Morgan Fire, Station 11 closing top list of 2013 stories

By Peggy Spear on December 16, 2013

As this is the last issue of the Clayton Pioneer for this calendar year, we decided to look back on the top stories that impacted our community in 2013. From fires to music to sports to theater, these issues are the ones that made residents stand up and take notice.

1) Fire on the Mountain

A scary fire sparked by a target shooter and flamed by high, hot winds raged on Mt. Diablo for three days in September, scorching 3,111 acres, causing the evacuation of 100 homes and ultimately caused $5.3 million in damage.

Still, the community support from local residents and businesses, as well as the efforts of Cal Fire, were the real story of the Morgan fire, as Clayton neighbors rallied to help those affected by evacuations and road closures, donated to Red cross efforts, and even helped find temporary homes for animals affected by the blaze.

No charges were filed against the target shooter whose sport led to the Sept. 8 blaze.

2) Station 11 closes

Fire safety has been a concern all year, as Clayton residents decried the closing of the only Contra Costa Fire Protection station in town, Station 11, in January.

The defeat of Measure Q in November 2012 led to the shuttering of four Contra Costa County stations, including No. 11. However, Fire District and county leaders scrambled to come up with a plan that would not leave Clayton area residents without services. Firefighters from Station 22 near the Crystyl Ranch housing development work out of the Clayton station during part of the district’s peak call hours of 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The Clayton station stands empty on Sundays.

3) SMD scores big with Curry Ranch purchase

In November, Save Mount Diablo announced their biggest and most expensive land acquisition in its 43-year history, with the $7.2 million purchase of the 1,100-acre Curry Canyon Ranch. The property is the “heart” of Mt. Diablo and will ultimately be transferred to the state to add to Mt. Diablo State Park.

4) Concord Pavilion reigns again

As first reported in the Clayton Pioneer, the Concord City Council has approved an agreement that continues management of the city’s performing arts amphitheater by Live Nation for the next decade.

The contract calls for the firm to produce a minimum of 75 concerts over five years, attracting minimum attendance of 3,000 over the first five years and a similar amount the next five years through 2023. The company has not exceeded a dozen shows in any of the past three years.

The agreement also calls for the reinstatement of the venue’s name as the Concord Pavilion.

5) City of Clayton buys church property for downtown development

The city of Clayton and the Clayton Community Church finalized a deal in January that both sides called a win/win when the city agreed to purchase the larger of the church’s two downtown parcels – 1.66 acres between Main Street and Clayton Road – for $1 million. They also received a first right of refusal to purchase the adjacent smaller parcel where the old Pioneer Inn houses church offices and meeting rooms.The deal will assure the future commercial development of the Town Center and allow the church to complete the purchase of a 4.5-acre building site on the hill next to Mt. Diablo Elementary School.

6) Valerie Barone selected as Concord’s City Manager

Valerie Barone, who was hired on as Concord’s assistant city manager four years ago – and had served as Interim city manager since January 2012 – was the unanimous choice of the Concord City Council to fill the top position on a permanent basis. She was officially appointed to the job April 9.

Barone worked in San Mateo County and as community development manager for the cities of Milpitas and Walnut Creek before shifting her attention to Concord, Contra Costa’s largest city, and one that has always been mired in issues of land use.

“I am very good at pulling together disparate ideas and visions, and helping develop strong plans,” Barone said.

7) Cyclist survives life-threatening crash injuries

A terrible head-on collision between a motorcycle and a Toyota Corolla on Clayton Road June 27 left the 51-year-old cyclist in critical condition and a 21-year old Clayton woman, Jessica Mercurio, facing charges for felony DUI with a penalty enhancement that could mean a state prison sentence.

The plight of the crash victim, Mark Tomaszewski, inspired local residents to send good wishes and help raise funds for medical care. Tomaszewski, an operating room technician at the Sequoia Surgical Center in Walnut Creek, suffered internal injuries, severe head injuries and multiple broken bones. He has made steady progress and is now at home, and is “humbled by all the support from the community.”

8) Masonic Temple moved

Thanks to the tireless efforts of some local historians, Concord’s once-and-future dance hall will again be open for business when the Concord Masonic Temple becomes the Concord History Museum and Resource Center sometime in the next few years.

In May, construction crews moved the 85-foot-long by 50-foot-wide temple weighing almost 300 tons, 1,200 feet to its new site across Clayton Road.

The Masonic Temple was built in 1927 by local craftsman Laurence Perry. It served as a community center, hosting both meetings and socials. From the early 1930s through the 1960s, the building was “the spot” for local dances, attracting big bands from San Francisco and Oakland, and even a 12-year-old musician named Dave Brubeck.

9) Clayton tries its hand at bocce

By next summer, Clayton’s nights will be filled with the thwack of palinos hitting bocce balls. The Clayton Business and Community Association, approved plans to help fund bocce courts at the corner of Main and Oak Streets, on property owned by the Ipsen family. Skip and Kent Ipsen and Ed Hartley shared their vision of having the organization help create four bocce courts in July, and CBCA was quick to embrace the idea of having the popular sport come to Clayton.

The ambitious plan called for CBCA to switch its tax exempt status, gain city support, and procure funding for the $250,000 project. Skip Ipsen would contribute $125,000 cash to the CBCA, while the club would agree to front the remaining $125,000.

10) Arsonists strike along Cardinet Trail

Suspects are still at large in a string of eight grassfires that were deliberately set along the Cardinet Trail in Clayton in July.

The fires were small, burning a total of no more than two acres. No homes were damaged, although several backing up to the Cardinet Trail were filled with smoke. Neighbors near the fire were out with garden hoses and chainsaws, removing low hanging branches near their properties.

According to Police Chief Chris Thorsen, the fires appear to be connected and all deliberately set.

11) Gonsalveses elected to Hall of Fame

The Clayton Valley High School Athletic Hall of Fame inducted its third class on May 18. Athletes, teams and coaches dating from the 1960s to the end of the millennium were lauded for their accomplishments on the field, court, track and pool. Yet none of the newly-enshrined Hall of Famers has had a greater impact on the school over the past four decades than Debra and Steve Gonsalves, who were 2013’s Community/Leadership honorees.

12) Live theater returns to Clayton

It was a rousing, bawdy Southern fairy tale, “The Robber Bridegroom,” that ushered live theater back to Clayton. The new Clayton Theatre Company presented the rollicking production in October to rave reviews at Endeavor Hall. The company will be holding auditions for its next Broadway-style production in January. Stay tuned!

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