Controversies, loss and triumph in ’06

49ers cost S.F. the Olympics

The 49ers Faithful learned in 2006 that San Francisco’s football team may be less than loyal.

In November, team co-owner John York called Mayor Gavin Newsom to say the NFL franchise was pulling out of plans for a new stadium at Candlestick Point to move south to Santa Clara.

When the breakup became public, Newsom said the split was unexpected. The 49ers countered they’d been warning city officials for months that they were not happy withthe development plan, and official documents revealed that Santa Clara had been courting San Francisco’s football team for quite some time.

Adding insult to injury, York called Newsom and explained the Santa Clara option the day before city officials were to make a presentation to U.S. Olympic officials in hopes of becoming America’s candidate in the international competition to host the 2016 Summer Games. Due to a lack of a concrete stadium plan, Newsom was forced to pull San Francisco’s bid.

Team officials said the last drafted plan — which ambitiously proposed to create an entire neighborhood around the stadium with housing, shops and recreation — had too many potential problems, including the magnitude of needed infrastructure and government approvals, a massive parking garage they say would have been undesirable to fans and game-day disruptions caused by years of construction. Lennar Corp., the developer of the stadium and housing/retail plan, claimed to have spent months and $500,000 on a proposal.

Although the 49ers are now in serious talks with Santa Clara officials about building a new stadium adjacent to the Great America amusement park, San Francisco is still hoping to persuade the team to stay. One possibility that has been put on the table by The City is moving the stadium to former Hunters Point shipyard land.

For more than a decade, the 49ers have been negotiating with The City to build a new stadium at Candlestick Point. Newsom has said that even though the 49ers say they’re leaving, he’s committed to the development promises the team made to the Bayview-Hunters Point community.

Pelosi’s stunning rise

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, boosted the profile of San Francisco after becoming speaker-elect of the House of Representatives after Democrats won a majority of seats in the November elections.

Her election by the Democratic caucus raised the ire of conservative politicians and pundits who warned that she would lead Congress down an unwholesome path.

“San Francisco Values” became a national buzzword that those on the right used to disparage left-wing politicians who pushed for the legalization of same-sex marriage, a move away from the Iraq war and publicly funded health care.

But whatever buzzwords surround her, Pelosi brings some solid firsts to the office of speaker of the House: She’s the first woman to hold the position and the first Californian.

Pelosi, who is serving her 10th term in office, is credited with maintaining tight discipline among Democrats as House minority leader and taking a tough stance against Republicans. She is also known as a formidable fundraiser within the party.

Pelosi was elected to her first full term in 1988. Since then, she has kept her “San Francisco Values” strong with a decidedly left-leaning voting record. She will be sworn in as speaker on Jan. 4.

Hit-and-run rampage

On Aug. 29, a lone driver plowed through the streets of The City, targeting pedestrians like bowling pins at random, with apparent disregard for his victims’ age, race or gender.

As reports came in from intersections in Pacific Heights, Laurel Heights and the Western Addition that a black Honda Pilot had mowed down people on sidewalks, intersections and curbs between 11:50 a.m. and 12:20 p.m., police scrambled to catch up.

They finally boxed in the sport utility vehicle at California and Spruce streets, blocking its path with squad cars.

Omeed Popal, 29, of Fremont, exited the vehicle and sat on the curb as police arrested him. The 30-minute rampage left at least 18 people injured and a 43-year-old victim rendered a quadriplegic.

Popal faces 18 counts of attempted murder and 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, aswell as charges of battery on an officer and evading a police officer, causing injury.

He also faces a murder charge in Alameda County for allegedly running down 54-year-old Stephen J. Wilson in Fremont on his way to The City.

Popal’s lawyer said Popal is mentally ill and was hearing voices on the day of the rampage. He tried to commit suicide in the jail ward of San Francisco General Hospital, but guards found him before he could hang himself. On Nov. 22, a judge ruled Popal competent to stand trial.

Kim family’s struggle for survival

What started as a grim mystery when a family didn’t return home from their Thanksgiving weekend road trip developed into a national news phenomenon as the peril facing James Kim’s family and Kim’s subsequent death unfolded.

James stayed with his family for a week in their snowbound car, after they took a wrong turn and became stranded by bad weather in the rough, southwestern Oregon mountains.

James and and his wife, Kati, lit tires to keep their daughters warm. When the food was gone, Kati breast-fed the girls.

On Dec. 2, James ventured for help, walking through the snow and undergrowth in a circuitous 16-mile path that led to his death from hypothermia in a rocky canyon.

Ten days after being stranded, on Dec. 4, a helicopter spotted Kati Kim and the children. Even as the three were rescued, a nation collectively drew its breath and waited for news of James, still missing in the wilderness.

On Dec. 6, a tear-choked Josephine County Undersheriff announced that the 35-year-old CNET editor’s body had been found in the water of Big Windy Creek.

Health care fight

San Francisco made national headlines by creating a plan to provide every resident with either employer-provided or city-provided health care.

Althoughthe ambitious $200 million plan provoked the ire of The City’s business owners — due to a mandate that requires them to pitch in about one-fifth of the funding — Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who authored the health care legislation, championed the ordinance through to passage.

Business leaders have said the required spending will create a hardship on employers, particularly small businesses.

San Francisco’s restaurant association filed a lawsuit contesting the law, but city leaders say it is full speed ahead to provide health care to The City’s 82,000 uninsured.

A new neighborhood in the Bay

The ambitious plan to transform Treasure Island into a new San Francisco neighborhood for thousands of residents received preliminary approval from the Board of Supervisors late this month.

Years in the making, the $1.2 billion proposal by a private development team would level nearly all the existing structures on the old naval base and make way for 6,000 housing units, 235,000 square feet of retail and 13,500 new residents.

New housing on the island would range from low-level flats to high-rise buildings, mostly costing between $650,000 to

$2 million, although the plan also requires that 30 percent of the residences be affordable. The City and its private development partners hope to turn the largely man-made island into a thriving, eco-friendly community, using green materials and alternative energy and focusing on public transit. Since the development would add thousands of new passengers to an already congested bridge, the plan relies heavily on ferries to transport residents. Drivers might even face a penalty for entering or leaving the island during commute times.

Meanwhile, the land still belongs to the Navy, which hasn’t been in any hurry to begin the transfer process. Now that a concept has been approved, the hope around City Hall is that the proposed development will make the Navy take transfer plans a little more seriously.

Mayhem on Halloween

The annual Halloween street bash ended with many Castro residents’ worst fears coming true: 10 people were injured in a


Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who represents the district, suggested in late July that the city-sponsored party be canceled, but a meeting with Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city officials resulted in plans for a scaled-back event that would end early and include strict controls on alcohol. The celebration had been marred in recent years by stabbings and attacks.

Two groups of youths squared off in the 2200 block of Market Street about 10:45 p.m. They hurled insults, then a bottle. In response, a member of one of the groups pulled out a handgun and began firing into the crowd.

In all, nine people were shot and one was trampled as the crowd fled the packed street. Police have not identified a


The future of the party is unclear, but police and city officials have assembled a working group to plan for next year.

Tragedies go to trial

The year ended with juries deliberating in two high-profile murder trials in which two defendants were eligible for the death penalty under state law.

David Hill faces murder and attempted murder charges for allegedly spraying two San Francisco police officers with bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle.

Hill has not denied that he shot and killed 29-year-old Isaac Espinoza when the plainclothes officer tried to stop him April 10, 2004. He says he fired in self-defense, mistaking Espinoza and his partner, Barry Parker, for rival gang members.

LaShuan Harris shocked The City when she calmly walked to the end of Pier 7 with her three children, undressed them and threw them, one by one, over the railing into the Bay on Oct. 19, 2005, according to witnesses.

She has not denied the act but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2004, Harris says she heard God speaking to her, telling her to send her children to heaven in the name of “spiritual warfare.”

The Hill jury adjourned its deliberations the week before Christmas without coming to a verdict and is due back Tuesday. The Harris jury continues deliberating today.

District Attorney Kamala Harris, who ran on an anti-death-penalty platform, did not seek the death penalty in either case, though both defendants were eligible.

Stumble over foot patrols

The Board of Supervisors clashed with Mayor Gavin Newsom in the political fight of the year when it overrode Newsom’s veto of controversial legislation to mandate police foot patrols.

After The City closed 2005 with its highest homicide rate in a decade, politicians, community activists and law enforcement officials alike recognized that something needed to change. While Newsom and police Chief Heather Fong insisted they could get the situation under control, supervisors passed legislation that mandated foot patrols in certain areas.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi floated the legislation in June, as a yearlong pilot in his district. As it wound its way through committee, more supervisors signed on, adding their own districts. Finally, the board passed a version of the bill that covered eight districts. Newsom vetoed it Nov. 14, but the board overrode the veto. On Dec. 15, Newsom vetoed a final version of the bill covering 10 districts. Now, a new version of the bill covering all 10 districts is heading back to the board for a veto override vote Jan. 9.

Humboldt homeless

San Francisco agreed, with a somewhat red face, to give Humboldt County officials a heads-up before sending homeless people there through The City’s “Homeward Bound” program.

Humboldt officials did not react kindly in early 2006 after learning that 13 homeless people were sent to the northern coastal county in 2005.

The program, part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to reduce homelessness on city streets, entitles any homeless person in San Francisco to a bus ticket out of town so long as they have a family member waiting for them in their destination city.

But when Humboldt County officials learned that 13 of the homeless who participated in the program had been given one-way tickets to behind the Redwood Curtain, they demanded some accountability.

Because of confidentiality rules within the program, city officials couldn’t release the names of the homeless individuals who traveled 200 miles north to Humboldt County. Humboldt officials, therefore, couldn’t verify whether those individuals were actually from their county.

The City agreed, in the future, to give Humboldt officials a warning before sending anybody else that way.

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