2017: Year in Review

File photos    In January Alamedans took to the streets to protest the newly elected president’s executive order on immigration.

Reflecting on Alameda stories written over past 52 weeks

Part 1

January
A major figure in Alameda history passed away on Jan. 11. Ron Cowan presided over the development of Bay Farm Island in the 1960s and 1970s. Cowan started off a modest owner of a men’s clothing store in South Shore Center in the 1950s. With a keen business mind, he multiplied his profits through real estate investment on Bay Farm Island. In addition, he was the primary booster of efforts to revitalize ferry transportation in the Bay Area. His name is enshrined in the upcoming Ron Cowan Central Bay Operations & Maintenance Facility — the headquarters for the emergency ferry service he started.  

A major theme of 2017 would be fire. On Jan. 13, a fire started overnight at Kamakura restaurant, a favorite of Alamedans. The fire did little to dent the spirit of the restaurant’s 93-year-old owner Faith Akiko Yamato, who said this episode would only “make her stronger.” The fire also brought together the larger business community of Alameda, with owners of local businesses starting an online fundraising campaign and hosting fundraiser dinners. 

January also witnessed Alameda’s swift response to the beginning of the Donald Trump presidency. In anticipation of potential immigration crackdowns and violence against people of color, the City Council moved quickly to declare Alameda a sanctuary city. Within 24 hours of Trump signing his first executive order on immigration on Jan. 27, Alameda residents took to the streets, in a peaceful march that drew an estimated 300 to 400 protesters.  

February
The city suffered the rare loss of a sitting elected official when school board member Solana Henneberry passed after a long illness. She died on Valentine’s Day. 

Alameda continued to voice its dissatisfaction with the Trump administration’s immigration policies through the Hands Across Alameda protest. Alameda residents joined hands and stood for photos along the shoreline. The group stood through heavy rains while singing “This Land is Your Land” on Presidents Day, Feb. 20. 

Three owners of commercial properties in Alameda  filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court against the Alameda Unified School District. The suit challenged the validity of Measure B1 that Alameda voters approved on Nov. 4, 2016. The school district put Measure B1 on the ballot to extend the life of Measure A, which voters passed in 2011. Measure A is set to expire in 2018. Measure B1 essentially extends the Measure A parcel tax through 2025.

March
Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) announced a plan to upgrade electrical meters. The new smart meters send usage information directly to AMP, avoiding the need for site visits to customers’ properties. The meters can also automatically report power outages to AMP, and can help get power running back quicker. The utility planned on having all homes and businesses retrofitted with the smart meters by December 2017. The meters have been met with some opposition from local residents based on the quantity of emitted radiation.

At its March 7 meeting, the Alameda City Council passed a resolution seeking a Congressional investigation of President Donald Trump regarding possible Constitutional violations. The council unanimously passed the resolution that potentially would lead to the president’s impeachment if violations were found.

On March 14, the College of Alameda proclaimed a groundbreaking new initiative at a Board of Education meeting. Billed as “The Alameda Promise,” the initiative seeks to provide one year of free tuition at the College of the Alameda, to any graduate of an Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) high school. The program’s purpose is to increase access to college, and create a deeper connection between the college and the island community. 

April
On April 1, 1942, the USS Hornet (CV-8) departed the Alameda Naval Air Station under disguise of fog to launch a surprise air raid on Tokyo. The counterpunch to Japan would be a morale-boosting victory for the United States, just four months after Pearl Harbor. The Doolittle Raid itself struck on April 18, 1942. Alameda celebrated the raid’s 75th anniversary in 2017. The Naval Air Museum arranged for a historic B-25 bomber, like the ones used in the raid, flyover above the Naval Air Station. The USS Hornet Museum held its own tribute. 

Two water-based agencies with significant operations in Alameda, both welcomed new vessels. Firstly, the United States Coast Guard brought a new cutter that would be homeported at Alameda’s own Coast Guard base. Coast Guard Island. The USS Monro, named after the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient Douglas A. Munro, sailed into its new Alameda home on April 6. Secondly, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority welcomed a new ferry to service the route from Alameda to San Francisco. The Hydrus replaced its predecessor the Encinal, and features more efficient boarding and un-boarding, faster speeds, lower noise, more bike storage, higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions. 

Students at Alameda High School had gotten used to the safety fence surrounding the historic building. The building has not been in use since 2014, awaiting funds to retrofit the building to make it earthquake-safe. On April 24, retrofit work began. In a groundbreaking ceremony a bulldozer pushed down a section of the fence. 

An overflow crowd packed Wood Middle School’s gymnasium on April 28 to learn that structural engineers had determined ground beneath neighboring Lum Elementary School could liquefy during an earthquake. Members of the school board and Superintendent Sean McPhetridge attempted to explain to unhappy parents the tests showed that an earthquake could sink the classroom addition they intended to build by as much as five inches. 

The remains of two different people were retrieved from different bodies of water in and near Alameda. The first retrieval occurred the morning of Friday, April 28, on the 1700 block of Embarcadero. Oakland Police Department officers received a report that a man’s body was floating in the Oakland Estuary just off The Embarcadero. The man was later identified as Kevin Mulholland, 48, of Alameda, The second body was retrieved the following day in a lagoon just north of the 300 block of Broadway. The coroner withheld the name of the deceased. 

May
Alameda residents and property owners marched to City Hall on May 18 to express their displeasure at the prospect of the City Council possibly overturning parts of City Ordinance 3148, which the voters approved in November 2016 as Measure L1. The group, which has the support of Alamedans for Fair Rent Control, consider Ordinance 3148 a fair rent control ordinance.  A spokesperson said that the group did not support the removal of a property owner’s right to terminate a lease without just cause.

The City Council announced that it was set to put its seal of approval on the proposed contract between the city and the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS). The animal services agreement not only increased funding for the shelter, but allowed the city to provide the shelter a facility, capital improvements at that facility and animal control officers at no cost.

On May 23, the Board of Education voted to shut down Lum Elementary School campus for the 2017-18 school year.

A Memorial Day motor-vehicle collision on Park Street at Lincoln Avenue took the lives of three people. A truck with seven people aboard collided with a minivan just after 8 a.m. According to witnesses, the truck was speeding southbound on Park Street when it clipped the front of the minivan at Lincoln Avenue. One witness recalled the truck going so fast that it went airborne as it crossed the Park Street Bridge. The impact caused the truck to spin out of control and roll onto its roof. It came to a rest at Webb Avenue, where it damaged a tree and the Alameda Bicycle shop sign. The accident crushed the truck’s roof, trapping the victims. Firefighters had to cut the roof off the truck with the Jaws of Life.

June
The issue of LGBTQ pride took center stage on June 6. The City invited its residents and officials to gather on the City Hall steps to celebrate the message “Love Our Island, LGBTQ Pride.” However, some members of the pride community decided they did not wish to stand with Mayor Trish Spencer. Vice-Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmembers Frank Matarrese, Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Jim Oddie decided they would pose with the dissident group, instead of on the steps with Spencer. The gay community was protesting Spencer’s stance on the gay community when she sat on the school board. 

Also on June 6, the City Council voted to protect renters from no cause evictions. Almost immediately after the vote, a group of landlords announced that they would begin a signature-gathering campaign to put a measure on the November 2018 ballot. If passed by the voters, the measure would force the city to add a clause to the City Charter that would again allow no-cause evictions. The landlords say that they need no-cause evictions as the last resort to evict illegal tenants without having to go to court. The landlords were true to their word. They teamed up to form “Alamedans in Charge — A Coalition of Rental Property Owners, Homeowners, Businesses and Tenants for Fair and Affordable Housing.” 

The new exterior paint at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) at Park and Encinal avenues had the neighbors seeing red. KFC turned the formerly Victorian styled restaurant into a giant to-go box. Concerned neighbors immediately wrote the Alameda Sun and the city’s Planning Department about the potential permit violation. The city emailed the neighbors explaining that KFC contacted the permit center inquiring whether permits are required to paint a building. Staff gave the fast-food restaurant the nod without referring to the color palette the city had earlier approved for the building. KFC later repainted the building using that color palette. 

 

 

File Photo    Prime among the city's issues this year were tenant and landlord rights. Above, Small landlords protested at city hall.
File Photo    Sitting school board member Solana Henneberry passed in February.
File photos    Among the more painful moments of 2017 was the closure of Lum Elementary School. In late April, parents met at nearby Wood Middle School to discuss Lum’s future (above). Engineers found soil beneath the school could subside risking lives. The school, like Wood, was built on made land reclaimed in the 1950s.
File photo    A horrific high speed collision on Park Street marred another Memorial Day Weekend in the Island City. Three people died.
File Photo    Somehow a celebration meant to bring people together separated into two factions at a Pride gathering at city hall in June.

Part two of the Alameda Sun Year in Review will appear next week.