So 2012 did not end up being the year the world ended — despite several failed predictions. However, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of news buzzing in San Mateo County this year.
Public safety always generates headlines and the federal investigation into Chief Probation Officer Stuart Forrest certainly made its share. Forrest was placed on leave just before Christmas and the investigation of Forrest on suspicion of possessing child pornography is ongoing. The conclusion of that investigation will undoubtedly make the 2013 list.
Another big story of 2012 also involved law enforcement. On June 5, a South San Francisco police officer fatally shot 15-year-old Derrick Gaines at the Arco gas station on Westborough and Gellert boulevards. Gaines and another teen were stopped by the officer who suspected they may have drugs or a gun. Gaines fled, the officer chased and, after a gun fell from the boy’s clothing, the officer shot. The family is now suing for $10 million and the District Attorney’s Office cleared the officer of wrongdoing.
In the Hall of Justice this year, two prominent criminal cases took surprising turns. In April, doctors concluded that prominent former child psychiatrist William Hamilton Ayres faked dementia to be hospitalized rather than retried for allegedly molesting several male patients. Some hospital staff concluded the 80-year-old had used his medical expertise to exaggerate Alzheimer’s related dementia and a judge found him mentally competent. Ayres will stand trial in March on nine felony counts of child molestation stemming from abuse of six patients ages 9 to 13 under the guise of medical exams between 1988 and 1996.
In November, Judge Stephen Hall dismissed a potentially capital murder charge against Gregory Leon Elarms, 60, who is accused in the 2010 shooting of East Palo Alto activist David Lewis outside the Hillsdale Shopping Center. Hall ruled the police did not Mirandize Elarms or respond to his numerous requests for a lawyer. Prosecutors responded by charging Elarms with allegedly possessing three homemade shanks in the county jail. The move, plus a $500,000 bail hike, could keep Elarms in custody will prosecutors appeal Hall’s ruling to a higher court.
Public safety overlapped with education in February when special education teacher Alexia Bogdis was charged with abusing two 4-year-old students. Eight Redwood City Elementary School District workers were placed on leave and an investigation later concluded that six school employees knew of the possible abuse.
On Sept. 21, Bradley Mrozek, 25, allegedly snatched a 9-year-old girl from Parkside Elementary School in San Mateo and that same day allegedly offered vodka to two 12-year-old boys and verbally harassed two girls at a different campus. After news broke of those incidents, an official at George Washington Elementary School in Daly City contacted authorities about a March incident in which four 9-year-old girls reported seeing a flash from under the bathroom stall as they used the facilities. The girls fetched a teacher who tried forcing the man from the stall. He finally ran from the bathroom and fled the school.
County residents also made widespread news when a Japanese consulate officials was charged, and ultimately pleaded no contest, with abusing his wife of 18 months. In December, Modupe Martin’s workers’ compensation fraud conviction grabbed wide attention because of how the former school custodian was caught faking an ankle injury — throwing off the crutches, slipping on some heels and running to a Lathrop park where she was videotaped by investigators performing a sex act on her boyfriend. A doctor viewing the footage told prosecutors she would have been unable to do so if she was really hurt.
Speaking of land, development was big news throughout the county in 2012.
In January, the owner of San Carlos nightclub The Carlos Club began a series of Planning Commission and City Council hearings that would run through April on his planned expansion. The council would ultimately vote 3-2 to deny a permit, saying it couldn’t overcome public safety concerns and worries alcohol-related incidents would overwhelm the small police force.
By the end of the year, the big planning news in San Carlos was a proposed Transit Village which drew the ire of eastside neighbors worried how the mix of retail and luxury housing around the existing train station would impact the community.
In nearby Redwood City, the development controversy was over Pete’s Harbor, the longtime community of live-aboard boating tenants and 40-year-old restaurant. Owner Paula Uccelli received Planning Commission approval to sell the land for development of the 21-acre harbor into 411 waterfront residences but the tenants facing eviction did not sit idly by. They turned up en masse at city meetings, circulated petitions and are now appealing the permit approval. The City Council will hear the appeal in January. Meanwhile, the restaurant served its last meal just before Christmas.
The effort to build a new private middle school straddled two cities, with Belmont officials ultimately voting down the plan to expand Crystal Springs Uplands School out of its Hillsborough campus. CSUS officials first came to the City Council in April 2011 with preliminary designs that were embraced but by this year that same body shot down the idea. CSUS offered a development deal of a one-time $ 1 million payment, $250,000 in annual payments and use of its turfed athletic field but to no avail.
But nowhere was the fight between city and residents as loud as San Mateo where after several months the two sides are still squaring off over a new 7-Eleven store in the San Mateo Heights neighborhood. San Mateo approved the store for the former home of Stangelini’s Italian Deli & Hilltop Market but opponents say that was in error because the land is technically zoned residential. Neighbors have protested at the property at 501 N. San Mateo Drive and raised concerns about traffic, safety and alcohol sales just a few blocks from San Mateo High School. The battle is also one of legal opinions, with competing conclusions on whether city planners were legally allowed to issue permits.
Elections in 2012 were largely focused on state and national matters, as voters here as elsewhere wrestled with presidential candidates and a wide array of tax measures.
Closer to home, San Mateo County voters passed two tax measures this year — in June, voters rejected two of three tax proposals but did pass a 2.5 percent tax on car rentals to bring in an estimated $8 million annually. In November, voters also passed a half-cent sales tax aimed at generating $60 millions for a wide range of needs including seismic upgrades at Daly City-based private Seton Medical Center which heavily bankrolled its campaign.
San Bruno voters were not as generous, defeating a five-year, $199 annual parcel tax that would have raised an estimated $2 million for its schools which are faced with a $3 million deficit. The tax drew 59.2 percent support but could not reach the two-thirds majority threshold needed.
During the same election, county voters also defeated a measure to make the controller an appointed rather than elected position and, in a break from tradition, passed a charter change measure converting to district elections for supervisor seats. The county is the only one in the state that elects officials countywide which sparked a still-pending lawsuit. Voters had twice defeated previous attempts to change the system.
The change means Warren Slocum, the retired chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder, is the last supervisor elected under the old method. Slocum beat out Shelly Masur in the November runoff after both were the top vote-getters from a six-candidate pool in June. Slocum, who replaces termed-out Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, will represent District Four which include Redwood City, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto and the unincorporated areas of North Fair Oaks and Oak Knoll. Interestingly, the final vote tallies showed that Masur actually was the top vote-getter in District Four although not countywide.
The makeup of the county’s elected officials also changed in 2012 with the abrupt April resignation of Mayor Andy Klein for personal reasons. Klein had been mayor since the previous May when then-mayor Omar Ahmad died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
On the county side of government, County Manager John Maltbie, who had been serving on an interim basis, was permanently named to the post for the next four years and given a pay bump.
The county also lost some familiar faces this year, including former county supervisor Mike Nevin, who died from pancreatic cancer, and former San Mateo mayor John Lee who died from lung cancer. Former San Mateo mayor Jim Chalmers and former San Bruno mayor Robert Marshall also died this year.
Speaking of governance, the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District continued feeling the fallout from the alleged half-million dollar embezzlement by two former finance employees. In July, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission considered dissolving the special district and handing vector responsibilities back to the county but ultimately agreed to leave it be because of concerns dissolution would jeopardize public safety and punish the agency despite its improvements. The district’s 21-member governing board and General Manager Bob Gay had come under fire for not uncovering the theft which allegedly included the finance director using the funds to pay for her legal defense in an earlier embezzlement case.
The district wasn’t alone in its scrutiny this year.
In March, the Mid-Peninsula Water District sent the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office evidence that one of its former employees may have embezzled the special tax district out of an undisclosed amount of money.
Not every story this year fell short of a happy ending.
In February, the Board of Supervisors voted at an emotional crowded meeting to close its nursing home Burlingame Long-Term Care as a way to save $9 million annually. The plan was to lay off 170 workers, open up short-term beds at the county hospital and transfer hundreds of residents to new facilities, many out of the county and maybe even the state. But later that summer, the county kept the doors open with an unique subcontracting agreement with a private operator, Brius, that also hired a majority of the employees.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.