Courier followed the building of the Ceres Gateway Center throughout 2022

Construction of the Ceres Gateway Center occurred throughout all of the year 2022 with two new businesses open by year’s end. The project was one of the top stories followed by the Courier which now takes a look back on some of them.

While the year ended with the opening of a new Starbucks and a Chipotle, more businesses at Ceres Gateway Center are on the way, including an In-N-Out Burger, Ono Hawaiian BBQ and Quick Quack Car Wash, the Ceres Planning Commission and City Council gave its approval to raise the building height limit from 35 feet to 50 feet along the Regional Commercial district, which allowed Woodspring Inn & Suites to proceed with application to build a new four-story hotel in the center south of Service Road and west of Mitchell Road.

The Woodspring hotel building of 50,800 square feet will consist of 122 rooms and laundry facilities is expected to break ground sometime in the spring. 

A new business introduced to downtown Ceres was Loza’s Wine and Crepes. The Ceres location will be the second for owner Yelena Tsymbal who has a successful business in downtown Turlock.

Ceres also gained a new craft brewery over the summer when sheet metal workers Alan Atkins and Steven Verver opened Five Eye Brewing in November in the Ceres Industrial Park at 1920 Foundry Court, Unit B.


A Jan. 4 ribbon cutting event signaled that life in Ceres was returning to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic with the reopening of Ceres’ In-Shape Health Club. The fitness club reopened Jan. 1 after over a year of being closed. The Mitchell Road facility was forced to close in 2020 due to state restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chain of clubs filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Later in the year In-Shape won approval to add an outdoor fitness area on the north side of its facility. A conditional use permit will allow the addition, including a 36’ x 75’ outdoor pool, a 244-square-foot spa, and 600-square-foot pool equipment building – enclosed by a 10-foot-tall decorative metal black fence. The outdoor fitness area will be covered with a 6,000-square-foot metal canopy, and include pickleball courts and seating.

The new year was two weeks old when Habit Burger opened in the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center after a soft opening in which hundreds were served free burgers.

Javier Lopez touted successes in bringing new businesses to Ceres in his first-ever “State of the City” address on Thursday afternoon, and outlined some of his goals for Ceres moving out of the pandemic.

Members of the Ceres City Council mulled ways to spend $5.8 million coming the city’s way as the second round of federal COVID-19 relief money – mostly on projects that had nothing to do with the pandemic.


Pain at the pump was the much discussed topic in March when the average cost of gas in Ceres reached $5.50 per gallon.

The Ceres Chamber of Commerce held its 53rd annual Community Service Awards and Board Installation Dinner on March 18, after postponing it from Jan. 28 over concerns of the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Marge Derby was bestowed with the “Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Derby has served on the Salvation Army Red Shield Center Board in south Modesto and has been engaged heavily in fundraising. She has been active in the Community Branch of behalf of the Red Shield Center. Additionally, each Christmas Marge “adopts” needy families to provide meals and presents. She has been instrumental in many causes assisting the handicapped including fundraising for the program that constructed the therapeutic pool at Sonoma Elementary School in Modesto.

Shane and Kim Parson, who routinely give back to the community, were bestowed the Distinguished Service Award.

The Soroptimist International of Ceres was bestowed with the “Volunteer of the Year” award.

Gurmannet Bahia was honored as the “Young Citizen of the Year.” Her community activities include membership in the Interact Club and assembling care packages for the less fortunate in Ceres.

California Landscape Supply of Ceres was honored as the “Small Business of the Year.”

Sunbelt Rentals, one of Ceres’ larger employers and one of the city’s top sales tax revenue generators, was named “Large Business of the Year” for also giving back to Ceres as a corporation.

The Legacy Award, which recognizes individuals and/or businesses that have contributed through service, support or volunteer efforts, to the Ceres community for more than 40 years, went to Ceres Drug Store.

The 2022 Ceres Chamber Board of Directors and staff recognized at the event were: President Brandy Meyer; Past President Herman Bhatti; Vice President Daniel Martinez; Treasurer Donna Lambert; Parliamentarian Paul Huckaba; directors Rajinder Bhuller, Kelly Cerny, Rahil Chadha, Jason Chapman, Vick Seckon and Eileen Stokman; City of Ceres Liaisons Christopher Hoem and Anthony Sims; Ceres Unified School District Liaison John “Jay” Simmonds; Auditor/Controller John “J.C.” Curtis; Executive Director Renee Ledbetter; and Chamber office assistants Beth Stochl and Amy Medina.

A second subdivision map for the Whitmore Ranch Specific Plan in east Ceres was approved in March by the Ceres Planning Commission. The applicant wants to subdivide 8.4 acres into 46 residential lots just east of Moore Road and 650 feet south of Whitmore Avenue.

The city annexed the 94-acre Whitmore Ranch area in 2019. Its first subdivision was approved in May 2021 to subdivide 19.3 acres into 107 residential lots at 3340 E. Whitmore Avenue. The site is currently being farmed as an almond orchard.


Ceres City Councilwoman Linda Ryno stunned the city when she resigned from office after reading an eight-minute statement citing what she believes to be the city’s failure to remedy blight conditions and leveling a gamut of criticisms at Mayor Javier Lopez and Vice Mayor Bret Silveira. She said those issues caused her too much stress and affected her health, causing her to explain: “I have made the decision that my health is more important than my seat on the council, therefore I resign.”

The seat remained vacant until December when the council was fearful it wouldn’t be able to agree on an appointment.

Approximately 220 persons volunteered a big chunk of their Saturday, April 30 to help take the rough edges off of the city of Ceres. “Love Ceres” volunteers donned work attire as they painted high school backstops, picked up trash in parks and on school campuses, spread bark at the Ceres Community Center, washed first-responder vehicles and performed a host of other good deeds.

A new 7-Eleven opened up in April at the corner of Whitmore Avenue and Blaker Road. From 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Union 76 gas was being sold much cheaper than found elsewhere as owner Benny Dhanda’s way to celebrate the grand opening ribbon cutting.

The same day, city officials helped Elk Grove dentist Devan Dalla to celebrate the ground breaking for his new 5,300 square foot Circle K market on Joyce Avenue west of Herndon Court. Plans are to also build a 1,530-square-foot Express Car Wash on the premises.

The Ceres Unified School District board on April 7 decided to name the district’s student farm named after retiring teacher Ken Moncrief who was instrumental in helping to establish the facility. Following the action, over 200 persons attended a ceremony to formally rename the farm the Ken Moncrief Agriculture Center behind Hidahl Elementary School at 2351 E. Redwood Road.

On April 25 the Ceres City Council decided to “indefinitely” postpone hearings over River Oaks Golf Course’s appeal of a project proposed for a neighboring parcel.Owners of the golf course have appealed a March 2020 Planning Commission approval for Surjit Singh to build three retail commercial buildings sized at 3,500-, 4,835- and 14,160-square-feet on 2.16 acres at the south end of their driving range.


The Ceres Street Faire was a success, being held the first time since the pandemic limited life in 2020 and 2021.

Soroptimist International of Ceres recognized women inside and outside of its organization who make the Ceres community a better place during its May 18 “Women of Distinction” Awards ceremony.

Two local businesses were honored as “Local Business Partners.” They were Debbie Smernes of Ceres Drug Store and Gena and Randy Beard of the Doghouse Taproom.

Lourdes Perez was honored with the Central Valley Latino Leadership Award as well as the “Soroptimist of the Year.”

Renee Ledbetter, Jordan Ledbetter and Brandy Meyer were honored for their work with the Ceres Chamber of Commerce.

Debbie Johnson and Kimberly Martinez of “Without Permission,” an organization that fights against human trafficking in the area were also honored. 

Their staunch support of agriculture prompted the Ceres Chamber of Commerce to honor Wayne Zipser as “Agribusiness Man of the Year” and Lori Marchy as “Agribusiness Woman of the Year” at a May annual luncheon.

Ken Moncrief, who is retiring as a Ceres teacher after 34 years, was presented the 2022 Grant and Mildred Lucas Memorial Award. The Agribusiness of the Year award went to Helena Chemical.

In response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 28 executive order, the State Water Resource Control Board adopted an emergency water conservation regulation on May 24 that will ensure more aggressive conservation by local water agencies. This new regulation bans irrigating turf at commercial, industrial, and institutional properties, such as grass in front of or next to large industrial or commercial buildings. The ban does not include watering turf that is used for recreation or other community purposes, and water to maintain trees. Water suppliers and local government will be tasked with enforcing the ban, and those found to be in violation are subject to a daily fine up to $500.

Alex Terrazas, who has been the acting city manager since August 24, 2021, finally had a contract to officially act as the permanent city manager. The contract calls for the city to pay Terrazas an annual base salary of $210,000.


Abe’s Discount Plumbing and Electrical, one of the longest running businesses in south Modesto, was mostly destroyed by flames early June 19. The South Ninth Street business sustained damage to every building. Three buildings were destroyed while two had significant damage. Four warehouse and storage buildings were destroyed but the main office and showroom was largely saved. The rear half of the showroom near the freeway was a total loss.


A 2-2 tie vote by the Ceres City Council over appropriating $1.2 million to complete Guillermo Ochoa Park on Ceres’ east side caused city staff to go back to the drawing board. Staff aggressively involved community members about what features they want to see in the unfinished park.

After 45 years of working the Stanislaus County Fair in Turlock at a number of different security positions, Darrell Long of Ceres retired. Long’s journey with the Stanislaus County Fair began in 1977 as a member of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department would be assigned to different stations at the fair.

The Ceres City Council gave its approval to the new county’s master property tax sharing agreement which should result in an additional $215,984 per year into the city’s revenue stream. The funds will go into the General Fund and could bolster public safety, park maintenance, code enforcement or wherever the council allocates it.

The new agreement will replace the one that has been in place since 1996. It determines how taxes are split for homes and properties annexed from the county into the cities.

Two weeks after the Ceres City Council awarded a bid to widen Morgan Road and add sidewalks along certain stretches, Councilman Mike Kline attempted to rescind the work.

The council rejected Kline’s request for the council to revisit the June 13 approval of the spending of $3.4 million to widen sections of Morgan Road and install sidewalks as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program. Kline sided with the owners of four ranchettes whose front yards will be taken for the full widening of the street.

Felix Ferdin, 49, of Ceres, was convicted in May of four counts of second-degree murder and four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and on drugs for the June 2019 deaths of Mari Luz Jacinto Hernandez and her children, Yoseline Vega, 10, Eileen Lopez Jacinto, 5, and Alexa Sanchez, 3. The crash occurred as he barreled down Holm Avenue and crashed into a duplex unit. In May Ferdin was sentenced by Judge Nancy Leo to 120 years to life in prison.

Chelsea Bustos, a Sinclear Elementary School teacher was among the four selected for the 2021-22 “Teachers of the Year” honor in Stanislaus County. Bustos was named “Teacher of the Year” in the TK-3 division at a May 3 luncheon held at Modesto’s Doubletree Hotel.

Finalists in the contest included: Janette Schmidt of Fox Road Elementary School, Hughson Unified; Amanda Bailey of Blaker-Kinser Jr. High; Kelli Conner, Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary; and Megan Hulst, Central Valley High School.

The Jane Johnston Civility Award was presented to Janette Schmidt from Fox Road Elementary School in the Hughson Unified School District. 

Fewer people are calling Ceres home, according to new population estimates released last week by the California Department of Finance. Ceres lost 376 residents to drop to 48,386. Ceres is now the 186th largest city in California out of 1,418 cities and towns.


The Ceres City Council agreed to spend $480,000 of ARPA funds to bolster code enforcement activities, including adding more staff and buying more equipment.

“Illegal dumping, unpermitted vendors and unauthorized camping have been an issue for many years,” said Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins who addressed the Ceres City Council. “Business activities, property maintenance standards and zoning violations are also a concern.”


During two evening ceremonies in September, Officer Freddie Ortiz was recognized as “Officer of the Year” and chief’s administrative secretary Marcy Pederson was named “Professional Staff of the Year.”

The death of a Ceres mother stirred controversy in the community when it was initially believed that she was a victim of foul play related to a reported stalker. Erika Lopez, 39, didn’t come home on Friday evening after work on Sep. 23 as frantic family and community members accused Ceres Police of not doing enough to find her. Her car and body inside it were found the next day in Modesto. Police determined that based on evidence — some which was not disclosed publicly — that Lopez took her life.

The month held more tragedy when Christian Sanchez, 22, was shot to death during a morning home invasion conducted by six masked men in the 2600 block of Gondring Road outside of Ceres. Later Sheriff’s detectives were fuming when they learned that the family posted surveillance video on Instagram which they didn’t initially disclose to them.

“We were surprised as the next person that the family decided to hang onto that (video) and not share it with our detectives,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Luke Schwartz. “They went to social media first so it’s quite problematic when you’re talking six weeks after the fact.”

Cloudy skies and a chill did not deter about 120 persons from sitting at one long table stretching down Fourth Street in downtown Ceres on the evening of Sept. 17 for conversation, some for beer and wine and good food during the “One Table, One Community” event, which the Ceres Chamber of Commerce started in 2018. Fourth Street was blocked off between North and Lawrence streets so that a long table stretching over 150 feet could be set up for dinner attended by a varied collection of residents, business people, Chamber supporters and local politicians.

After years of being shelved, a $497,620 master plan was ordered on Sept. 26 to begin the development of the 534-acre Copper Trails project in southwest Ceres. The Ceres City Council approved the hiring of a Wood Rogers to develop a specific plan, environmental impact report (EIR) and potential annexation of the Copper Trails Master Plan area to the city. The proposed project is bordered by Service Road to the north, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, Highway 99 and Mitchell Road to the east, the TID Lower Lateral No. 2 canal to the south, and Blaker Road to the west. The process will take about 16 months.


The city held a grand opening of the lower terrace of the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park on Hatch Road. 

Ceres debuted 31 military banners in downtown Ceres in time for Veteran’s Day. They feature the service member’s photo, name, and branch of service. Banners will remain hanging on the poles for a year until their retirement and presented to the family, as a new cycle begins.

At a short ceremony at the Ceres Community Center, veterans thanked the city for accomplishing the banner project.

A rural Ceres murder-suicide on Nov. 5 ended the life of Benjamin McGuire, a 20-year-old Denair man. He was murdered by his mother’s estranged boyfriend, Damon Banks, 51, of Merced, who then turned the gun on himself at a home in the 2600 block of Redwood Road south of Ceres.

Stacy McGuire said that she and Banks had been together for three years but he grew increasingly manipulative and threatened violence against her children if she tried to break it off. She also accused authorities of failing to act when she reported his threats.

McGuire was a 2020 graduate of Denair High School.

On Nov. 22, Matt Chachere, 39, the head coach of Ceres High School’s football program from 2018-19, was fatally struck by a car in San Luis Obispo. Also killed was his girlfriend Jennifer Besser, 36, and their dog.

The driver of the car, a 24-year-old San Luis Obispo man, reportedly struck a curb, a street sign and the abutment of the bridge in the 3400 block of Sacramento Drive. He was not suspected of alcohol impairment.

November saw the departure of longtime members Betty Davis and Mike Welsh from the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees. Davis served on the Ceres School Board for 17 years. She was first elected in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009 prior to running uncontested in 2013 and 2017. Welsh served as a board trustee for 18 years, appointed in 2004, elected in 2005 and re-elected unopposed in 2017, 2013 and 2009.

Elected to the School Board were Cynthia Ruiz and David McConnell while incumbents Valli Wigt and Lourdes Perez were appointed for lack of opponents on Nov. 8. Ruiz and McConnell replaced Welsh and Davis, respectively.

On Nov. 8 Ceres got a new congressman when Republican John Duarte defeated state Assemblyman Adam Gray in one of the closest races in the nation. Election results were not finalized until weeks later but Duarte ended with 67,060 votes (50.2 percent) to Gray’s 66,496 votes, a difference of 564 votes.

Ceres also has a new state Assemblyman with the election of Republican Juan Alanis. The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s sergeant was elected to the 22nd Assembly District with 60,338 votes (58.1 percent) over Jessica Self’s 43,526 votes (41.9 percent).


Since the resignation of Linda Ryno in April, there had been a vacancy in the District 2 seat on the Ceres City Council. That vacancy was filled on Dec. 12 by Rosalinda Vierra who won the council seat on with 1,158 votes (72.9 percent) over the 429 votes (27.03 percent) won by Paula Redfern.

Also new to the council is Daniel Martinez, who won the District 4 seat with 957 votes (63.5 percent). He replaced Mike Kline who was appointed in December 2021.

Incumbent Councilman James Casey was re-elected in District 1. Casey was elected to the council last year to serve out the unexpired term of Channce Condit, was solidly re-elected on Nov. 8.

Others who serve on the council – and who did not face an election – are Mayor Javier Lopez and District 3 Councilman Bret Silveira who also serves as vice mayor.

As the year ended, Laurie Smith stepped down from the Ceres Planning Commission after serving for 16 years. With her retirement and the resignation of Daniel Martinez who was elected to the council, Cerina Otero and Ruldip “R.J.” Jammu were appointed to fill their seats.


A number of staff changes occurred at Ceres City Hall in 2022.

Ceres Police Lt. Patrick Crane retired at the end of the year.

The city hired a new City Engineer in Kevin Waugh in 2022 to replace Daniel Padilla who quit his post in June 2021.

In the summer, Fallon Martin became the new city clerk, replacing Diane Nayares-Perez who resigned for a Modesto position.

The city appointed Sam Royal as the new Public Works Director, replacing Jeremy Damas who retired in 2021.

Ceres gained a new Economic Development manager in Tamra Spade. She replaced Anthony Sims who resigned after five months on the job.

In May the city hired a new Human Resources Director in Delilah Vasquez, the city’s fourth HR director in the past three years.

Longtime Senior Planner James Michaels also left the city toward the end of 2022.

Jay Simmonds, 60, was among a host of retiring Ceres Unified School District employees recognized during the May 26 Ceres School Board meeting. He had been employed by CUSD for 35 years.

Also retiring from CUSD in 2022 was Carol Lubinsky, the principal of Central Valley High School.

It was also a yearof change for the Ceres Post Office. Shelly Holton, formerly assigned to the Valley Springs Post Office, became postmaster to replace Lee Hoskins who was in charge of operations since 2008.

The year saw Wayne Zipser of Ceres retire as executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. He was replaced by Caitie Diemel. Later in the year Zipser ran for a seat on the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors but was defeated by David Yonan of Ceres. 


The year 2022 was filled with losses of valued community members. Courier obituaries last year included the following individuals:

• Anthony G. Chaulet, 81, of Ceres, passed Feb. 2 from cancer. He volunteered for many years with the Lions Club and for about 30 years helped many families become homeowners as a real estate broker and agent in the Ceres area.

• Allita Algeo, who in the 1970s was reportedly the first female police officer hired by Ceres Police Department, died Feb. 20 following a short bout with lung cancer.

• Vonnell Mantarro, who was active with the Caswell School PTA as well as a volunteer for Ceres Youth Baseball and Ceres High Booster Club, died on March 15.

• Jerry Hancock, who served for 36 years on the Ceres Fire Protection District Board, the Ceres Lions Club and was named “Lion of the Year” for 1994-95, died on July 11.

• Ronald Glen Moring, an active community member who coached sports teams at CYB, CYOS, cooked for Ceres Falcons home games, and a Lions Club member, died August 24.

• Fred Franzia, the 79-year-old vintner who gained notoriety as the creator of “Two Buck Chuck” wine and founded Bronco Winery outside of Ceres, died in September at his home in Denair.

• Erma Hosmer, wife of Loren Hosmer and a member of the pioneer Streeter and Graham families, died Sept. 18.

• Former Ceres Police Corporal Ron Richter, 74, died on Sept. 29. He served with the Ceres Police Department for over 25 years starting in 1979, working under chiefs Leroy Cunningham, Pete Peterson and Art de Werk.

• Patricia Correia, who helped husband Frank run Correia’s Jewelers, which operated on Fourth Street in Ceres from 1973 to 2012, died Oct. 16.

• Rocky Fisher, a fixture behind the barbecue grill at countless Ceres Lions Club and community events over several decades and whose service earned him the 2014 “Ceres Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award,” died Nov. 8.


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