Top San Francisco news stories of 2012 - SLIDESHOW 

Nothing defined local headlines like newly elected Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s domestic violence scandal, which reignited political bitterness at City Hall and forced many San Franciscans to reconsider their own values. The public melee began when a police investigation of Mirkarimi’s household coincided with the sheriff’s awkward inauguration ceremony. Shortly after Mirkarimi assumed office in January as one of The City’s top lawmen, he was hit with three criminal charges over an argument weeks earlier with wife Eliana Lopez in which he bruised her arm.

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When Mirkarimi eventually pleaded guilty in March to falsely imprisoning his wife to avoid the three other misdemeanor charges, he was quickly suspended without pay by Mayor Ed Lee. The mayor himself became wrapped up in the drama when current and former city officials accused Lee of perjuring himself during a tense round of June testimony in the case. Surprising many, Mirkarimi was reinstated to his position and given more than $100,000 in back pay, because only seven supervisors — not the required nine — agreed that Mirkarimi was guilty of official misconduct. Relations between the mayor and sheriff remain tense, with talks of a Mirkarimi recall election still lingering.

Rental prices spike … again

A resurgence in The City’s tech industry echoed  the dot-com boom of the late 1990s as new workers flooded San Francisco, property values soared, and living space became sparser and more expensive. The already burdensome cost of rentals and real estate in San Francisco continued its rise in desirable neighborhoods, where even some small studio apartments now cost upward of $2,000 per month, with one- and two-bedroom apartments fetching $3,000 a month in many cases. The spike was marked by long lines for open houses, where dozens of prospective city dwellers lined up with credit reports and pay stubs, ready for inspection. The phenomenon gave rise to the controversial idea of “micro-apartments,” which city leaders approved to be as small as 150 square feet of living space.

Tech boom 2.0 also sparks tax reform

Following a Twitter-inspired 2011 payroll tax break for companies that agreed to move to the blighted mid-Market Street corridor, 2012 saw a more comprehensive voter-approved restructuring of The City’s business tax system. The reformed system will ditch The City’s payroll levy and instead tax a company’s gross receipts — a structure that favors firms with high labor costs and lower short-term profits. Tech industry stalwarts such as angel investor Ron Conway — Mayor Ed Lee’s biggest campaign benefactor — say the companies are here to stay this time.

Can City College survive year of crisis?

Now on the brink of failure, City College of San Francisco’s troubles just wouldn’t stop in 2012. It received news that its accreditation could soon be lost and school officials should “make preparations for closure,” according to a letter from education regulators. In September, CCSF’s board of trustees moved to shutter two instructional sites and an administrative building in hopes of putting the institution on the road to recovery. But  more reforms will be required in 2013 for CCSF to ?survive.

 

Contracts, complications developing on San Francisco’s waterfront

In time-honored fashion, plenty of political fights erupted over efforts to develop some of the nation’s most valuable land — the formerly industrial and increasingly foot-trafficked San Francisco waterfront. The northern waterfront was the place for development brawls in 2012, highlighted by the Warriors’ bid for a new arena just south of the Bay Bridge. A longstanding fight continued over luxury condominiums at 8 Washington St., and big plans to give Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison and his America’s Cup organization long-term rent-free lease rights for condos and retail space, in exchange for nine-figure loans provided to The City to fix long-crumbling piers, were ultimately ditched.

Drama at San Francisco parks

The management of San Francisco’s diverse parks came under renewed scrutiny, with continued backlash against the so-called “privatization” of the public spaces by food vendors and large commercial events. Conditions at Coit Tower gave rise to new voter-approved policies for the landmark’s upkeep, including that of the damaged 1930s-era labor murals inside. Yet despite opposition from  critics, voters handily approved a $195 million bond measure to fund citywide park improvements such as new playgrounds.

New archbishop is archrival of same-sex marriage

In what was seen by many as a provocative move, the Roman Catholic Church named Salvatore Cordileone — the former bishop of Oakland and one of the architects of Proposition 8, California’s 2008 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban — as the new archbishop of San Francisco. Cordileone’s installment was marked by protests, which were fueled by a DUI he received in San Diego shortly before assuming his new role. Aside from his notoriety for the marriage ban, Cordileone also is known for his advocacy on behalf of immigrants in Southern California and Arizona parishes. Cordileone and the local gay-rights movement are sure to be at the forefront of the continuing same-sex marriage fight, as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide on the matter by summer.

Bag ban expands

San Francisco’s ban on nonbiodegradable plastic bags in chain grocery stores and pharmacies was expanded to include all retail outlets in The City. New legislation pushed by then-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi also added a 10-cent charge for all bags, including paper. The City’s Department of the Environment is charged with enforcing the ban, which appears to be prompting compliance from bigger food sellers and some of The City’s small businesses.

Skin’s no longer in

The much-noticed “naked guys” in the bustling Castro district will probably have to stick to Baker Beach from now on, as Supervisor Scott Wiener’s crusade against frequent (and previously legal) nudity on the streets of San Francisco proved successful. Defending their public nakedness as an essential part of The City’s culture, nudists turned out in force during hearings on the ban and twice bared all inside City Hall to protest what they contend will be a violation of their First Amendment rights to free expression. A legal challenge to the local nudity ban is now making its way through federal court.

Occupy movement primarily occupies our memories now

The Occupy San Francisco movement began 2012 as a near-constant ?presence on city streets, but ended as almost an afterthought. Although police dislodged the large permanent encampment at Justin Herman Plaza in late 2011, protesters soon reconvened in front of the Federal Reserve Bank. But eventually, repeated crackdowns, crimes, and anarchic spasms of violence and vandalism in The City’s gentrifying Mission district cost the movement support among many one-time backers. Still, the active Occupy Bernal faction continued its work helping to prevent foreclosures.

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Dan Schreiber

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