So long, 2012. And don’t let the “fiscal cliff” hit you on the way out.
In the Bay Area, the biggest news stories of the year had all the familiar themes – crime, political scandal, money.
But this year, more so than in the recent past, it was largely about the money. California voters, tired of underfunded schools, approved more taxes. Facebook went to cash in its chips and tripped at the cashier’s cage. The Bay Area’s real estate market tightened up and those rituals of the past – bidding wars – returned with vigor.
In between, there were stories of heartbreak – Oikos University – and outrage – Oakland’s crime problem.
Here is a listing of the most important local news stories as voted on by The Chronicle’s editors and reporters.
Voters approve tax hikes:
The political pollsters, antitax crusaders and talking heads on TV all agreed voters would never approve higher taxes, even if they were sold as a “Millionaires Tax.”
Color them surprised because on Nov. 6 voters approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which is expected to bring in $6 billion to fund schools, colleges and public safety departments, among other things.
The race appeared close in the polls, and a late cash infusion of $10 million from opponents pumped intrigue into the shadowy depths of campaign financing, but it was too late. Prop. 30 passed 55.3 to 44.7 percent.
In 2013, the wealthiest 1 percent of Californians – individuals who make more than $250,000 and married couples who earn $500,000 – will pay for 79 percent of the tax increase, according to the California Budget Project, a research group that endorsed the proposition. The rest will come from a quarter-cent sales tax increase.
They said it couldn’t be done, but with other states facing their own “fiscal cliffs,” voter-approved taxes may look like a bridge to the future.
Chevron refinery fire:
It looked like a blackened tornado had frozen over Richmond. Then, the huge funnel cloud drifted east, dragging a toxic brew born from a petroleum fire at the Chevron refinery below.
The chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board called the Aug. 6 accident a “close call” that averted catastrophe and avoided fatalities, yet an estimated 15,000 residents visited hospitals with complaints of itchy eyes and wheezy lungs. For all residents, the impact of the fire was felt later at the pump: The refinery’s closure spiked West Coast gas prices.
World Series victory:
As confetti-dusted revelers said along Market Street, “Let’s do this every two years, San Francisco!” But next time let’s cut down on the bonfire-setting, bottle-throwing and Muni-bus smashing. The local team’s miraculous run – including six victories in elimination games – was blemished only by the mayhem that followed. Winning never tasted so sweet or sour.
Ross Mirkarimi scandal:
In a city that relishes scandal, Ross Mirkarimi provided a 10-month drama after he was charged with crimes that shocked the liberal conscience: domestic violence battery, child endangerment, dissuading a witness. The details that emerged after the Dec. 31, 2011, incident with his wife, Eliana Lopez, were sordid – a bruised biceps, a video-recorded confessional that Lopez said was coerced by a nosy neighbor with political motives, and accusations from two other women who said Mirkarimi was less than gentlemanly. It was all capped by an Ethics Commission hearing and a long-awaited vote by the Board of Supervisors.
Mirkarimi toggled between contrite and defiant, and appeared to further inflame his troubles when he dismissed the incident as “a private matter, a family matter.” Yet after he pleaded guilty to false imprisonment, Mayor Ed Lee’s attempt to fire him fell two votes short on the Board of Supervisors, which reinstated Mirkarimi in October.
The vote may have shocked some, but in a city that savors its scandals, perhaps the only things it loves more are tales of redemption.
High court takes on Prop. 8:
More than eight years after then-Mayor Gavin Newsom told city clerks to ignore state law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples – an act that made gay marriage one of the city’s defining issues – the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in December to hear arguments on the matter in 2013.
The decision by the justices to settle the constitutional dispute marks the final stop in a long and arduous legal fight.
Since San Francisco first wed gay couples outside City Hall in 2004, nine states have passed laws that allow gay marriage, while California voters banned it through Proposition 8 in 2008. The 1996 federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act also withholds recognition of same-sex spousal benefits.
But if Prop. 8 and the federal law are overturned after arguments are heard in the spring (an announcement is due by the end of June), gays and lesbians will be allowed to marry in California, and 100,000 couples will be entitled to federal benefits.
Housing prices rebound:
There’s a saying among real estate agents in the city: “It’s never a bad time to buy in San Francisco.”
That idiom was never more true than from 2007 to early 2012, when home prices were “depressed” by city standards.
That window appears to be closing.
Bolstered by the latest wave of tech job growth and a lack of inventory, the city’s housing market enjoyed steady gains, which helped raise the values in neighboring cities throughout the Bay Area, experts said.
In October, a study from the real estate service Zillow showed Bay Area home values rebounded by 8.2 percent in the third quarter compared with the same time in 2011. Listings site Realtor.com analyzed price change and supply/demand dynamics that billed Oakland as the nation’s leading “Turnaround Town,” followed by San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento.
While positive news for homeowners, the surge has renewed concern for the city’s renters, including working families. It’s always a good time to buy in San Francisco unless you’re the one getting priced out.
At about 10:30 a.m. on April 2, One L. Goh entered a private trade school in Oakland and opened fire on his fellow nursing students and teachers.
By the time Goh, 43, had emptied a .45-caliber handgun, he had killed seven people and injured three at Oikos University, a Korean-based Christian school that catered to students new to the United States.
In the days following the tragedy, mourning family members and a shocked community asked one question: Why?
Those lost were Kathleen Ping, 24, of Oakland; Judith Seymour, 53, of San Jose; Lydia Sim, 21, of Hayward; Sonam Choedon, 33, of El Cerrito; Grace Eunhea Kim, 23, of Union City; Doris Chibuko, 40, of San Leandro; and Tshering Rinzing Bhutia, 38, of San Francisco.
In October, a judge halted Goh’s criminal proceedings, pending a determination of whether he was mentally competent to stand trial.
In Oakland, crime and policing continued to dominate the concerns of residents and city officials. Based on 2011 data reported to the FBI, the city ranked as the United States’ third most dangerous city. In 2012 violent crimes – robberies, rapes, and murder – were listed as up 20 percent.
Amid this backdrop, department officials failed to implement reforms required in a federal court settlement that stemmed from the 2003 Riders case, when four officers were accused of imposing vigilante justice on West Oakland residents. After plaintiffs’ attorneys called for a federal takeover of the department, city officials compromised by agreeing to hire a “compliance director” to bring the agency up to par and stave off the nation’s first federally run city police department.
In the last week of December, the discussion took a new twist when city leaders announced they planned to hire William Bratton, the crime-fighting guru who oversaw crime drops in New York and Los Angeles, to work with the Police Department in 2013.
Warriors eye waterfront:
Usually, sports teams move to a new city after the fans stop buying tickets, politicians offer too-good-to-refuse tax incentives, or the stadium decays to rival Candlestick.
That’s not the case with the Golden State Warriors, who play in Oakland’s Oracle Arena.
So in May, the plan announced by team owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob to build a sparkling new venue on Piers 30-32 in San Francisco was as surprising as a behind-the-back dribble no one saw coming. And as dazzling, too.
The proposed arena, a glass oval on the waterfront with plenty of public spaces, is still years away from reality – the team wants to move in 2017.
In the days leading up to Facebook’s public stock offering in May – the most anticipated IPO since Google went public in 2004 – local economists predicted a run on real estate from newly minted millionaires, record Lamborghini sales and Champagne flooding the gutters of Silicon Valley.
Instead: Thumbs down.
Set at $38, the price opened flat, then bottomed out at $17 in September, and has clawed itself into the $25 range. Aside from the scent of schadenfreude that permeated reports of Mark Zuckerberg’s fumble, the flopping stock has broader implications. If traders can’t trust in Facebook – the blue chip of social media – then what sites are good enough for Wall Street?
Justin Berton is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @justinberton