SALINAS VALLEY — The year 2021 felt like an extension of its tumultuous predecessor, as news of the region’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic carried on through the headlines each week.
However, there were other stories — some virus-related, some not — that also defined the Salinas Valley community last year.
Following is a look at a few of those stories that shaped the year 2021:
Demand for food increases
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic caused an increased need for food assistance, as evidenced by continued long lines at food distributions throughout Monterey County.
When the pandemic hit, many of the county’s 160 nonprofit organizations were forced to close, with only 60 remaining open with limited services. The need for food assistance quadrupled in the area, officials said.
As a result, Food Bank for Monterey County offered 50 food distributions per week, each of which helped 200 to 800 families. Supplies for 500 or more families continued to run out at the Soledad, Greenfield and King City food distributions, and many had to be turned away during the latter parts of distribution days.
Winter storm causes havoc
Heavy rain and gusty winds caused state and county officials to issue warnings, including for flash floods, throughout the Salinas Valley region in late January.
The rainfall led to debris flows and flash flooding in Monterey County’s 2020 wildfire burn scars from the River, Carmel and Dolan fires, as well as caused rapid ponding of water in urban and low-drainage areas. Evacuation orders were issued for those areas due to the potential for storm damage and debris flows blocking exit routes.
Mudslides were reported in the River Road area south of Salinas, as well as flooding in Chualar and Gonzales. Monterey County Regional Fire Protection District identified 20 to 25 homes and outbuildings that had minor to severe damage caused by the mud and debris flows, and one resident was injured while escaping her home.
Rally calls for sports return
A crowd of more than 100, composed of athletes, coaches and parents from schools throughout the Salinas Valley, gathered in front of Star Market in Salinas as part of a Let Them Play rally on Jan. 29.
The statewide series of rallies called for officials throughout the state to consider a safe return to high school athletics, citing data that shows youth athletic competition does not pose any significant Covid-19 risk to the participants. The Salinas group held up signs and got the attention of drivers passing by the busy intersection.
Aquarium loans freezer to Mee Memorial
Monterey Bay Aquarium loaned a freezer capable of reaching ultra-low temperatures to Mee Memorial Healthcare System in an effort to help the South Monterey County hospital administer Covid-19 vaccines in the area.
The freezer had previously been on loan to Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, but it was delivered to Mee Memorial Hospital in King City on Feb. 18 after Natividad obtained a permanent freezer. Of the two vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Mee Memorial could only carry the Moderna vaccine before due to the Pfizer doses requiring storage temperatures of minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Firefighters use new training facility
Greenfield Fire Department announced the completion of a new fire training facility and official start of service on Feb. 20.
The new facility, located in the Greenfield Public Works yard, is constructed from shipping containers in a simulation of multiple buildings, ranging from one story in height to three stories.
The metal design allows firefighters to practice entering and ventilating buildings, as well as stand up to the abuse of heavy equipment being deployed on its surface over time.
Gonzales receives national health award
The City of Gonzales was awarded a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America to develop a new program, the Healthy Gonzales Initiative.
Gonzales was one of nine U.S. cities that won 2021 Childhood Obesity Prevention and Environmental Health and Sustainability Awards.
The Healthy Gonzales Initiative is a multifaceted approach to getting local youth healthy and helps contribute to the prevention of childhood obesity by encouraging healthy eating choices and increased physical activity through various classes and workshops.
Sol Treasures announces staff, building changes
Jeff Hinderscheid became the new permanent executive director at Sol Treasures effective March 1, after a decision by the King City art center’s board to have someone on site full-time to direct staff.
Hinderscheid had been a board member prior to leaving to accept the position. He also had worked as a co-operations manager to support the past executive director, who had worked off site and part-time during the coronavirus pandemic.
The board also announced that the Broadway Street location occupied and rented by Sol Treasures for the past 13 years now belongs to the organization. Pete Anderson owned the property and made a deal with the Sol Treasures board for its purchase.
Soledad celebrates 100th birthday
Residents across Soledad celebrated the city’s 100th birthday with multiple community events on March 9.
The festivities began with a virtual community cake contest. Though three bakers participated, more than 4,000 people watched live on Facebook. The contest was followed by a community dessert grab-and-go, where 500 servings of cookies and cake were handed out.
Then the visual events kicked off with an evening parade around town, followed by the centennial fireworks to end the night. To pay tribute to the city’s history, multiple grand marshals led the parade, including some of the eldest residents, members of pioneer families and hall of famers.
The celebration continued throughout the year, culminating with the Centennial Gala on Dec. 11. Hosted inside the Soledad Community Center, the semi-formal affair included dinner and an awards ceremony, along with live music and entertainment, with more than 240 guests in attendance.
Mass vaccination clinics launch
Monterey County companies, organizations and agencies partnered to host weekly mass vaccination sites beginning in March.
Thousands of people were vaccinated at the sites, including in Salinas, King City and Greenfield. Such sites continued weekly in a large-scale effort by the county to get the essential ag labor workforce immunized, before eventually spreading out to other sectors of the population.
The mass clinic in King City on March 20 was the result of a partnership between numerous agencies, including the Grower-Shipper Association, which organized workers in need by employer. Clinica de Salud and Hartnell College’s nursing program offered personnel to administer the vaccinations, and the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds provided the area to conduct the operation.
New farmworker housing opens
New farmworker housing units opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 3 in Greenfield.
The first two buildings at the Third St. Apartments, located at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Third Street, will eventually be joined by another five as part of a campus project to provide housing to area agricultural workers. The housing area, which has two-bedroom apartments along two two-story buildings, will be able to house an estimated 240 workers in the H-2A housing program.
State prison’s South Facility to close
The South Facility at Correctional Training Facility in Soledad will close by July 2022 due to a decrease in the minimum-security inmate population, announced California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on April 13.
The Level I general population unit, also known as Facility D, has been in operation since 1946. The Soledad state prison also consists of a North Facility and Central Facility, both Level II units, which will remain in operation.
Fair Kick-Off makes adjustments
This year’s Salinas Valley Fair Kick-Off was held with virtual auctions and a drive-thru barbecue at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City.
The new format for the April 16-17 event was a Covid-era adjustment to host the normally packed in-person celebration, and a slow return to normalcy after last year’s Kick-Off was canceled a month into the pandemic closures.
Cooks with barbecues fired up numerous grills for the estimated 900 meal tickets sold. Another 100 meals were cooked up for the crew of the mass Covid-19 vaccination clinic, also operating at the fairgrounds at the same time.
Total sales from the virtual auction were more than $30,000 from 20 items. While some items could be bid on throughout the week leading up to the April 17 Kick-Off, the main auction was a virtual broadcast of a live auction.
Junior livestock auction nets nearly $1M
A total of $981,000 was raised for 415 animals at this year’s Salinas Valley Fair junior livestock auction, which took place May 8 before a small crowd of buyers as well as an online component at the fairgrounds in King City.
Still photos were displayed of each animal as well as information about the student who raised it and which 4-H or FFA club they belonged to during the event. This year’s format was a hybrid between the traditional, in-person auction of pre-pandemic years and the fully virtual auction held last year, when health restrictions prevented any live auction components.
Fair returns with modified event
Salinas Valley Fair 2021 took place with an altered format due to Covid-19 pandemic health guidelines, but it was the first time since 2019 that fair-goers were able to show animals or pick up carnival food in person.
This year’s animal judging was split into two portions. Swine were brought in May 11 and judged May 12, and then sheep, goats and beef were brought in May 14 and judged May 15.
The expanded, multi-day lineup was accompanied by a popup carnival food event, with multiple vendors selling snacks throughout each day, as well as a roster of evening movies and entertainment. This was a shift back toward an in-person fair after last year’s event had to be completely canceled due to the pandemic.
Army closes in on Net Zero goals
Fort Hunter Liggett conducted a groundbreaking ceremony May 27 to build a $21.6 million electrical microgrid, which will make it the first Army installation to achieve Net Zero for critical operations.
A microgrid is a self-contained electrical distribution system capable of operating in the absence of the utility grid. That means it will be capable of generating and distributing electricity for 14 days of energy resiliency.
The expansion allows FHL to reach its Net Zero goals by 2022.
Sidewalk art introduces safe routes for students
Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales joined the Safe Routes to School project that debuted with the upcoming school year.
In preparation, sidewalk painting was completed in the cities to mark routes for “Walking School Buses” and “Park & Walk,” two programs that were launched locally to help students find safe walking routes to schools in the fall. The project is a partnership between the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, Monterey County Health Department and local volunteers.
The stencil painting kicked off in Greenfield on June 7. More stenciling took place on June 10 in Soledad and June 11 in Gonzales.
The aim of the project is to create an experience that fosters healthy habits as well as reduce traffic around local schools.
Skate park gets facelift
Skaters, community members and local officials gathered during the June 21 ribbon cutting for the revamped King City Skate Park, which had new obstacles and lighting installed.
The ceremony coincided with International Skateboard Day and included giveaways as well as a skateboard contest hosted by Castro’s Surf N’ Turf. The skate park is located at San Antonio Park, off San Antonio Drive and Bedford Avenue.
Community center opens grandly
Soledad Parks and Recreation Department hosted a grand-opening celebration June 26 for the revamped Soledad Community Center.
Area leaders and community members alike were able to tour the new building, viewing not only the new paint job and equipment, but also learning about the new types of offerings.
One of the first visual changes noticeable on the exterior was the large letters that spelled out “Soledad Community Center” — the first time the location on Walker Drive has had signage in its 30-year existence.
Inside, the staff of 29 part-time workers and two full-time managers is working toward providing programming for all ages.
Fort Hunter Liggett changes command
In a traditional Change of Command Ceremony, Col. Charles Bell passed on command of the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett to Col. Lisa Lamb on June 30.
Bell, who held the post since June 2019, moved on to his next assignment as chief of staff for the 76th Operational Response Command in Salt Lake City, Utah. Lamb hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., and was previously stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, where she was director and secretary of the joint staff at U.S. Africa Command.
Prior to the ceremony, Bell received the Legion of Merit Award. Every two years, the formal passing of the garrison colors symbolizes the passing of the mantle of leadership and the loyalty of the soldiers and Army civilians to their new commander.
View Part II of the 2021 Year in Review here.