The COVID-19 pandemic’s sudden impact on Elk Grove can be encapsulated in the first week of March.
On March 2, a large crowd of law enforcement officers, dignitaries, and community members gathered at a ceremony to watch Bobby Davis become the assistant police chief of the Elk Grove police. Five days later, Elk Grove Unified School District officials ordered the closure of the district’s 67 campuses after a few students were exposed to relatives who tested positive for COVID.
“Normal life” soon became a distant memory during a long year of business closures, social distancing requirements, anxiously awaited business loans, and postponed school reopenings. However, the Elk Grove community strengthened its tradition of helping those in need. Elk Grove Food Bank Services continued its work in assisting thousands of people in 2020. Annual fundraisers served meals to donors via drive-thrus.
While the pandemic continued, the election season soldiered on. Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen took on incumbent Steve Ly. She joined the race a few weeks after she publicly alleged that Ly’s associates harassed her in 2012. The City Council heard several other women claim they were also harassed by Ly’s associates or supporters, which prompted them to request a grand jury investigation.
By early November, Singh-Allen declared victory in the mayoral race, and Ly ended six years of leadership at Elk Grove City Hall.
The 2020 recession brought many changes to the Citizen’s parent company, Herburger Publications. In June, the Citizen’s Wednesday edition was canceled and the paper’s staff transferred to the company office in Galt. This move marked the first time that the Citizen staff operated outside Old Town Elk Grove in the past 111 years. They are anxious to return to Elk Grove in 2021.
Here are the events that impacted the Elk Grove community in 2020.
COVID-19 pandemic arrives in Elk Grove
Local concerns over the growing COVID-19 pandemic arose early in January when the Elk Grove city staff canceled a Lunar New Year celebration after hearing reports of COVID infections in China.
Sacramento County’s first COVID-19 casualty was reported on March 10 at a senior home in Elk Grove. By Dec. 28, the city had 6,917 confirmed cases and 69 deaths, according to the county’s public health staff.
The pandemic and the public health restrictions from state and county placed the Elk Grove community in a long year of rotating closures for businesses deemed to be “non-essential.” Restaurants were ordered to close their dining rooms again after they prepared to serve customers indoors. Fitness centers and hair salons were allowed to operate, but only outdoors in the summer heat.
Local governments also moved their meetings online and often faced technical challenges when elected officials tried to communicate with each other. Many places of worship moved their services online, while local churches such as Creekside Christian Church experimented with drive-in style services in their parking lots.
Questions remain on whether the recently introduced vaccines can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and life could return to “normal” in 2021.
Black Lives Matter demonstrations arise
Protest demonstrations were sparked nationwide and in Elk Grove after video footage of a Minneapolis police officer holding his knee on George Floyd’s neck was aired.
In June, Black Lives Matter rallies that protested police brutality were held outside Elk Grove City Hall and near the intersection of Laguna Boulevard and Bruceville Road.
Future Elk Grove mayor, Bobbie Singh-Allen joined the Laguna Boulevard gathering, and expressed her support of Black Lives Matter.
The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board passed a proclamation to honor Juneteenth, which is a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in America. CSD Director Rod Brewer, who is African American, addressed the holiday during the time of Black Lives Matter protests. He compared racism to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We talk about the coronavirus being an illness, a disease, a pandemic, but we never talked about racism and bigotry as a disease, as a mental illness that needs to be treated,” Brewer said.
EG Food Bank faces greater challenges in pandemic
Volunteers and staff at the Elk Grove Food Bank Services faced their toughest test yet in 2020 when the recession and the state’s stay-at-home restrictions led to a wave of new clients, many of whom requested food assistance for the first time in their lives.
By Christmas, the food bank announced they signed up more than 7,065 new clients in 2020.
As demand for help is expected to rise in the new year, the nonprofit is looking forward to a new facility at Kent Street. They plan to build a 9,900-square-foot warehouse as part of a complex they hope to open in October. This project is being funded by a $4 million state grant that was secured by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove.
67 Elk Grove Unified schools switch to online classes
More than 63,000 students at 67 schools in the Elks Grove Unified School District were told to stay home on March 7 after district officials announced that a few students were exposed to COVID-positive relatives.
Elk Grove Unified’s teachers, administrators, and staff then started the mammoth task of switching classes to online sessions or other forms of distance learning. In April, the district lent more than 29,000 Chromebook laptop computers to students who needed computers to access their online classes.
Elk Grove Unified’s campuses remained closed when the 2020-21 school year began that summer, due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Sacramento County. Reactions from parents, students, and trustees have been mixed on the effectiveness of educating students online. The district had to postpone plans to reopen campuses for in-person learning when COVID-19 again increased in late 2020.
Questions of how could the district safely reopen schools and how students can cope with the lack of in-person learning will remain to be asked in 2021.
Numerous local festivals canceled
The Western Festival of Elk Grove, the Strauss Festival of Elk Grove, and the Old Town Elk Grove Dickens Faire were among a slew of local festivals that were canceled in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
These cancellations began in January when the city called off the Lunar New Year celebration at the District56 center. The state’s restrictions against large public gatherings later prompted the cancelation of the 63th annual Western Festival and the Strauss Festival.
A few festivals carried on, but in dramatically reduced fashion. The Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival became a private event that only allowed growers to submit their giant pumpkins for the event’s traditional weigh-off contest. A fireworks display was still held on July 4, but the public was asked to either watch it live on television or see the show from their yards.
Videos of police conduct draw scrutiny
The conduct of two Elk Grove police officers underwent scrutiny in 2020 when footage recorded by police body cameras were released to the public.
In March, police officials announced that an officer was fired on charges of misconduct after they investigated footage of him kicking an unarmed, robbery suspect’s head while he was on the ground. The police posted the June 2019 incident’s videos on YouTube after they announced that the internal investigation was over.
Video footage of another Elk Grove police incident went viral online in September when a mother posted a 22-minute video of her confrontation with an officer at a traffic stop. The officer declined to write a traffic ticket for her 19-year-old son until more police arrived for backup. During the long standoff, both accused each other of escalating the situation. The Elk Grove police later posted the officer’s body camera footage to provide more information on why the situation occurred. The police announced that an independent entity would investigate the case.
Local sports stopped in March due to pandemic
In March, local sports teams saw their season paused when measures to slow the COVID-19 pandemic led to prep sports as well as other levels of competition being put on hold.
For teams that were in the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal basketball playoffs, such as Sheldon High School, their season was ended permanently when the CIF cancelled the remainder of winter sports playoff games, including the state basketball championships.
The spring season ended up being cancelled before it had a chance to really start in some cases, and sports fields and courts lay empty several months later when fall sports normally would take place.
The California Department of Public Health and CIF both released guidelines in December that delayed the start of any sports games or competition until Jan. 25 at the earliest, but they also noted that could change to an earlier date depending on several factors.
Singh-Allen elected as mayor; Ly denies harassment allegations
Former Elk Grove School Board Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen was elected as Elk Grove’s new mayor in November, defeating the incumbent Steve Ly.
With her victory, Singh-Allen became Elk Grove’s first directly elected woman mayor and the nation’s first directly elected Sikh woman mayor.
Singh-Allen launched her campaign last July after becoming one of several local women who alleged that they were harassed by Ly through the patriarchy of the Hmong familial clan system. Ly denied having any involvement in the alleged harassments.
The City Council members later endorsed Singh-Allen and requested that the Sacramento County Grand Jury investigate Ly.
The 38,341 votes that Singh-Allen received was the highest number of votes for a mayoral candidate in the city’s history.
City, CSD hold by-district elections
The city of Elk Grove and the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) in November held elections under the new by-district system.
In the by-district system, voters only choose among candidates running in their local districts. Candidates were previously elected by voters across the city or CSD boundaries.
Advocates of by-district elections believe this system encourages more candidates of diverse backgrounds to run in elections, since campaigns can be smaller and more affordable.
Victorious in the first by-district Elk Grove City Council elections were Darren Suen in District 1 and Kevin Spease in District 3.
In the first by-district CSD board elections last November, Orlando Fuentes, Jim Luttrell and Gil Albiani won.
Elk Grove’s mayors will continue to be elected by voters across the city.
Amazon opens Elk Grove center
Amazon, Inc. opened an 111,500-square-foot distribution center on Union Park Drive last fall. The center is designed to boost delivery speeds.
Construction on this project began in January 2020 on property that was sold by the Fite Development Company, of Sacramento, to Panattoni, a developer from Irvine, during the previous month.
In May 2020, then-Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly referred to the project as a “real win for Elk Grove” and “especially good news during these trying economic times.”
As of last month, more than 200 people were working at this facility full time, and independent contractors were involved in package deliveries from this site as part of the Amazon Flex system.