facilities, 3) enhance financial stability and sustainability, 4) implement strategic economic development, 5) enhance employee development and retention and 6) define and prioritize community-building initiatives.

The workshop's goal was to establish a concise and prioritized list to guide the council and staff in creating the 2022/2023 budget and capital improvement program.

It was interactive, with several exercises for the council and staff attending.

One of the exercises was for the council to provide their top three ideas, projects, concerns and initiatives they were thinking about and/or were hearing from their constituents.

The top issue was overwhelmingly community public safety. "The real underlying question is how do we create a community that feels safe," Hurlbert said.

Other highlighted topics were roads, water, infrastructure, downtown beautification, and consistent work as planned.

The council and staff were optimistic about the future.

"We have the right people in the right places. I am happy you are all here," Mayor Reyna said.

In May, Community Health Initiative of Dignity Health, in partnership with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, held a free mental health workshop.

The goal was to raise awareness and educate the public to combat stigma.

It was the third workshop that had taken place in Wasco earlier in the year.

The workshop's theme was to explore the impact of emotions on one's mental health.

The event was interactive; there were breathing exercises and other tools to teach coping skills and how to better deal with emotions positively.

Attendees learned about their available resources, even if they didn't have health insurance.

The workshop was led in Spanish.

Mayor Reyna said in the near future, he hopes to collaborate with other organizations to provide mental health workshops in English.

"It is my intention for the Wasco community to become healthier."

In June, community leaders of Wasco hosted their second annual Juneteenth event. It was a free event for everyone to enjoy.

Juneteenth is a holiday that takes place on June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.

One of the organizers, Marcus Ballard, said his team organized the event to showcase the holiday, which was established last year. It was also intended to be a platform to honor the rich black history of Wasco.

Numerous schools and nonprofits were there to provide youth with options post-high school graduation.

There were live performances, guest speakers, gospel music, a vendor fair and an assortment of food.

It was an opportunity for Wasco to shine in a gathering that highlighted all the positivity the town offers.

July welcomed the Houchin Community Blood Bank bus back again to Wasco.

It was a great turnout. Those that came understood they were helping to save lives.

The event partnered with Wasco Knights of Columbus, Pizza Factory and Iron Valley Fitness as sponsors.

"Every time we partner with the Knights of Columbus, it is a big success," HCBB account coordinator Stepanie Pimentel said.

Mayor Reyna of the Knights of Columbus said, "We have been doing this for the last 12 years."

With each donation, three lives are saved.

"It makes a difference because blood donations have decreased, and we try to educate, especially the next generation of donors," Katherine Deford, HCBB mobile supervisor, said.

Also, in July, Wasco celebrated our nation's independence with a spectacular fireworks show and other activities for the community to enjoy.

There was a bicycle parade around Barker Park in partnership with Toys for Tigers for the first time. Riders decorated their bikes and trikes with a 4th of July theme.

A car show in honor of the longtime City of Wasco advocate Danny Rueda was part of the festivities.

"I feel extremely blessed that they tributed the car show to my dad. I know he would be ecstatic if he were here," Victoria Rueda said.

There was a "Red White & Pool Party," too.

"It was especially fun for my kids," Carmen Vallecillo said. "They enjoyed jumping in and out of the pool."

The celebration culminated with a fireworks show that dazzled spectators. "The annual fireworks show is a great tradition that makes Wasco a nice place to live and work. It is one of the most favorite events that residents look forward to every year," Wasco Recreation and Parks District Manager Chris Serna said.

In August, the City of Wasco showed its love for our furry pets with a free spay and neuter clinic.

"All across the country, we are facing a crisis of pets dying in shelters that do not have homes," registered veterinary technician Kandice Webb said.

"These pets end up here because of irresponsible owners breeding their pets without regard for the crisis in our shelters."

The event was aimed at reducing the population of strays.

The city allocated the funding for the event.

"As funds come in, like this grant from PG&E, we offer this to our residents at no cost. This helps them, especially when everything is going up, like gas and food," public works director Luis Villa stated.

Villa said the issue is that you have a certain number of people that don't care for their pets.

"Some abandon their animals, and that is what we are trying to avoid."

The clinic was a step toward a solution to addressing the problem.

It was successful, with 57 animals getting spayed and neutered.

September marked the return of the Rose Festival with all of its activities, including the Rose Queen pageant, a Wine and Roses reception, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, an "Over the Rainbow Color Blast Fun Run," an open house at the Wasco Historical Society Museum, parade, vendor fair and Block and Tackle deep pit dinner.

The festivities brought the community together to enjoy everything the festival offered. It was a memorable and special occasion for those that attended.

The parade was a highlight where there were floats, cheer teams, dancers, taekwondo students, the WHS band and various schools.

The Kern County Sheriff's Mounted Posse, Wasco junior and Wasco minis color guard, Kern County Fire Department Station 31, Miss Wasco Rose Queen and her court, and Ms. United States Agriculture participated.

There were also horses, classic cars and other vehicles, to name a few.

The parade entrants were decorated in line with the Wizard of Oz festival theme, "There's no place like home."

Some said it was very exciting and nice to do things for the city to lift everyone's spirits.

The entire Wasco Rose Festival was a huge undertaking orchestrated by a core group of six people who showed their passion and love for th city.

They were Camilo Vasquez, Emma Dobbs, Sharon Sharp, Orquidia Ocampo, Traci Clendenen and Juan Gallardo.

"Today, there were so many community participants that it felt like the festival of the past, and we hope to keep growing year after year," Clendenen said. "The smiling faces and families here made all the work worth it."

In October, there were four separate shootings, although none were fatal. These incidents put law enforcement, schools and residents on high alert.

In the wake of these incidents, some Wasco schools suspended special extracurricular events like the Wasco High School football game against Delano High School. Several other schools followed suit.

The first of the four shootings occurred on Oct. 4, and details on the remaining three are below.

According to the Kern County Sheriff's Office public information officer, Lori Meza, deputies responded to a shooting at about 6:38 p.m. on the 1000 block of Birch Avenue on Oct. 11. An adult male victim was located with a single non-life-threatening gunshot wound, transported to the hospital, and treated for his injuries.

On October 12 at approximately 12:02 am, deputies in Wasco received a report of shots fired and responded to Poplar Avenue and First Street. A victim was shot at but not struck. There were no injuries; however, the victim's vehicle and nearby vehicles were damaged.

Wasco deputies responded to the 800 block of 7th Street on October 12 at about 6:30 pm for a report of a shooting. The victim sustained a single gunshot wound. It was later determined to be accidental and self-inflicted. This was a separate and non-related incident.

The KCSO found no credible threats to schools, parks or any specific activities based on the investigations regarding the incidents.

Even so, Mayor Reyna stated that although the incidents worry our community, we cannot give in to fear.

"While being cautious, we all must go on with our everyday lives. To this point, we have not confirmed any credible threat to private citizens, random citizens, or a particular facility or event," Mayor Reyna said.

"The work of maintaining safety for our community continues uninterrupted day and night."

November was election month, and it was a tight race for candidates.

In particular, Valentin Medina took the win against incumbent Mayor Pro Tem John P. Pallares for a seat on the Wasco city council for district three.

Mayor Gilberto Reyna ran unopposed. He was elected to represent City Council District 1.

In City Council District 4, Eduardo Saldana was selected and won by a large margin. He beat out Myron E. Williams II and incumbent Michael Lynch.

Maria O. Martinez ran unopposed and was re-elected city clerk, while Lamar Rodriguez also ran unopposed and was re-elected city treasurer.

For the Wasco Union Elementary School Board, there were three spots open, with Ernie Sanchez, Cherylee Wegman and Richard K. Reding elected to serve, beating out Anna J. Poggi.

The Wasco Union High School Board also had three positions open. Juan Bernal, Mario Juarez and Carl Joe Hively were selected. James Adams and Tony Perez were not.

In November, the council moved forward with establishing the Wasco Police Department.

Mr. Charlie Fivecoat was named transitional chief of police. City Manager Hurlbert was authorized to finalize and execute the contract and proceed with the hiring process.

This came after earlier in the fall when the City Council directed staff to begin the process of starting up a local police department. As part of that, the first step was establishing a "start-up team" consisting of the chief of police, lieutenant and police records administrator.

The team would ensure that all state and federal certifications are in place, research opportunities, establish department policies and procedures, acquire equipment and begin the recruitment process.

Fivecoat comes with years of experience. He has 33 years in law enforcement and has served in various capacities involving security management. Fivecoat is also a US Army Airborne veteran and has served as contract Chief in Wasco, McFarland and Tehachapi. From 2006 to 2011, he was chief of Police for the City of Shafter.

"This is the first right step for us to implement our own police department. Charlie Fivecoat's background makes him the right individual to achieve this in a timely manner," Mayor Reyna said. "We extend a warm welcome to him."

Also in November, Wasco High School carried on with a long-standing football tradition.

After a tough battle, WHS junior and varsity football teams took home the win against Shafter High School. This marked one of the biggest rivalries in Kern County.

A friendly bonfire on the WHS football field took place ahead of the game. The community and students, including football players and cheerleaders, came together to show their pride with loud cheers as a paper mache Shafter High general mascot was set on fire.

There was a breakfast for both teams, which the players, cheerleaders, coaches and ASB attended.

The exchange rallies followed, with both schools showing their school spirit.

These activities culminated with the games that followed.

The junior varsity football game started the night off of the competition. They played hard and, in the end, came out on top with an 18-13 win.

The varsity football game was a nail-biter where it went into overtime for the first time in 90 years against Shafter. After the fourth quarter, the teams were tied 35 to 35.

In overtime, WHS scored a touchdown to bring home the title of champions, earning bragging rights with a score of 41-35.

December ushered in the holiday season with a Christmas parade, tree lighting ceremony and block party. It was a spectacular gathering of community.

The Orange Heart Foundation and the Rose Festival Group organized all of the activities. Much effort was involved on their part to make it a success and memorable for all.

For the parade, which was the best part for many, there were 40 entries, almost 700 participants and about 75 independent vehicles.

The floats were decorated in a Christmas holiday theme and with bright lights.

Local churches, schools, businesses, the Wasco golf cart club, the WHS marching band, first responders from the Kern County Fire Department, Wasco State Prison color guard, the Cruzin' Oldies Car Club, the wrestling club and cheerleaders, to name a few, took part in the parade.

There were 11 queens from the Ms. Kern County Pageant.

At the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, Santa made a joyful appearance to delight the young and old.

After the parade and Christmas tree lighting, the entertainment continued with a block party.

Mayor Reyna said, "I think it's wonderful to see so many people gathering for these events. The parade and tree lighting ceremony are traditions that bring us together and unify us as a community even in difficult times."

In line with the holiday season, there were many events in December to benefit the less fortunate.

One example was the Toys for Tigers annual toy giveaway for needy children. Over 380 families were served, with over 1000 gifts distributed.

Toys for Tigers treasurer Pat Ketcherside said, "We purchased the toys through donations we raise all year long. Every year we have a lot of sponsors like the Wasco Rotary Club and the Wonderful Company; they are big supporters of us. We have over 40 sponsors."

She added that many volunteers work to make the toy distribution a success.

"We are all volunteers. Nobody gets paid."

Donna Ward, Toys for Tigers president, said, "I think today is overwhelming in a good way, and our community has done this to benefit the children in Wasco."

She said the best part is knowing that some of our kids in the community can have a Christmas.

There were many volunteers who said it was rewarding for them.

"I get to see their smile and feel happy knowing you accomplished a good thing for someone else," FFA officer Dayana Limon shared.

Ketcherside said, "We have a good time doing it. We get a sense of fulfillment by doing this."

She added, "It was a great day. It truly was. We had so much help, and everybody pitched in. They did a great job."


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