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Morgan Hill
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December 7, 2021

‘Second Chance Week’ begins Sept. 8

A series of garage sales, recycling and donation events throughout South County start Sept. 8 as part of the 16th annual “Second Chance Week.”

Couple returns to ashes

Jayme and Jeremy Simmons were just about to head out on the Rubicon Trail, a 22-mile route through the Sierra Nevada, when they got the message from Jayme’s mom.They had made the trip annually for the last 13 years and were about to be out of cell range for the next four days; this would be the last call they made before they hit the trail.“She would have never usually called me at the start of my trip,” said Jayme, 41. “When I called her back she was hysterical, crying, ‘Your house is on fire and I cannot save your animals, and I think they’re all going to die. I got your dogs, but I think the livestock isn’t going to make it. I don’t think anything is going to make it.’”   The blaze, the Simmons would soon learn, started as a vegetation fire at 4:15pm July 25 in the 12100 block of Church Avenue. Before being contained by a firefighting blitz of ground crews and a helicopter, it would burn 20 acres and multiple homes, displacing 21 residents in the area, CalFire would later report.Unsure what they’d find when they arrived home, the Simmons headed back to San Martin—an agonizing four-hour-drive.The Simmons arrived to their home on Lena Avenue after nightfall.“You could see flames,” said Jeremy, 41. “We were able to walk up as close as the neighbor’s fence over here, and we could see low embers and little flames. And, we could see the freeway behind the house, which you shouldn't be able to see the freeway because the barn should be there.”The main house on nearly 2.5 acres and owned by Jeremy’s parents Judy and Chuck Simmons was mostly unharmed by the fire, but the barn with a loft—which Jeremy and Jayme had converted into an apartment—along with Chuck’s workshop and the original cottage from the early 1900s, had been leveled.Fifteen years earlier the Simmons had moved in with Jeremy’s parents. The young couple had lived in Murphys, and his parents had a home in nearby Arnold. Both couples sold their land and headed for the South Valley, where Jayme and Jeremy searched for a place to buy.They didn’t find what they were looking for and stayed on the Lena Avenue property, where they taught themselves to farm and decided to return to school.Jayme, now a ranger at Pinnacles National Monument, studied environmental geology while Jeremy earned his degree in environmental studies with economics and now does trail repairs and finish carpentry at Pinnacles.Having previously been evacuated from their mountain home in Murphys, the Simmons thought they’d be safe from the same fire risks in South Valley. They didn’t expect to lose everything.When they arrived, they couldn’t access the property.“Last night we put up the hammock stretched between the Jeep and one of the trees out there.” said Jeremy.Jayme said they just wanted to be sure the animals were OK and see if anything could be done to help them.“All the chickens are dead,” said Jayme. They had lost about two dozen chickens—mostly rare breeds like silkies and small millefleurs.The Simmons were relieved that their pigs had survived along with the majority of their goats, all Nigerian dwarves."This guy next door came over and saved their lives; he sprayed water on them the whole time," said Jayme pointing to their neighbors, the Bettencourts.“You can’t possibly get them to go where they don’t want to go,” said Jayme’s mom Gayle Ng of the seven pigs—a mixture of Yorkshires, Hampshires and Glaucester Old Spots—each weighing hundreds of pounds.“They had the fence ripped up and were trying to get out,” said Jayme.Touring the aftermath, the Simmons walked through the ashes.“That’s our storage unit; that had everything in it,” said Jayme. “All my pictures from my childhood. All of that.”Jamye was still searching the ashes for a ring and a broach that were given to her when her grandmother passed away.She did find a piece of her baby blanket, which she hopes her mom will make into a quilt—a replacement for the one she had just received from her mom.“She's drawn me a lot of pictures,” Jeremy said as his eyes welled up. “Just for a lot of years now on anniversaries and birthdays, she just would draw me some memorable part of our trip. It just made me realize how fleeting my memory is.”“Here’s my chop saw,” said Jeremy, picking up a melted circular blade—the only recognizable part that remained of the tool.“My ’77 J20,” said Jeremy pointing to a green J20 Jeep Gladiator, they fondly called “The Beast.”“You need a truck on a farm,” said Ng.But the Simmons only had their Jeep, with the top and sides that were left behind destroyed. They lost several cars and motorcycles, including both of their daily drivers, which they needed to get to work on separate sides of the Pinnacles.In addition to the vehicles and the chickens, their barn, the Simmons lost a breeding buck, named Jack.Also lost on their property were several outbuildings including their storage, a welding shop and the original cottage.“They lost everything,” Jayme said about the welders. “All their vehicles are here.”Without the welders, Jeremy’s parents may not make their mortgage payments.Mireya Mora, 31, had about 10 minutes to get out of the cottage, which she and Felipe Zamora, 30, had been renting for about a year.Mora had only enough time to grab her dog, her purse and some clothes for the couple.“His mom and his brother came here to help me, but the fire was here already,” said Mora. “Everything is gone: jewelry, money, everything.”The water was still bubbling out of the pipes into the ashes.“She had a couple things like her grandfather’s little wooden box that had been in her family for 200 years,” Zamora said about Mora’s precious family heirloom passed down from generation to generation from her family who had come from a town near Guadalajara.“For now we’ll spend a couple of nights with my mom,” said Zamora. “I didn’t have any renter’s insurance.”The Simmons also were without coverage and were not named in Jeremy’s parents’ policy.“Having studied geology,” Jeremy said, "we were really prepared for an earthquake. It's hard to prepare for fire because everything is gone. All your possessions are up in smoke.”Jayme cautions readers, “Have an exit strategy, a way to contact your loved ones.”The Simmons have been staying with Jayme’s parents and will be looking for housing.Through the devastation, an experience of recovery that is just beginning, Jayme is still grateful “for my life, my husband's life, my family,” she said. “Everybody is OK. My dogs. My goats were saved by a number of people—that helps.”Jeremy is also grateful for the firefighters.“They kept it wet,” he said. “They tried.”To donate to the Simmons relief fund, visit People who wish to donate a tangible item can visit

County offers to buy Saint Louise hospital

Santa Clara County this week is offering to buy Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy and O’Connor Hospital in San Jose for an undisclosed sum.“We would be the perfect purchaser, from our perspective,” County Executive Jeff Smith said in an interview Tuesday, July 31. “So we are moving ahead” with the offer to buy the two private nonprofit hospitals in Santa Clara County, he said.“We have been doing our due diligence with the appropriate consultants to come up with what we think will be a fair offer” to Verity Health System, the nonprofit that owns the two Santa Clara County hospitals and four others in the Bay Area and Southern California, said Smith. “We’ve been trying to keep in touch with Verity group to keep up with their timeline.”Smith said he expected the county’s letter of intent to go to Verity Health Systems by Aug. 3. The letter will include a purchase offer, plus a list of terms and conditions relating to medical services offered by the two acute care hospitals.One condition would be that “we should operate both O’Connor and Saint Louise pretty much as they are operating right now, in terms of the availability of medical services,” he said.“We would keep the hospitals running as hospitals,” Smith added. “They fit into our strategic plan very well.”The acquisition would increase the number of county-run hospital beds by more than 80 percent, adding the 93 beds at Saint Louise and O’Connor’s 358 beds to the 563-bed Valley Medical Center.Smith is well-positioned to manage the negotiations for the hospital deal: He has both medical and law degrees.The county executive said that since the Verity announcement, the county has been working with three consultants—a law firm and business firm that specialize in large mergers and acquisitions, and a consultant that specializes in operational mergers of health care systems—to develop the offer letter.Currently, the county operates one acute care hospital, Valley Medical Center, plus 10 healthcare clinics around the county.The Santa Clara County offer will be for just two of the six hospitals owned by Verity Health.Verity Health System announced in July that it was “exploring strategic options to alleviate financial and operational pressures on its six hospitals.” Whether Verity will agree to sell off two of its six properties remains to be seen, and could depend on whether there are buyers for the other four hospitals: Seton Medical Center and Seton Seaside in San Mateo County, plus St. Francis and St. Vincent medical centers in Los Angeles.“At this time, a range of options is being considered, including the potential sale of some or all of the locations, among other possible transactions,” Verity Health said in a July 9 statement."The top priority of Verity's board and management team is to establish a long-term, sustainable path forward for our hospitals, which are of critical importance to the communities they serve," said Rich Adcock, CEO of Verity Health."Pursuant to Verity's strategic plan, we are exploring a number of options to deleverage our balance sheet and address challenges our hospitals face after a decade of deferred maintenance, poor payor contracts, and increasing costs. As the board and management team work together to evaluate these options, the interests of our patients, employees and communities remain paramount."Verity Health declined to elaborate this week.Smith said a purchase by the county would be financed with revenue bonds in a lease-purchase arrangement with the county’s own financing agency. He declined to state the amount of the purchase offer, or to identify the consultants. The consultants will be identified in agenda materials for the Aug. 14 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, he said.The announcement that the six hospitals are up for sale or for new partnerships was a stunning reversal of the optimism that Verity Health had expressed early this year.The Redwood City-based system named a new CEO in January, Rich Adcock, and in March promoted John Hennelly to that post at Saint Louise Regional Hospital, a 93-bed facility in northeast Gilroy.Just eight months ago, at the time of Adcock’s appointment, Verity chair Jack Krouskup said Adcock “is the person to lead the health system through this time of tremendous growth and expansion to provide state-of-the-art healthcare to the communities Verity serves.”Also at the time, Adcock said, “There is an amazing opportunity to transform health care delivery for our patients and communities throughout California. We are recruiting physicians and healthcare professionals from across the country to join our team to lead the nation in driving medical research and innovation.”Before being named Saint Louise CEO in March, Hennelly had been chief administrative officer for Saint Louise for 18 months, when he was reported to have worked on a financial turnaround to put the hospital on more financially stable ground. In that period, the hospital opened two new breast care centers, increased emergency room volume, renewed the volunteer program and engaged the community, bringing more patients to the hospital.Hennelly and the hospital are active in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. He is on the board of directors for the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce and Gilroy Rotary Club.Verity Health System, created in late 2015, is a nonprofit healthcare system employing more than 6,000 staff statewide. The hospitals include 1,650 inpatient beds, six active emergency rooms, a trauma center and a host of medical specialties including tertiary and quaternary care.In 2015, the Catholic Daughters of Charity sold the six hospitals to BlueMountain Capital Management, which had owned Verity Health. Last year, a company owned by billionaire entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who also owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, bought the hedge fund’s healthcare division that owns Verity.

County Farm Bureau announces six scholarship winners

The Santa Clara County Farm Bureau awarded college scholarships to local high school graduates seeking to major in agriculture.

Nominations open for 2018 Gavilan Spirit Awards

The nomination period is open through Aug. 31 for the 2018 Gavilan College Community Spirit Awards, according to a July 26 announcement. Anyone who lives or works in the Gavilan Joint Community College District can nominate a business, individual or organization for their contributions to the quality of life in our communities.

Fire victims begin rebuilding

More than 20 residents displaced by the July 25 fire that rapidly spread through a San Martin neighborhood have a variety of local resources from which to obtain long-term and immediate assistance until they are able to start rebuilding or find new permanent homes.Members of several families whose homes burned in the blaze, which started as a vegetation fire, attended a July 26 community meeting at the San Martin Lions Club to gain more information about such resources. The leaders of Santa Clara County organizations in attendance—including CalFire, Social Services Agency, Office of Emergency Services and American Red Cross—urged the impacted residents in attendance to spread information about available help to their neighbors through word of mouth.In the immediate aftermath of the fire—which destroyed a residential duplex, a mobile home, 16 vehicles and three barns—displaced residents are eligible for pre-loaded $100 gift or debit cards to purchase essential items. These cards are funded and provided by the American Red Cross and the California Fire Foundation.Two other homes were damaged, but not fully destroyed by the fire, CalFire Santa Clara Unit Fire Chief Derek Witmer said at the July 26 meeting. A total of 21 residents were displaced from the damaged and destroyed homes.Longer-term assistance is available from local nonprofits the Gilroy Compassion Center and St. Joseph’s Family Center, as well as the Red Cross. Displaced fire victims who are citizens of Mexico can contact the Mexican Consulate’s office in San Jose.Insured renters and property owners can obtain CalFire’s “fire report” to provide to their insurance companies starting about 10 days after the incident, Witmer said.The July 25 fire began about 4:15pm in the area of the 12100 block of Church Avenue in south San Martin. Due to the dry conditions, and sustained winds of 20mph, fire officials said the blaze quickly spread through about 20 acres of vegetation and onto a ranch on Lena Avenue. While numerous horses, goats, pets and livestock were saved from the fire, at least one goat died in the flames, Witmer said.Other displaced residents said they have been unable to locate some of their animals since the fire was extinguished.A firefighter at the scene suffered heat exhaustion, Witmer said. No other injuries were reported.Mirna Arriaga, a resident of Lena Avenue whose home was one of those damaged by the blaze, said when the fire started it looked like a “brush fire.” She called 911, then went back inside her home to watch television.Just a couple minutes later, Arriaga received a phone call saying her neighbor’s house was on fire.“We went back out and couldn’t see three feet in front of us,” due to the smoke, she said. Arriaga and her family had to jump in their car and retreat; they didn’t have time to gather any clothing or other possessions from inside the home.  Arriaga lived in the home with her husband, Jose Orozco, and their four children, who range in age from 6 to 22. Arriaga’s father, Raul Arriaga, owns and lives on the property as well.Orozco said while the home was not completely demolished by the fire, it is “not repairable.” Arriaga said she entered the heavily smoke-damaged residence the next day, but the odor makes her nauseous. The family spent the night July 25 in their RV, parked in a nearby commercial parking lot. Cause still undeterminedAuthorities have not yet determined the cause of the July 25 fire, Witmer said. He noted the windy conditions were the key factor in the blaze’s quick spread. The first CalFire units on the scene ordered five engines “right off the bat.” A CalFire helicopter—which doused the blaze with water pulled from a nearby reservoir—and airplane appeared within minutes.Several bulldozers also responded, Witmer said. Units from Gilroy and San Jose fire departments assisted.A resident at the July 26 meeting asked Witmer if a locked fence surrounding a property owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District impeded firefighters’ response when they arrived to the emergency. Witmer said fire crews carry enough tools to break down or cut through almost any kind of barrier.With the water district property, which is adjacent to the Lena Avenue ranch to the north, Witmer said it took firefighters about one minute to use tools to cut through the locked fence and proceed along the service road. He said a delay of that length wasn’t enough to make a significant difference in the amount of property damage.Chaotic, windy sceneThe rapidly spreading fire created a chaotic scene for those who lived in the area of the blaze the afternoon of July 25.Mike Sibley, 71, who rents a trailer on the Lena Avenue property, said he received a call from the owner of the house warning him of the fire. Sibley rushed back from a bar in Morgan Hill, where he had been hanging out with friends. He said he at times drove on the wrong side of the road to get to the fire several miles south.Sibley said he arrived in time to rush into the mobile home he has been renting for about eight years and save his 20-year-old dog, Oddie, and some valuables.He left his vehicle in front and headed to the scene of chaos."There was three or four cars on fire and I probably would have lost mine if I went back there," Sibley said.He also managed to lead out a kid goat."There were about 30 goats in there and that was the only one who wanted to follow me out," he said. "The firefighters out here are doing an amazing job."Sibley did however lose several personal items when another of the buildings on the property burned.About 7pm, Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies cleared onlooking pedestrians away from in front of the house on Lena Avenue and moved them back to Manna Way after an electric pole caught on fire and threatened their safety.A gray pit bull was picked up by animal control in the area, firefighters said.The fire was mostly contained before dusk July 25, but crews remained in the area through the following evening to mop up and keep an eye on any potential hotspots.

It’s Garlic Time!

Preparations for this weekend’s 40th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival began in earnest on Monday, July 23, as hundreds of volunteers once again begin creating a white-tent city at Christmas Hill Park, days before the tangy fragrances of garlic and associated culinary creations would begin entertaining up to 100,000 visitors to the Garlic City. The festival set-up crews struggled in temperatures in the mid-90s, but forecasters say conditions this weekend should be garlic-perfect, sunny and in the low 80s. For Garlic Fest history, festival map and more, plus a regional Visitor Guide, see our magazine inside this week's edition of the Morgan Hill Times.

Water district picks up national award for flood safety mailer

The Santa Clara Valley Water District received a first-place award for Excellence in Communications from the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies, according to a July 17 announcement.

Islamic center faces continuing opposition

South Valley Islamic families are beginning to see their long-awaited plans to build a mosque and community center in San Martin come together, but some vocal San Martin residents continue to oppose the project.

MHCF to host 13th annual philanthropy celebration

The Morgan Hill Community Foundation is once again on the lookout for nonprofit organizations wanting to highlight some of their top volunteers at the 13th annual philanthropy celebration.