The Island’s Year in Review
If I’ve learned anything during the past two years of covering news here, there is never a dull moment on our little Island. (Just for laughs, ask me sometime about what happened when I tried to take the kids on a little summer getaway.)
Political power plays? Check. Electoral and legal drama? Check. Lurid, tragic, absurd crime? Check. Missing turtles? Well, you get the idea.
There was so much news – including a host of stories that gained national attention – that I had a hard time boiling it down to the top stories each month, but I gave it the old college try. So without further ado (or tired clichés), here’s your local year in review.
This month, a Bay Farm Island couple was found dead in their home, victims of a murder-suicide. The couple had sent an e-mail to friends and family attributing their deaths to financial difficulties. Alameda celebrated President Barack Obama’s inauguration with tears and champagne. The Island’s newly de-telecommed utility picked a new name: Alameda Municipal Power. Work crews discovered bones buried near an East End resident’s home which ultimately turned out to be those of a Native American child. Facing the rapid depletion of overtime funds it used to fill its ranks, Alameda Fire enacted engine and ambulance company brownouts.
Police investigated a series of homemade bombs that went off across the East End and Bay Farm Island. Facing huge debts owed to the city, the struggling USS Hornet Museum put together a repayment plan. Police arrested Joseph Groom, 62, after he killed Kelly Scott Kjersem, 40, by running him through with a sword. Police said the stabbing occurred at the end of a wrestling match gone wrong. School district leaders announced that they would be conducting four kindergarten lotteries, sparking a panic among East End parents. The school board and district officials would later consent to adding kindergarten classes at three of the four schools. The City Council quietly began considering a plan to trade the Mif Albright Golf Course to developer Ron Cowan in exchange for land Cowan owns near the Harbor Bay Business Park. Cowan said he wasn’t interested in the swap. And City Manager Debra Kurita resigned after a series of lengthy closed-door council meetings regarding her job performance.
The Alameda Fire Department shuttered its station at Alameda Point, in an effort to slow brownouts elsewhere on the Island. And a massive fire engulfed a decrepit former administrative building on the former Fleet Industrial Supply Center, sending ash across the Island and running up huge cleanup bills for the city. The building had been slated for demolition when developer Catellus started clearing the land for its Alameda Landing project, but the economy stalled the project out.
Ann Marie Gallant was hired as Alameda’s interim city manager, replacing Debra Kurita. The two-year assignment carried a salary of $250,000 a year. Police arrested Andrew Wong, 20, in connection with the killing of a worker at the local Safeway. Police said Wong owed the man, Quang A. Quach, of Oakland, money from a sporting bet. City Council members learned that several city departments had failed to repay millions of dollars in workers compensation costs over the past several years, leaving the city with less available cash that previously believed. Alameda Hospital and the Service Employees International Union local that represents 180 employees there reached a contract deal that gave the workers an 18 percent pay raise, a record. The workers got the raises in exchange for concessions on health care payments.
The city and the family of Dr. Zehra Attari, who died after her car plunged off the end of Grand Street into the Oakland Estuary, reached a $2.25 million settlement in the suit the family filed over her death. Facing financial peril, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant announced the city would lay off dozens of workers. The City Council voted to shutter the Purple Elephant medical marijuana dispensary, which opened to the consternation of its Webster Street neighbors in July. And the school board okayed anti-gay bullying lessons for Alameda’s elementary schools on a dramatic 3-2 vote, capping months of hot debate.
Chip giant Intel announced plans to acquire Wind River Systems, one of Alameda’s largest employers. The company’s headquarters has so far remained here on the Island. Developer SunCal announced they had enough signatures to put their Alameda Point development initiative on the ballot but that they planned to wait, in the hopes they could get a better deal from the Navy on the land price and to talk more with Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant about the city’s concerns with the measure. Local businesses who opposed the Measure H parcel tax asked the school board to enter mediation to end a legal battle over the tax. One of the cases would ultimately be settled, while the other is in limbo.
Alameda prevailed in a long-running suit over the former Alameda Belt Line property, with the city winning the right to purchase the property for just under $1 million. The contract clause allowing the city to purchase the land for the cheap price was discovered by a local resident, Jean Sweeney. Three people were stabbed in an early-morning melee that followed the annual, informal Park Street Pub Crawl. And Assistant City Manager David Brandt, a key player in the city’s Alameda Point development process, was tapped for a new job as city manager of Redmond, Oregon.
The City Council voted to put a firefighter-sponsored measure to mandate minimum staffing requirements at the department to 2011, the last possible date they could place the measure on the ballot. Opponents of Lesson 9, the anti-gay bullying lessons approved by the School Board in May, launched a lawsuit and a recall effort against the three school board members who voted to put the lessons in place. District officials, meanwhile, announced they would seek to put a broader curriculum in place that covered more groups. Police arrested Colin Todd, 41, in the shooting of an Oakland police officer.
Facing a dramatic slowdown in their fundraising efforts, the Boys & Girls Club of Alameda asked the City Council to consider giving the club $2 million of its regional park bond money, touching off a hot debate about how the money should be used. Gim’s Chinese Kitchen, which has been operating in its Lincoln Avenue home since 1953, closed after an early-morning kitchen fire. The restaurant reopened in October. Local resident Nancy O’Malley was picked by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to fill out the rest of Tom Orloff’s term as district attorney, making her the county’s first-ever female DA. SunCal submitted its ballot signatures to the city, shortly after Alameda’s Chamber of Commerce announced it opposed their initiative.
In a surprise turnabout, Mayor Beverly Johnson and City Councilman Frank Matarrese dropped their support for SunCal’s ballot initiative. Parents and teachers submitted a proposal to set up a new charter at Chipman Middle School, which faces restructuring because the school has been unable to meet all of its federal testing targets. Vendors and shoppers at the monthly Alameda Point Antique and Collectibles Faire got a surprise when they heard the Faire would be closed down for the following month. As it turned out, the announcement was part of a burgeoning battle between the two couples that own the event, and the show went on as scheduled. An early morning oil spill closed beaches and brought cleanup crews to Alameda, which bore nearly all the brunt of the spill. Beaches were closed and fishing and shellfish harvesting halted for several weeks.
The City Council set a February election date for SunCal’s Alameda Point development initiative on a 3-2 vote, over the protest of council members and others who said the vote wouldn’t give them enough time to educate the public on the measure and that it would cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars it doesn’t have. Alameda Hospital announced the loss of its lucrative surgical contract with Kaiser Permanente, along with plans to revamp itself to deal with the huge financial hit. City Councilwoman Marie Gilmore announced her candidacy for mayor.
An Alameda County Superior Court judge angrily denied parents’ request that they be allowed to opt out of lessons aimed at curbing anti-gay bullying. Parents who initiated a recall against the three school board members who voted to okay the lessons dropped their recall campaign on the eve of their signature-gathering deadline. As part of its efforts to stem the loss of its contract with Kaiser Permanente, the Hospital Board approved an effort to implement a 5 percent, across-the-board wage reduction. The wage reduction is largely subject to the approval of the hospital’s unions. Two local residents – Tonya Avery Foti, 47, and Darin Gregory Vinall, 40, were homicide victims in unconnected cases this month. Foti was a resident at the Alameda Point Collaborative, while Vinall, who had just separated from his wife and who was facing a child molestation charge, was living on Bay Farm Island. Police are investigating both cases. The school board okayed The Academy of Alameda Middle School charter on a 5-0 vote. And local resident Hadi Monsef announced plans to run for mayor.