Top 10 Bay Area stories of 2023 — and what they mean for 2024


In a sea of highs and lows, 2023 left the world and the United States celebrating and reeling.

Hamas brutally attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, sparking a new war in the Middle East. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 emergency finally over. Taylor Swift and Beyonce packed stadiums. Bruce Bochy won another World Series, only this time for the Texas Rangers.

Tony Bennett, Rosalyn Carter, Henry Kissinger, Sandra Day O’Connor and Tina Turner died.

India became the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon and passed China as the world’s most populous nation.  A wildfire wiped out the historic Maui town of Lahaina. A revolt in the Republican Party wiped out the House speakership of Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy.

King Charles III was coronated in Westminster Abbey. Barbie reigned at the box office. Tucker Carlson was dethroned at Fox News.

And for the first time in American history, a former president was charged with crimes. Donald Trump was indicted on 91 felony counts of mishandling classified information, obstructing justice, conspiring to overturn the 2020 election and falsifying business records.

How Trump’s criminal cases play out will shape the biggest story of next year: the 2024 presidential election.

Not to be outdone, the Bay Area saw its own share of big news stories in 2023, some linked closely to those world and national events. Here are the top 10:

The casket of Senator Dianne Feinstein inside City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in San Francisco, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)
The casket of Senator Dianne Feinstein inside City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in San Francisco, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) 

1) Dianne Feinstein dies

She was arguably the most influential woman in modern California history. For more than 50 years, Dianne Feinstein served as a powerful, consistent and stable force in state politics. The daughter of a San Francisco surgeon, she graduated from Stanford, served on the state parole board and won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969.

When Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated by former supervisor Dan White in 1978, Feinstein became the city’s first female mayor. She rebuilt its cable car system, pushed for gun safety laws, and hosted the 1984 Democratic National Convention. After losing a race for governor to Pete Wilson, Feinstein was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, “the Year of the Woman,” with Barbara Boxer.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen in her San Francisco office Friday, Dec. 17, 1999. Long before the primary election and nearly a year before the general, the 2000 U.S. Senate race already is shaping up as a rush to the center by two candidates who have been at odds with the mainstreams of their own parties, Feinstein and Republican Tom Campbell. (AP Photo/Dan Krauss)
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is seen in her San Francisco office Friday, Dec. 17, 1999. (AP Photo/Dan Krauss) 

She served 30 years — the longest of any California senator ever. A centrist who sometimes annoyed the liberal wing of her party, Feinstein passed a national ban on assault weapons, fought for abortion rights and preserved millions of acres of California desert, ancient redwoods at Headwaters Forest and Lake Tahoe’s clarity.

Her health problems led many Californians to conclude Feinstein had stayed in office too long. After she died on Sept. 29 at age 90, Gov. Gavin Newsom named union leader Laphonza Butler as her successor. Butler declared she wouldn’t run in 2024, setting off a titanic race between Democrats Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, along with Republican Steve Garvey, that will be whittled to two finalists in the March 5 primary.

Oakland Athletics fans chant “Stay in Oakland” before Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao addresses to fans during a press conference to urge the Major League Baseball owners to vote no for the Oakland A’s relocation to Las Vegas at the City Hall in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, November 7, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

2) Farewell to the Oakland A’s

They were the scrappy, blue-collar alternative to the Giants. After moving to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968, the Oakland Athletics won four World Series, in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1989. Fans cheered as Reggie Jackson blasted home runs, Rickey Henderson stole bases, and greats like Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Dennis Eckersley struck out opposing hitters.

But as the Oakland Coliseum aged, the A’s failed to build a new facility in San Jose, Fremont and multiple sites in Oakland. Billionaire owner John Fisher, heir to the Gap fortune, announced plans in April to move the team to Las Vegas by 2028. Enraged fans launched a “sell the team!” campaign. But on Nov. 16, Major League owners unanimously approved the move.

With the loss of the Warriors to San Francisco in 2019, and the Raiders to Las Vegas in 2020, the A’s are the last major pro sports team left in Oakland.

Next year, when their lease expires, could be the A’s final season at the Coliseum. As Hall of Fame announcer Bill King used to say: “Holy Toledo!”

Uvas Creek floods a section of Miller Avenue in Gilroy, Calif., as the latest series of atmospheric rivers hit the Bay Area on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
Uvas Creek floods a section of Miller Avenue in Gilroy, Calif., as the latest series of atmospheric rivers hit the Bay Area on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

3) The drought ends

The three years from 2020 to 2022 were the driest in California’s recorded history, breaking the old record set during the previous drought from 2013 to 2015. Parched lawns, low reservoirs and extreme wildfire conditions defined the Bay Area.

But shortly after New Year’s Day, a series of massive storms slammed the state. More hit in March. They wrecked Capitola Wharf, caved in West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, and burst levees on the Pajaro River in Watsonville. They also filled reservoirs, recharged local aquifers, gave the Sierra Nevada its biggest snowpack in 40 years, and led to a very mild fire season.

So far this winter, rainfall totals are below normal. Yet many of the state’s biggest reservoirs are still two-thirds full. And three more months of rainy season remain. The verdict? Water shortages aren’t likely in 2024.

As the hearse leaves, Alejandro Lopez, left, and his son Giovanni Lopez-Ruano mourn the death of Giovanni's godfather, Marciano Martinez, after the funeral at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Martinez was one of the seven farmworkers killed in a mass shooting on Jan. 23, and his body will be sent to his native town of Oaxaca, Mexico. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
As the hearse leaves, Alejandro Lopez, left, and his son Giovanni Lopez-Ruano mourn the death of Giovanni’s godfather, Marciano Martinez, after the funeral at Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay, Calif., on Thursday, February 9, 2023. Martinez was one of the seven farmworkers killed in a mass shooting on Jan. 23, and his body will be sent to his native town of Oaxaca, Mexico. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

4) Half Moon Bay mass shooting

Half Moon Bay is known for its beaches, big waves and pumpkin festival. On Jan. 23, the quiet community on the San Mateo County coast gained national attention as the latest place in America to be devastated by a mass shooting. Chunli Zhao, a 66-year-old farmworker, was charged with killing seven co-workers at Mountain Mushroom Farm and Concord Gardens.

Zhao told police he had been bullied and was angry his supervisor charged him $100 for a forklift repair after a collision.

Last month, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they will donate $1 million to help provide better housing for the victims’ families and other coastal farmworkers. In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a package of gun safety laws, including an 11% tax on firearms and ammo to provide $160 million a year for violence prevention, school safety and victim support programs.

Zhao remains in jail awaiting trial.

Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, arrives at court in New York, Feb. 9, 2023. The founders of the trading firm Modulo Capital are in talks with FTX about returning the $400 million investment that Bankman-Fried made in the fund. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times)
Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, arrives at court in New York, Feb. 9, 2023. The founders of the trading firm Modulo Capital are in talks with FTX about returning the $400 million investment that Bankman-Fried made in the fund. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times) 

5) Sam Bankman-Fried convicted

For a while, Sam Bankman-Fried was one of the richest men in the world. The shaggy-haired 31-year-old entrepreneur, born in Palo Alto to Stanford law professor parents, co-founded FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange. As digital currency exploded in popularity — and speculation — Bankman-Fried became immensely wealthy, with a $26 billion net worth.

It unraveled in November 2022 when federal regulators began to investigate the potential mishandling of customer funds at FTX. Bankman-Fried resigned as CEO. FTX declared bankruptcy. A month later he was arrested in the Bahamas. On Nov. 2, he was found guilty on 7 counts of fraud and conspiracy in federal court in New York City.

The conviction cast a shadow over the entire crypto-industry, a currency that legendary investor Warren Buffett has derided as “gambling tokens.” Bankman-Fried remains in a Brooklyn jail. When he is sentenced March 28, he faces up to 110 years in prison.

Workers excavate a 1,740-foot long outlet tunnel through bedrock as part of a $1.4 billion earthquake safety project to rebuild Anderson Dam near Morgan Hill. (Photo: Santa Clara Valley Water District)
Workers excavate a 1,740-foot long outlet tunnel through bedrock as part of a $2.3 billion earthquake safety project to rebuild Anderson Dam near Morgan Hill. (Photo Courtesy: Santa Clara Valley Water District) 

6) Price tags skyrocket at big Bay Area projects

Two of the Bay Area’s largest public works projects in decades gave taxpayers sticker shock this year.

On Oct. 4, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority announced that long-awaited plans to extend BART six miles from Berryessa to downtown San Jose had soared to $12.2 billion, nearly triple the $4.7 billion estimated in 2014.

A month later, the Santa Clara Valley Water District announced the cost to rebuild the 1950s-era dam at Anderson Lake, the county’s largest reservoir, had hit $2.3 billion — triple from two years ago. That project, ordered by federal regulators, is designed to prevent the 240-foot dam from collapsing in an earthquake.

Officials at both agencies, who have come under criticism for costly design decisions, blamed the overruns on increases in materials and labor costs, a worldwide trend from pent-up demand after COVID.

“Labor rates have gone up,” said K.N. Gunalan, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “Engineering costs have gone up. Demand is higher. People are vying for limited resources.”

Body camera video released by Antioch Police captured an October 26, 2021 encounter with Dajon Smith, suspected of stealing a car, which involved officers siccing a canine, and firing a 40mm sponge bullet at Smith. (Photo Courtesy: Antioch Police)
Body camera video released by Antioch Police captured an October 26, 2021 encounter with Dajon Smith, suspected of stealing a car, which involved officers siccing a canine, and firing a 40mm sponge bullet at Smith. (Photo Courtesy: Antioch Police) 

7) Antioch-Pittsburg police scandal

It’s the biggest police scandal in the Bay Area in at least 20 years.

Altogether this summer, 14 current and former Antioch and Pittsburg officers were charged in four federal indictments and four local criminal complaints. The FBI arrested many of the officers. Allegations include assaulting citizens, cheating on training courses, distributing steroids, relentlessly using police dogs to bite suspects, interfering in murder investigations, and accepting bribes.

When investigators obtained officers’ cell phones, they found thousands of racist texts.

Antioch Police Chief Steven Ford retired abruptly in August. State Attorney General Rob Bonta is investigating. And two state lawmakers have asked the CHP for help because the scandals have thinned the Antioch police so severely. How the department will rebuild its ranks, and community trust, is a big question for 2024.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Principal Vito Chiala shows a Narcan nasal spray similar to the one he used to save a student overdosing on fentanyl at Overfelt High School in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Principal Vito Chiala shows a Narcan nasal spray similar to the one he used to save a student overdosing on fentanyl at Overfelt High School in San Jose, Calif. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

8) Fentanyl crisis continues

Fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin, was a driving force behind countless tragedies in 2023, from suburban teens dying of accidental overdoses to delirious users wandering through squalid homeless encampments.

Astoundingly, Fentanyl now kills more Californians each year than traffic accidents or homicides.

Among the heartbreaking toll in 2023 was Phoenix Castro, a 3-month-old San Jose girl who died in May after ingesting a lethal dose while in her father’s care. Her death was the first of three children younger than 2 killed by the drug in the South Bay in the span of six months.

Phoenix’s death also has prompted a backlash by child welfare caseworkers against a policy put in place in 2021 by then-Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams in which county lawyers began to override social workers who wanted to remove children from troubled homes, on the grounds that keeping families together was the most racially equitable policy. A state investigation found multiple instances where children were placed into protective custody by police, only for the county to immediately return them to unsafe parents.

Santa Clara County supervisors have vowed major reforms. After a Bay Area News Group investigation, some are underway: The number of cases the county filed to protect children in dependency court spiked from 5 in October to 29 in the first three weeks of November.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers passed several bills this summer to increase penalties for fentanyl dealers. And in March, voters will decide on a $6.4 billion state bond measure pushed by Newsom to build more health facilities, including clinics and psychiatric hospitals for mentally ill and drug-addicted people. Newsom is likely to run for president in 2028, and drugs and crime are some of his biggest vulnerabilities.

President Joe Biden and China's President President Xi Jinping walk in the gardens at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., Wednesday, Nov, 15, 2023, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative conference. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
President Joe Biden and China’s President President Xi Jinping walk in the gardens at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, Calif., Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative conference. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool) 

9) APEC conference brings Biden and Xi to Bay Area

It didn’t have the electric excitement of a Super Bowl or a Taylor Swift concert. But it was more important. In November, San Francisco hosted the Bay Area’s largest gathering of world leaders since the United Nations charter was signed in the city in 1945. Overall, 21 world leaders, along with 1,200 CEOs and 30,000 delegates attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum at Moscone Center and other locations.

Despite the expected protests, it largely went off without a hitch.

The highlight: President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, discussing everything from Taiwan to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Xi agreed to curb his country’s illegal fentanyl production. The two leaders also reopened military-to-military communications, reducing the risk of conflict. And they laid the foundation for future agreements on climate change.

In a gesture of diplomacy, Xi announced China would be sending new pandas to U.S. zoos.

“Confrontations don’t work,” said Zhang Lei, a Chinese businessman whose company, Cheche Group, is listed on NASDAQ. “You don’t make money with confrontations.”

FILE - Demonstrators shut down the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge in conjunction with the APEC Summit taking place Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. San Francisco's District Attorney's Office on Monday began charging demonstrators who blocked traffic for hours last month on the Bay Bridge to demand a cease-fire in Gaza.(AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
FILE – Demonstrators shut down the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge in conjunction with the APEC Summit taking place Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office on Monday began charging demonstrators who blocked traffic for hours last month on the Bay Bridge to demand a cease-fire in Gaza. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) 

10) Protests over Israel-Hamas war

The Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas, in which militants killed more than 1,200 people in Israeli communities and took roughly 250 hostages, sparked a massive counterattack by Israeli forces in Gaza. More than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed, and 1.9 million displaced.

The war has touched off intense protests across the Bay Area — from the Bay Bridge, which activists shut down on Nov. 17, to city councils in Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco and other cities where pro-Palestinian advocates have demanded local support for a cease-fire.

Jewish groups say some of the raw energy has veered into antisemitism. On Nov. 28, two Jewish organizations sued UC Berkeley, saying Jewish students have been harassed and threatened. On Dec. 12, the U.S. Department of Education announced investigations into Stanford, UCLA and four other colleges over alleged ethnic discrimination, including antisemitic and Islamophobic activities, on the campuses.

The issue has divided the Democratic Party, with polls showing older voters supporting Israel and younger voters supporting the Palestinians. In 2024, it will become clear whether young progressives will stay away from the ballot box, or vote for a third party instead of supporting Biden when the likely alternative, Trump, has promised to ban Muslims from the U.S., support Israel even more, and deport millions of immigrants.



Source link

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts