2012 news in review

January 2, 2013 

Here's a review of news that made Sierra Star headlines in 2012:


At a Golden Chain Theatre's awards show, Debbie Davis won the Hall of Fame award. The 2011 Best Leading Actor award went to Devin Faucette; Best Leading Actress was presented to Pamela Rank and Bree Stephens; Best Supporting Actor went to Bobby Woods; and Best Supporting Actress went to Jennifer Piccolotti.

Mary Lou Finley stepped down after seven years as president of the Golden Chain Theatre and Jennifer Piccolotti was named the new president.

Yosemite Unified Superintendent Steve Raupp announces his retirement after 34 years with the district.

Following a Dec. 3 tribal council election that elected four tribal members, all against recent disenrollments at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, letters are sent by a loser of the election, chairman Reggie Lewis, to the winners stating they are to be stripped of all tribal benefits, excluded from meetings, and forced to pay expenses for the disruption of a Dec. 26 heated tribal meeting. Many tribal members at that meeting expressed frustration that their new elected leaders were not being seated. The letters signed by Lewis to the winners state they violated a "non-violence ordinance" at the Dec. 26 meeting. Madera County Sheriff deputies were present at the controversial meeting to ensure the peace was kept, and reported seeing no violence warranting detention, only some pushing and shoving by some individuals.

Roger Schneider and Rima Runtzel were honored by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce as Man and Woman of the Year. Pacific Pectin was named Business of the Year and Sandy Brinley was named Volunteer of the Year.

On Jan. 10, the Madera County Board of Supervisors votes 4-1 in favor of supporting the proposed North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians off-reservation casino on Highway 99 just north of Madera.

Vince and Ginny Smith were named the 2011 North Fork Citizens of the Year for their work with the North Fork History Group.


Yosemite High School wins the 30th Annual Madera County Academic Decathlon.

Sierra Star reporter Carmen George wins a McClatchy President's Award, first place for news reporting, in the annual community newspaper competition, designed to recognize the best journalism of The McClatchy Company's 44 non-daily papers nationwide for her Sept. 29, 2011 story titled "Chukchansi issues disenrollment letters."

Chukchansi removes 70 more tribal members listed on the original "600 list," part of the tribe's original base roll.

After four tribal council members who won the Dec. 3 election tribal council election were not allowed to be seated at the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, many tribal members looked to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help uphold the election results. Troy Burdick, superintendent of BIA's Central California Agency, said "there is no plan for any action to be taken by BIA" and that the Chukchansi people "should be able to work it out."

Almost 300 boxes of food are given away in Oakhurst thanks to Reuben Bajo of Christ is Lord Food Bank.

Madera County District 2 Supervisor Frank Bigelow announces his 5th district assembly bid.

Glacier High School sophomore Michelle Linn wins the Sixth Annual Poetry Out Loud Competition.

Madera County District 3 Supervisor Ronn Dominici announces his retirement after 11 years as supervisor.

Oakhurst celebrates its centennial Feb. 28 with an event at the Golden Chain Theatre. Originally known as Fresno Flats, the town's name was changed to Oakhurst Feb. 28, 1912. At the event, Maryalice Kaloostian, district director for Senator Tom Berryhill, presents Sierra Historic Sites Association past president Rusty Murphy with a California legislature Resolution in honor of Oakhurst's centennial.

Madera Superior Court Judge James Oakley rules in favor of Yosemite Unified School District's attempts to stop Chawanakee Unified School District from enrolling students from YUSD without using proper California Education Code criteria and gives them specific rules to follow.

With the tribe of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians still split after four tribal members elected Dec. 3 were not seated by those who remained in power, a group of tribal members break into the tribe's empty tribal offices early Monday morning, Feb. 27, in an attempt occupy the offices and seat those elected Dec. 3, after attempts to get Bureau of Indian Affairs involved had failed. During the night, members from the opposing faction spray bear mace through the windows of the office, cut the electricity and power, and reportedly threw in burning logs and a brick. The next morning, a melee erupts outside the offices between the two factions, resulting in a stabbing. More than 100 law enforcement officials respond to restore the peace.


A new tribal council election is held March 10 at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, won by Reggie Lewis, who lost the Dec. 3 election. None of the four winners of the December election, who were also never seated, are allowed to run in the new election. Letters are given to many tribal members when they try to vote March 10, stating they can not be on the premises for alleged involvement in the Feb. 27 and 28 occupation of the tribal offices. The letters also keep them from being able to attend the tribe's general council meeting March 10, where members received $1,000 checks for attending by the council led by Lewis and many new resolutions were passed, including the authorization to establish a tribal court. Members also vote to legitimize the existing council, authorizing them to sign-off on a restructure of the tribe's casino debt. One man is arrested for trespassing while waiting for the director of security to bring him his letter stating he could not be on the premises.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors pass a medical marijuana ordinance, but make some amendments.

Rivergold Elementary wins the county eighth grade academic pentathlon.

Grand Night of the Arts' scholarship fundraiser held at the Golden Chain Theatre raises $5,000 for students pursing a college degree in the arts.

Robert Vannata of Mariposa was awarded the American Red Cross Central Valley Chapter "Adult Good Samaritan Hero" award for pulling a mother and her two young daughters out of their vehicle June 22, 2011 before it burst into flames following a head-on collision on Highway 41 near Road 200.


Minarets High School holds an open house/grand opening for its new agriculture farm featuring a large barn and green house.

Construction is set to begin on a $900,000 North Fork fire station following a groundbreaking.

John and Linda Crippen are named the 2012 Raymond Parade Grand Marshals.

North Fork Elementary is named one of the 2011-2012 California Title I Academic Achievement Award Schools.

The Honorary Mayor Race begins with candidates Jarrod Lyman, representing the Children's Museum of the Sierra, John K. Burton, representing the Eastern Madera County SPCA, and Steven Jacobs, representing the Wild Wonderful King Vintage Museum.

Chawanakee Unified School District announces new superintendent Robert Nelson following Stephen Foster's retirement.

The 27th Annual Elegant Auction at Tenaya Lodge raises $35,000 to benefit the Oakhurst Community Park.


Rachel Boswell is named the 2012 Coarsegold Rodeo grand marshal.

Oakhurst receives almost $4 million from USDA Rural Development to increase the capacity of the Oakhurst sewer plant.

Chukchansi's $1 million community grants are announced. Nine of the 24 grants benefit Mountain Area organizations.

The Coarsegold Rodeo celebrates its 60th anniversary. Samantha Shier, 24, of Fresno, was named the 2012 Coarsegold Rodeo Queen.

Darin Soukup is named new Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce director.

The Sierra Star receives eight first and second place newspaper awards including the General Excellence award -- recognizing the overall best small paper in the state -- in the California Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the California Newspaper Publisher's Association.

Chukchansi tribal members Karen Wynn and Tracey Brechbuehl are appointed May 17 to fill the tribal council seats of Morris Reid and Dora Jones, who were elected Dec. 3 but never allowed to be seated.

YHS seniors are awarded $130,000 at Community Awards from Mountain Area clubs and organizations.

The Mountain Area community raises $63,000 for cancer research at the Relay for Life event held at Wasuma Elementary School.

Sheriff John Anderson unveils anti-bullying campaign to all elementary and middle schools in the county. The program was made possible by a $38,000 community grant from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians.

Friends of FFA raise $15,000 for the program at YHS fundraiser.

Sheriff John Anderson releases State of the Department report that shows increase in burglaries by 44% in the county in 2011.

The Amgen Tour of California bicycle race passes through Oakhurst with 123 world-class cyclists participating.

Shanin Path, 42, is discovered near the intersection of Bass Lake Road (222) and Road 274 and transported to Community Regional Medical Center and is listed in critical condition. The incident is listed as an assault and an investigation ensues.

Minarets High School holds its first senior scholarship night. Clubs and organizations give out 60 scholarships equaling $36,500 to seniors during the event.

Fresno Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith orders Harry Baker to be bound over for trial and sets arraignment date.

The Merced River Plan raises some concerns for tourism leaders. Some of the plan's options call for removal of Yosemite Lodge and the Wawona golf course, prohibiting commercial rafting and putting a cap on Yosemite visitors during peak summer months. Max Stauffer, president of the Yosemite Sierra Visitor's Bureau in Oakhurst and the bureau's staff gather more than 300 online petition signatures to oppose some of the alternatives.


Yosemite High holds its 35th graduation June 1.

Illegal marijuana grow discovered near Raymond. One Mexican national was arrested and two firearms and 348 marijuana plants were seized by law enforcement officials.

Republicans Frank Bigelow and Rico Oller advance to the Nov. 6 election for the District 5 Assembly seat.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation names three Yosemite National Park bridges to America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.

Minarets High School holds its first official graduating class of 62 students on campus.

Bass Lake Elementary School property, along with Mountain Home School Charter campus in Oakhurst, go up for sale as a response to state cuts to education.

Children's Museum of the Sierra changes leadership after founder Jean Hand retires and Steve Montalto is named new director. The museum also celebrates its 15th anniversary.

Jim Sargent becomes new Yosemite Unified School District superintendent.

A 135-foot tall Verizon Wireless cell phone tower for North Fork is approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

High concentrations of arsenic and uranium are found in ground water according to report by the U.S. Geological Survey prepared in collaboration with California State Water Resources.

The 13th Annual Rib Fest raises $14,500 for the Oakhurst Community Center. Winner of "Best Ribs" is the Elks Lodge #2724.

Old Oakhurst Elementary School buildings are torn down and new modular buildings take their place thanks to a bond received by the Bass Lake Joint Union School District in 2006.

The Madera County budget is under development with hearings set to begin Aug. 14 with a projected deficit of $8 million.


Eastern Madera County SPCA announces it will go to the county soon to request a permit to build their planned 8,000-square-foot no-kill animal shelter in Ahwahnee, and they have raised enough to cover immediate infrastructure. $950,000 is still needed to build the structure.

Flint Tompkins, a retired counselor and recovery pastor at Sierra Pines Church, begins a new "park watchdog" program at Oakhurst Community Park in response to concerns about unlawful drinking, loitering and violence in the park.

Sierra Telephone wins two first place Indy Awards from the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Tele-communication Companies.

The 53rd North Fork Logger's Jamboree crowns Tom Martin as the All Around Champion Logger, and Crystal Piotrowski as Logger's Jamboree queen.

Two Mountain Area women, Channa Hammond and Jessica Tancredi, are arrested after allegedly attempting to carjack a Japanese tourist July 5 in the McDonald's parking lot. Oakhurst resident Nathaniel Chase sees the carjacking and takes a gun and screwdriver away from the women. The tourist and Chase received no serious injuries.

The Ramirez family of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians hold a press conference about a lawsuit they filed against the United States government in June, alleging they are the only individuals who should have been given authority decades ago to organize the tribe and establish its leadership.

Yosemite National Park awards grants to gateway communities in an effort to reduce congestion in Yosemite Valley during peak summer days. The Yosemite Sierra Visitor's Bureau in Oakhurst received $19,600 to help promote the area -- allowing them to buy a digital sign and print handouts about other recreational opportunities outside Yosemite.

John Burton, representing Eastern Madera County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, wins the Oakhurst Honorary Mayor contest.

Law enforcement agents take part in a 24-hour marijuana eradication July 16 and 17, destroying 20,000 plants from five large marijuana gardens in Eastern Madera County, located near Lewis Creek north of Oakhurst, Bass Lake, Ahwahnee, North Fork, and near Mammoth Pool.

The Madera County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) adopted the Oakhurst Area Municipal Services Review July 24, a report that can serve as a resource for individuals interested in reorganizing the districts.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors voted to approve an agreement between Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park and Yosemite Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council for management services of the 241-acre park, to be funded through a California State Parks and Recreation grant.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors vote 3-2 to allow Madera County Transportation Commission staff to begin public outreach in Eastern Madera County for a proposed public transit service from Fresno to Yosemite -- a project being pushed by Fresno Council of Governments. In May, Fresno COG approved $15,000 for public outreach in the Mountain Area.


Jack Gyer, founder of the Sierra Star and a longtime civic leader, dies Aug. 1 in Fresno at the age of 97.

Tribal disenrollments continue at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians. Almost eight months after their disenrollment hearing, a Chukchansi family is notified they are no longer members of the tribe.

Fish and Game says they are planning to restock Bass Lake with fish in response to concerns from some area fisherman that the dam retrofit project is affecting their catch.

The first of more than 825,000 "fire tax" bills are mailed out -- charging up to $150 per inhabitable structure to homeowners in rural areas.

Madera County Sheriff deputies respond to a bomb threat Aug. 14 at the Madera County Superior Court - Sierra Division, in Bass Lake. An ignited barbecue-sized propane tank blows up one of the doors.

A new school year begins. Oakhurst Elementary School opens the doors to new classrooms, a $12 million project renovation, three years in the making. Kirk Huckabone, principal at Wasuma Elementary School, takes a new position as school director in Santa Clarita and Superintendent Glenn Reid fills in as principal as a replacement is sought.

The Madera County Board of Supervisors vote 3-2 to pass a new budget after three-days of hearings Aug. 16. The supervisors faced a $6.2 million shortfall for the 2012-13 fiscal year beginning July 1, and plan more layoffs.

Carl and Frances Metzler were named Volunteers of the Year by Sierra Historic Sites Association for their service at Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park.

Two of four people affected by Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, contracted while camping in Yosemite's Curry Village, die. On Aug. 28, Yosemite closes their Curry Village tent cabins indefinitely.

A group of tribal members protest suspension hearings at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians Aug. 28 by holding signs along Picayune Road (417) across from Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino. An estimated 10 people had hearings scheduled Aug. 28 tacking on additional penalties for alleged involvement in a February tribal office occupation to seat their elected leaders, all against recent tribal disenrollments.

Cedar Valley Volunteer Fire Department celebrates its 40th anniversary.


Hantavirus exposure numbers in Yosemite National Park jumps to at least 10 people exposed, with three deaths.

Governor Jerry Brown approves the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians plans to build a multi-million dollar casino on Highway 99, north of Madera near Ave. 17.

Sierra Telephone holds its annual Patriot Day event Sept. 11 to show appreciation for veterans, active duty military, and to honor those killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Law enforcement agents arrest three men Sept. 5 and seize nearly 3,000 marijuana plants worth more than $14 million from a grow site in Raymond.

Republican Congressman Tom McClintock speaks in Oakhurst and Coarsegold Sept. 6 prior to the November election.

Mountain Heritage Days festivities Sept. 15, including the annual parade, is themed around the 100th anniversary of the town's name change from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst.

A Madera County Sheriff's deputy is criticized for shooting a 7-month-old pet goat Sept. 3 in Yosemite Lakes Park.

Deborah Brown, Yosemite High School Social Science chair, was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

Nathaniel Chase, 22, is honored as county "Hero of the Year" for stopping an attempted carjacking in Oakhurst July 5.

Yosemite Unified School District names Yosemite High School's football field "Raupp Field" Sept. 21, in honor of its recently retired Superintendent Steve Raupp.


The 10th annual Sierra Art Trails is held from Oct. 5 to 7, featuring more than a hundred area artists.

Jack Uppal, the democratic candidate running for the U.S. House of Representatives' Fourth Congressional District, talks Oct. 10 in Oakhurst.

The 20th Annual Oakhurst Fall Festival, sponsored by the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, is held Oct. 13 and 14 in Oakhurst Community Park.

Yosemite High School names Blackhawk Sauceda and Sydney Lorenzana homecoming king and queen Oct. 12.

The Manna House, the Mountain Area's emergency food and clothing shelter in Oakhurst, celebrates 30 years of operation and its one-year anniversary at its new location on Junction Drive. In 2011, the Manna House served about 27,600 people in Eastern Madera County.

Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District selects Stella Pizelo and Ronda Clarke as two new school board members.

Chawanakee Unified School District breaks ground for a $4.2 million new ag building at Minarets High School, scheduled to open June, 2013.

Holly Baker is selected as the new postmaster of the Oakhurst Post Office.

At Supervisor Tom Wheeler's Town Hall meeting Oct. 25, Wheeler says the county is considering the sale of the county's water districts to a private company, and that more progress should soon be made in fixing Coarsegold's large eroding retaining wall between Highway 41 and 2T's Mini Storage.

The Minarets Parliamentary Procedure team wins the FFA championship in Indianapolis Oct. 26.

The 15th Annual Tarantula Festival is held Oct. 27 in the Coarsegold Historic Village.


The Met Cinema movie theater in Oakhurst closes unexpectedly Nov. 1.

The Mountain Bear Fan Club holds its 17th Annual Angels Amongst Us Awards Dinner Nov. 4. Bruce Derry was named Man of the Year for his work as an instructor with the Yosemite High School Cadet Corps and Diane Boland, owner of Coarsegold Historic Village, was named Business of the Year.

On Nov. 5, the Madera County Board of Supervisors approved the revised Environmental Impact Report for the 1,656-acre, 5,190-home planned community, "Tesoro Viejo," east of Highway 41, three miles north of Ave. 12.

Oakhurst attorney David Linn retires as chairman of the Oakhurst Community Park Committee, and president of the Oakhurst Community Fund, after 28 years.

Richard Pastoria was named the new director of the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst Nov. 5.

Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow is elected as the new District 5 state assemblyman Nov. 6, along with Tom McClintock, reelected as congressman representing the U.S. House of Representatives' 4th Congressional District.

Madera County Sheriff deputies arrested Bobby Jo Heiss of Oakhurst Nov. 9 as a suspect in a rash of burglaries throughout the Mountain Area. Accomplice Christopher Edwin Wrought is sought.

The Mountain Area gets its first snow Nov. 9.

Madera County Sheriff's Office launch a new program called "Elder Orphans" to check on senior citizens living alone.

The possibility of selling the county's water district's to a private company is eliminated from discussions by the Madera County Privatization Committee, although outsourcing staff remains on the table. A grassroots community group forms to help educate themselves and the public regarding the privatization proposal, called the Community Utilities Council.

Shots are fired in downtown Oakhurst near Oakhill Cemetery and Oakhurst Library Nov. 18. An investigation continues.

The Manna House, gives out free Thanksgiving dinner fixings to more than 300 families Nov. 19.

Matt Sconce, Keith Walker and James Nelson launch a plan to save the Met Cinema in Oakhurst through a new community membership model. The trio swing a deal that gives them until Dec. 31 to raise 3,000 memberships -- the minimum needed to cover costs.

Construction on a new community room at the Oakhurst Library begins, scheduled to be completed in February, 2013.

A temporary restraining order is granted Nov. 27 for District Attorney Michael Keitz, to prevent his staff from releasing a report about how Keitz interacted with his staff. Madera County has paid $1.4 million for legal fees and settlement of employee lawsuits against Keitz and the county.

The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians files a lawsuit Nov. 30 against the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians' proposed $200 million casino and hotel project on Highway 99, claiming a state environmental review is needed because the land where construction will take place was owned by Station Casinos when the federal study was done.


The 11th Annual Christmas Tree Auction Dec. 2 in Bass Lake, put on by the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst, raises about $30,000 to benefit 22 area groups.

The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians holds their annual tribal council election Dec. 1, electing Charles "Charlie" Sargosa and Carl "Buzz" Bushman, and re-electing Nancy Ayala. The new election comes about a month after more disenrollments -- 43 tribal members from a Chukchansi allotment near Hensley Lake removed.

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is cleared by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to build its casino on Highway 99.

The City of Fresno files suit against Madera County Dec. 5 over the Environmental Impact Report for the recently approved "Tesoro Viejo" planned development, slated to be 5,190 homes on 1,656 acres in Madera County.

Yosemite Unified School District has its first visit from school officials in China for a new international student program, where students pay tuition. The district issued its first school-issued travel visa to a student from China this year.

The settlement conference phase of the Harry Baker trial Dec. 11 results in another continuance. The hearing will be held at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 24 in Department 31 of Fresno Superior Court. After Baker's settlement hearing Oct. 25 in Department 30, presided over by Judge Houry Sanderson, Sanderson recused herself from the case because she is part of a recently formed committee with Becky Gong, the prosecutor in the case.

Baker, owner of Sierra Telephone, was arrested Oct. 5, 2009, for allegedly committing a lewd act with a 13-year-old girl in May 2007. Baker has maintained his innocence since his arrest and has said he was the victim of a blackmail and extortion scheme.

Caltrans adds itself to a list of those filing lawsuits challenging Madera County's approval of the revised Environmental Impact Report for the5,190-home community, "Tesoro Viejo."

Partial privatization of the county's water districts is still being explored, with a survey scheduled to go out to residents in January with their quarterly billings, asking their satisfaction with county services to help the county decide how to proceed.

Jason Mercier is appointed as the new principal of Wasuma Elementary School after Kirk Huckabone took a new job at the beginning of the school year.

Three "community time capsules," filled with items representing Oakhurst over the past 100 years, are buried at Fresno Flats Historic Village & Park Dec. 15 in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the town's name change from Fresno Flats to Oakhurst.

The Manna House in Oakhurst gives away fixings for Christmas dinner to 275 families and hands out $25,000 in new toys -- most provided by the Eastern Madera County Toys for Tots Campaign.

Another lawsuit is filed against the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians' proposed $200 million casino and hotel project on Highway 99, by three Madera residents, the Mountain Ministerial Association and Stand Up For California, an opponent of off-reservation casinos. The suit claims federal officials overstepped their authority in granting the off-reservation construction, and that federal officials failed to consider the casino's effects on the environment and nearby residents.

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