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YEAR IN REVIEW: The Bay Area’s top news stories in 2010

By California Beat December 30, 2010 No Comments Print Share

There was no shortage of news in 2010.

The year’s events spanned the range from triumphant to tragic, from stories with eagerly anticipated endings to wholly unexpected surprises.

Beat contributors have compiled a list of the 10 stories that affected Bay Area residents the most this past year. Some of these events are certain to go into the history books, while others may fade as the years pass, but all of them deserve a second look as we reflect on the past year.

10. Banksy invades San Francisco

A renowned British graffiti artist left his calling card in San Francisco in 2010, striking six obscure locations around town and leaving behind masterpieces that still haven’t been painted over today. His identity remains a mystery, but in the art world, he’s known only as “Banksy.”

He’s a modern Magellan, visiting cities around the world to graffiti random buildings with stenciled images that frequently come with political or social messages.

9. Transbay Terminal Demolition

Commuters wait for an AC Transit bus on the bus level of the old Transbay Terminal, which closed for good August 7. (Photo by Vanessa Guerra/ CALIFORNIA BEAT)

In 2010, we said goodbye (or good riddance) to the dingy Transbay Terminal building in Downtown San Francisco. Its demolition will clear the way for a new terminal that will be built alongside a monster of a skyscraper that planners hope will be the tallest building in town.

The Beat bid the building farewell the only way we knew how: by visiting long-lost portions of the terminal — including the Greyhound packaging lair deep in the basement of the building and Cuddles, the terminal bar that greeted commuters.

8. Oakland Police Layoffs

Despite fears of rising crime, Oakland laid off 80 police officers in 2010, a budget-cutting move that the cash-starved city made to avoid fiscal insolvency. The layoffs continue to stretch policing resources thin throughout the city and have led to the elimination of community policing programs heralded by Police Chief Anthony Batts as a model for building trust and fighting crime in many crime-plagued portions of Oakland.

City residents reacted with disgust and worry when interviewed by the Beat. Many said they were taking steps themselves — including arming themselves with guns — if help did not arrive in time when they needed it.

7. Pink Saturday Shooting

The annual Pink Saturday celebration in San Francisco’s Castro District turned violent in 2010 when a shooting left a 19-year-old man dead and two bystanders wounded. The shooting occurred at the busy intersection of Castro and Market Sts., where hundreds of thousands of people were celebrating the city’s week-long Pride celebration.

The Beat provided exclusive and instantaneous coverage of the shooting, connecting the tens of thousands of people who attended the Pink Saturday celebration with information about what had happened.

6. Highway 580 Shootout

Cars backed up on Westbound Highway 580 in Downtown Oakland the morning after a nighttime shootout in July. Twitter Photo by @bjsunlove

An exchange of more than 60 rounds of gunfire between a heavily armed man and California Highway Patrol officers led to an all-day closure of Highway 580 through Oakland in mid-July. Groveland resident Byron Williams, 45, was pulled over for speeding by CHP officers near the Oakland Ave. off-ramp in the middle of the night on July 18 when he allegedly fired at officers with an arsenal of weapons loaded inside his pickup truck. CHP officers eventually wounded Williams after a gun battle that lasted more than 10 minutes.

Williams’s mother told the Beat in an interview after the shooting that her son was upset by progressive ideology and had expressed frustration with the country’s “left-wing agenda.”

5. November 2010 Elections

Political junkies got their “fix” during a whirlwind election season that saw a Democratic sweep across California — not one Republican candidate vying for a statewide office managed to win a race. California voters promoted several Bay Area political heavyweights to state government. Ex-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown was elected to an unprecedented third term as governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will become lieutenant governor and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris — the winner of one of the closest races in recent memory — will step into the attorney general’s office.

The headlines, however, focused on Brown’s GOP challenger, former eBay executive Meg Whitman, whose record-shattering campaign spending and alleged hiring of an illegal immigrant nanny caused her remarkable fall from political grace. No California gubernatorial election is complete without a sideshow by feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, and 2010′s vote was no different.

4. Proposition 8 Same-Sex Marriage in Court

A challenge in federal court to a voter-backed California initiatve that limited marriage to a man and a woman took center stage in the fight for equal rights for gays and lesbians. A San Francisco judge ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and discriminates against GLBT people. Supporters of the proposition appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel of the court heard arguments at a two-hour hearing in early December. The panel is expected to reach a decision on Prop. 8 in the new year — with the loser no doubt appealing the ruling, either to a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit or to the Supreme Court.

3. Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting Trial

Aidge Patterson and other activists with the LA Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant gather outside the Downtown Los Angeles courthouse where opening statements were held in the second-degree murder trial against Johannes Mehserle.

Headlines this summer were dominated by the continuing story of Johannes Mehserle. The former BART Police officer who shot and killed unarmed train passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a Los Angeles County jury. Mehserle was acquitted of murder, angering Grant’s family, who had hoped that the former police officer would be convicted of the greater crime. The trial was moved out of Alameda County — where the shooting happened — because of fears that an impartial jury could not be found in the Bay Area.

The Beat provided daily courtroom coverage of the trial from Los Angeles — an unprecedented task that fewer than 4 other Bay Area news organizations provided. We reported on the gripping testimony from Grant’s friends, other BART Police officers and Mehserle himself.

On verdict day, the threat of violence led Oakland business to board up windows in the downtown area. Office workers left work early, prompting a mass exodus out of the city that a Beat photographer described as resembling the response to an attack at 14th and Broadway Streets.

Mehserle would eventually be ordered to serve a minimum sentence — 2 years in state prison. With credit for time served, the former police officer is expected to be released in 2011.

2. San Francisco Giants World Series Championship

Perhaps the happiest local story of 2010 was the remarkable saga of the group of “misfits” who brought home San Francisco’s first ever World Series title. If there was a television inside a San Francisco bar, restaurant or club, chances were pretty good that it was tuned to a Giants playoff game in October and November. The city went into a state of pandemonium after the Giants beat the American League champion Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the World Series on Nov. 1 to win Major League Baseball’s crown.

The victory parade the following week brought an unprecedented crowd — estimated by the ball club at 1 million people — to downtown San Francisco to celebrate the Giants’ first title since they moved to the City by the Bay from New York City in 1958.

1. San Bruno Fire and Explosion

37 homes were destroyed after a PG&E pipeline exploded and triggered a 6-alarm fire. (CALIFORNIA BEAT PHOTO)

The destruction of a San Bruno neighborhood by a gas pipeline explosion and fire in September was perhaps the most unforgettable story of 2010. The first 911 calls from passing motorists and residents of San Bruno described an enormous fire that shot 50 feet into the evening sky. Initially, residents believed that a plane had crashed into a hilly subdivision, but a fuel source that fed the fire for hours after the explosion quickly led first responders to suspect the true cause: a major PG&E natural gas transmission pipeline had burst underground.

The fire killed seven people and injured dozens of others. 37 homes were completely leveled by the blaze, and 8 others were damaged. The blast raised questions about PG&E’s inspection process and left everyone wondering: how could this happen?

The Beat was among the first to break news of the explosion right after it happened. We provided 36 hours of continuous online coverage following the explosion, fulfilling an important public service role that kept area residents safe and the Bay Area informed — the ultimate reasons why we’re here for you.

Contact the Beat at news@californiabeat.org.

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