The top 10 Bay Area stories of 2010

Whether it was a deadly natural-gas pipeline blast in San Bruno, an improbable World Series win for the Giants or a historic court verdict that led to chaos on the streets, the Bay Area endured an emotional roller coaster of unforgettable events this year.

As the year comes to an end, The San Francisco Examiner lists ten events that brought tragedy, anger and shame to our region, along with those that brought pride and joy.

1. Deadly San Bruno blast rocks sense of safety

The pipeline explosion that ripped through San Bruno on Sept. 9 devastated the neighborhood and exposed the weaknesses in a system that delivers natural gas to homes.

The explosion and subsequent fire killed eight people and destroyed nearly 40 homes and damaged almost 60 more. PG&E — the utility company that owns the ruptured pipeline — has endured damning local and federal probes since the disaster.

On the bright side, the outpouring of support for victims came in from all around the Bay Area, but especially from the family and friends of the dead and injured. A Catholic parish in San Francisco, for instance, lost two members to the blast: an adored 13-year-old honors student and her mother, Jacqueline.

Along with the good that emerged after the tragedy, the disaster bred a criminal element. More than a half-dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of posing as blast victims in order to steal cash and benefits meant as aid.

2. Orange-and-black erase the blues

It was torture.

The San Francisco Giants had been without a World Series championship in their time in The City — the team moved west from New York in 1958.

The odd-ball 2010 Giants — think Brian Wilson “The Beard” and Tim “The Freak” Lincecum — banded together to best the Texas Rangers and the rest of Major League Baseball.

Though the World Series win will go down in the history books, fans will likely remember the team for more than that. The players were characters. Some were called castoffs for coming to the Giants after being released by other teams. Others, such as catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner, became rookie phenoms. Then there was the dominant Cy Young-winning star pitcher Lincecum, who fans seemed to love even more following his bust for marijuana possession and his cursing during post-victory television interviews.

And no one will forget the party that was the parade to celebrate the win. The doldrums of the year went out the window with Wilson’s eccentric jubilations in the streets.

<h3>3. SFPD crime lab fiasco high on the hit list

A crime lab worker’s drug habit remained high in the news in 2010.

Not many people had probably heard of the San Francisco Police Department crime lab before Deborah Madden, a 60-year-old civilian criminalist, was suspected of stealing cocaine.

The fallout from the scandal prompted a probe that shut down the drug-testing portion of the lab and led to more than 200 criminal cases being tossed out.

After the drug revelations, incidents at the crime lab snowballed, with follow-up investigations leading to more bad publicity for the facility and the officials in charge of it. Recently, it was learned that accidentally mixed-up DNA samples in 2008 spawned at least two investigations and renewed calls for an independently operated lab.

Now the lab seems back on track after a purging of personnel, including Director Cydne Holt, who resigned. The facility recently received a key accreditation even though drug testing is still being farmed out to other agencies.

4. Same-sex marriage legal battle yo-yo

Yes, no, maybe so — but hold on. The long-fought battle over same-sex marriage rights in California continued in 2010, ending with a cliffhanger court decision that has yet to be finalized.

Between June and November 2008, more than 18,000 same-sex couples tied the knot after such nuptials were legalized in California.

In November 2008, state voters passed Proposition 8, amending the California Constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal. This past August, however, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional.

The ruling lured elated same-sex marriage supporters to the San Francisco courthouse to cheer the victory.

But couples’ hope for a swift return to the altar was quickly dashed.

After Prop. 8 backers appealed the ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to place a hold on marriages until after the case was heard in December.

The case went before the appeals court Dec. 6 in a televised hearing that reached a nationwide audience. The telecast attracted attention after the court granted permission to televise live federal proceedings on the case for the first time.

A decision in the appeals court is forthcoming, though both sides say the same-sex marriage question will not be answered until it reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.

5. Ex-BART cop sent to slammer for fatally shooting passenger

The last stop in justice for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle — convicted of manslaughter for shooting unarmed Oscar Grant III on a train station platform Jan. 1, 2009 — will be a two-year stint in prison.

Legal experts correctly predicted those outcomes in the case of the highly publicized, caught-on-video killing that sparked public unrest in Oakland after significant court decisions involving the ex-cop.

Mehserle, 28, has appealed the conviction — and, though unsuccessfully, even sought to be freed on bail while he appeals.

Though Mehserle was sentenced in November to prison time for the shooting — which he said was a mistake since he was reaching for a Taser — the verdict and sentencing sparked outrage in Oakland.

The case evoked cries of police brutality and racism from some people, since Mehserle is white and Grant was black. The verdict caused angry protests and led to more than 80 arrests in Oakland. After Mehserle’s sentencing, a raucous march formed following a day of peaceful protesting. Cops made 152 arrests.

6. Election madness

San Francisco’s political red carpet brought upheaval in 2010.

Two of The City’s most notable political celebrities — Mayor Gavin Newsom and District Attorney Kamala Harris — catwalked onto a larger stage in November, winning their respective bids for statewide office. But shortly after the election-night parties ended, fighting began about who would serve out the remaining year on the two pols’ city terms.

Newsom’s impending departure to become lieutenant governor sparked a battle between The City’s progressives and the mayor. The progressive majority on the current lame-duck Board of Supervisors wanted to pick the interim mayor. But Newsom has suggested that the newly elected board — which will be more moderate, like Newsom — should decide. In order to make that happen, Newsom has said he will likely delay his scheduled Monday swearing-in as lieutenant governor and stay on as mayor a few days longer. The new board members will be sworn in Jan. 8.

One of Newsom’s final acts as mayor will likely be picking the interim district attorney. Harris — the first woman to be elected attorney general in California — will be assuming her new job Monday. Several people have expressed an interest in being the next district attorney, but neither Newsom nor Harris have publicly endorsed anyone.

7. Deadly vacation

It was a slaying so brazen and horrendous that police Chief George Gascón expressed shock that San Franciscans were not more outraged in its aftermath.

Mechthild Schröer — a German elementary-school principal vacationing in The City with her husband — was gunned down at a busy intersection near Union Square around 9:30 p.m. Aug. 8.

The couple had been on a three-week U.S. vacation to celebrate their wedding anniversary and Schröer’s birthday. They were returning from a stroll and were searching for a restaurant at the corner of Geary and Mason streets when a gun battle erupted nearby outside a private party for high school students.

The real outrage might be that the person who shot the gun is still out walking the streets.

Meanwhile, Schröer’s grieving husband, who watched his wife die, has expressed plans to return to The City with his two sons in April to memorialize his wife. San Francisco has offered a warm welcome for their return, with promises of free hotel stays, a restaurant meal and city tours.

8. Pension reform sweeps state, but skips over The City

Liberal San Francisco’s bid to rein in the soaring cost of public employee pensions raised eyebrows across the state. True to San Francisco form, Proposition B, which would have required The City’s public workers to pay more for their retirement and health benefits, was rejected by nearly 57 percent of voters Nov. 2.

Meanwhile, pension reform found success in other cities such as San Jose, Bakersfield and Carlsbad. Additionally, at the state level four unions agreed to pension reforms.

The controversy over Prop. B did not end with its defeat. Few admissions in 2010 hit the fan quite like a San Francisco police captain’s statement in December that officers hesitated to write traffic citations before the election so as to not anger voters.

“I know that that’s a sensitive issue, but it’s a fact and it’s out there,” Ingleside Police Station Capt. Louis Cassanego said at a CompStat meeting.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who was the main sponsor of Prop. B and has said he might attempt pension reform again, said he was not surprised by the admission.

“When it comes to protecting benefits, I guess anything goes,” he said.

9. The race for the America’s Cup

San Francisco’s race for the America’s Cup has been anything but smooth sailing.

City officials’ controversial negotiations with the America’s Cup Event Authority to host the world’s most prestigious sailing competition in 2013 were marred by controversy.

The authority was established by billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Ellison’s BMW Oracle Racing team not only won the race held in Spain last February, but also the rights to select where the next race will happen.

As usual in San Francisco, the negotiations bred political infighting.

A report said the event would inject up to $1.2 billion into the local economy and create 9,000 jobs. Critics warned that it is a risky investment overly favoring Ellison.

However, just as an agreement was being hammered out here, event organizers began shopping around in earnest for other locations, including Rhode Island.

10. Racial tensions come to a head with violence

Racial tensions flared between black and Asian communities in 2010 following a three-month series of attacks against Asians in The City.

In an attack Jan. 24, an 83-year-old man was kicked and punched on a T-Third Street Muni platform. The man, Huan Chen, died two months later.

On March 22, a teenager threw a 57-year-old Asian woman off a 3-foot-high T-line platform and onto the street while several youths watched. Five days later, a 39-year-old man told police he was attacked by five young men between the ages of 14 and 16 inside a Muni vehicle along Third Street.

Also in April, a San Francisco man, who was Asian, died after being beaten up in Oakland by two black teens he had confronted because they allegedly hit his son.

To quell tensions, Mayor Gavin Newsom and police Chief George Gascón held meetings in April and May with leaders of both communities.

Gascón has said there was no evidence that the attacks were hate crimes. They were likely attempted robberies, or in other words crimes of opportunity, he said.

Despite that, police stepped up their presence on Muni lines that attracted the most crime, hoping to address the violence.


They said what?

Everyone says things they might regret later, but some are more memorable than others.

“No. How could we throw some nachos at a tiger?”
Paul Dhaliwal, one of three young men attacked by a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo on Christmas Day 2007, in police interview tapes released this year.

“[A Board of Supervisors meeting is] important, but it’s boring. Maybe the ratings will go up.”
— Supervisor Chris Daly, who said his New Year’s resolution was to drop the “F” bomb at least once every board meeting.

“I’m supportive, but I was kind of waiting for my brown paper envelopes to come from the Sicilians. But I never got anything, so, you know, I may vote against it.”
— Planning Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya, whose cash-bribe joke did not go over well during an application hearing for a North Beach Italian restaurant wanting to showcase opera singing.

“[My daughter is] fascinated by penises, so she kind of pointed out there are penises and I said, ‘Yep, they are right there.’”
— Supervisor Bevan Dufty, talking about spotting nudists in the Castro district.

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