A look back at 2020 in Shafter
Last updated 1/2/2021 at 6:08pm | View PDF
This year was full of challenge and change for the city as the world battled covid-19. Here is a round-up of some of the top stories from the year:
The year started off with a bang in Shafter, with the city on the hunt for a new city manager. The recruiting process started with the city putting out a brochure and advertising for an experienced person that could lead the city in the right direction.
On the sports front, the Shafter High Generals followed their runner-up finish in the Valley with a return trip to the playoffs. Under the direction of quarterback Jackson Sanchez, the Generals tied for the SSL title and faced Arvin in the first round of the playoffs, a team that they beat handily during the SSL season. Unfortunately, Shafter couldn't beat the Bears the second time around, ending their season with a loss in their playoff opener.
Shafter High also enjoyed success on the soccer field, with the varsity boys squad making it to the Valley title game against Garces High. The Generals ended up second in the valley as they lost the final to the Rams.
At the end of January, the city gathered to celebrate a group of businesses, organizations and people being honored for their contributions at the Shafter Chamber of Commerce Awards banquet.
Several honorees were recognized in different areas, including Basham & Lara Funeral Care, who received the Commercial Award for their new property including a chapel, receptions area, and viewing room.
Jackson Sanchez received the Young Person Award for his outstanding performance in the classroom, as well as in the community.
In February, the city announced their find for the City Manager's position, Gabriel Gonzales.
Formerly the city of Gilroy's city administrator, he was the City Council's selection as the next Shafter city manager. The 4-1 vote ended a four-month search after the resignation of Scott Hurlbert.
Gabriel Gonzalez has 15 years of experience in the city manager role for three other cities, including Arvin and Mendota.
"Even when I was in Arvin, when John Guinn was the city manager for Shafter, I could tell that the city was growing and was doing things to set them apart from the rest of the cities in Kern County. Shafter has been on my radar ever since," he said.
Gonzalez has 25 years in municipal leadership roles, beginning in the City of Arvin. He was finance director there from 1995 to 2001. From 2001 to 2004, Gonzalez served as the director of managed care and facilities for Clinica Sierra Vista, a provider of health services in the Valley, then became Mendota city manager in 2004. Gonzalez then went from the city of 20,000 to Rohnert Park, with a population of over 40,000. Gonzalez was city manager there from 2010 to 2013. In 2013, Gonzalez had a five-month stint as city manager for Augusta, Kansas. He then returned to California and was the assistant city manager for a year and a half in El Monte. In 2016, Gonzalez returned to lead the city of Gilroy as city administrator.
February ended with a flourish as the annual Colours Festival took place the last week in February. A variety of mediums were on display including an art gallery, theater shows, music, and more. An original play by Larry Starrh was presented at the Ford Theater.
There were also silent movies, coffee house music and sculptures on display.
March saw the first inkling of things to come, as the county and nation started to feel the ramifications of the coronavirus.
In the second half of March, it was decided that local schools would be closing their doors, relegating students to learning online.
All sports seasons were canceled, with Shafter faring very well in several sports, including their Varsity Girls Softball team, which had won an early season tournament that saw them beat Taft and Frontier.
Also in March, the Richland Junior High Girls Basketball team completed an undefeated season with a championship. The Richland Trojans junior varsity girls 7th grade basketball team finished their season with an unblemished record, claiming the league title. The Trojans won the championship by beating the Cougars of Thomas Jefferson from Wasco. The squad, coached by Celeste Zamora, finished the year with an 18-0 record. The Trojans' main competition over the season was La Vina, and the team from McFarland, although Zamora said that by the end of the season, the team from Thomas Jefferson had improved and were tough. The JV champion team consisted of Elissa Munoz, Katie Avila, Haley Lindsey, Mariah Duarte, Cynthia Chavez, Angelina Acosta, Aliyah Escalera, Sydnee Macias and Rilyn Hanner.
Zamora said that about half of the team had played for the Recreation and Parks league and had some experience on travel teams. She also said that a couple of her players had never played basketball before this season. Zamora said that the season was just as beneficial for her as it was for the girls.
"This season was filled with a lot of hard work and dedication," she said.
She commented that she strives to focus on the fundamentals of the game, especially at the junior high level because she believes that is most important. Zamora also said that she tried her best to not only teach them on the court, but to also mold them into hard working, respectful players.
"As an example, I made sure that we prayed together before every game. I almost forgot to a few times, but the girls made sure to rip at the county level," she said.
At the end of March, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a Stay-At-Home order for state residents, with all non-essential businesses ordered to close their doors. This included gyms, hair salons, restaurants, restricting them to take-out and delivery options only.
The annual Distinguished Young Woman of Shafter competition was moved to June because of the pandemic. The competition would ultimately be decided by a virtual competition that allowed no spectators.
April saw the beginning of virtual learning for the school districts in Shafter. Classes were held with the students using laptops provided by the school districts, who handed them out and set up mobile hotspots so all of the students would have access to WiFi and be able to attend online classes.
During this time, the school districts continued to provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all students. Different locations were designated for the students to come pick up the grab and go meals, each location handing out more than 1,500 meals per day.
Also in April, the first confirmed covid-19 case of a Shafter High student was announced. Joel Herrera, 19, who had graduated from Shafter High, confirmed that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Joel works at a pharmacy in Bakersfield, and part of his job is delivering medications to patients. He believed that this is how he was exposed to the virus. Herrera said that he didn't have a cough but had been running a fever. His doctor had him tested for the virus because of the presence of the fever. The testing procedure "sucked," Herrera said, including having a long Q-tip put into his nose and swabbed.
"Take care of yourself," he told residents. "I can't stop repeating this, stay home and don't take this time of quarantine for granted. I am looking forward to being able to spend time with my family and friends again."
The Kern County Health Department provided coronavirus statistics by region. The valley region, which includes 11 zipcodes including Shafter and Wasco, had 16 confirmed cases of the disease. Four of those were in Wasco, one man on a ventilator and his wife, both in a hospital, and a second couple quarantined at home with less serious symptoms.
Also in April, the Shafter Press office had a close call when the building it shares with the former Brookside Deli was involved in a fire. The fire started in the bathroom of the Brookside location, with the blaze contained to the Brookside portion of the building. Officials say that the fire was apparently started by squatters who had been inside. No damage was reported to the newspaper office.
At the end of April, the Shafter City Council began its meetings via Zoom. Residents could view the meetings on YouTube, and also participate virtually. Each meeting took place online, with council members participating from their homes, each in touch by computer.
In May, the virus was still disrupting everyday life in Shafter. Several businesses were forced to close their doors, be it temporarily or on a permanent basis. One restaurant that had vowed to keep fighting was Don Pepes, which had kept their doors open for take-out and delivery options. They also held a couple of events in which they gave out free meals for residents who needed a hand at the time. A line would form and residents would be provided with a meal to go.
Also in May, the first of many graduations took place when the Mustangs of Maple School held their ceremony. Students were escorted by their families in vehicles that paraded past the graduation dais. The students would then go up to the dais and collect their diploma before getting back in their vehicle.
June saw the announcement of the winner of the Shafter Distinguished Young Woman of Shafter competition. With the competition held online, including video interviews, taping their routines, including Self Expression and the Talent competitions, this year's program navigated through unchartered territory.
With the event originally scheduled for March 20, the coronavirus made it necessary to first postpone the program. According to Toni Franz, of the Shafter DYW program, the event was shifted to June at Shafter's Ford Theater, with safety guidelines in place. With the restrictions still too much for the program to go on as planned, it was decided to hold the event online, with the contestants recording their routines.
Shelbee Ramos was named the winner of the competition. Ramos won the title, which includes a $2,000 scholarship. She also received the Physical Fitness award and the Scholastic award, good for another $400 in scholarships. Alicia Pompa was named the First Alternate and received a $1,500 scholarship award. Pompa also won a $200 scholarship for taking top honors in the Self Expression phase of the competition.
June also saw the graduations of Shafter High, Richland Junior High, as well as Wasco High School.
Amidst the pandemic, Shafter High School sent their senior class across the stage, ending what was an unprecedented school year where a graduation ceremony had seemed unlikely just a couple of months ago. Wednesday, June 24, at the Shafter High Football stadium, the Class of 2020 received their diplomas. Each senior was allowed two guests who could be seated with them on the football field. The bleachers were empty, with the full area of the football field being utilized. As the students' names were read, the student and his or her guests walked to the front of the dais, ending at the stage where a photographer waited to take their picture.
Also in the news the Kern County District Attorney's Office charged a Shafter woman with vehicular manslaughter. Breanna Jimenez, 31, was charged as a result of an accident in which she was driving on Lerdo Highway in February and lost control of her vehicle, rolling over and ending up in an orchard. Her 6-year-old son Jaden was killed in the accident. Jimenez was charged with vehicular manslaughter, three counts of willful cruelty to a child. This was Jimenez's second instance behind the wheel. In 2018, Jimenez was cited for driving without a license, failure to stop at a stop sign, and two counts of failure to restrain children in their restraints.
July 2020 was the first July in recent memory that did not include a fireworks show in Shafter. It also saw a campaign that the Shafter Police Department implemented regarding illegal fireworks. With the addition of a $1,000 fine for the violation, the city saw several of the fines being filed.
In mid-July, Bank of America branches closed, along with its DMV location. The DMV was closed for a few days to have the location cleaned and sanitized. Bank of America closed several of its locations throughout Kern County in light of employee pools that had dwindled due to the virus. This resulted in several days in which the ATMs were out of service because of the volume of use of the machines, having to wait for them to be serviced and refilled with cash.
Danny Escalante was honored by the Kern County Honor Flight Association and was awarded medals in honor of his service in the military. Escalante, a long-time Shafter resident, had been scheduled to go on an Honor Flight to the nation's capitol, but health reasons kept Escalante from making the trip.
After Escalante was honored, it was just days before he passed away. Escalante will always be remembered for his bravery, kindness, and community spirit.
When August came, it was uncertain how the schools were going to open their doors. All Kern County schools started school with distance learning. The Richland School District had originally planned to start school with in-person sessions, but an announcement from Newsom did not allow school districts to open their doors to in-person schooling that has had a certain number of days in a certain tier, due to the virus. This made it necessary for Richland to implement its distance learning plan instead.
Students were supplied with laptops and classes were taught by teachers virtually, with attendance programs in place as well as exercise plans to keep the kids active.
Also in August, Shafter lost another one of its pioneers, with the passing of Art Penner. Penner was born in Shafter in 1925, a year after his family had moved to Shafter from Canada. Penner farmed in Shafter throughout the years and served his church as well.
The city began its Wear a Mask campaign in August, trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which had increased to a total of over 1,000 cases at the time. With digital signs and ads, city officials encouraged all residents to wear a face covering whenever they went downtown or in the neighborhoods.
September saw six candidates vying for the three open City Council seats available in the November election. Chad Givens, Manuel Garcia, and Gilbert Alvarado were trying to retain their seats and were challenged by Kris Lawrence, Pete Espinoza and Rafael Zamudio.
The race would end with Espinoza getting the most votes, and Alvarado and Givens getting the second and third seats. City Council meetings were still held virtually.
Residents were also getting more flu shots this year than in past years. "People are now facing two viruses that can be deadly, with the influenza virus and the covid-19 virus, so there is a lot more call for the influenza vaccine this year," said Nora Garza, health screening specialist for Dignity Health.
Garza said that they were given extra vaccines because of the demand this year.
"With the coronavirus out there, it is important to get protected from influenza. The governor is calling it a 'twindemic.' We know that covid-19 can kill you, and influenza can kill you, so the two together would be a very deadly combination," commented Garza.
In October, the City Council announced a new pilot program designed to help new and existing businesses in the core city. The program will give new and existing businesses up to 75% reductions in their permits and fees for expansions and construction.
During the pandemic, a number of businesses in Shafter have struggled to remain open while adhering to the governor's public safety guidelines. In particular, restaurants in Shafter have not been able to offer inside dining for months, with the only alternatives being take-out orders and outside dining.
For those restaurants that have adequate outdoor space, the reduction of outdoor dining fees has allowed them to remain open without the added burden of paying permit fees. City Manager Gonzales said this program would have results that are twofold, with the ability to attract new businesses to Shafter, while retaining those businesses already in place.
"In particular, there is a business possibility regarding a sporting goods store that would be able to build in the downtown area without the substantial cost that the different permits and fees would mean," Gonzales said. "This program will make it possible for Shafter to continue our reputation as being a proactive community that is business-friendly and keep us economically stable."
Also in October, a new trend was in full swing as local businesses and individuals were making their own way with home-based businesses while the pandemic is hurting big businesses.
Jewelry, soaps, crafts, homemade bread and more from 30 vendors were stockpiled high on tables for the bazaar at the Gathering Church. Over 300 shoppers gathered at the church on Highway 43 to peruse the wares, beginning to check off their holiday wish lists.
Shafter business owner Elizabeth Schull faced the challenge of the pandemic head on. Named after her daughter, Simply Serenity Boutique sells high-end clothing for children, brand name clothes that are either gently used or brand-new, sold at discount prices. Schull said that she was having a hard time shopping for her family with the pandemic, and thought that a lot of families were probably facing the same challenges. She decided to take their clothing and other items that she could get and sell them to others for a reasonable price, helping her family, as well as helping others who are looking for clothes for their kids at reasonable prices.
November saw a tight race in the City Council race that did not have official winners until the Dec. 1 deadline. After election night, Espinoza had led all vote getters, while Givens had the second most votes, and newcomer Lawrence had the third highest vote total. But, a few days after the election, with ballots continuing to be counted, Alvarado overtook Givens and Lawrence, giving the third spot on the council to Givens. It became official in early December, as Espinoza, Alvarado and Givens were sworn in for their next terms.
In late November, 100 families were given all of the ingredients for a complete Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the Recreation and Parks District, as well as different clubs including Shafter Rotary, Shafter Lions Club, Shafter Mennonite Brethren Church and the Shafter Commanders.
Each group had a different item in the event, giving each family a portion of the ingredients.
November also saw residents of Northern Shafter gather for a design workshop for a new park that will be built near the intersection of Fresno Avenue and Highway 43. Residents were able to help design plans for the park, giving their opinions on what they would like to see Shafter's newest park would be offering.
The year 2020 began its final month with students still distance learning, with no end in sight as the coronavirus pandemic is surging, with Kern County being put back on the high risk list for the pandemic.
Santa Claus helped bring some cheer to children this past weekend as he touched down at the Minter Field Air Museum. Although the pandemic has been tough on children, with no in-person school memories or vacations planned, the event at Minter Field brought out smiles and laughter. Along with Mrs. Claus and elves, the children received stuffed animals courtesy of Petsmart in Bakersfield. The group gave out over 600 toys.
Because of preparation for different situations, the pandemic crisis has not hit the city of Shafter as strong as some other cities in Kern County and the state.
"Shafter is in a unique position because they have prepared so well for a rainy day. It is storming now, but Shafter is able to weather it," commented City Manager Gonzales.