2014 Year in Review

Kent-first palino_edit_for websiteClayton may seem like a sleepy little town, but the news and events of 2014 showed a vibrant, sometimes divided community that reflected the spirit and passion of its residents. It was the year a little white ball called a pallino brought the community together, despite a fissure caused by unrest at the local acclaimed high school. It was also the year the town celebrated a milestone birthday, and a young girl named Katie-Grace stole our hearts while getting a new one for herself.

Here is a glimpse at 2014’s top local stories.

Bocce, anyone? Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Clayton Business and Community Association and the generosity of the Skipolini family and others, four bocce courts were installed downtown adjacent to the remodeled Skipolini’s restaurant. The Clayton Bocce League was born, and between the popular summer and fall leagues, more than 800 players participated. Next year, the league will add teams, with the possibility of 1,400 players.

CVCHS’ Great Divide. Last fall’s five-year charter extension, a football team that played for the state championship, an appearance by the executive director before Congress — not to mention sterling academic achievements —should be the stories at Clayton Valley Charter High School for 2014. But instead, a simmering feud between a popular Clayton Valley Charter High School teacher and the school’s administration resulted in the ouster of Pat Middendorf, one of the leaders of the original charter movement, and created a divide among the usually close-knit school community. Many in the community called for the firing of Executive Director David Linzey, and several members of the board resigned in protest. Much of the turmoil has been played out on local blogs and social media sites.

Amazing Grace. The Clayton community was awed by the courage of 11-year old Katie-Grace Groebner, who on June 21 underwent a rare heart and double lung transplant. The family was buoyed by the support of the locals, who stepped up to help with fundraising and awareness. Her surgery went “great, without a hitch and no complications,” dad John said. “Better than expected, and the best Father’s Day ever.”
After a tough but “remarkable” recovery, Katie Grace, who was born with pulmonary hypertension, an incurable disease, finally returned home from Stanford’s Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in October.
Happy Birthday, Clayton. On March 3, 1964, 80 percent of Clayton’s registered voters had voted to incorporate as a city. Two weeks later, on March 18, the first city council met in Endeavor Hall under the leadership of Mayor Bob Hoyer, who would go on to serve 16 years on the council.

Fifty years later to the day, on March 3, 2014, the city council once again met in Endeavor Hall; this time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of incorporation. Again, Hoyer took his place on the dais—this time as a guest with a standing ovation.

Finally a “Full House” at CPD. With the addition of three new officers in 2014, the Clayton Police Department is now fully staffed, said CPD Chief Chris Thorsen. Lee Borman, John Fraga and Garrett Wayne joined the force within the past six months. In addition, longtime Officer Jason Shaw was promoted to sergeant, Thorsen said. Including Thorsen, the staff of officers protecting Clayton now numbers 11.

Finally, at full complement, the department now has time to explore new projects, Thorsen said. He is beginning to research the use of body-worn cameras and the data storage and management requirements that follow their use. Data collected from the cameras is evidence and must be stored and protected, Thorsen said. “You can’t just upload it to your iTunes account.”

Ugly Eagles Soar. Undefeated Diablo Valley Athletic League and North Coast Section champion Clayton Valley Charter High School won its most important home game ever, defeating a tough Oakdale team in the California Division II Regional Bowl in December, which sent the Ugly Eagles to the CIF State Bowl Dec. 20, where they lost to Redlands East Valley. Clayton Valley was No. 1 in the state in scoring, rushing and total offense. Nationally, the Ugly Eagles were No. 2 in rushing and fourth in scoring with 110 touchdowns.

New Pioneer debuted in September

In September, Pioneer Newspapers began a new phase when the 11-year-old Clayton Pioneer was joined by an all-new Concord Pioneer in bringing quality community news coverage to both cities.

The Concord Pioneer publishes monthly. The paper is delivered to 28,000 homes and businesses in Concord during the last week of the month.

Gimme Some Water. It’s no secret that California has an arid, Mediterranean climate, but 2014’s unseasonably dry weather had many residents shivering in fear of the D-word: drought.

Although local water districts refrained from implementing severe drought restrictions, residents were asked to conserve water. A dry summer and fall just added to worries, although the recent December rains — and some long range forecast models — have eased some worries. But experts say it’s indeed a drought, and it’s going to take a lot of wet weather to beat it.

Ballot Bruhaha. Mrgan Territory/Marsh Creek residents were in for a surprise when the East Contra Costa Fire had to reissue some 44,000 ballots already mailed to property owners for a special election to fund fire service because the assessments were calculated incorrectly, Fire Chief Hugh Henderson announced in August.

The assessments were based on faulty and incomplete data received from two county agencies.
The district closed the Brentwood station in July and was on a timeline to close the Knightsen station in November.

Mercurio pleads guilty to felony DUI. In July, Jessica Mercurio, a 22-year-old Clayton woman, charged with a felony DUI after hitting and critically injuring a motorcyclist in 2013, appeared in a Martinez courtroom where she changed her plea from not guilty to guilty and was sentenced to three years in state prison.
Mercurio was driving with a blood alcohol nearly four times the legal limit on June 27, 2013, when she hit 51-year-old Mark Tomaszewski head on before crashing into a light pole in front of Clayton City Hall.
Tomaszewski was critically injured in the crash. He lost the sight in his left eye and is deaf in one ear. He was hospitalized for five months. In June, a year after the crash, he returned to his job as a surgical technician at the Sequoia Surgery Center in Walnut Creek.

Cancer claims popular volunteer. Clayton mourned the loss of resident Christy Harris, who died in March after a long battle with cancer. She was just three weeks short of her 50th birthday.

She was diagnosed in December 2012 when an annoying pain in her hip turned out to be a fast-growing tumor.

The spirited mother of three mounted a two-year battle that included leadership posts in Clayton’s Relay for Life, the two day event sponsored by the American Cancer Association.

Ed’s: Clayton’s Home Base. In Clayton, there is almost always joy in Mudville. That is, in Ed’s Mudville Grill, which on May 3 celebrated 20 years as a popular, family-friendly downtown anchor.

Moresi also owns Moresi’s Chophouse, which opened in 2007.

Over the past 20 years not a lot has changed inside the restaurant or on the menu. Mudville started with 11 TVs and still has 11, although now they are flat screen and high definition.

Their busiest days are St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Super Bowl Sunday;  nobody off, everybody works day.” The restaurant’s biggest day ever was St. Paddy’s Day 2012 (“nice weather on a Saturday”).
Girl Scout Founds First Fitness Fair. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Owen wants to be a physical therapist, and dedicate her life to helping people stay physically fit. She jump-started her career goals by organizing the first Clayton 5K Run and Fitness Fair on Saturday, July 19, at Clayton Community Park. She put on the event as a project for her Girl Scout Gold Award. More than 300 adults and kids– some in strollers–gathered in the early morning for the town’s first 5K Run and Fitness Fair. The turnout far surpassed expectations for Sarah.

Saving an endangered species.

After embarking on an African Safari, Clayton’s Wendy Blakely returned home to start a foundation to save Africa’s endangered “painted dogs.”

Blakely returns to Africa each year. There, she has a room of her own in the art center, and each weekend she takes a drive in the park, where she occasionally sees the results of her organization’s work in the slowly growing packs.

Newcomers take home Rib Cook-off Trophies. Twenty-six teams entered the fifth annual Clayton Club’s Rib Cook-off in August — a fundraiser for the Clayton Business and Community Association — and when the smoke cleared, the winners gleefully accepted their trophies. Tied for second place were Ferrell Family BBQ and Half Fast, led by Greg Ferrell and Stephen Lim, respectively. Top prize went to Third Coast Smoke, led by newcomer Colin Mendenhall. And the coveted People’s Choice Award, voted on by a selection of the afternoon’s diners, went to newcomers The Cunning Hams, Tony Ucciferri and Walid Abdul-Rahim.