Merced County Times Newspaper
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Just own the night like the Fourth of July


Merced County Times Editor Jonathan Whitaker.
Merced County Times Editor Jonathan Whitaker.

During the Fourth of July holiday, they say special teams of police officers and firefighters will be patrolling Merced streets tracking down fireworks violators.

Once found, the fireworks will be confiscated and the owners will be cited. Anyone caught possessing, using or selling dangerous or illegal fireworks is subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, as well as criminal prosecution.

Well, I bet they’re gonna be busy because I’ve been watching nighttime aerial displays over my neighborhood for well over a week now.

Last year, I was curious about the illegal displays, so instead of paying for the July 4 show at Castle, I got in my car after sundown and did a loop around the area. I saw quite a few Roman candles explode over the Loughborough / Buena Vista area, the community of Winton, and all over south Merced.

However, I must say, nothing compared to the Beachwood/Franklin area. It was pretty spectacular. I was wondering: Maybe all the neighbors got together to organize their own show. Maybe they paid “a guy” to make it happen.

By the way, Fox Road was filled with parked cars as people vied for the best free viewing spot for the show at Castle.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think of my friend who lives up above in the Sierra foothills. From a vista point, what a sight the valley floor must be on the night of July 4th. Maybe that’s the best seat in the house.

Speaking of fireworks …

It was revealed at the Civic Center on Monday night that a meeting was to be held Wednesday between city officials, homeowner Jorge Garibay, and people representing the homeless community regarding ongoing issues at Stephen Leonard Park in south Merced.

I spent an eventful hour at the park last Sunday, meeting up with Monica Villa, a street resident, homeless advocate and former mayoral candidate. She was celebrating her 64th birthday.

Villa said police officers had already stopped their patrol vehicles and walked into the the park on three separate occasions that day. They also drove by the park a couple more times.

Villa blamed Garibay — who lives across from the park and has been increasingly vocal about the “illegal activities” he claims are going on. Villa told the Times on Sunday (and repeated to leaders during Monday’s City Council meeting), that Garibay was the one who has been causing problems by harassing people in the park — including children in the skateboard area.

She said Garibay calls the police constantly for no real public safety reason, and has acted with questionable behavior.

In a previous interview with the Times, Garibay said he is fed up with the trash left behind by “squatters in the park,” along with criminal behavior he has witnessed firsthand. He also showed photos as evidence.

Villa admits there are several homeless people who rest on the lawn or enjoy other aspects of the park between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. However, she says, they stay away from the playground and the splash pad area where plenty of children and their parents can be seen daily enjoying the facilities.

Villa says she’s ready to file a restraining order against Garibay. She says she and others are “sick and tired of him.”

Returning to the park after a three week hiatus to tend to out-of-town family matters, Villa admits she will probably be at the park for most of the day for the next two months. She is currently homeless, but she says she doesn’t sleep inside the park at night.

Interestingly, Villa says she has obtained a government voucher that would provide funding for housing for a one-year period. Her partner, John Michael, a.k.a. “Pyrat,” also says he has qualified for a voucher. Together, they have an amount that could get them housed in a decent place. Nevertheless, both say they haven’t been able to find an apartment, nor a landlord willing to give them a chance. Villa said her voucher application will end by mid-August.

Running for mayor

Whatever happens, Villa did confirm she will be running for mayor again in 2020.

The candidate ran against incumbent Mayor Mike Murphy in 2018, and garnered 32.15 percent of the vote — or in other words: 5,439 Merced residents who gave her the thumbs up.

“I gave Murphy a little scare there,” she said laughing. “A good run for his money. … If I pushed a little harder, you never know.”

Then Villa, who was wearing a bathing suit and a birthday crown, skipped over to the splash pad area at Stephen Leonard Park, and cooled off under the spray of water jets.

As I was leaving, a Fire Department crew and an ambulance showed up to care for an older gentleman who also hangs out all day at the park, under a tree. Villa said the man had been vomiting a lot. He was eventually carried to the ambulance and taken away, presumably to Mercy Hospital.

At the City Council meeting on Monday night, Villa said she would report back to me about what happened during the meeting Wednesday regarding Stephen Leonard Park.

Stay tuned …

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