Top SF stories: 2014 packed a punch in the news world

A state senator, a 'Shrimp Boy' and a salacious scandal

San Francisco state Sen. Leland Yee was no stranger to controversy when he was arrested by the FBI on March 26 on corruption and gun trafficking charges. Yee was previously arrested in Hawaii in 1992 on suspicion of shoplifting a bottle of tanning oil from a shop, but left the state before he could be prosecuted. Then in 1999, police stopped Yee twice in the Mission for allegedly soliciting prostitutes. And it was disgraced former Supervisor Ed Jew who asserted that he learned how to take bribes from Yee.

But no one could have been prepared for the longtime public official's alleged involvement in a bribery and gun-running scandal with supposedly reformed Chinatown mobster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow. The unlikely pair were the two most-prominent names among 26 people fingered by the FBI after a years-long undercover investigation that took aim at other state politicians. Yee supposedly swapped cash for votes and even promised an undercover FBI agent posing as Mafia that he could deliver automatic weapons from Islamic fundamentalists in the Philippines.

How embarrassing — as were the more than 300,000 Californians who voted for Yee in the secretary of state primary in June.

Yee and Chow, the leader of a prominent Chinatown fraternal organization who has somehow managed to continue a self-promotion campaign from behind bars, have both maintained their innocence. They and other key alleged conspirators are scheduled to go to trial in June.

Killings by police and the outraged people who protest them

Police officers in San Francisco shot nine people in 2014, killing three. But no killing sparked more outrage than the March 21 death of Alejandro Nieto, who was fatally shot by police during a confrontation in Bernal Heights. Nieto was supposedly mentally disturbed and wielding a stun gun, but discontent over police handling of the incident lasted all summer, which is when unarmed black men were killed in encounters with police in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

National outrage over the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown — and grand jury decisions not to indict police in either incident — sparked protests nationwide, with the longest lasting of them in the Bay Area. Protesters blocked freeways in Berkeley, blocked BART in Oakland and disrupted holiday shoppers in San Francisco to drive home the message that “black lives matter.”

San Francisco police also suffered a black with the indictment of six undercover police officers on corruption charges. The crooked cops were part of an undercover unit and were caught on video stealing cash and drugs from single-room-occupancy hotel rooms. Two cops were already found guilty in a jury trial, and more are set to head to court in 2015.

It was so dry, and then it was not: Drought reaches crisis stage

This year was not the beginning of California's epic drought — the worst since the Spanish ruled California, the worst in 1,200 years, the worst ever (depending on the estimate used) — but this was the year when the impacts hit home.

Amid a backdrop of empty reservoirs and farmers afraid for their livelihoods, Gov. Jerry Brown kicked off the year by asking Californians to cut water use 20 percent. Mayor Ed Lee asked for slightly less at 10 percent, but even that more modest goal was slow to be adopted. Already some of the state's stingiest water users, it took San Franciscans until summer to stop watering the lawn and take shorter showers.

However, December proved to be an extremely rainy month, setting records across the Bay Area, and that portends a better future for California. But the state is still drier than it needs to be, and the drought is far from over.

More destruction after Giants win another Series title

Torture, staving off elimination, then MadBum. The Giants wrapped up their World Series third title in five years Oct. 29, with wins in 2010 and 2012 as well, behind a masterful performance from left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who won both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards for what many experts say is the most dominant postseason pitching performance in Major League Baseball history. Alas, Giants fans and those seeking cheap thrills at the expense of city resources and the livelihoods of small-business owners once again decided to celebrate the feat with trash fires, graffiti and 40 people arrested in a “disgraceful” display of outrageous revelry, as Police Chief Greg Suhr put it. But at least the degenerates spared Muni buses this time.

Mom, son die in fire in city's worst housing projects

A fast-moving fire consumed a home in San Francisco's Sunnydale housing complex April 16. Esther Ioane, 32, was found dead in an upstairs bathroom. Her son, 3-year-old Santana (whom Ioane placed in a bathtub and then shielded with her own body before she died), died later at San Francisco General Hospital. It was the first fatal fire in city public housing since the 1990s. At first, the Housing Authority seemed to steer blame toward the residents, who reportedly dismantled and put away the unit's smoke detectors in order to smoke methamphetamine. Later, it was revealed that Ioane put in a work order to get her smoke detector fixed two weeks before she died. What exactly happened may never be known — a Fire Department probe could not pinpoint the source of the fire. Meanwhile, Williams and Ioane's families have filed a claim against The City, which is the precursor to a lawsuit.

The bomber who would never be

It's not every day that you see FBI agents in hazmat suits break down a Polk Street door in search of homemade explosives and a deadly toxin, ricin, which recently was brought back by appearing in the hit TV show “Breaking Bad.”

Longtime San Francisco political hitman Ryan Chamberlain's downward spiral started with the public search of his apartment, continued with a strange note posted to social media, and — after he was allowed to go free as his living quarters were rifled through — climaxed with a three-day FBI manhunt.

Chamberlain was in The City all along — he used his debit card at a Haight Street bar before he was taken into custody near the Marina waterfront.

Not much is known about his motives, and a trial date has yet to be set.

Housing, evictions, Airbnb legalization

It is a good time to own property in San Francisco. Real estate values continue to skyrocket, with the median price of a home topping $1 million for the first time in 2014 as a tech-fueled job boom turned the tiniest San Francisco abodes into top-dollar rentals.

Mayor Ed Lee pledged to do what he could to alleviate The City's longstanding housing shortage, but he can't make other Bay Area cities build housing — and he can't stop more and more landlords from exercising their legal right to evict low-paying, rent-controlled tenants in order to maximize investments.

Amid a housing crisis that grabs international headlines, San Francisco made nice with online hotel alternative Airbnb, despite vehement protest from The City's left and blaming home-sharing for San Francisco's housing problem.

Airbnb will start paying hotel taxes and continue its rapid growth. And in the short term, a San Francisco apartment will continue to be a coveted commodity.

Bay Guardian stops raising hell

The San Francisco Bay Guardian ceased publication Oct. 14 after 48 years as The >City's progressive alt-weekly.

The paper was founded in 1966 by Bruce Brugmann and Jean Dibble. The couple ran the paper until 2012, when they sold it to what is now the San Francisco Media Co., which also owns The San Francisco Examiner.

In addition to its weekly coverage of news, arts and culture in The City, the Guardian produced distinctive editions such as the Best of the Bay and an annual sex issue. It also presented its Goldie Award for excellence in the arts.

After the closure was announced, Brugmann said: “I am proud of the staff who put their blood, sweat and tears into producing one of the most influential alternative newspapers in the country.”

The San Francisco Media Co. cited financial reasons for shutting down the Guardian.

“The Bay Guardian leaves a legacy as a forceful advocate for social change that will always be a source of pride for everyone who was part of it or who valued its voice in our community,” Publisher Glenn Zuehls said.

Goodbye, Mr. Williams

There were many notable deaths in 2014, but none seemed to strike so close to home for San Francisco as the suicide of 63-year-old Robin Williams on Aug. 11. The death was shocking, and people the world over responded in kind. But the Bay Area was Williams' stomping grounds and longtime home. He got his start in comedy in San Francisco and lived in Tiburon, where he was found dead, for many years. Several of Williams' films were also set in the Bay Area.

He was also a fixture around town and in Marin County, where you could find him walking around North Beach, shopping for books in the Richmond, pedaling his bicycle around the Marin hills or doing infomercials for the San Francisco Public Library.

If there was any positive in Williams' death, it was the immediate attention it paid to depression and the gravity of the illness. He had long battled depression and substance abuse, even checking in to rehab as a precaution shortly before his death.

The world lost one of its geniuses in 2014, yet it will never forget Robin Williams.

S.F.'s Uber is just a big bully causing all kinds of problems

Uber set off on what would become a path of PR destruction in the last few hours of 2013 when one of its drivers fatally struck 6-year-old Sophia Liu on New Year's Eve. Taxi drivers and governments around the world coalesced against the San Francisco-based app-triggered ride service.

Through it all, City Hall has remained a staunch supporter of the company.

But not District Attorney George Gascón, who this month filed a lawsuit against Uber for pocketing airport surcharges and stretching the truth on its background checks. That was merely the latest in a long year of bad press: Uber drivers were accused of rape, striking passengers with hammers, and generally skirting rules and regulations. All that made the boorish, sexist behavior by executives look somewhat innocent.

Yet somehow, Uber's worst moment in the spotlight was the revelation — by an Uber executive at an exclusive New York City dinner — that the company could use user data against journalists who would dare criticize the ride service.

None of this mattered a lick to investors, who sunk over $1 billion into the company's most recent round of fundraising. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is Silicon Valley's $40 billion bad boy, and the whole situation will likely get worse before it gets better.

David defeats David for state Assembly seat

San Francisco had its choice of Harvard-educated members of the Board of Supervisors named David to succeed termed-out Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to represent part of The City in Sacramento. And votes chose Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who emerged as the winner after a yearlong campaign between the Democrats that quickly turned negative toward the end.

Chiu painted Campos as a dangerous harborer of woman-batterers (for his support of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi during Mirkarimi's domestic abuse scandal in 2012), while Campos painted Chiu as a money-hungry tech apologizer who played a willing role in the sell-off of San Francisco's soul (it is true that Chiu's friends in tech spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to smear Campos). Chiu's District 3 supervisor seat will remain empty until Jan. 8, when Mayor Ed Lee will appoint a successor who could serve as long as 10 years on the board if elected twice.

Beat L.A.? Niners will have the chance against Rams in NFC Championship Game

San Francisco has won six straight over their long-time rivals

The downturn persists: Examiner analysis reveals that S.F.’s economy has a long road to recovery

‘If you don’t keep downtown a vibrant place, it has cascading consequences on all the neighborhoods’