Maybe we can start this over again? Or return it like a holiday present we didn’t need?
Just as we thought self-driving cars would free us from the tyranny of car insurance and $40 parking tickets, that humanity was heading towards this beautiful nirvana of artificial intelligence and on-demand pizza delivery drones, that mobile computing would allow us to spend our entire workdays in coffee shops … we were woken up by brutal reminders of our mortality: a never-ending parade of celebrity deaths and truck attacks, plus a warehouse fire and a firework market that exploded in flames. The beginning of the new American kleptocracy is upon us, run by oil executives, climate change deniers and a family that seems not to have heard of conflict-of-interest rules or feel a need for tax return disclosures.
Yes, 2016 was the gift that kept on giving. So let’s put it to rest and get on with 2017, because there’s going to be a lot more to write about in the new year.
Can we pop that cork now?
In the face of mounting criticism over an organizational culture that gave rise to conflicts of interest, shady contracts, broken bylaws and racist emails, Beau Goldie, the longtime CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, slinked off to retirement at the board’s urging. Goldie often touted his conservation efforts during the drought, which made his send-off party at a water-guzzling golf course all the more fitting.
He Had Pizza in the Other Hand
Master Thich Duc Huy—an alleged pizza fanatic—went viral when a flap over construction of his Evergreen Hills temple caught the attention of The Late Show host Stephen Colbert. “A community in San Jose, California, is complaining that a local Buddhist temple is too noisy,” Colbert said in his monologue. “It makes sense. Just imagine the sound of all those one hands clapping.”
Santa Clara hosted Super Bowl 50 without a hitch, but less than a day after the game the city’s mayor, Jamie Matthews, shocked everyone by announcing his resignation with three years left on his term. Matthews cited his desire to spend more time with family, which anyone with family knows is a lie.
Dicey Year for Darcie
State Assembly candidate Darcie Green was a fast-rising star in county Democratic politics until her new husband’s past abuse of women came to light. She placed sixth in a field of seven in the primary with less than 6 percent of the vote, gave birth to the couple’s child and announced plans to sue her employer, Kaiser Permanente, for forcing her into an unpaid leave during the campaign, reportedly after the health care giant got a phone call from state Sen. Jim Beall.
Next Time We’ll Use a Spellchecker
Computer hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York but were foiled by a typo. (Memo to thieves: It’s “foundation,” not “fandation.”) Still, the initial $81 million they managed to transfer to the Philippines made it one of the largest known bank thefts in history.
White Makes Right
An arbitrator made San Jose rehire police officer Phil White, who was fired in 2014 for tweeting about his “God given and law appointed right to kill you” in the aftermath of controversies over police shootings of unarmed black men. Again, #nevertweet.
Three white students at San Jose State subjected their black roommate to racist taunts, hung a Confederate flag in the common area and restrained him by putting a bike lock around his neck. Somehow a jury decided they were only guilty of boys being boys.
Apple refused to help the FBI crack an encrypted iPhone that belonged to a terrorist in San Bernardino, though it turned out to be much ado about nothing, since Cellebrite of Petah Tikva, Israel was happy to step in and help. CEO Tim Cook defended the decision, saying it would’ve been “bad for America.” Worse for America: Apple’s U2 album.
Scared the Daylights
Assemblyman Kansen Chu of San Jose proposed a bill that would effectively kill daylight savings time in California. The legislation died in the Senate.
After 30 years the nonprofit Silicon Valley Ballet made its final curtain call. The company struggled to get funding and sustain relationships with big-time corporations. The New Ballet School has stepped up to revive poetry in motion in the valley, and by December an unprecedented number of competing Nutcrackers graced local stages.
Enoch Garcia, an assistant track coach at Mt. Pleasant High, was accused of having sex with students—just one of an unsettling number of sex abuse cases involving teachers in Santa Clara County this year. A student crushing on a teacher: typical. The other way around? Detention.
Four Santa Clara police officers have been arrested in the past two years, including a sergeant convicted in March of masturbating in the stockroom of Santana Row’s Annieglass boutique. As his trial was underway, SCPD was in the news again when Officer Tyson Green was charged with running a chop shop specializing in stolen Chevy Camaro ZL1 engines.
One Cross Hombre
Andrew DeFaria’s eyes were routinely assaulted by a “blatant religious symbol” during his commute near Memorial Cross Park in Santa Clara, so the avowed atheist filed a lawsuit demanding a 14-foot granite cross be removed from city property.
One CrossFit Hombre
After hearing a car crash and seeing a plume of smoke from an overhead freeway, Los Gatos CrossFit instructor Greg Pena scaled a 25-foot wall to help a mother and her children escape an overturned vehicle. Pena said he didn’t want to be called a hero, which is what a hero would say.
Former Assemblywoman Nora Campos accused state Sens. Jim Beall and Kevin de Léon of coordinating an attack on her husband at a casino night fundraiser at the Fairmont. That’s one side of the story. Enrique Arguello, head of laborers union Local 270, tells a different tale. He says Campos’ husband, Neil Struthers, actually picked the fight and called him racial and homophobic slurs. Arguello defended himself by kicking Struthers “in the balls,” according to Campos. You read that right.
Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes built a house of cards on baloney blood tests, and then it all fell down. A young scientist realized the company’s test results weren’t nearly as accurate as Theranos claimed to investors—helping it become valued as high as $9 billion—and blew the whistle to the Wall Street Journal. Holmes, who became the world’s youngest billionaire at 31 and was worth as much as $4.5 billion, remains CEO but has lost everything and faces multiple lawsuits.
Their Cameras Actually Were Watching Him
Police say Raul Murillo Diaz, 30, fired a gun and threw Molotov cocktails at Google's Mountain View HQ because he believed the search engine firm was “watching him.” He’s also accused of an arson attack on one of Google's self-driving cars. Diaz told cops he was responsible for three attacks and had been planning another one.
Crime on Both Sides of the Bars
Jail guards Phillip Abecendario and Tuan Le were charged with beating an inmate who was already shackled, leading to increased scrutiny on the beleaguered jail system. This incident, along with a 2015 beating that left an inmate dead, prompted the county to investigate its correctional arm and figure out how many criminals it employs.
What to Do When a Cop Points a Gun at You
San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez, a former cop, revealed that a city police officer pointed a gun at him and instructed him to put his hands up while responding to a silent alarm at Peralez’s home. “I complied,” the councilman said, advising members of the public that it’s always the best course of action under the circumstances.
San Jose made international headlines as a proposed development threatened to make 600 people homeless. The Reserve apartment complex became an example of how not to redevelop the urban landscape and a case study for gentrification and displacement. Other than that, the project was awesome.
Trumpsters Sue San Jose
Donald Trump’s traveling circus came to San Jose and protesters threw eggs and water bottles at his campaign supporters, leading to fights on the street. Trumpsters filed a class-action lawsuit against the city and its police department, noting that violence is only encouraged inside the rallies.
Man Swindles 4-Year-Old
Tri Van Nguyen was part of a South Bay identity theft ring that preyed on the elderly to pay for bills and breast implants. But they also stooped low enough to assume the identity of a 4-year-old boy. The poor kid told reporters he would have no choice but to start from scratch.
President Barack Obama huddled with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a Stanford entrepreneurship summit. The POTUS joked that his 2008 volunteers suggested he use “this new thing called MySpace,” which made Zuck laugh longer and louder than anyone felt natural.
Mickey Mouse Games
Seven contractors were caught accepting cash and plane tickets in a Palo Alto VA bribery scandal. One person even accepted a trip to Disneyland, the so-called “happiest place on Earth,” which is literally the exact opposite of the VA.
Creepy Ass Clowns
The spirit animal embodiment of 2016, people started dressing up as creepy ass clowns, weeks ahead of Halloween. Clown sightings rolled in across the country and people created maps to track their sinister movements. Eric and Donald Trump Jr. have since returned their costumes.
Pokémon Go showed the world just how much fun loitering can be. From invasions of private property and traffic accidents to people walking off cliffs and abandoning their cars, the words “Gotta Catch em All” meant awkwardly traversing the natural world in search of digital life forms.
San Jose police officer Samuel Marquardt spent an inordinate amount of time trying to seduce gay men at a downtrodden park. His absurd focus put the department in the crosshairs of a civil rights lawyer, who promised to sue SJPD for discrimination as soon as the officer picked up his trousers.
Gang of Thrones
San Jose police officer Derrick Antonio was arrested in a Vietnamese street gang bust dubbed “Gang of Thrones.” Along with huge sums of guns, drugs and cash, police took an alligator into custody. The motherfucker wouldn’t talk.
San Jose adopted bird-safe building requirements after a report suggested millions of birds die in our riparian corridor every year from flying into walls and windows. Now they’re going to return the favor.
In August, longtime Japantown art gallery Empire 7 announced it would close its exhibition space at Empire and Seventh streets. They’re getting the boot from their current landlord as the earth is being bought up underneath them. Instead of giving up, E7 co-founders Juan Carlos Araujo and Jennifer Ahn launched an ambitious Go Fund Me campaign (they’re seeking $1.5 million) to buy a new gallery space of their own—just a fraction of the massive sum developers will pay to raze the entire block to make way for a 92-unit luxury apartment complex.
Mark Zuckerburg posted to social media after a SpaceX rocket blew up, destroying a Facebook satellite it was supposed to transport and deposit in space. The $200 million satellite would have provided internet service to millions of people in Africa. Zuck groused that he was “deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite,” while Musk went on Twitter and explained that, technically, it was “really a fast fire, not an explosion.”
Apple came out with its new iPhone 7 and people were furious about the lack of a headphone jack. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 owners responded, “Well, at least it doesn’t explode in your pants.”
Maybe It Was the Meth
For four months, a Blossom Hill neighborhood was terrorized by seven reports of a sniper firing at passing vehicles. Not a great shot, only one car was grazed and one was hit by flying glass. Michael James Lee Lewis, 30, was arrested on September 7 on multiple counts, including methamphetamine possession and attempted murder, after ballistic evidence matched a handgun found in his home.
Less Than Treasured Times
Depending on whom you ask, the 10th and final Treasure Island Music Festival was either a wet and wild time or a total disaster. Due to a massive construction project, the Noise Pop-produced music fest will have to move off the island next year. As if that weren’t a big enough bummer, torrential downpours and strong winds this year led to many artists canceling their sets and upset fans demanding refunds. All this, plus a powerful gust, sent a vending machine toppling onto a patron, allowing her to skip the lengthy shuttle lines and catch a ride back in an ambulance.
In protest of the arbitrary and excessive use of solitary confinement, hundreds of inmates from Santa Clara County participated in a national, five-day hunger strike. The county blinked and made concessions, and inmates celebrated over better treatment—until they saw mystery meat remained listed as the soup du jour.
There’s A New Law in Town
Brock Turner’s sentence in the rape case heard ’round the world prompted California to revise its laws on sexual violence. Having sex with an unconscious person now earns even drunk Ivy Leaguers a mandatory prison sentence, instead of just jail time in a county clink that can be broken out of with saw blades and bed sheets.
The Great Escape
A few days before Thanksgiving, two Santa Clara County Jail inmates escaped using bed sheets. Bed sheets! Rogelio Chavez and LaRon Campbell sawed their way out of their cell and climbed down using, did we say, bed sheets. Chavez was detained after an eight-hour standoff with police while Campbell was captured after falling through the ceiling of his sister's home in Antioch.
A pillow manufacturer claimed its product could ease the symptoms of everything from migraines to fibromyalgia. Surprisingly, that was a bunch of bunk. Prosecutors from eight California counties—including Santa Clara County—sued MyPillow for failing to deliver promised results. About $1 million of the settlement money went to South Bay nonprofits, including domestic violence shelters and other charities.
Quincañera Goes Viral
Cresencio Garcia just wanted to make sure his daughter’s quinceañera was special. He unwittingly succeeded in realizing every social media manager’s dream after the video he made to promote the birthday party was set to “public” and went viral. More than 1 million people RSVP’d and tens of thousands showed up to the small central Mexico town, creating gasoline shortages and driving up prices.
See, Humans Can Do Things, Too
Robots have begun influencing our financial lives in invisible ways. This year, Stanford assistant professor Elizabeth Blankespoor and PhD candidate Christina Zhu analyzed the effects of computer-written articles on company earnings announcements. Trading volume increased by 38 percent for companies that went uncovered back in the days when actual reporters picked which firms to write about.
Cloud storage app maker Evernote scrapped its plans to modify its “privacy” policy to allow its employees to read customer data. The change would have facilitated new “machine learning” features but since those machines don’t always get it right, humans would check their work. Customers, many of whom store sensitive private information in their notes, started freaking out and canceling their accounts. Hopefully Evernote “learned” from this experience.
Billionaire Boys Club
President-elect Donald Trump summoned Silicon Valley billionaires to Trump Tower for a deep and meaningful discussion about U.S. technology policy. Pictured here are Trump supporter Peter Thiel and Apple CEO Tim Cook, who defended his participation amidst much criticism.