Figuring it's a harmless accessory to the bomb squad, the San Jose Police Department bought a drone without bothering to let the public know. When a records request turned up proof that they bought the 3-foot-tall, GoPro-fitted flying robot, the SJPD admitted it could have been more transparent—if you're into that kind of thing.
Windows to an Evil Soul
The downtown neighborhood was terrorized as homes and outdoor patio furniture started bursting into flames during the dark hours. San Jose police arrested arsonist/pedophile Patrick William Brennan, who, despite his prior arrests for torching things and molesting young girls, the criminal justice system felt the perfect place to send him was a trailer park in East San Jose.
Union building and trades boss Neil Struthers—husband of state Assemblymember Nora Campos—threatened to resign if he didn't get a bigger budget. His bosses called his bluff and Struthers found himself unemployed.
Hell on Wheels
John Ho, a wheelchair-bound serial litigant from Southern California, filed dozens of lawsuits against mom-and-pop businesses in and around downtown San Jose alleging violations of disability laws. Rather than go to court, most settled out of court, providing Ho and his attorney with a nice income stream.
Stop This Cop
San Jose policeman Geoffrey Graves was charged raping a woman while on duty after she called for help in a domestic dispute. Police Chief Larry Esquivel called the case " an isolated incident." In May, Graves got busted again for two felony counts of violence against his ex-girlfriend. Then, months later, the suspended cop was rearrested for taking a vodka bottle from a Safeway in Gilroy after hours.
Gun nuts had their panties in a bunch over Sunnyvale's gun control measure, which Judge Ron Whyte upheld. In his decision Whyte noted that assault rifles and magazines with more than 10 rounds "are hardly central to self defense."
The Hook on Mountain View
In an April interview, Capitola Councilman Ed Bottorff dismissed his arrest on suspicion of hooking up with a prostitute in Mountain View as a misunderstanding. "What I was doing in my mind was not illegal," said Bottorff, a retired Alameda County firefighter. "People get massages all the time." The charges were dismissed and all parties were pleased with the happy ending.
Big Pharma Is a Shameless Drug Dealer
Plagued by record-high overdose deaths, Santa Clara County joined Orange County in a lawsuit against the nation's five biggest drug dealers: Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis. The suit accuses the drug giants waging a "campaign of deception" to shill powerful heroin-like painkillers while downplaying the risk of addiction.
San Jose Joins Million-Man Club
San Jose put on its big boy pants with the announcement that its population surpassed a million people, becoming the third city in California to do so. The San Jose City Council recognized the accomplishment by changing its slogan to "San Jose: California's Third Biggest City."
Some men just want to watch the world burn. Pat Meyering would like to be the one holding the match. The Sunnyvale councilman repeatedly berated his colleagues and city staff for being on the take, so a group of fed-up residents initiated a recall effort.
Dispense with Pleasantries
For years, cannabis clubs cropped up throughout San Jose while the local government debated the best way to govern them. Finally, after years of unchecked growth and a referendum that forced the city back to square one, the City Council cracked down. Arguing that the proliferation of pot clubs caused a spike in marijuana use in schools, city officials voted for regulations that would make it impossible for all but a few dispensaries to survive.
The South Bay's performing arts scene took a hit in June, when the San Jose Repertory Theatre shuttered after 34 years in business. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and the city now must find a tenant for the large, angular, blue Hammer Building. Considering City Hall's track record when it comes to supporting live performance venues, we're sure it's in good hands.
X-Man: End of Days
Xavier Campos repeatedly avoided criminal charges throughout his four-year term on the San Jose City Council, but voters on the East Side gave him the boot in a surprising primary defeat. Residents say they're eager to be let down in new and exciting ways.
49ers, Fans Know the Score
With the arrests of Aldon Smith (DUI and weapons) and Ray McDonald (alleged domestic violence), the San Francisco 49ers earned the dubious distinction of having the most arrests in the league going back to 2012. But the Niners' fans are even more committed. Records show that the red and gold faithful are twice as likely to be arrested as Raiders fans.
"Thanks for pointing out this security breach. You're under arrest."
KLIV reporter Kris Rowberry was just following the crowd while reporting on the grand opening of Santa Clara's new $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium. After realizing that he and hundreds of others inadvertently slipped into the stadium without a ticket, Rowberry filed a report that had local police steaming mad and threatening to charge him with a crime. Cooler heads prevailed and the cops admitted they should be more concerned with doing their jobs.
County social worker Viviana Venegas blew off checking up on vulnerable kids for five months and lied about it in reports for five months. Outraged by Venegas' actions, the county acted swiftly by paying her another two years salary before firing her.
From Green to Gray
San Jose's City Hall, designed by famed architect Richard Meier, is only nine years old. But like most public buildings, it has been adapted to the needs of its occupants. The latest change: The "Bamboo Garden," which was designed to give shade and separation from the neighborhood on the south side of City Hall, is no more. In a $250,000 project, city workers dug up the struggling Henon bamboo and removed the plants, replacing it with freshly troweled concrete.
You're My Beach
Tech tycoon Vinod Khosla bought land in 2013 with the only passage to Half Moon Bay's Martins Beach and became embroiled in a lawsuit over public access brought against him by a nonprofit surfing organization. He lost. A San Mateo County judge decided that no, the peninsula beach wasn't exclusive property, and ordered him to open the gates to let in the commoners.
Thanks, But No Tanks
Amid national backlash against the militarization of local law enforcement, the San Jose Police Department opted to re-gift a hulking tank-like truck it inherited from the Pentagon to another agency.
Ernie Konnyu: Shameless Troll
Fuming over the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce PAC's support of openly gay Campbell Mayor Evan Low's bid for the Assembly, ex-congressman Ernie Konnyu unleashed a homophobic rant online. The 76-year-old Republican said it was "sick" that the PAC would back "a liberal so left that he wants to change the law to allow blood donations by gays," he vented on Facebook.
Cockroaches Will Outlive Us All
Santa Clara County launched a new restaurant grading system, making it easier to look up everything you never wanted to know about your favorite place to eat. The program not only requires restaurants to post health inspection grades on the front window, it made those reports accessible in an online database.
Bags Fly Free... and So Does She
An old woman, a frightened teenaged boy and an alleged truck thief all managed to bypass security at Mineta San José International Airport this year. Those are just the cases we know about. Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes said the airport has a "duty to share certain details" only if the public is already aware of the situation. Tell us something we don't know.
Wild Horses: Drag Him Away
Morgan Hill rancher Humberto Rivas Uribe, reviled by neighbors and animal rescue groups, got a three-month jail sentence after 38 sick horses were seized from his property. Two months earlier Rivas defended himself against accusations by saying, "somebody gave me those skinny horses."
Sam Liccardo Wins in OT
Election Night partiers started to get a little bitchy by midnight, when they realized their buzz wouldn't last long enough to see final returns. But Sam Liccardo says he didn't sweat it and fell asleep by 1am, three hours before the county election chief finalized precinct votes that placed him in a commanding lead for the San Jose mayor's race. Dave Cortese refused to concede as his supporters fanned rumors of vote manipulation, extending the race nearly a full week past election day.
Why Be Gracious?
Goofy uncle congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) showed he has a feistier side than previously thought after beating Ro Khanna in a tough re-election battle. Honda crowed on Twitter that his opponents wasted $5 million "trying to replace my progressive voice with a corporate spokesperson."
Nearly Fracked That One Up
Oil companies poured $2 million to defeat an anti-fracking measure in rural San Benito County, a farming region known more for its vineyards and ranches than oil wells. But a homegrown campaign that raised just $130,000 managed to draw enough votes during a low-excitement midterm election to outlaw well simulation techniques for good. The tiny county joined the ranks of 200 other local governments enacting bans in the thick of a shale oil and gas boom.
Irene Dalis Dies
The Bay Area arts community lost one of its strongest voices when Opera San José founder Irene Dalis died on Dec. 14. She was 89. In June, Dalis retired from her position as general director of the company, which marked its 30th anniversary this year. A mezzo-soprano who spent two decades singing with New York's Metropolitan Opera, Dalis returned to her native San Jose in the 1970s. A teaching post at San Jose State University inspired the founding of Opera San José—an organization considered unique in the United States as a professional opera company focused on developing the talents of up-and-coming artists.
The "atmospheric river" dumped on the Bay Area by Dec. 11's #stormageddon did cause serious flooding—homes in Alviso, the North Bay and on the peninsula fared the worst. But ahead of the storm's arrival, national news outlets like CNN grabbed the story, offering predictions almost dire enough to suggest that instead of the Big One fabled to some day jettison our fair state into the Pacific, lots and lots of water falling from the sky would actually bring its end. Bay Area residents retweeted pics mocking the national hype, with Godzilla overtaking the Golden Gate Bridge or an overturned lawn chair emblazoned with the promise, "We will rebuild." Meanwhile, in answer to hopes that all that rain might end the drought, the Santa Clara County Water District has said "not so much."