Features & Columns

2014 Year in Review

2014 Year in Review

JANUARY

Cute gun branding

The online forum Reddit became in recent years, surprisingly, a marketplace for assault rifles. A Mother Jones investigation showed that the company even licensed its trademark alien to stamp on guns, allowing users to sell Reddit-branded AR-15s through the site.

Payless Clues

Silicon Valley's meritocracy apparently doesn't apply to employee wages. Secret agreements between some of the valley's largest employers—Apple, Google, Adobe, Intel and others—to suppress engineering salaries came to light in a Department of Justice settlement and class action suit. In one March 2005 email, Steve Jobs threatened Google's Sergey Brin, "If you hire a single one of these people, that means war." Apparently the threat worked and nine days later Apple's HR department instructed its recruiters, "Please add Google to your "hands-off" list."

Persecution of the 1%

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins compared attacks on 1-percenters with Nazis' persecution of Jews. The firm he founded, Kleiner Perkins, moved to distance itself from Perkins, who offered a reluctant apology before meditating on human suffering in one of his yachts and/or submarines.

Hell of a Guy

BART Detective Michael Maes accidentally shot and killed colleague Sgt. Tommy Smith during a probation search of a suspected computer thief's flat. Torn up by the death, Maes announced plans to attend Smith's funeral.

Droning On

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.

Bluff Backfires

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.

Ro KhannaJedi Power

FEBRUARY

Writing Horrible Things

Anonymous gossip app Secret launches and within months raises $35 million, allowing its founders to take $6 million off the table. The app, however, faces a PR challenge when it is criticized for facilitating cyberbullying that can lead to teen suicides. In a tremendous act of irony for an app that conceals attackers' identities, marcom flak Sarahjane Sacchetti whines that she's "always taken aback when people write horrible things without talking to the people they target."

Ich bin kühlen

SAP founder and San Jose Sharks majority owner Hasso Plattner announced plans to make the German software giant "cool" by opening the HanaHaus work café in downtown Palo Alto. The startup-focused space will feature Blue Bottle Coffee and occupy the former Varsity Theater, a historic former cinema building that for 15 years served as a Borders bookstore.

Jedi Power

B. Raymond Buxton purchased the winning ticket to the largest jackpot ever won in California, a $425 million Powerball jackpot prize, at the Dixon Landing Chevron in Milpitas. The self-described "hardworking, middle-class American with a large family" remained a mystery for six weeks before showing up on April Fool's Day in a "Luck of the Jedi I have" to claim his prize.

Geoffrey GravesGeoffrey Graves

MARCH

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.

Big Guns

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."

Ed BottorffEd Bottorff

APRIL

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.

Is This What Silicon Valley Culture Has Come to?

Mike Judge emerged from the ashes of Office Space and Beavis and Butt-head to disrupt the paradigm of Sunday night premium cable with his show Silicon Valley. Mostly a study of 20-something male college dropouts with mild cases of Asperger's, the show reached its "tipping" with an epic 3-minute algorithmic-based dick joke.

Ed BottorffSan Jose Joins Million-Man Club Photograph by Lil' LeL

MAY

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."

Sunnyvale Recall

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.

San Jose Repertory TheatreSan Jose Repertory Theatre

JUNE

This Is Stupid, Yo!

Silicon Valley's startup craze officially jumped the shark when it was reported that Or Arbel raised $1.2 million in seed money for an app that allows people to send one-word text messages. The only word it transmits is "Yo." The one-button wonder hit #1 in the Apple App Store in June.

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.

Lost Art

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.

JULY

Right Turn

Sean Parker continues to disrupt everything: Facebook, statutory laws, redwood forests enchanted by gnomes, and now politics. But who knew the guy who thought a billion dollars was cooler than a million dollars would be so dedicated to maintaining the status quo? Parker supported several Super PACs that fended off Tea Party candidates to re-elect slightly less deranged white men.

Google Barge Walks the Plank

Google began building giant barges that would serve as floating work spaces or data centers—or maybe just ship loads of cash across the globe without detection—but the project was mysteriously canned.

Aldon SmithAldon Smith

AUGUST

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.

Nation Mourns Spilled Wine

Though it barely rattled the rest of the Bay Area, the 6.0 Napa quake shattered wine bottles and detached parapets from buildings up in wine country, causing something close to $300 million in damage.

Hard-Knock Life

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.

Parking Lot Policing

Without consulting San Jose police, amateur City Hall crimefighters thought they could deter crime downtown by leaving an unlocked patrol car on the street for a week. Police were outraged about not being consulted—and perhaps because the decoy actually worked.

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.

"I'm not going to look. You gonna look? Nah, I'm not gonna look." (Looks)

Password hacks to Apple's cloud photo backup service led to the biggest celebrity nude photo leak in history, or as the kids call it, The Fappening. Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton acknowledged photos posted on 4chan and other sites were real, setting off a debate if anyone should be looking at the invasion of privacy images. Everyone agreed it was best not to look—until everyone wasn't looking.

SEPTEMBER

Bend it Like Beckham

A German computer magazine that posted a video showing how easy it is to bend the new iPhone was banned for life from Apple. The tech company employed a similar tactic against Gizmodo, blocking the blog from Apple events. Apple PR will continue to grant access to fawning reviewers.

Drag Queens Fight Facebook

On the heels of a much-heralded policy change that allowed users to choose from a range of 50 genders, Facebook announced it would crack down on profiles with fake names. Opponents of the "real name" rule said the policy could be harmful to abuse victims and activists, people trying to stay under the radar. But leading the charge to overturn it were drag queens, who created a petition that drew thousands of signatures and convinced the search giant to let people use their preferred names.

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.

CHP is Really Just a Frat HouseCHP is Really Just a Frat House

OCTOBER

Last of the Old Guard

The San Francisco Bay Guardian always fought for the little guy—the paper's slogan: "print the news and raise hell"—but published its last edition Oct. 15, ending a 48-year run. Publisher Glenn Zuehls, who also oversees SF Weekly, told just about everyone he could that the paper was not "financially viable" and hadn't been for some time. San Francisco's loss of a weekly followed Santa Cruz's, which became a one-weekly town when Metro's owners purchased Good Times and shuttered its own Santa Cruz Weekly.

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.

CHP is Really Just a Frat House

After getting out of jail for a DUI, a 23-year-old woman found that her phone had sent pics to an unusual number when she got home and checked her iPad. That discovery led investigators to find out California Highway Patrol officers were playing a "game" in which they stole and shared racy pics off the phones of unsuspecting women they pulled over. Officer Sean Harrington was charged with two felonies, while his CHiP buddy Robert Hazelwood got off after bitching in a reply text, "No fucking nudes?"

Pay to Play? Google It

Google surpassed Goldman Sachs as the biggest political donor in the country, tossing around $1.43 million over the last year to make sure nothing continues to get done. Or, as execs put it, "Google's political spending decisions are based exclusively on what's best for Google." Nothing evil about that..

Sam LiccardoSam Liccardo Wins in OT

NOVEMBER

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."

The Final Frontier

Google leased the historic Hangar One at Moffett Field from NASA for 60 years at a cost of $1.1 billion. NASA admin Charles Bolden remarked, "As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth, which is basically another way of saying NASA's dead.

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.

iPhone Statue Too Gay for Russia

Russian homophobes removed a six-foot-tall statue of an iPhone meant to honor the late Steve Jobs after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced he is gay in an op-ed. The group that built the statue, ZEFS, put out a measured statement saying that Cook's announcement "called for sodomy."

App to Nowhere

Business Insider called it a Silicon Valley disaster. Despite $30 million seed funding and three years to develop a product, mobile payment app Clinkle never took off. In fact, no one could quite describe the product, which sounds like myriad other phone-payment apps. Barely-of-age CEO Lucas Duplan, once considered a prodigy, denigrated into a cautionary tale.

The Blank is DeadTough Beans

DECEMBER

Tough Beans

President Obama moved to get rid of the failed Cuban embargo, which for more than 50 years hasn't succeeded in toppling the Castro brothers and bringing democracy to the island. That will free online cops such as San Jose-based Paypal from such idiotic tasks as reporting online customers of Perth, Scotland's Bean Shop to the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. In December, Paypal apologized "We are sorry we wrongly suggested that a number of Scottish customers may be breaking any laws by buying or selling Cuban coffee - this is not the case."

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.

Jungle Fever

At its peak, 350 or more people lived in the creekside shanty town that became known as "The Jungle." The 68-acre village, made up of shacks, underground tunnels and even a tree house in a thicket of cottonwood trees across from a zoo in San Jose, was dismantled by the city because of its dangerous and squalid conditions.

Sony's True Hacks

A suspected North Korean hack thought to be aimed at quashing the release of Sony Pictures' The Interview made public the studio's unmentionables, including embarrassingly simplistic marketing strategies and missives from studio chairman Amy Pascal revealing her contempt for stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie—and her penchant for writing rage-haiku emails. The hack unleashed a wave of schadenfreude among, well, everyone, followed quickly this month by patriotic uproar when, Sony, in response to hackers' threats against theaters scheduled to show The Interview, acquiesced and pulled the movie from release. Even President Obama weighed in on Sony's cowardly cold feet. But Sony then announced that it has OK'd limited release of the movie on Dec. 25 after all.

Your Year Sucked

Facebook product manager Jonathan Gheller apologized to users who were upset by its algorithmically generated "Year in Review" posts. The feature, which often featured illustrations of colorfully dressed people dancing aside balloons, sometimes surrounded posts of dead relatives and dumped exes.

#hellastorm

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."