Features & Columns

2019: That Friggin Year

A guide to all the stories you missed, forgot or wanted to forget

Staying in bed all year is not an option for most of us, but if you felt like doing that in 2019, we get it. Recent decades have ended on more hopeful notes—the dotcom frenzy and the inauguration of Barack Obama defined the previous two years that ended with nine. Songs struck a more positive note as well. The end of 1999 brought us Rob Thomas' "Smooth" and ten years later "Boom Boom Pow" advised us that we were so 2000 and late—and to get on with "that future boom boom boom."

What coal nugget landed in this year's stocking? The inescapable, twisted "Bad Guy," an ode to puffed-chest criminality embodied in the shameless name callers and ass slappers that seem to have infected everything from Hollywood's couches and presidential tweets to marathon finish lines.

Kumbaya optimism and the mobile computing power that surged at the decade's onset gave way to a crude devolution. The promise of digital democratization spreading Arab Spring-style liberation and global prosperity crumbled faster than Greenland's Ice Sheet. Somehow, the oligarchs, despots and climate change deniers won the decade.

And so it goes. If we can't drain the swamp, we'll celebrate it. In that spirit, we bring you our annual compendium of bad actors and ignominious events that fill the ink smeared pages of The Year in Review.


Didn't See Him Coming
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo's 2019 got off to a painful start when, on the first day of the new year, he crashed his bicycle into an SUV that cut in front of him on Mabury Road. The run-in left him in a body brace for months to come and reminded the world how dangerous the cycling enthusiast's own city is for two-wheelers.

Playing Cards
Records unsealed in court showed that Facebook knowingly let kids use their parents' credit cards to rack up huge bills for online games. They called the little gamblers with big spending problems "whales" and their sneaky habit "friendly fraud."

You've Cat to be Kitten Me
A San Jose dad whose daughter left for college set up a living arrangement for her pet cats, Tina and Louise, that made international headlines for being "peak Silicon Valley." He shelled out $1,500 a month for their own studio, complete with an Apple TV, a sofa and a cat tree.

It's Bad Manners to Wear Hats Indoors Anyways
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, chef-partner at San Mateo's Wursthall restaurant, decreed on Twitter that he refuses to serve anyone wearing a MAGA hat, comparing the pro-Trump regalia to swastikas and white hoods. A couple of days later, he apologized after backlash and walked back the ban

Watch Me Come Back
After getting outed for pressuring women to watch him pleasure himself, comedian Louis CK laid low for awhile before attempting his comeback tour. When he finally emerged from the shadows, the disgraced standup stopped at the San Jose Improv, which drew a full house—and a throng of protesters.


DA Learns Absence of 'No' Does Not Mean 'Yes'
The Santa Clara County DA let tent-dweller Sharwian Bobian walk free after determining that a victim's failure to fend off a sexual encounter led him to believe she consented. After Metro reported that the accused rapist was running free and granting media interviews, the DA reversed course, commencing a days-long manhunt that led to Bobian's capture and confinement.

Cupertino Mayor Envisions Economy Without San Jose Workers
During his inaugural state-of-the-city address, Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf held up a map of his hometown surrounded by a thick black line. "You've heard about the wall along our southern border," he said, motioning toward the image. "This is the wall around Cupertino. We have a big problem with all these Teslas coming through our city from Saratoga, and other people from other cities." His plan to address it? To build a wall and make San Jose pay for it. He may have meant it as a joke, but housing advocates were not amused.

Shoot a Video, Not a Classroom
The National Rifle Association's chief propagandist, Dana Loesch, took a shot at San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Twitter over a proposed policy to keep a closer eye on gun sales. "Mayor Sam Liccardo is pushing for city legislation that would require—get this—every single firearms transaction to be recorded. It's like a de facto registry," Loesch breathlessly reported in a few-minute clip. "Both video and audio recording. That's a gun registry." To which Liccardo replied: "Thx for spreading the word about our new gun safety proposal. In the hour it took you to shoot & edit this video, 4 people died from gun violence."


$20 Million Buys a Lot of Drinks
Former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo was arrested in Menlo Park for being drunk in public and was relieved it was for something unrelated to the bribery scandal that got him ousted from power. The 73-year-old visiting Stanford scholar's relief was short lived as the extradition warrant related to a $20 million bribe caught up with him. He was detained in July and denied bail at an October hearing in which his wife shouted "What the fuck is this trial? It's a joke! It's a joke!" before being dragged from the courtroom.

We Really Used to Think Stanford People Were Smarter Than the Rest of Us
A handful of local entrepreneurs got caught up in a massive college admissions scandal that implicated Hollywood A-listers such as Felicity Huffman along with Silicon Valley's tech elites, including Rise Fund's William McGlashan Jr. "Operation Varsity Blues" uncovered a far-reaching scheme in which wealthy parents paid a fixer to bribe athletic coaches to help admit undeserving students at a host of colleges, including Stanford University.

CATBIRD SEAT: A doting father made global headlines when news got out about him renting a cottage for the sole use of his college-bound daughter's two furbabies.

The Meth Was a Tipoff
The Drug Enforcement Administration says Alex E. Taylor of San Jose outfitted his Volkswagen Jetta with "police-type lighting," two firearms, a gold-stye DEA neck badge, a pair of handcuffs and some of methamphetamine. He probably fooled a few motorists, but pulling over a U.S. Department of Transportation official who was on his way to church led to his unraveling and arrest.

Cash Buyer
A welfare recipient in the Santa Cruz Mountains spent more than $1.1 million to buy a home despite claiming to have no income and no assets. A raid on the property unearthed some clues about how the homeowner may have financed the purchase: 115 pot plants, $155,038 in cash and 90 pounds of ready-to-sell weed, 10 pounds of cannabis resin, a vape pen-loading station and 1,100 e-cig cartridges with THC concentrate.


Bitcoin Bandit
Santa Clara County prosecutors landed one of the nation's first convictions for "SIM swapping," a technique in which hackers get a mobile carrier to transfer a customer's phone number to a new SIM. Twenty-year-old Joel Ortiz is spending years behind bars after admitting to bilking more than $1 million in cryptocurrency by using the SIM-swapping method to commandeer victims' smartphones.

Chicken of the Rainbow
In a display of performative wokeness, San Jose's elected leaders decided to festoon the Chik-fil-A at the Mineta San Jose International Airport with a bunch of rainbow flags—a protest against the company's controversial donations to anti-LGBTQ causes.

Christian School Remembers Jesus Wasn't a Hater
Anti-fascist hacktivists exposed a Valley Christian teacher as a member of a white nationalist chat group, prompting the private high school to suspend and eventually fire 30-year-old Kyle Scheuerlein.

Yemeni Snicket
Bryce Druzin went from writing the news to making it when the former Silicon Valley Business Journal scribe doused Lockheed Martin's Palo Alto HQ in blood-red paint to protest the company selling weapons used to kill school kids and civilians in the US-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen.


Gotta Make a Living Somehow
Ex- Santa Clara councilman Dominic Casserta sued the city's school district for sending out an email to its employees with his personnel file and allegations of him sexually harassing students since 2002.

Bye Bye Burger
Two beloved eateries at San Jose International Airport got the boot—San Jose Joe's, which is owned by Original Joe's, and The Brit, named for Britannia Arms. A mini San Pedro Square Market will help fill that space instead.


To Catch a Predator
A San Mateo cop allegedly tried to seduce a 16-year-old girl online. The girl turned out to be someone else staging a to-catch-a-predator-style sting.

It Was the Inclusion of Light Rail in the Lyrics
San Jose's visitors bureau got dragged mercilessly on social media for trying to make a country tune sung by a 16-year-old Kiwi the city's official tourism promotion song.

In Silicon Valley, Everything's Expensive
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which operates bus and light rail in Silicon Valley, got blasted for being one of the least efficient and most expensive transit systems in the country. The news came in a 61-page report released by the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.

The Decade of Memes as Mainstream Communication: The 2010s were the decade that memes became a mainstream form of communication. iPhones got built-in GIF keyboards. And any public figure who was snapped in a not so flattering light could expect to find their face plastered across the internet accompanied by a snarky slogan (think crying Michael Jordan or Elon Musk smoking weed).


This Really Stinks
A lone gunman opened fire on a crowd at Gilroy's annual Garlic Festival, wounding a dozen people and killing three more before his took his own life. Weeks after the tragedy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a domestic terrorism investigation into the shooting.

Housing by Mussolini
Cupertino Planning Commission Chair Ray Wang found himself in hot water after calling YIMBYs "neoliberal fascists" in a NextDoor post about Vallco developers Sand Hill Property Company. Housing advocate Richard Mehlinger saw the post and declared it an "unhinged rant." But Wang barked back, threatening to expose YIMBYs who "harassed" him to their bosses. Cupertino officials, on the other hand, brushed it off by saying that Wang was speaking on behalf of himself and not the commission.

Hey, Look Who's on TV!
So maybe it wasn't 15 minutes, but at least San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo got 15 seconds of fame this year with a quick, quiet cameo on HBO's hit show "Silicon Valley." Instead of pocketing the $1,000 stipend for appearing on the show's season six premiere, he asked the network to donate it to the San Jose Promise scholarship.

She Was Having a Bad Day
A woman went on a rage in downtown Los Gatos when she leapt out of her car and started screaming at a group of Trump supporters who had set up an anti-Robert Mueller booth across from Pedro's Restaurant. The woman, later identified as Margo Rosen, turned out to be the former district director for Congresswoman Jackie Speier.


Goebbels Was Really a Much Better Wordsmith
A white supremacist group involved in organizing the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, took credit for plastering racist fliers across San Jose State's campus with sayings like "Nationalism Not Globalism" and "Diversity Destroys Nations."

I'll Have an Impossible Burger, Please
Sheriff's deputies nabbed a man suspected of slaughtering nearly a dozen cows in Morgan Hill. Fifty-four-year-old Marc Belluomini's bovine massacre apparently stemmed from a grazing dispute with two other ranchers.

An Inconsiderate Way to Go
A woman at downtown San Jose's Fairmont Hotel committed suicide via a poisonous gas. The noxious smell, which guests reported having an odor of rotten eggs, sickened eight people and prompted the evacuation of three floors.


City Slaps Curfew on Concerts, Then Sues For Declining Revenues
The 49ers and the city of Santa Clara escalated their feud over control of Levi Stadium. First Santa Clara lawmakers voted to end the football team's authority over non-NFL events, claiming the organization "made misrepresentation, failed to comply with laws and the contract...and mismanaged operations, resulting in declining non-NFL net revenues." But days later, the 49ers slapped the city with a lawsuit, alleging it was "creating misinformation in the marketplace." They also accused Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her concert curfew as a reason for dwindling revenue.

Know Her Name
Emily Doe, the woman who captivated the country with her moving impact statement about being raped by ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, finally revealed her identity. Chanel Miller, a 27-year-old writer, released a memoir titled Know My Name, which reintroduced her to the public and described the trauma she went through.

Baby Trump Flies Over the Valley
45 touched down for the first time in Silicon Valley since his 2016 campaign stop at the McEnery Convention Center. The president was reportedly attending a re-election fundraiser in the $97 million Portola Valley mansion of ex-Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy. But the visit wasn't without controversy; activists made sure to fly a diaper-clad "Baby Trump" balloon high over the Bay Area for the president to see.


Hit...and Run for Congress
Saratoga councilman and congressional candidate Rishi Kumar found himself in a bit of a fender bender in Cupertino. But instead of stopping and exchanging information with the two other drivers, Kumar dashed off. A Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office deputy eventually found him and cited him with misdemeanor hit-and-run. A few weeks later, the Santa Clara County District Attorney pressed charges against him.

Blackouts Are a Really Stupid Way to Protect Public Safety
Thousands of Santa Clara County residents found themselves in the dark after PG&E decided to turn off the power to avoid sparking a wildfire. The Public Safety Power Shutoff was the largest of its kind and affected 800,000 customers–approximately 2.5 million people–across California. People got so upset at the utility giant that there were reports of shots fired at PG&E workers in the field.

The Infamous Parking Garage Snake Thief
Reptile breeder Brian Gundy found himself snake-less when a thief snatched up a duffle bag he set it down in a San Jose parking garage while retrieving his car. Instead of gold and jewels, the bandit made off with four pythons–Piper, Shorty, Whitey and Bob–and a 12-year-old lizard name Stretch. Three of the snakes were eventually returned, but Whitey and Stretch still remain at large.


He Didn't Get the Memo
A Milpitas High School teacher went viral the day after Halloween for all the wrong reasons. The white teacher, who was later identified as 48-year-old David Carter, apparently thought that it was a good idea to dress up as rapper Common for the spooky holiday—blackface and all. Carter was placed on administrative leave and later apologized.

FISH PIX: A torrent of so-called fat inkeeper worms washed up on a NorCal beach, captivating the public with their uncanny resemblance to human male genitalia..

Oops, I Did It Again
A San Jose police officer shot and killed a man walking down Jackson Avenue who appeared to be reaching for a gun tucked into his waistband. But as it turns out, the gun was nothing more than a replica. This wasn't the first time that San Jose cops killed someone with a faux gun. In 2011, officers put 20 bullets in a man who fell asleep in a stairwell in his Halloween costume that was fashioned with a gold plastic toy gun.

Not All It's Cracked Up to Be...But Pre-Orders Are Strong
The unveiling of Tesla's new cybertruck didn't exactly go as planned. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has been known for his attention-getting antics, claimed that the futuristic pickup truck was bulletproof against a 9mm handgun. But when the electric car's design lead threw a steel ball at two of the windows the glass cracked, leading Musk to drop an expletive.

The Fantastic Four
Mountain View-based Google is under investigation by the US National Labor Relations Boards after firing four of its tech workers for organizing during the week of Thanksgiving. The federal agency is looking to see if Google violated any labor laws, but the search-and-advertising giant claims that some of those workers were fired for sharing confidential information.


Bombs Away
Caught-on-camera porch piracy has become a hallmark of the holiday season. But an ex-NASA engineer from Sunnyvale went to great lengths to add his own spin to the canon. Mark Rober—whose glitter bomb decoy package made him a viral sensation last year—has unveiled a new and improved version of his explosive booby trap. In a video uploaded to YouTube about a week before Christmas, Rober says his new trap combines biodegradable glitter with a stink spray and features a countdown voice and fake police banter. The clip includes a guest appearance by Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone fame. "As far as I'm concerned," Rober says, "relatively harmless karmic justice has never looked so beautiful."

Fish Dicks
The Pacific Ocean bombarded Drake's Beach with a gajillion unsolicited "dick fish"—pulsing, plump 10-inch sea creatures known as fat innkeeper worms or by their much-less-hilarious scientific name, urechis caupo.

We Were Too Creeped Out to Investigate
The San Jose Police Department said it found no evidence that Presentation High administrators conspired to conceal decades of sexual misconduct, including a teacher who one former student says projected nude images on her. A number of victims and witnesses say they contacted police and never heard back.

How to Lose a Trade War
Prompted by China's retaliatory trade tariffs on US manufactured goods, the Bay Area's electric car maker Tesla opened its first non-American plant in Shanghai, with nearly $2 billion in Chinese bank financing.