Hesperia weathered another tough economic year in 2011, with the city's primary industry new home construction remaining dormant. The recession also meant hard choices for local government agencies and, in some cases, fiery conflicts as a result. But there were bright spots, including work on the long-awaited and long-ago paid-for Ranchero Road Underpass finally breaking ground in 2011.



January


Debate over protections afforded to owners of service animals consumed much of the Hesperia City Council's attention. Federal guidelines were scheduled to limit the definition of service animals to just dogs, for the most part, and residents petitioned the council to have a more expansive local definition.


A proposed budget-cutting measure by Gov. Jerry Brown puts redevelopment agencies like Hesperia's in Sacramento's crosshairs.


Following the death of his last attorney, California Charter Academy founder C. Steven Cox gets new representation: an attorney who not only wants to dig into the tens of thousands of pages of documents the prosecution has turned over he wants even more.


Steve Higgins is so new to his job as captain of the Hesperia station of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, his name isn't on the door yet. Although Higgins has been in charge as of Jan. 1, he's only been a captain at all for about 14 months, most recently as the man in charge of the Adelanto/Victor Valley sheriff's station.


Hesperia residents could be forgiven if they doubt their eyes: Years after the promised 2007 opening of a Walmart Supercenter at the corner of Main and Escondido, construction work is at last underway at the site. City Manager Mike Podegracz mentioned the work at a meeting of the Hesperia City Council, noting that the Joshua trees being moved off-site would be followed by actual grading soon. The company had delayed construction to wait out the recession.


At a Jan. 24 meeting of the Hesperia Unified School District school board, Superintendent Mark McKinney an-nounced he had not done enough to "share the pain" when salary and benefits were cut last year for district employees. "I'm asking the board to open up negotiations on my contract and looking at some sort of salary/compensation reduction," McKinney said. "Do furlough days or whatever we can do together. ... I need to set the example."



February


The Hesperia Recreation and Park District, which hosted the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo each June for the last 12 years, issued a release stating that the rodeo was canceled as it was no longer "cost-effective."


Hesperia residents got multiple opportunities this year to shape the future of the Hesperia Golf & Country Club. In the spring, the public were invited to workshops asking for input on the course's future, along with a survey on the city's website.



March


Well-to-do immigrants seeking to come to America might soon be invest-ing in California companies in return for a green card, thanks to a potential new Hesperia business. Linda Chen-Liu from American Franchise Regional Center spoke to the Hesperia City Council, seeking the council's blessing for their venture. Under the EB-5 visa program for immigrant investors, foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 into American businesses and create at least 10 jobs can get a green card in return.


The American with Disabilities Act became more restrictive in its definition of service animals, but the changes won't apply in Hesperia: The Hesperia City Council voted to allow any sort of service animal to be used by the disabled in Hesperia public buildings and businesses, so long as they're accompanied by a doctor's note certifying their status as service animals.


Hesperia Recreation and Park District General Manager Cal Camara announced he planned to retire in June, after 25 years on the job.


The Hesperia Unified School District board approved a list of 42 potential cuts for the 2011-2012 school year. But on March 9, Superintendent Mark McKinney, who runs the Victor Valley's single largest employer, said only 24 teachers would end up receiving pink slips.


The city's lone Albertsons grocery store was sold to Stater Bros. in March and was shut down in May.



April


For the last quarter century, Cal Camara has overseen the development of numerous park facilities. But the grand opening of soccer fields at Maple Park could hold the most meaning for the Hesperia Recreation and Park District administrator. "This may be my last grand opening, at least for a while," said Camara, who would retire on June 30.


Hesperia Unified Superintendent Mark McKinney covered up illegal activity, according to the chief of the district school police. Chief Mike Graham made the accusation at a school board meeting at Sultana High School.


Despite early morning frost, fortune seemed to be with the Hesperia Relay for Life as the eighth annual event kicked off with sunny skies, a record number of teams and plenty of enthusiasm and hope.


Spc. Adrian Perez is awarded the Purple Heart after an Improvised Explosive Device explodes under his Humvee in the Wardak province of Afghanistan.


The Hesperia Planning Commission requests more information on how marijuana collectives operate in the state. The medical marijuana issue would resurface numerous times for the commission and city council in 2011.


Hesperia Unified announces plans to charge busing fees for the 2011-12 school year to defray costs and absorb an expected cut to transportation funding from the state.



May


The school board lays off a total of 36 employees.


The school district announces plans to shuffle principals between several sites in the coming school year, in an effort to bring new thinking to schools that could use a boost. Parents at Cypress School of the Arts vehemently object to the loss of Principal Scott Sheffield.


The planning commission gives the thumbs-up to a planned movie theater adjacent to Hesperia Civic Plaza Park. Some residents object when they learn the theater owners plan to serve alcohol alongside more traditional theater refreshments.


After decades of using a single space as both a gymnasium and cafeteria, the school board votes to approve a plan to build a separate gymnasium at Hesperia Junior High School.


Longtime community activist Margaret Zank dies at 87.



June


The city's high schools graduate the class of 2011. It's the first graduating class for Oak Hills High School.


The school district's investigation into possible interference by Superintendent Mark McKinney in a school police in-vestigation officially ends, al-though the issue would continue to simmer and bubble up throughout the rest of the year.


Citing a drop in property tax revenue, which funds the Hesperia Fire District, city officials warn they may cut back on fire service. Instead, the city council votes to put a parcel tax referendum on the November ballot to fund fire service at the current level.


Sever-al years after the plans had started working their way through the federal and state bureaucracy, the city clears the final hurdles for the Ranchero Road Underpass project. Hesperia Star Editor Peter Day publicly expresses skepticism that the project is really happening. His editorial hits the street hours before the city announces they will be breaking ground in August.



July


Angry residents scold the city at a series of meetings to determine the future of the Hesperia golf course for calling the course's future into question at all.


A private investigator's report is delivered to the Hesperia Unified School District, and published following a California Public Records Act request by the Hesperia Star, which corroborates many of the charges made by school police chief Mike Graham against Superintendent Mark McKinney.


David Robinson, a retired police officer living in Oak Hills, wins $2 million with a California Lottery scratch-off ticket.



August


Hesperia Unified suspends school police Chief Mike Graham.


The city of Hesperia pays a "ransom" to the state of California to keep the Hesperia Redevelopment Agency from shutting down.


Former Hesperia Chamber of Commerce President Mark Lawson dies.


After 38 years on the job, Ann Marie Wentworth steps down as Hesperia's head librarian.


The Hesperia Star's longest-serving employee, Editor Peter Day, leaves the paper.


The city breaks ground on the Ranchero Road Underpass. City officials poke fun at the public's skepticism by putting winged pigs on the invitations to the event.


September


The San Bernardino County District Attorney's office announces that it will not pursue criminal charges against Hesperia Unified Superintendent Mark McKinney.


Record numbers of participants run, walk and skate in the annual Hesperia Days 5k race.



October


The city announces it has cleaned up 3,500 incidents of graffiti since July 1.


Community activist and prominent member of the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce Gil Zank dies at 89, five months after his wife.


The Hesperia City Council gives a thumbs-down to granting business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries. The city lacks the legal authority and manpower to actually shut them down, however.


The Hesperia Star's Hot Off the Presses Chili wins 3rd place in the People's Choice competition two weekends in a row, at both the Boulder Creek Ranch Harvest Festival chili cook off and at the Happy Trails Chili Cook Off in Apple Valley. It's the Star's first-ever wins for their chili. (The Star won an award for Best Booth at the 2010 Happy Trails cook off.)



November


Opponents and supporters of Measure F, a proposed $85 parcel tax to fund the Hesperia Fire District, spent more than $25,000 advocating their views leading up to the Nov. 8 vote.


Measure F goes down hard, with more than 80 percent of Hesperia voters rejecting it. Statewide, more than half of proposed bond measures and taxes are approved, and none is rejected more soundly than Hesperians did.


City Manager Mike Pode-gracz, working with fire officials, decides to close Fire Station 301 on 11th Avenue.


The City of Hesp-eria joins Facebook.



December


Councilman Russ Blewett is chosen mayor. The decision made him one of a handful of California politicians to ever serve as the mayor of two cities, having served as mayor of Baldwin Park in the 1970s.


School board president Chris Bentley is chosen to serve a second term.


The Hesperia City Council approves trash rate changes for 2012.


Longtime sheriff's department spokeswoman Roxanne Walker retires after 32 years on the job.


Chief Mike Graham insists that the Hesperia Unified School District hold his termination hearing in public, which they do during the last week of the year.