Oakland North’s biggest news stories of 2012

Uptown Oakland. Photo by Dara Kerr.

Uptown Oakland. Photo by Dara Kerr.

2012 was a year of big changes for Oakland, as the city dealt with its struggling finances, a possible federal takeover of its police department, multiple petitions to recall the mayor and the closure of several elementary schools. Occupy Oakland-related events and protests — including the peaceful Occupy Lakeview school encampment and two unrelated confrontational face-offs with police in downtown Oakland — continued throughout the first half of the year, while during the latter half much of the city’s political energy was focused on a hard-fought election season, which ultimately brought new faces to the city council and school board and resulted in the ouster of several long-serving city politicians.

Sometimes Oakland’s headline news shocked the nation; in April, a gunman killed seven and wounded several others on the campus of Oakland’s Oikos University, one of the largest mass shootings in US history. On the same day, several federal agencies raided Oaksterdam University, setting off a long chain of events that has led to confusion over the future of the city’s much-touted medical marijuana industry.

But there was good news, too; it was a banner year for new businesses, clubs, festivals and arts ventures in the city as Oakland’s reputation as a culturally diverse, artistically hip and economically burgeoning town continued to grow, and the city rolled out major development plans designed to keep Oakland’s professional sports teams in town. Meanwhile, renovations and new construction, both public and private, began to move ahead. In a sharp turnaround from the post dot-com-bomb years, when the city had difficulty wooing big retailers, many of Oakland’s development battles focused on neighborhoods eager to turn away or restrict the size of major chains in the hope of giving more breathing room to locally-owned businesses.

Here’s Oakland North’s guide to the biggest local stories in 2012 — let us know if you think we missed anything and please cast your vote in our poll for which three of these events you think will most influence the city’s future!

January

Early 2012 brought the aftermath of the Occupy Oakland protests that had roiled the downtown area for the last quarter of 2011, as city officials ordered an independent investigation into how police had handled interactions with protesters, despite public concerns about the make-up of the investigation team. Some Occupy protesters also began to discuss difficulties within the group, while others began to meet with city officials in an effort to build trust and discuss the fates of protesters still in custody.  But tensions rose again on January 28, or “Move-In Day,” when Occupy protesters attempted to take over the Henry J. Kaiser Center in order to hold a festival. Once again, protesters and police officers faced off in a battle that concluded with teargas and hundreds of arrests, including those of six journalists.

The city also began its process of adjusting to life without a redevelopment agency after Governor Jerry Brown signed an emergency measure terminating the state agencies in an effort to relieve the state’s budget deficit. As a result, the city took over affordable housing programs and other responsibilities once tasked to the agency. The city also began to wrestle with its own budget, cutting positions and merging departments, sometimes to protests from Occupy supporters.

After years of negotiation, the redevelopment of the former Oakland Army Base began to move forward again as plans began to solidify to turn it into a shipping and logistics center that would create more jobs for Oakland residents.

In the courts system, a federal judge ordered an independent monitor, Robert Warshaw, to begin oversight of the Oakland Police Department, in an effort to bring the department into compliance with the settlement terms agreed to after a 2000 civil suit regarding the “Riders,” four officers accused of planting evidence and making false arrests. At that point, the process of making the 51 court-ordered reforms had already dragged on for nine years, and the department had been warned that it was in danger of a federal takeover if it did not complete the reforms.

In the school system, the school board denied applications from ASCEND and Learning Without Limits, two high-performing elementary schools, to leave the district and become charter schools, launching a debate about how the district should best work with charter schools.

Meanwhile, the city’s dormant, but beloved, Parkway Theater announced it had found a new home on 24th Street in downtown Oakland and began renovations there.

February

In early February, city officials announced a new budget plan that would cut 80 jobs but spare funding for the zoo and Fairyland. Fallout from the 2011 Occupy protests continued, as two of the several efforts to recall Mayor Jean Quan began gathering signatures, residents put pressure on the Citizen’s Police Review Board to publicly discuss policing during Occupy Oakland, the council deadlocked over a resolution to allow tougher protest policing and the Kaiser Center, the target of the Occupy “Move-In Day” continued to lie vacant. After several winter events that had seen Occupy supporters take over foreclosed homes and even Lake Merritt, the protest continued to diversify, with protesters increasingly targeting banks and urging residents to move their money to credit unions on “bank transfer days.

Protesters also began an impassioned campaign to get the city to terminate its rate-swap deal with Goldman Sachs, an agreement the city had begun in 1997 to handle $187 million in city debt.

Meanwhile, the city named Howard Jordan the new chief of police, officially replacing outgoing chief Anthony Batts, and named Theresa Reed the city’s first female fire chief. In the courts system, an appeals court declared Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriages, unconstitutional. While same-sex marriages advocates in the Bay Area rejoiced, supporters of the ban began planning to appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court.

In one of the most sensational crime stories of the new year, taco truck owners being targeted by criminals began organizing their own defense plans. 

March

In March, city officials rolled out the ambitious “Coliseum City” plan designed to keep Oakland’s three pro sports teams in town by building hotels, office and retail space near the Coliseum complex, while sports fans founded Save Oakland Sports to urge the teams to stay local.

By March, one of the several efforts to recall Quan had called it quits, but two others continued to gather signatures. In the courts, the City Attorney’s Office took the owners of several East Oakland hotels to court, saying the businesses catered to prostitution.

In the schools, in an effort to keep ASCEND and Learning Without Limits in the district, the OUSD begins exploring a “partnership” model that will allow the schools to become charters but maintain closer ties with the district. The school board voted to allow both schools to become charters under this model. Protesters also rallied against the closure of five elementary schools planned for the end of the school year.

Meanwhile, as a sign of continuing economic stress in the Bay Area, Oakland North reported on the phenomenon of homeless people moving onto abandoned boats as well as the rise of alternative banking services and the problems facing first-time homebuyers in a state that no longer had redevelopment agencies.

April

On April 2, a gunman on the campus of Oikos University, a small private Christian college in East Oakland, wounds three and kills seven.  Police name the suspect as One Goh and say he was a nursing student upset over having been expelled from the school. Oakland residents react with a large interdenominational memorial ceremony.

On the same day, federal agents raid Oaksterdam University, as well as several other locations related to the school for marijuana industry workers, including a dispensary and the home of founder Richard Lee. Agents from the US Marshalls, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Department of the Treasury are seen during the raid, and DEA agents are seen removing items from the building, but none of the agencies make statements about what they are looking for or what crime they believe may have been committed. (Medical marijuana is legal in California but illegal under federal law; Oakland city officials have supported many pro-cannabis policies.) Oaksterdam continues to operate as other local dispensaries keep a low profile amid concerns about additional raids. Within weeks executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones had replaced Lee as Oaksterdam’s head, and supporters had organized a protest march on 4/20.

The Oakland Police Department announced that in the wake of its clashes with Occupy Oakland protesters, it would change its crowd control policy. (See Oakland North’s illustrated guide to the original policy here.)

In April the city also launched its first Oakland Veg Week, a celebration of vegetarian eating, and residents continued to debate the city’s ties to Goldman Sachs as the school board discussed giving more power to schools in an effort to keep them from becoming charters and leaving the district.

May

May began with a bang as Occupy Oakland protesters called for a May Day general strike and protest. After a largely peaceful daytime event that drew some 2,000 participants – despite some acts of vandalism and the police use of teargas to disperse crowds – a small group of protesters faced off with police after night fell, leading to about two dozen arrests. (You can see Oakland North’s photos of the day here.)

The Oakland murder of Hayward resident Brandy Martell, who identified as transsexual, raised concerns in Oakland about hate crimes. Meanwhile on the council, the city approved an ordinance that will hold banks accountable for blighted homes they have foreclosed upon and councilmembers began to discuss how to get out of the Goldman Sachs deal. As the clock ticked on efforts to recall the mayor, Oakland North put together a list of everything you wanted to know about the recall process but were too afraid (or busy) to ask.

In other news, Bites on Broadway returned thanks to the city’s new food truck ordinance, hundreds flocked to Chabot to observe the solar eclipse and renovations began on the Rockridge BART plaza.

June

Protesters opposed to the district’s closure of five Oakland elementary schools built a tent city at Lakeview Elementary with the help of Occupy protesters. Despite warnings from the school district, the encampment survived for several weeks, organized a protest march against school closures and set up a free summer school for local children.

Protest of the city’s Goldman Sachs deal reached a peak as three protesters flew cross-country to ask CEO Lloyd Blankfein for a way out of the agreement. (Blankfein didn’t meet with them.) The city also gave the final thumbs up to the Army base redevelopment plan.

Meanwhile, the 2012 election season kicked off as first-time candidates introduced themselves to the public at the Oakland Caucus and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed to put Measure B, a transportation improvement tax, on the November ballot. On June 14, a massive fire near the West Oakland BART station shut down service between Oakland and San Francisco and caused traffic snarls everywhere. (See video of the fire here.)

Also in June, friends and family held a memorial for Brandy Martell, the Oakland Museum of California staged a retrospective of Oakland comic artist Daniel Clowes, and the businesses near 40th Street announced plans for a new parklet.

July

After 16 days of camping at Lakeview Elementary, on July 3 Occupy Lakeview supporters were peacefully evicted by school district police. The next day, supporters gathered for a rally and march to OUSD Superintendent Troy Smith’s house. They continued to hold the outdoor People’s School at Splash Pad Park over the coming weeks and organized a concert and rally to protest school closures. Protesters asked the Alameda Labor Council to sanction a picket line that would prevent district officials from turning the campus into administrative space. (The council eventually decided against it.)

Meanwhile, unemployed protesters targeted the Obama campaign headquarters downtown, and a week later Occupy Oakland, anti-war and pro-pot activists rallied during his speaking engagement at the Fox. After months of community debate, the city council unanimously voted to end the city’s rate-swap deal with Goldman Sachs. And in July it was official: All of the recall campaigns had failed to gather enough signatures to put a motion on the ballot to remove the mayor. Quan would stay on as Oakland’s top official.

Also in July, Girls Inc. broke ground on its new headquarters in downtown Oakland where it will offer literacy, career and fitness programs for young women, renovations began on the California Hotel, once a stop for jazz and blues greats, Oakland artists launched the Beast Crawl, the East Bay’s first literary pub crawl, the Oakland Zoo had a baby boom, and city leaders and businesses continued to debate the future of marijuana in Oakland after the raid on Oaksterdam.

August

Oakland’s late summer festival season began with some old standards and some new favorites, including the Throw Down for the Town day of community service, downtown’s Art & Soul festival, the Pedalfest bike festival and the Oakland Olympics.

Meanwhile protesters once again converged on the Obama campaign’s headquarters, this time to protest the detention of Bradley Manning. Community groups both celebrated the approval of the Army base plan by throwing a “good jobs” party and voiced concerns about digital billboards planned as part of the project. In East Oakland, protesters rallied for a foreclosure freeze throughout the state and supported an Occupy-related outdoor library in the Fruitvale. The city began its restoration of City Hall’s plaza and lawn, damaged the previous year by the Occupy campsite, and BART tested a pilot program that would allow bikes on the trains during commute hours.

In crime news, Temescal merchants became frustrated after a series of robberies and break-ins in the neighborhood, and an audit of the OPD found that nearly $2 million had been spent on failed technology projects.

For Oakland students, the new school year began without Lakeview Elementary and four other closed campuses; Lakeview had officially been converted into administrative space by the end of August. And for hip-hop fans, the search began for a new home for the giant prop in the shape of the head of Digital Underground rapper Shock G.

September

Debate began over the controversial plans for a Piedmont Avenue BevMo! (and the city’s decision to vote down its permit requests) while local businesses banded together to help the staff of CommonWealth pub rebound after a fire.

In crime news, city officials re-launched anti-gun violence program Operation Ceasefire, while in North and West Oakland, electronics theft was on the rise. The family of Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old shot by Oakland police in May, began to press the city council for more information about the circumstances of their son’s death, leading to a raucous protest at a council meeting that was subsequently shut down. The council considered changing its meeting policies in the days afterward. Meanwhile, the school board approved a plan to address civil rights complaints over student suspensions.

Children’s Hospital Oakland celebrated its 100th birthday with a bash at Fairyland, and the festival season continued at full throttle, with the annual gay and lesbian Oakland Pride festival, Bay Area LadyFest, the Eat Real food festival, Ethiopian New Year celebration EnkutatashCoastal Cleanup Day, the Grand Prix bike race and the Oakland Underground Film Festival.

Michael Chabon released his new novel, Telegraph Avenue, and Diesel Bookstore turned itself into the book’s fictional “Brokeland Records” to celebrate the release. Meanwhile, space shuttle fans gathered at Chabot to say goodbye to the Endeavour.

October

It was baseball fever in Oakland as the A’s finished the season as American League West champions (despite having the lowest player payroll in the league) and seemed headed for the playoffs.

The Blueford family continued to rally for the release of official documents relating to their son’s death, leading to packed council meetings; redacted versions of those documents were released in early October. (You can read more about those documents here.) A District Attorney’s Office report later that month concluded that the officer had been justified in shooting Blueford, a conclusion denounced by his family and supporters.

Meanwhile Warshaw, the independent federal monitor, warned that the OPD was falling behind on its reforms, putting it in danger of federal takeover. The Oakland City Attorney’s Office began a suit against the US government to stop it from seizing the assets of Harborside, another Oakland medical marijuana dispensary. The OPD and several community organizations launched the “Dear John” program in which residents report the license numbers of drivers suspected of soliciting prostitutes, and also relaunched the city’s Operation Ceasefire anti-violence program. Arguing that the department has taken too long to institute the court-ordered reforms, two local attorneys filed a motion for federal receivership of the department.

Campaign season moved into full swing, as Oaksterdam welcomed surprise presidential candidate Roseanne Barr, and voters turned out to watch the presidential debates, learned more about the city’s ranked choice voting rules and attended innumerable debates over statewide ballot measures and forums to meet the city’s candidates for council and school board. (You can read Oakland North’s complete 2012 election coverage, including candidate profiles and breakdowns of the biggest ballot initiatives, here.)

On October 26, supporters marked the anniversary of the first police raid on the original Occupy Oakland camp with a peaceful downtown march. (You can see our special anniversary story on Occupy here.)

The fall festival season wrapped up with Rockridge Out and About, Taste of Temescal, Dia de Los Muertos (a bit early) and the “Swim a Mile” event for women’s cancer research. Oakland’s historic 16th Street train station also celebrated its 100th year as developers made plans to turn the area into retail and community space. The Oakland Zoo opened a new veterinary hospital and also moved ahead with plans for a controversial expansion into Knowland Park

November

The Giant’s, not the A’s, won the World Series — dejected Oakland fans did their best to celebrate a Bay Area victory.

Meanwhile the election season moved into its final stage as Oakland’s city council candidatesstate ballot initiative supporters and others hit the streets to win voters to their camps. Then finally it was election day and Oakland voters headed to the polls, leading to high voter turnout. Newcomer Dan Kalb and former school board member Noel Gallo won seats on the city council, while Rebecca Kaplan successfully defended her at-large seat from a run by long-time District 5 representative Ignacio De La Fuente.

Transit tax Measure B1 and controversial zoo funding measure A1 both failed, as did statewide food-labeling initiative Proposition 37, which won support in Alameda County. Schools funding initiative Proposition 30 did pass; you can read our explainer of it here, as did anti-trafficking measure Proposition 35. Oaklanders also celebrated a second win for President Barack Obama. (You can see Oakland’s ranked choice accumulated results here, how California voted in the state and federal elections here, a breakdown of what some local politicians spent to get your vote here, and our explainer of how ranked choice voting worked in District 1 here.)

As the year came to a close, and with some council members about to leave their seats, city officials made a number of big policy decisions: the city moved ahead with a municipal ID and debit card aimed at helping undocumented immigrants and others who lack official identification, and began a long period of debate over the controversial planned Rockridge Safeway expansion project. The city council also took up a tougher anti-graffiti ordinance and, after the city agreed on labor policies meant to encourage the hiring of local workers, city officials tackled questions from the public about the Army base redevelopment project.

City officials also argued against the prospect of federal receivership for the OPD, instead proposing that a locally hired “compliance director” oversee the department. Meanwhile the school system, faced with declining student enrollment, adjusted by consolidating some teacher positions.

Port workers briefly went on strike, organizers of the Art Murmur begin to talk about the event’s future in the wake of its massive growth, and city businesses once again banded together for Plaid Friday, a local alternative to the Black Friday shopping frenzy. In arts news, Peralta Junction built an entire midway fair and giant mousetrap, the city finalized preparations for a new Uptown art park, and the New Parkway got ready to open downtown.  (You can see video of the new theater here.)

December

As part of its end-of-the-year wrap-up, the council finally votes on the long-delayed appeal over a new dog park at Astro park (they tie) and OK’s the Safeway expansion project after some negotiations between the retailers and neighbors. City officials and the attorneys calling for a federal takeover of the OPD also reach a settlement, agreeing that the city will hire a “compliance director” to oversee the department’s reforms. A federal judge approves these terms, but notes that Warshaw will continue to act as an independent monitor and that the OPD could still enter federal receivership if the new plan fails. In late December, the city and OPD announced they were hiring former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton as a consultant to help lower the city’s crime rate, a position separate from the new compliance director.

While public reaction to the Army base redevelopment has largely been positive, the city now faced the problem of having to evict the base’s current tenants, largely businesses connected with Oakland’s film industry. In other development news, the city also presented the most recent draft of its plans for reworking the area around the Lake Merritt BART station. By year’s end, city leaders said the local economy was rebounding; Oakland North did an analysis here, as well as a study of where the city’s $2 billion in federal stimulus money had been spent.

And in the courts, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments about California’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban. You can see our local reaction coverage, as well as a timeline of the state’s complex history regarding same-sex marriage, here. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by June, 2013.

Here at Oakland North, over the course of the year approximately 40 UC Berkeley journalism grad students wrote, shot, recorded, edited and published everything on this site. Thank you to all of our readers for your constant support, thoughtful comments and never-ending supply of story tips. Happy New Year — we’ll see you all in 2013!

You can see Oakland North’s biggest stories of 2011 here.
You can see Oakland North’s biggest stories of 2010 here.

One Comment

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