2020 Year in Review

Protestors gather on the lawn of City Hall on May 30, demanding the reopening of businesses, churches and schools.

The Year 2020 started off like many new years with hopes, resolutions and dreams for a better future. But by March, we found out it would be anything but normal. Most likely, it will be known as the year of COVID-19 and all that entails – sickness, deaths, failing businesses, crowded hospitals, overworked health care givers, graduates without a graduation, students minus schools, hard-to-find toilet paper, masks, social distancing and perhaps, most of all – isolation. While our children suffered, our elders got hit the hardest with many too frail to endure the corona virus.

This is a look back at 2020 and, although we lost most of our city’s celebrations in the typical sense, there are reasons to be thankful.

January 2020 — Amy and Paul Sandhu were named People of the Year. This power couple had been more than generous with their time and talents, giving back to the city they loved.

Joan Werblum was named Volunteer of the Year for her dedication to the community and also, most recently, notable are her contributions to the 150th Anniversary of Galt. Educator, registered nurse and florist extraordinaire, but mostly known for her “giving heart.”

The City of Galt and council members moved on with a Market Plan, which included the possibility of allowing private businesses to own portions of the market grounds and businesses that could be located on the grounds. Long discussions on the Market Plan dominated many council meetings and became an emotional issue for many Galtonians.

Valley Oaks lost a beloved teacher when Rufina Flores passed away after dedicating 26 years educating the young children of Galt.

February 2020 — Twenty-six Liberty Ranch High School cheerleaders joined 20,000 athletes, over 950 teams from nine countries, at the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) National High School Cheerleading Championship in Orlando, Fla. The local team competed in two divisions, taking 14th out of 52 teams for the “Game Day” competition and defeating all the competition in the Super Varsity Non-tumbling division, crowning them national champs.

“In the finals, they hit a perfect routine, leaving them with a first place win,” said head coach Alexis Welch after the win. “As a first year head coach for Liberty Ranch, it was exciting just being able to take the girls to a competition of this level. Liberty Ranch has always had an amazing cheerleading program so it was definitely time for them to see how they ranked nationally. More than 950 of the best teams from nine different countries competed this weekend, so to be from such a small town and be able still to take home the title is a huge victory!”

Housing planning was looking up with a number of new developments trying to get started, according to Community Planning Director Chris Erias back in February of this year.

“We expect Veranda at River Oaks with 60 homes, Parlin Oaks with 144 homes and Dry Creek Oaks Senior Development with 206 homes to be under construction in the second half of 2020 with homes ready to move in either at the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021,” said Erias. “It’s possible that Cardoso I with 69 homes and Cedar Flats Estates with 112 homes will also start construction. Obviously, all homes won’t be built at once. Most builders expect to sell one home a week and will build accordingly.”

Obviously, no one had even heard of COVID-19 at this point. Housing took a much slower take off than expected.

The business community also had big plans in February of last year. Farmers & Merchants Bank on C Street had begun renovations with the addition of a Starbucks Coffee House. Coffee lovers have enjoyed coffee on the patio outside the building, and the long line of cars winding around the building indicates that many are enjoying the drive-up purchasing.

The Little Farmhouse in Old Town and the Back Alley Brew House owners were both expecting a better year than they got but are staying positive. Jose Guiterrez had better hopes for a new restaurant where Zacatecas was located in the Raley’s Shopping Center. COVID-19 has delayed those plans for months.

Work on the Galt 76 gas station is going strong. The location will include a Jamba Juice and a Baja Fresh.

Galt High School students and staff were saddened to hear of the passing of Sy Myasoto. Principal Joe Saramago said Miyasato will very much be missed at both high school campuses.

“Sy was a kind man that was always willing to do whatever he could to help the young people of this community,” said Saramago. “Specifically, he had great passion for the performing arts. I cannot remember the last time I was at a theatre or band function without him there.”

March 2020 — It was the month that changed nearly everything about life for people in Galt and around the world. It was the beginning of mask wearing, social distancing, zoom meetings and distance learning.

Both the high school district and the elementary district closed schools with plans to reopen in just a few weeks. Currently, both districts are optimistic that schools might open in February 2021 if the pandemic subsides.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the City of Galt closed offices, the Galt Market, Parks and Recreation programs and park facilities through April 5. The press release issued on March 16 also included events that had been either postponed or cancelled.

The Earth Day Celebration, the Shred-It Event and Meals on Wheels all have been postponed. The 11th annual Eggstravaganza for April 4 was cancelled, as well as the Tequila Festival that was scheduled for May 30.

County Supervisor Don Nottoli said the county has activated the Emergency Operations Center. He said the public is very aware of what is happening in other countries, so government is trying to limit exposure by cancelling events. As of midnight on March 16, only 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Sacramento County and two deaths due to the virus.

April 2020 — The information below was published by The Galt Herald on April 1, 2020.

The F Street senior care facility Dycora, formerly the Golden Living Center, is keeping its residents healthy by restricting visitors, according to CEO Julianne Williams, who oversees 11 senior facilities for Dycora. She said their health and safety is the number one priority. That was back in late March.

“We have activities for them all day,” said Williams. “Of course, it’s with social distancing. No one on our staff or even a resident has become ill with the virus. We’ve been very blessed with that.”

Since then, the numbers have skyrocketed at Dycora. The California Skilled Nursing Dashboard lists 72 positive cases of COVID-19 for residents and 32 cumulative cases for health care workers. Deaths are listed as less than 11. Dycora’s Administrator Rebecca Forrest would not confirm how many deaths have occurred with their residents or with their health care workers. It took numerous phone calls and e-mails to the parent company before any questions were answered about their residents’ health concerning the pandemic.

On April 7, 2020, City Council members voted unanimously to approve funds to pay the California Regional Quality Control Board (RWQCB) penalty for the November 2018, 300,000-gallon sewage spill, which began at the Live Oak Lift Station located in the county.

Four months after the spill, no public notification had been made by the Galt City Council, City Manager Eugene Palazzo or Director of Public Works Steven Winkler, even though homes were located within a few hundred feet of the manhole where raw sewage spilled and the protocol from the state water board requires “adequate notification” to residents that could be affected. Deputy Director of Public Works Mark Clarkson said he had signs posted at Midway and at Christensen roads but did not contact any residents. At the time of the spill, the city council consisted of Lori Heuer, Curt Campion, Paige Lampson, Mark Crews and Tom Malson.

May 2020 — By early May, Galt businesses were hurting from state mandates requiring many to close and others to limit customers. Galt’s Chamber of Commerce President Rachelle Herendeen addressed the Galt City Council at the May 5 meeting via Zoom.

“(So) many of Galt’s small businesses will not be able to survive without immediate steps to normalcy soon,” Herendeen said. “The compounded effects of the city’s solid waste agreement and the pandemic have already caused businesses to furlough staff and cut hours, and in some cases, businesses are on the verge of shutting their doors completely.”

While the state was offering business monetary relief, many of them found the application process hard to follow. Even in May, some cities and counties refused to limit businesses to the mandates. Council member Shawn Farmer talked to Supervisor Sue Frost about this issue.

“She advocates to heavily appeal to the government officials to turn over control to local government,” Farmer said. “These mandates don’t make sense. At Dry Creek Golf Course, I see all kinds of carts and people playing golf, but a hair stylist cannot even have one client in the shop. It’s very inconsistent.”

County health officials sent a letter, noting “Galt is the furthest incorporated city south in Sacramento County. We are a community of 26,000, surrounded by rural farming and ranching. Galt has just 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no associated deaths. The community has diligently adhered to your health orders and that of the governor. We have been doing our part. Yet, the local shutdown of commerce in Galt is having a devastating effect on local businesses in a way that threatens not only their long-term survival as businesses in their own right, but by extension the viability of families to provide for the essentials they need. Those families are our community.”

The Galt City Council voted unanimously on its intent to create Community Facility Districts (CFD) for all new housing developments at their May 5 videoconference meeting. Last month, staff presented the parameters for the districts, stating they would enable the city to better maintain public areas, provide for public safety, fire protection and public facilities, such as parks and common areas.

The May 19 videoconference meeting of the City Council began with 53 public outcries to open up Galt businesses. Two of the public comments asked to keep the non-essential businesses closed. The meeting ended with a heated exchange between Council member Curt Campion and Council member Shawn Farmer.

City Clerk Tina Hubert read all 55 comments from citizens concerned about the COVID-19 fallout on small businesses in Galt.

On May 30, protestors gathered on the lawn of City Hall demanding the reopening of businesses, churches and schools.

June 2020 — At the June 2 Council meeting held over teleconference and Zoom, 18 residents expressed their concern over the current social climate and local comments from Galt residents of racial bigotry on the Friendly Neighborhood Galt Facebook page. Judyth Hernandez’ comments via e-mail were the first in the long list of e-mails concerning the issue. The other 17 letters on the subject were carbon copies with just the names changed.

Both the Galt Joint Union Elementary District and the Galt Joint Union High School District focused on how they would reopen schools. Both districts worked through the summer on what would work best for every scenario.

The City of Galt and the Parks and Recreation Department decided a light show would be planned in lieu of the usual three-day Independence Day Celebration.

“Lights for Heroes will be a dynamic display with unique tributes to our first responders, military and our heroic healthcare providers,” said Garcia, “including a special recognition photo display on video that will highlight our honoree, fallen City of Galt Police Officer Kevin Tonn, and recognize our local essential workers. It is our goal that we recognize our local heroes during an unprecedented time in our community, facilitate a drive-thru parade that will inspire an American spirit, plus continue the tradition of encouraging a resilient Galt community.”

July 2020 — In early July we heard that, after 15 years, the City’s Community Planning Director Chris Erias will move on to the City of Manteca.

“I will surely miss working for Galt,” said Erias. “I have had such positive experiences working for the city, all of which centers around the people I have interacted with. I was attracted to Manteca for the professional growth opportunity, and it reminded me of Galt, just a little bit bigger.”

During the City Council’s teleconference meeting on July 21, council members heard from Amie Mendes, economic development manager, to approve an Urgency Ordinance that will allow local restaurants a temporary outdoor dining permit. The motion was approved.

August 2020 — On Tuesday evening, July 28, Mayor Paul Sandhu announced that Galt City Council chose Lorenzo Hines Jr. as Galt’s new city manager.

Hines has worked in state, local and county government for 27 years. Prior to the city manager position, he was the assistant city manager for the City of Pacifica, Calif. He has also served as finance director for the cities of Edmonds, Wash. and Lynnwood, Wash.

Near the end of the special board meeting through teleconference on Aug. 6, Galt Joint Union High School District’s (GJUHSD) Superintendent William Spalding unveiled the newly completed CD science building at Galt High School. Spalding said it was the final project with the Measure E funds and the “crowning achievement” for students now and in the future. He called his presentation a “virtual ribbon cutting.”

“This was a $12 million project,” said Spalding. “It has 11 classrooms and labs. Robland Construction did a great job and came in on time and on budget.”

Construction began at the future home of the Farm to Futures Center on a new track field. When students can return to classes at McCaffrey Middle School, they will be treated to a six-lane synthetic track with an inner sod turf.

“We are so excited the students will have a ‘real’ track for physical education,” said Yount. “The inner sod field might also open up some ideas for outside learning opportunities. As funds become available, we plan to add bleachers and shade structures.”

The Galt City Council listened to a presentation and public comments on the proposed revamp of Carillion Boulevard at the teleconference meeting on Aug. 18 for three hours before deciding to table the decision until October. All five council members asked questions about the plan.

Eighteen residents gave their thoughts during the public comment period. Only two residents were in favor of going ahead with Alternative 1, and 16 public comments were against the proposal. Some comments were sent by e-mail, while others spoke during the live meeting.

The Alternate I plan proposal includes 11 roundabouts and reducing lanes from four to two at an estimated cost of $34 million. Lanes will curve in and out along the road to feed into the roundabouts. Bike lanes will be widened for extra safety. Pedestrians would only have to cross two lanes of traffic instead of four.

September 2020 — In September, The Galt Herald began to focus on the upcoming local elections. We offered readers profiles on each of the candidates for city council, high school district trustees and elementary school district trustees.

The Galt City Council approved the annexation of 58 acres of agricultural land for a gated community with 204 private homes at the teleconferenced meeting on Sept. 15. They passed the annexation, the projected housing development, which required them to also amend the City’s General Plan. All three passed 4-1 with Shawn Farmer the only “no” on each.

The 58 acres is surrounded by agricultural land just north of Twin Cities Road, between Waldo and Hauschildt roads. Ten of the 58 acres are planned for a 1.9-acre park with the remaining land planned for open space wet lands and water basins.

October 2020 — In October, the community had to say goodbye to a dear friend of Galt, Barbara Payne, who had made plans to move to Texas to be with her family.

“In recognition of your contributions to our community, I proclaim today, Oct. 8, Barbara Payne Day,” said Nottoli. “You’ve had a lasting effect on Galt. What I will miss most about you is your smile.”

Payne served on the City Council from 2004 to 2012 as well as serving as mayor. She was instrumental in starting the Beautification Committee, the Youth Commission, the Character Coalition, organizing the Heritage Days and starting the Community Garden, which since has been named in her honor.

The Oct. 20 City Council meeting ended with staff and council members wishing retiring Chief Tod Sockman congratulations on his retirement beginning in November and thanking him for service to the community.

Public Works Director Michael Selling said he knew Sockman would be a great fit in Galt, especially when he learned of Sockman’s love of 80s’ music. All staff members commented on how they would miss him and appreciated his leadership.

Sockman was touched by the comments and added his own.

“I was hoping to get away smoothly without having to comment,” said Sockman. “Galt has beautiful people and a strong sense of community. What I’m really inspired about is, we have strong leaders and staff (at PD). I’m going to miss the camaraderie, the friendships and the fact that everyone comes together to work on whatever projects are going on. I’m going to miss this life of service.”

City Manager Hines announced at a Chamber luncheon that he would appoint Lt. Brian Kalinowski and Lt. Richard Small as interim chiefs on a trial basis as possible replacements for Chief Tod Sockman.

Lt. Kalinowski will serve as interim chief from early November until late April of next year. Small will then take over and serve until mid-October 2021. They will serve for equal amounts of time.

Kalinowski has been with Galt PD for just over seven years. He came to Galt with 27 years’ experience with the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department. He graduated from the Napa Police Academy and earned a master’s in law enforcement and public safety leadership from the University of San Diego.

November 2020 — The Galt Herald recognized vets on their special day. Henry and Robert “Bob” Balliet were very young men when they decided to serve their country. Henry had yet to reach his 18th birthday when he enlisted in the United States Marines in 1967. Bob was young, as well; the two brothers are only a year apart in age. Bob enlisted in the United States Army.

Local elections brought some new faces and some well-known names to the city council and the high school district trustees board.

The high school district retained Trustee Terry Parker, but Daniel Denier lost out to Patrick Maple.

The elementary board gained two new members – Casey Raboy and Traci Skinner.

The Galt City Council said goodbye to longtime council members Curt Campion and Paige Lampson. They welcomed Kevin Papineau and Jay Vandenburg.

The Galt Herald recognized Curt Campion for his many years of service to the city.

Council member Curt Campion is a matter-of-fact kind of person – no fluff, just a lot of knowledge gained from years of experience. The council member began his connection with the City of Galt decades ago as the first city planner. But that’s not when he began making a difference in the lives of others. Some would say it began at Chico State while he was in college.

Galt says goodbye to a loyal member of the community.

There are not many people who have made as huge a contribution to a community as Mark Crews. Crews, who decided to relocate to Utah, had been a fixture within the city of Galt for decades, serving, serving and serving some more. He’s been a Galt police officer, a scoutmaster, a city council member and even the mayor of Galt. If anyone has been to any city event, they’ve probably seen him working behind the scenes, such as roasting turkeys for the community dinner, which he did for years.

December 2020 — It was not the usual holiday atmosphere in Galt. There was no tree lighting or caroling, no community dinner at the Littleton Center. But our residents and volunteers made the most of it.

Sitting down, breaking bread with your friends and neighbors is usually the theme of the annual Galt Sunrise Rotary Community Dinner; however, faced with COVID-19 restrictions, members of the local Rotary shifted the focus from an in-person hot meal, complete with a visit from St. Nick, to a drive-through boxed meal for the entire family event.

Held Saturday, Dec. 19 at Galt United Methodist Church, more than 175 food boxes were distributed, which serviced nearly 1,000 individuals, down more than 500 people usually served at the in-person hot meal event.

In an effort to maintain the holiday spirit, Special Events Manager Jackie Garcia took the annual Breakfast with Santa event and changed it into a picture opportunity, complete with friends from the North Pole, muffins and craft projects.

“We wanted to make sure we were able to provide a safe and fun family holiday experience during this unprecedented time,” Garcia said. “Our hope was to retain the holiday spirit that brings so much to our community.”

Staff didn’t spare any details in this modified event, festively decorating the outside of the Chabolla Community Center with red, green and white balloons and streamers, setting a perfect backdrop for three North Pole ambassadors.

It would take more than a worldwide pandemic and a little inclement weather to stop the senior holiday lunch held each year to honor the seniors of the Galt community. Executive Director Maria Rosales and her staff at South County Services plowed straight ahead with the annual event – COVID style, which, like a lot of other events, translated into a drive-through.

“South County Services has seen the impact of COVID-19 on families in need, especially our seniors,” Rosales said. “We knew we couldn’t cancel this event, so we’re very happy we were able to do it in drive-thru style.”

Teaming up with members of the Galt Real Men’s Club, Rosales and her crew were able to serve 240 delicious hot meals to the seniors in the Galt area, and 10 nearby homeless individuals.

Seniors and their escorts pulled up to the makeshift drive-through at the Littleton Community Center where they were handed their special barrel chicken meal along with something extra.

“Besides a hot lunch, every senior took an additional full bag of food to prepare,” Rosales said.

Galt welcomed its newest place to get a cup of Joe as well as smoothies, teas and freezes when Dutch Bros Coffee opened its first location in the city on Dec. 27.

Noting that they are the “nation’s largest family-owned drive-thru coffee company,” Dutch Bros is known for being open 24/7. The Galt location is at 325 Pine St.

“We’re stoked to start crafting fresh drinks for our neighbors in Galt,” said Kyle Garrett, owner of Dutch Bros Galt.