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The year of 2017 was a potent confluence of fire and rain, achievement and failure, upheaval sprung from the country’s highest office and heart-wrenching drama emanating from courtrooms seeking truth on behalf of two young women who died far too young. We were flabbergasted by the high cost of housing, and by the prospect that a 10-year-old boy could jump on a water slide in May and still be suffering, six months later, from terrifying nightmares as he tries to fall asleep at night.
A review of my top 10 stories is not the faint of heart. Then again, neither was the year itself.
1. Wine Country wildfires. The weather in the North Bay was warm and gusty the evening of Oct. 8. The first 911 calls reporting a raging firestorm came in shortly before 10 p.m. Multiple fires spread throughout Sonoma and Napa counties with ruthless speed and intensity. Residents in Sonoma and Napa counties fled their homes, many so quickly that they left everything behind. Not everyone made it to safety.
The Wine Country wildfires killed 44 people, making them the deadliest in state history, and generated insurance claims in excess of $9 billion. The fires roared through neighborhoods thought to be low risk for such devastation and torched 245,000 acres, including some of the region’s signature vineyards and wineries. Though the cause of the inferno has yet to be determined, witnesses saw downed PG&E power lines start fires. The utility, which estimated it would cost up to $200 million to restore service to affected areas, could be on the hook for untold millions of dollars in liability.
2. #metoo. Bombshell reports in the New York Times and The New Yorker published in October described decades-long sexual misconduct and sexual assault on the part of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Though Weinstein, 65, has denied all accusations, the articles emboldened dozens of women to come forward with their own allegations against the co-founder of the entertainment company Miramax. Those allegations turned into a movement, #metoo, in which women and men detailed harassment and abuse at the hands of elected officials (Minnesota Sen. Al Franken), actors (Kevin Spacey), entertainers (Louis CK) and prominent media figures (Matt Lauer). Three women who charged President Donald Trump with sexual assault during the 2016 presidential campaign held a news conference to reiterate their assertions.
The tech sector wasn’t spared the ignominy. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick resigned in June after an Uber employee accused management of failing to take action on her harassment complaints. Steve Jurvetson, a one-time Venture Capitalist of the Year, resigned his post at Draper Fisher Jurvetson after an internal investigation of sexual misconduct accusations. Blogger and former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble apologized for making unwanted advances on a journalist at a 2010 tech retreat. It’s no wonder that Time magazine honored “Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year.
3. The President and the Resistance. There was no escaping Donald Trump in 2017. Whether it was something he did, or he said, or he tweeted, he was a day-to-day presence outsized even by presidential standards. Barely a week into office, he issued an executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. The order created confusion and chaos in the nation’s airports, amplified by impromptu protests. Courts in five states blocked the order, touching off an extended legal battle. Protests were a feature of Trump’s first year in office. More than 1 million women worldwide marched against the president the day after his inauguration in protest of his stance on women’s rights and what they perceived to be his sexist demeanor. There were six marches in the Bay Area alone.
Berkeley was a hotbed of contention that featured violent skirmishes, including a Patriot Day event organized by Trump supporters who were met by counter-protesters. More than 20 arrests were made and 17 people were hospitalized. Two conservative provocateurs, Milo Yiannopoulos and Anne Coulter, were compelled to cancel appearances at UC Berkeley because of protesters, or the threat of protesters. Nationally, in August there was a clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and counter protesters in which a young woman was killed when one man with neo-Nazi leanings deliberately drove into a crowd. Trump drew widespread criticism for condemning the violence “on many sides” rather than singling out the white nationalists. Trump led an unsuccessful effort to repeal Obamacare as millions of Californians watched and waited to see if they would be able to retain their health care. In December, he finally got a legislative “win” with the passage of a tax reform bill that some analysts predicted would hit Californians especially hard.
4. Housing prices. In September, as if to lampoon runaway housing prices in Silicon Valley, a buyer purchased a four-bed, two-bath Sunnyvale house for $2,470,000 — $785,000 over the asking price. The stunning gambit highlighted the Apple-ization of the South Bay, a condition in which well-heeled tech workers drive up home prices while others endure super-commutes or reside in RVs parked on city streets.
Even more stunning, the over-the-top bid for the Sunnyvale house — which received more than 20 offers — “wasn’t an outlier,” according to the real estate agent who represented the sellers. Moreover, it was one of 50 South Bay homes that sold in August for at least $200,000 above asking. No surprise, then, in November it was reported that the median sales price of a single-family house in the Bay Area rose 12.5 percent year over year.
5. Dub Dynasty. The Golden State Warriors won their second NBA championship in three seasons, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the Finals. They were a tour de force in the postseason, winning 16 of 17 games with prized offseason free agent acquisition Kevin Durant at the top of his game and despite the fragile health of coach Steve Kerr. Ongoing issues related to back surgery forced Kerr to turn over the head coaching duties to assistant Mike Brown for 11 postseason games.
Buoyed by their success, the Warriors transcended basketball into the realm of pop culture figures, with guard Stephen Curry golfing in high-profile tournaments, the team visiting China on a goodwill trip that included two preseason games, and Kerr and some players addressing social and political topics. In fact, the team was about to decide whether to visit the White House, as is customary for championship teams, when President Trump made the decision for it in a tweet: “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
6. Drought to deluge. Bay Area residents were treated to an unfamiliar sound in early 2017: the sound of rain drops going pitty-pat on their roofs and windows. California went from its worst drought since 1850 to its second-wettest year — 30.75 inches of rain — since record-keeping began in 1895. The good news was that the deluge convinced Gov. Jerry Brown to rescind his emergency drought declaration. The bad news was the damage it caused: uprooted trees, downed power lines and floods.
In February, Coyote Creek topped its banks, creating the worst flooding in San Jose in decades and forcing 14,000 people to evacuate their homes. In Butte County, the Oroville Dam spillway eroded, and officials released water from Lake Oroville to stem the damage. Concerned about a potential breach of the dam, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea ordered the evacuation of 100,000 residents. “It wasn’t a decision I made lightly,” he said.
7. The Steinle case. In December, a San Francisco jury found an undocumented immigrant not guilty in the 2015 shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle as she walked along Pier 14 with her father. The defense attorney for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, who had been deported five times, argued at trial that the shooting — Zarate was using a gun he said he found beneath a bench on the pier — was accidental. The firearm was traced to a Bureau of Land Management Ranger who said it was stolen from his vehicle.
The surprising verdict splashed accelerant on the already-incendiary debate over immigration policy. Within minutes of the verdict, President Trump tweeted, “No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration.”
A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2017
Attorney General Jeff Sessions leveled harsh criticism against sanctuary cities such as San Francisco. While the verdict concluded the trial, there was no closure for Steinle’s family. Said her father, in whose arms his daughter died, “You just relive this, day after day.”
8. Justice for Sierra LaMar. In December, Antolin Garcia-Torres was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2012 murder of Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar, 15. Sierra went missing after leaving home for school on March 16, 2012; her body has never been found. Hundreds of volunteers participated in dozens of searches for the missing girl. A Facebook page called Help Find Sierra LaMar attracted more than 3,500 “likes.” A $35,000 reward was offered for information leading to her return.
Garcia-Torres had been convicted of first-degree murder in May by a San Jose jury that was presented evidence of his DNA on the clothing LaMar was wearing the day she went missing, and the girl’s DNA in his car. The same jury rejected the death penalty for Garcia-Torres. Garcia-Torres did not respond when LaMar’s mother asked him to divulge the whereabouts of her daughter.
9. The A’s stadium hunt. The Warriors broke ground on their new San Francisco home in January. The Raiders made official their (latest) exit from Oakland in 2017 with a March vote of NFL owners approving their long-anticipated move to Las Vegas. But it looked as if the A’s were going to be the one team that returned Oakland’s love. New president Dave Kaval was everywhere, personally removing the tarps that had covered the Coliseum’s upper deck for more than a decade, engaging the fans, and promising to identify a site for a new ballpark before the end of the year.
Which he did. In September, Kaval announced the A’s would build a ballpark across the street from Laney College. Alas, Kaval was unable to close the deal. Business owners and residents proximate to the ballpark site raised objections, and in December the Peralta Community College District, which owns the property on which the A’s wished to build, decided to discontinue talks with the team. The Coliseum land may be the only live possibility left, but the team seems dead-set against it.
10. Dublin water slide. In May, during the grand opening of Dublin’s $43 million water park, a 10-year-old boy speeding along the bottom straightaway of a three-story slide called the Emerald Plunge hydroplaned up the half pipe and was ejected onto the cement –- a horrifying event that was filmed by a Bay Area News Group photographer.
A park spokesman said the boy was “just shaken up” and that his parents did not request an ambulance, opting instead to have their son “checked out.”
That optimistic assessment was belied by the park’s administrators, who shut down the slide and two others. And it was decried by the boy’s parents who in November filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against the city of Dublin, the water park, the manufacturers of the slide and the contractors and subcontractors who installed the slide. The parents said their son is “recovering” and that some nights when he is falling asleep, he sees himself falling from the top of the slide.
Published at Sun, 31 Dec 2017 14:00:00 +0000