Another exciting news year was marked by protests, a historic mayoral election and the 49ers’ return to relevance. We look back at the year’s most notable local news events, which brought loyal readers plenty of outrage, sadness and intrigue.
In solidarity with New York City’s Occupy Wall Street movement, Occupy SF launched downtown protest encampments in front of the Federal Reserve Bank and in Justin Herman Plaza. The protesters’ message about nationwide wealth inequality was often overshadowed by the condition of the camps. The City declared the Justin Herman site a public health hazard and occupiers regularly clashed with police over illegal camping on the sidewalk in front of the Fed and in the plaza. On Dec. 7, officers in riot gear confiscated tents and arrested 85 people to clear the plaza, sending the San Francisco chapter of the movement into — as one occupier put it — hibernation.
For weeks, rush-hour BART was disrupted due to protests over the police shooting of transient Charles Hill in the Civic Center station on July 3. BART officials inspired a national debate about whether protesters’ free-speech rights were violated when the transit agency shut down cellphone service in underground stations to hamstring communication between demonstrators.
When Mayor Gavin Newsom left office to become the state’s lieutenant governor, Ed Lee — a relatively obscure veteran of The City’s bureaucracy — was appointed to serve the outgoing mayor’s final year. Although he promised not to seek permanent office before his January appointment by the Board of Supervisors, Lee went on to become the first elected Chinese-American mayor in San Francisco history. Citing a change of heart in his decision to run, the mayor survived numerous attacks by his campaign opponents and cruised to victory.
San Francisco approved tax breaks in the mid-Market area designed to keep microblogging company Twitter from leaving The City for a cheaper home on the Peninsula. The breaks on payroll tax and stock option sales launched a debate about corporate welfare and whether San Francisco would forever be a place that growing companies fled for more business-friendly cities.
Video surveillance footage from some of The City’s residential hotels was released by Public Defender Jeff Adachi and called into question tactics used by San Francisco police during drug raids. The scandal resulted in more than 100 drug cases being dropped in court, internal affairs probes and an FBI investigation.
After battling an aggressive house fire in hilly Diamond Heights on June 2, San Francisco Fire Department Lt. Vincent Perez and firefighter-paramedic Anthony Valerio died in the line of duty. Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said the deaths brought on the toughest moments of her seven-year leadership, but they also revealed the inspirational resolve of the department, which hadn’t experienced the death of a firefighter combating a blaze since 1995.
A yearlong federal investigation into the September 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline blast put the blame squarely on utility PG&E. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report in August that said the PG&E was responsible for the flaws that weakened the pipeline before the blast. NTSB leaders criticized the utility for “a litany of failures” that led to the tragedy. The explosion killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
After eight seasons without a winning record, the 49ers clinched a playoff spot as division champs the first week of December. Under coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Alex Smith minimized turnovers and the defense stifled opponents’ running games. Despite the newfound success, the team continued its efforts to move to a new stadium 50 miles south in Santa Clara.
The BALCO era in baseball came to a close when a jury found former Giants slugger Barry Bonds guilty on one of four obstruction of justice charges stemming from his testimony before a federal grand jury investigating performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Bonds, who holds the single-season and all-time Major League home run records, was later sentenced to community service and 30 days house arrest.
After convicted felon Kenneth Harding was pulled off a Muni train in the Bayview neighborhood for allegedly failing to pay the $2 fare, he ran from the police officers who were attempting to cite him. As he fled, the 19-year-old Harding allegedly turned back and fired a gun at the officers, who returned fire with several shots. Struck with bullets in his leg and neck, Harding died in the crossfire. Later, a forensic analysis showed the bullet that killed Harding did not belong to police and investigators said his fatal wound was actually self-inflicted. The shooting of Harding, an African American, sparked outrage in the Bayview, where residents questioned the police version of events.
Events from the past year that brought tears to our eyes.
Giants fan brutally beaten
The baseball season started on a tragic note on the March 31 Opening Day in Los Angeles, where die-hard Giants fan Bryan Stow was nearly beaten to death after the game. Stow spent months in a coma with a fractured skull and remains unable to walk, although his condition slowly improved to the point where he began communicating with family members.
Buster Posey injured
A nasty home-plate collision in a late-May game with the Marlins cost the Giants star catcher his season, and crippled the team’s chances of defending its World Series crown.
Warren Hellman dies
The banjo-playing billionaire lost his battle with leukemia in December. But the late philanthropist leaves behind a remarkable legacy, including the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.
Shenanigans left us scratching our heads this year.
Jumping for kicks
A student from Windsor High School on a field trip jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge — and survived. It apparently wasn’t a suicide attempt. The teen reportedly told a surfer who helped rescue him that he did it “for kicks.”
City hires dog-killer artist
The Arts Commission tapped sculptor Tom Otterness for a $750,000 contract for 59 bronze sculptures in the Moscone station of the proposed Central Subway project. The commission later rescinded the contract after The San Francisco Examiner reported that earlier in his career Otterness had shot and killed a dog for a film and called it art.
Man catches fire while watching porn
In April, a man running around on fire shocked sex shop patrons and passersby at Mission and Sixth streets. He was mysteriously ignited in a private booth inside the shop but police never said exactly how.
Stupid Campaign Tricks
Memorable moments from the 2011 mayoral election.
The Wookiee bloc
Mayoral candidate David Chiu (pronounced “Chew”) exploited a mnemonic device and created one of the most amusing campaign mascots of all time: Chiu-bacca.
An independent campaign group paid for a video promoting Ed Lee to the tune of MC Hammer’s “2 Legit 2 Quit.” The ad featured cameos by Hammer himself and Giants pitcher Brian Wilson sporting a T-shirt saying “Fear the Mustache,” an allusion to Lee’s trademark facial hair.
Many mayoral candidates who took hundreds of thousands of dollars in public matching funds found little support among voters. Exhibit A was Assessor-Record Phil Ting, who received $312,564 in taxpayer funds and only received 1,013 first-place votes — or about $309 per vote.