– The deaths of three Morgan Hill residents on Caltrain tracks,
the departure of Dennis Kennedy after 10 years as Morgan Hill’s
mayor and the sentencing of former Sobrato football coach Jeff
Patterson top The Times’ list of most resounding stories from
Eighteen-year-old Jackie Gamboa, 18-year-old Victor Sandoval and 41-year-old Rustom Ajlouni were killed this year by trains in Morgan Hill.
Each tragedy involved a different set of circumstances, but there was one thing in common: An apparent attempt to beat the train.
But for Gamboa, who died in a Jan. 22 accident at the San Pedro Avenue crossing, the tragedy wasn’t her fault. Her 20-year-old boyfriend Nathan Schrock allegedly drove himself and Gamboa over the tracks after the gates were down to beat a northbound train.
Sandoval, a Morgan Hill resident for just two months, was on foot when he died Sept. 6 near the Caltrain station on Depot Street. He was hit by a train when he apparently tried to run across the tracks at the last second. He was with a group of friends who were hanging out by the skate park near Butterfield Boulevard. A family member said the group had been drinking.
Ajlouni died Oct. 12 when he allegedly tried to beat an Amtrack train in his truck at Tilton Avenue in north Morgan Hill. According to Morgan Hill police Sgt. David Swing, Ajlouni was driving northbound on Monterey Road at approximately 8:45pm as an Amtrak passenger train was traveling northbound on the tracks parallel to the road. As Ajlouni reached Tilton Avenue, he turned left to cross the tracks, ignoring the flashing lights and warning bells.
Voters had a lot to choose from this year, ranging from new taxes, new Morgan Hill mayoral and city council candidates and a controversial land-use initiative that pitted environmentalists against ranch and hillside property owners.
The action started with the June 6 gubernatorial primary election, in which voters rejected a half-cent sales tax (Measure A) that would have raised $160 million a year to help pay for Santa Clara County services, including housing, health care and transportation. It failed 57 percent to 43 percent. As a result, the county may face deeper spending cuts and more layoffs in trying to solve a $201 million deficit.
Locally, voters sent a proposed parcel tax packing (Measure E) that would have generated about $8 million for the Morgan Hill Unified School District in five years. It won 56 percent of the vote, but required a two-thirds majority to pass.
On Nov. 7, California voters signed on for four more years of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, handing the Republican incumbent a 52 percent to 42 percent victory over Democrat runner-up Phil Angelides.
Far more surprising, though, was a Morgan Hill mayoral race that didn’t feature seemingly unbeatable Dennis Kennedy. Kennedy was the city’s first directly elected mayor in 1996, and the winner of every election for that office since then. Alas, after 30 years in public service, a 67-year-old Kennedy announced in May he wouldn’t seek reelection, preferring instead to travel and spend time on his consulting business. That opened the door for a two-way battle between Morgan Hill City Councilmember Steve Tate and accountant Dennis Delisle. In civil-toned campaigns, Tate touted his experience in city government and Delisle criticized Tate’s support of Redevelopment Agency projects that have caused the city to use reserves to balance the budget in recent years. In the end, Tate’s popularity was too hard for Delisle to overcome. Tate won 59 percent to 41 percent.
In addition to the mayoral race, five candidates battled for two city council seats. The winners of the four-year terms were incumbent Greg Sellers and graphic designer Marby Lee.
Santa Clara County voters barely defeated a controversial land-use initiative (Measure A) that would have restricted development in some parts of the county zoned “hillsides” and “ranchlands.” The final vote was 51 percent opposed to 49 percent in favor.
Voters in Morgan Hill gave the “thumbs up” to more apartments and condominiums (Measure F) in the downtown core, allowing the city to approve more projects than are allowed under the growth cap.
The measure, encouraged by developers and members of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association – in addition to elected officials – passed 52 percent to 48 percent.
As a result, the city can approve 100 additional downtown living spaces in future competitions for Morgan Hill’s limited number of building permits. Under the growth law, about 250 new housing units are allowed each year.
Proponents wanted to expedite downtown growth and provide housing for young single people. Opponents felt growth restrictions should be respected and the city should explore other ways to make downtown development easier.
Sobrato High School teacher and football coach Jeff Patterson’s alleged sexual escapades with a 17-year-old student made headlines in late 2005, but the story didn’t end there.
After five months of investigation, Patterson, 32, who was a math teacher and coach of the varsity football team at Sobrato since May 2004, was arrested and charged with unlawful sex and felony oral copulation with a minor. He had been on leave since November 2005, when the incident occurred. After paying $10,000 to go free on bail, Patterson pleaded “no contest” in August after prosecutors rejected a deal from his attorney. Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shapero sentenced Patterson in October to serve 60 days in a work-furlough program. Patterson, who was married with one child at the time of his sentencing, was not required to register as a sex offender.
At the sentencing, the victim’s mother requested the maximum penalty, saying Patterson was “fully aware” of her daughter’s “delicate mental status” and “her lack of self worth and immaturity which makes the seduction so much more deplorable.”
But Patterson’s lawyer Larry Biegel said his client’s plea of no contest and his willingness to take responsibility for his actions may have led Shapero to give a much lighter sentence than the possible year in jail the charge can bring.
Deputy District Attorney Steve Fein added the fact that the act was “consensual” and the fact that the student was nearly 18 likely played a role in the judge’s decision to release Patterson to a community corrections program that will allow him to work while serving time in a residential corrections facility.
Patterson, a Gilroy native, played quarterback for the Gilroy High School Mustangs before graduating in 1992. He later attended Gavilan Community College and San Jose State University.
MORGAN HILL’S CENTENNIAL
There’s no denying how far Morgan Hill’s come in 100 years – especially as Silicon Valley has powered monstrous growth – but it’s still fitting the suburb of 36,000 highlighted its centennial year with a nostalgic family-style barbecue that lasted no less than nine hours.
The Aug. 5 event – called the Centennial Day Community Bar-B-Q and Birthday Party – was one of four major events that marked the city’s centennial.
It drew hundreds to the town’s Community and Cultural Center where they enjoyed food booths, family games and live music wafting over a grassy field. There was even a helicopter flyby to take choreographed photos of the crowd, who chanted “Morgan Hill!” in unison.
Other events planned by the all-volunteer Morgan Hill Centennial Committee – which raised about $80,000 to help cover costs – included a New Year’s Eve party, the Nov. 10 unveiling of the Centennial History Trail and the annual Founders Day Dinner on Nov. 11.
Covering a small patch of land on the southwest corner of city-namesake Hiram Morgan Hill’s former estate on Monterey Road, the spiraling Centennial History Trail, when finished this spring, will be lined with more than 90 plaques commemorating local history – starting with the settlement of Ohlone Indians hundreds of years ago.
The second-southernmost city in Santa Clara County, Morgan Hill sprang from quintessentially rural roots 100 years ago. The town was incorporated in November 1906 after about 100 farmers and otherwise rural residents voted in favor of crafting a local government. It is named for Hiram Morgan Hill and his wife Diana, who possessed 4,500 acres of what would become the city. In the late 1800s, the railroad stop at the family’s estate on Monterey Road was known as the “Morgan Hill” stop.
Somehow, 100 years after its incorporation and with light-speed technology now fueling the job market, many see the town’s countryside roots as a lasting element.
“There are a lot of deep roots in Morgan Hill that have stayed here and branched out to all aspects of the community,” said local resident Brenda Masterson, who attended the centennial barbecue. “It’s a great town for families.”
The Sept. 12 murder of 38-year-old Gilroy resident Franca Barsi and a June 6 report by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury drew readers attention to the prevalance and seriousness of domestic violence crimes in South County
The grand jury’s report reveals Morgan Hill – population 36,000 – led the county in per-capita domestic violence calls in 2005, followed closely by Campbell and Gilroy.
Barsi’s murder was allegedly committed by ex-boyfriend David Vincent Reyes. Family members and close friends believe Barsi, Gilroy’s 1986 Garlic Queen, died while trying to bring closure to a relationship they say was marked by cycles of abuse and reconciliation.
The high number of domestic violence calls in Morgan Hill in 2005 – 227 to be exact – was surprising to some residents, given Morgan Hill’s reputation as a “peaceful, family-friendly” community.
Down the road in Gilroy, population about 46,000, police responded to 232 calls that same year.
A new gothic castle, a new library, a new recreation center and, yes, a Trader Joe’s, were Morgan Hill’s most notable architectural and building developments in 2006.
In July, the Morgan Hill City Council approved plans for the American Institute of Mathematics’ gothic-style conference center in the eastern foothills modeled after the Alhambra Palace in Spain. The so-called “math castle” will be 166,000 square feet, including stately courtyards, a 145-seat auditorium, 20 guest suites, dining facilities, lecture halls and conference rooms.
Plans for the castle met little resistance in the community, despite controversy since 1998 over its owners – including Fry’s Electronics chief John Fry – having illegally remodeled a private golf course at the site without the correct environmental review. The American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) wants host a PGA tournament in the future, but not for several years. First, it must meet environmental mitigation for the golf course, which has damaged ground water, and submit a separate Environmental Impact Report for hosting large events.
Started 12 years ago by Fry’s Electronics chief John Fry and Steve Sorenson, AIM has since become widely known among math gurus as one of the world’s premier conference centers in the field, rubbing shoulders with similar institutes in Germany, France and Canada.
As AIM hopes to sharpen minds, the city of Morgan Hill hopes to whip bodies into shape – or at least provide the opportunity – with its $27.6 million Centennial Recreation Center, which opened its doors in October.
The 52,000-square-foot fitness facility at 171 W. Edmundson Ave. was built with Redevelopment Agency funds and needs an estimated 5,000 members to cover its $2 million annual operating costs.
More than 1,000 members were signed up when the facility opened.
Another Redevelopment Agency project got started in May when shovels broke ground for the new Morgan Hill Library, set to open in summer 2007.
The $19 million library project, located next to the current library on Peak Avenue, will cover 28,000 square feet and include a program room, sales and sorting rooms for the Friends of the Library and a large picture window framing El Toro Mountain to the west.
On Dec. 8, hundreds of shoppers from Morgan Hill, Gilroy and Hollister turned out to see Trader Joe’s open on Laurel Road near the intersection of Dunne Avenue and U.S. 101 in northwest Morgan Hill.
Stocked with Indonesian baskets, Vietnamese dried nuts, Italian frozen pizzas and approximately “eight 18-wheelers” worth of foreign and domestic products, the off-beat market inspired many shoppers to take the morning off of work to satisfy their curiosity and fill their carts.
The 11,000-square-foot store – it’s about a quarter of the size of a large Safeway store – was the object of a postcard-writing campaign by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce in recent years.
A Trader Joe’s vice president said Morgan Hill’s two-income households and the region’s growing population lured the 270-store specialty grocery chain.
MHUSD LABOR WOES
More than 300 bus drivers, custodians, secretaries and cooks have worked since July with no contract from the Morgan Hill Unified School District.
The result has been low morale in the ranks of the Service Employees International Union.
Meanwhile, teachers were pleased to get a five percent pay raise in September.
On Dec. 27, SEIU Chair Pamela Torrisi told a representative of the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) that negotiating teams are at an impasse, unable to reach an agreement on a labor package for the 2006-07 school year and have become deadlocked with the next step being mediation.
The SEIU is the lowest-paid group of district employees. The union is asking for a 5 percent increase in their salaries in addition to an increase in benefits. They point to the other district groups – the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, the Morgan Hill Educational Leaders Association and district yard duty workers – who have already received a 5 percent increase in pay and say it is only fair their group receive the same raise.
Superintendent Alan Nishino also received a 5 percent pay raise.
Approximately 200 students from Live Oak and Sobrato high schools participated in the May 1 “A Day Without Immigrants” boycott, mirroring rallies and marches across the state and nation.
The purpose of the boycott was to raise awareness of the proposed immigration reform, oppose legislation that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and to demonstrate the impact on the country if all immigrants were deported.
In cities across the nation, thousands attended rallies and marches. In San Jose, more tens of thousands gathered for a rally at the corner of King and Story roads. A number of local Hispanic leaders attended.
Locally, in 2000, 15 percent of Morgan Hill’s total population was foreign born, 26 percent didn’t speak English at home and 27 percent were Latino.
Potential revenue lost to the school district by the boycott was estimated to be $5,600, because state funding is based on average daily attendance.
In March, more than 150 students walked out of school during immigration protests.
Efforts to incorporate San Martin are moving full steam, thanks to a new bill signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This fall, Schwarzenegger signed a bill that would make it easier for San Martin and other would-be cities to incorporate by ensuring state funds reach their coffers.
Before residents can vote to form a local government, they must show their local tax base is big enough to support essential services such as road maintenance and police and fire services.
The rural community of San Martin, population roughly 7,000, was on its way to meeting this goal in 2003, when Schwarzenegger – after taking office – repealed the tripling of the state’s vehicle license fee. As a result, there was less state money for local jurisdictions, including “new cities” in the pipeline.
AB 1602, sponsored by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, restores state funds to new jurisdictions to give cities that are trying to incorporate the same opportunity as existed before Proposition 1A changed the rules.
Now the rural town is on its way to becoming Santa Clara County’s first new city in 50 years. Incorporation proponents kicked off a petition drive Dec. 2, seeking to gather signatures from one-fourth of community’s registered voters, about 750 people, to move toward holding an election in November 2007.
Still, forging a city – if only small country town – means big challenges for residents. First, more than $150,000 is needed to study the proposed town’s economically feasibility.
City officials are fed up with Olin Corporation, the company that polluted groundwater in and around Morgan Hill. So they are taking their case to the state, where water officials will hear more arguments that the company’s cleanup feasibility study misses the mark. It fails to identify how much pollution the company has allegedly caused to the South County water basin and how much contaminated water appears to be seeping into Morgan Hill’s municipal wells, city officials said.
The argument has been made by Morgan Hill city officials for more than three years, ever since perchlorate was first detected in one of the city’s public wells after widespread pollution by Olin had been reported. The potentially harmful chemical – the Olin plant reportedly used 150,000 pounds of it annually for decades to make road flares – has now been detected at four city wells, resulting in ratepayers spending more than $900,000 since 2003 to clean it up. While those costs cannot be recovered from Olin, the city has hinted at future litigation.
Olin is responsible for an underground plume of perchlorate stretching southeast from the company’s old road-flare plant on Tennant Avenue, next to the Union Pacific Railroad, in Morgan Hill. Perchlorate contamination was first reported by the company in February 2001 when it was trying to sell the factory.
From 1956 to 1995 Olin and Standard Fusee operated the factory where perchlorate leaked into the ground, possibly from an evaporation pond for factory water, on-site incineration of flares and accidental spills. The evaporation pond was used as an alternative to disposing polluted water into storm drains.
Perchlorate is a chemical used in rocket fuel, explosives and road flares. It is known to disrupt thyroid function and prenatal growth and development. Scientists are debating on how much perchlorate it takes to cause health problems.
AGUILERA AND FRAUSTO
Two criminal cases made headlines in 2006
Anthony Aguilera, 22, an alleged gang member, is scheduled for sentencing in 2007 after a jury convicted him in July of two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one charge of shooting into an occupied vehicle and one charge of reckless driving while fleeing police.
Aguilera was convicted of stabbing Scott Bargar at the Extended Stay America motel in Morgan Hill on Jan. 26, 2005, and the attempted murder of Dustin Baldwin in a shooting incident Oct. 23, 2004, in the parking lot of a liquor store in Gilroy.
Five of the charges are felonies and the reckless driving charge is a misdemeanor. Gang enhancements could add years to the time Aguilera is sentenced to serve.
The saga of Anthony J. Frausto, who was arrested in October 2005 and has been held without bail since then, stands accused of murdering Luis Bautista, 19, of Gilroy.
Bautista died after being shot four times behind the Safeway grocery store in the Tennant Station shopping center in Morgan Hill. Witnesses described seeing Bautista running from four or five males in their late teens or early 20s.
Tony Burchyns covers Morgan Hill for The Times. Reach him at (408) 779-4106 ext. 201 or tburchyns@morganhilltimes.