2016: Year in Review

File photo  Ron Cowan, who helped create the Harbor Bay Ferry, was honored in September.

2016: Year in Review

 

The Alameda Sun takes a look back over the top 2016 news stories in Alameda. This week features news from July through December.

July
The Posey Tube reopened to traffic after being closed for maintenance and renovations since February. The improved tunnel received new guardrails. a repaired sidewalk, new lighting, closed-circuit security cameras, electrical work and signage. Loose concrete was removed, and corrosion cleaned up and painted over. On the exterior, the tunnel’s façade was given a facelift as well. According to city officials, all work conformed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. 

A new cement float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. By July 11, it was installed, and the old dock that the seals previously used removed, by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), the Bay Area’s ferry agency, in preparation for building its maintenance facility. Seal advocates have done everything they can to ensure that these seldom-seen mammals stay in Alameda, where they will be easily visible from the Bay Trail. 

On July 17, an Alameda man was killed, and another hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, after a shooting in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. The San Francisco medical examiner has identified the man shot and killed after a bar fight as Joshua Mejia, 26. San Francisco Police Department reported that the shooting happened about 2 a.m. in front of the Marquette Hotel at 965 Geary St. 

August
Alameda had one of its residents represent the Island and the United States in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Han Struznya, 27, was part of the rowing coxed men’s eight team, which won fourth place, narrowly losing out to Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, in that order. The team ended its bid for an Olympic medal in Rio de Janeiro after finishing fourth in the final on Aug. 13. The team completed the two-kilometer race in 5:34.23. Struzyna, 27, is the vice president of business development at Innovation Properties Group, Inc. in San Francisco. 

The Frank Bette Center for the Arts held its first event since its closure in March on Aug. 12, with a reception for its annual Plein Air Paintout exhibition. Paintings featured in the exhibit captured various scenery throughout Alameda. The event went smoothly, according to Margaret Fago, president of center’s board of directors. An official grand re-opening took place on Sept. 30. 

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a report Aug. 24 drawing attention to lack of transparency by the City of Alameda. The report held the city accountable for failure to disclose to investors all information regarding municipal bond transactions. Alameda was one of 71 cities or public organizations cited in the report, and the only one cited in the state of California. The initiative is a voluntary self-reporting program targeting material misstatements and omissions in municipal-bond offerings. City Manager Jill Keimach said that the the SEC had issued an order acknowledging the city’s self-reporting, as well as its agreement to correct the delayed filings and establish protocols to ensure this will not occur again.

September
A class-action lawsuit was filed against the Burma Superstar restaurant chain in Alameda County Superior Court. The chain has one location in Alameda, at 1345 Park St. The three plaintiffs alleged that the restaurant chain failed to pay them and other employees minimum wage. “The allegations fit into an unfortunately widespread pattern of  restaurants taking advantage of immigrant workers with limited English skills who are unaware of their rights — or who fear retaliation if they assert their rights,” Centro Legal de la Raza stated in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

On Sept. 15, WETA broke ground at Alameda Point for its $49.5 million Ron Cowan Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility. Many associate Cowan’s name with developing Bay Farm Island. However, he also played a larger-than-life role in forming water-emergency response on San Francisco Bay as we know it today. WETA honored Cowan by naming the Alameda Point facility for him. WETA carries more than two million passengers to and from Alameda, Oakland, San Francisco, South San Francisco and Vallejo on 12 high-speed passenger-only ferries. In addition, thanks to Cowan’s insistence and persistence, Bay Area commuters can rest assured that WETA has an emergency plan in place. Later, in October, WETA also announced the purchase of two new ferries, which will improve service and reliability. The ferries are scheduled for delivery later this year. 

Contrary to the Ron Cowan facility that was able to take off, another project had to be sidelined due to political maneuvering in Washington. The Alameda Point veterans facility project, costing $70 million and to be built by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), was originally greenlit after a bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein. The bill authorized funding the project, along with other VA projects, was unanimously passed on May 19. But hopes for release of funds were dashed in early July when the Zika virus funding bill was attached to the VA funding. Democrats in Congress viewed the move as a ploy by Republicans to force Democrats into choosing between Planned Parenthood and veterans. Both parties pointed fingers at each other. “Unfortunately, federal funding for Alameda Point has become a victim of the do-nothing Republican Congress,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Temple Israel was awarded the Community Peace Award by State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who represents the 18th Assembly District. Brickner was given the award at a ceremony on Sept. 26 in San Leandro. “Rabbi Brickner is being recognized for his leadership at Temple Israel and his inspiring commitment to the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health of both the congregation and the community,” said Bonta. Brickner currently serves as the president of the East Bay Council of Rabbis and co-chair of the Alameda Interfaith Coalition. He also is a member of both the Alameda Hospital Ethics Committee and the Interfaith Council of Alameda County.  Brickner has worked with the East Bay Jewish Community Relations Council to organize the first East Bay Area annual Halaqa Seder, an evening of sharing Muslim and Jewish perspectives on the Exodus.

October
The month of October witnessed high tensions ahead of the November elections. Three weeks from the election, discourse turned vitriolic against incumbent Councilmember Tony Daysog, as a slate of candidates combined efforts in attempt to unseat him. The slate ran a negative ad campaign, sending out mailers. The mailer had two ads, the first showing excerpts from planning board member David Burton’s Sept. 14 letter in the Alameda Journal. Burton was critical of Daysog for not supporting the Planning Board’s decision to allow an assisted living facility be built near the Oakland Airport. Despite the factual inaccuracies contained in the mailer, Daysog would go on to lose reelection the next month. 

The other hot topic of the election was rent control, which also had its share of election drama. A collection of renters’ rights’ advocates from six Bay Area cities filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) that a political mailer sent out by the California Apartment Association (CAA), in support of Measure M1, contained a misleading statement.  

In a disheartening election season, Alameda residents could at least turn to sports for a distraction. Oct. 28 was the 63rd annual Island Bowl played between the Alameda Hornets and Encinal Jets high school teams. This edition of the rivalry lacked much of its historic drama, with Encinal shutting out Alameda 41-0.  

November
Alamedans woke up on Nov. 9 to learn that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton; the Trumps, not the Clintons, will be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Jan. 20. The collective non-acceptance of the unexpected victory was immediately felt in Alameda. The Friday after Election Day, hundreds of students hailing from seven Alameda schools marched to City Hall to express their shared concerns about the future. Another demonstration, organized by Susan Davis, also sent an anti-Trump message, but in a unique format. It was a candlelight vigil to mourn the election results and whatever change that might bring, and was relatively silent compared to other election protests nationwide. The election results were followed by a spike in hate crimes, with Alameda being no exception. A custodian at Edison Elementary School reported racist graffiti spray-painted on campus Nov. 11. 

On the local front, Alamedans learned that they had a brand-new City Councilmember and two equally fresh School Board trustees. Voters passed a measure that extended the period that the district could depend on the current parcel tax. Voters confirmed that the city can rely on more money from a utility tax and gave a nod to a city ordinance to help stabilize the rental market. A measure that would have promoted renters’ rights from a mere ordinance to inscription in the City Charter failed to pass muster. 

City auditor Kevin R. Kearney won reelection and City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy also got to keep his job. 

December
December delivered Alameda a much-needed dose of holiday cheer, which played in the backdrop of a local tragedy. In addition to usual Christmas traditions like Christmas Tree Lane, Alamedans started a new one — Dec. 21 was the ceremonial launch of Project Tree, which kickstarted with a donation from the Alameda Sun. The idea was to seed a tree planting program in Alameda that would help restore and maintain the city’s urban forest. 
All the new trees seeded by this project should offset the loss of a 150-year old oak tree at the Maya Lin School, which was felled in Alameda’s first major storm of the season and which many community members were sad to see go. 

And speaking of trees, Alameda’s famous dance troupe The Dancing Christmas Trees, earned an invitation to the 90th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.   
On Friday, Dec. 3, the Ghost Ship fire claimed 36 souls, among them a native son of Alameda — Johnny Igaz. Igaz was a DJ at the warehouse party who used the stage name “Nackt.” Igaz graduated from Alameda High in 1999 and, shortly thereafter, decided on a career in music. Igaz attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco. He worked house parties, and his talent earned him a spot at Oakland’s Ruby Room. He helped found the Deep East party and participated in the eclectic Rare Form undergrounds. His friend Chris Zaldua remembers Igaz not just for his music. In a column he penned for KQED, Zaldua recalls that Igaz had a sense of humor that “never left him without a smile on his face and left him cracking jokes about his own struggles.” Zaldua also describes his late friend’s support for the causes he believed in. These included veganism, feminism, racial justice, non-violence, as well as fair pay for artists, musicians and creators.

Dec. 7 was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Alameda honored the fallen, at ceremonies held at the USS Hornet Museum, and on Coast Guard Island. Among the guests of honor were Lawson Sakai, a World War II veteran of E Company, 442nd RCT. He spoke to a packed audience about the origins of his regiment and its role in rescuing the Lost Battalion. 

Some Alamedans also went to Hawaii, to march in the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Honolulu, including Duane L. Blackwell, retired Superior Court Justice Chester Richard Bartalini, Also present were active duty Coast Guard officers Cmdr. J. Andrew Williamson and Lt. Ernest “Ernie” Saponara. 

File photo Residents and officials celebrated the restoration of Jackson Park’s Clark Memorial Bench in October.
File photo Immediately following the election of Donald Trump to U.S. President in early November, Encinal High School students took to the streets to protest.

 

Lawrence Kumarasivan is the new Alameda Sun calendar editor.