2019 YEAR-IN-REVIEW: Top 10 East Bay political stories

Rep. Eric Swalwell announcing his run for president at a campaign kick-off in Dublin on April 14.

1. Swalwell runs for president>> Whenever your local congressmember runs for leader of the free world, it’s probably the biggest local story in any given year. Coming into 2019, we all knew Rep. Eric Swalwell had a strong interest in running for the Democratic presidential nomination, but was he really going to do it? He announced his run in April on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but his campaign failed to gain any traction whatsoever. Almost three months to the day, Swalwell dropped out.

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State Sen. Nancy Skinner took on the NCAA and won for now.

2. Skinner upends collegiate sports>> The NCAA, the governing body of college athletics in the U.S., has based its business model on free student labor for more than a century. While colleges and universities made billions over the past few decades from sky-rocketing television rights, student-athletes received nothing. State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 206 is a game-changer for student-athletes in the state, but also nationally. Almost immediately after being signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a number of states introduced similar bills allowing student-athletes to receive compensation when their names and likeness are used by their schools. Skinner did this without opposition from Republicans in the entire Legislature.

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The A’s proposed privately-funded ballpark at Howard Terminal near Jack London Square in Oakland.

3. Oakland ballpark becomes clearer>> Will the Oakland A’s be the next to relocate from the East Bay? If not, when will their new ballpark be built? These two questions are often asked about the team’s long quest for a new stadium. This year provided some positive clarity, but there’s still much that could go wrong. Two state bills author by Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Skinner, approved by Newsom, provided needed regulatory and infrastructure financing help for the Howard Terminal waterfront ballpark plan. In December, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to sell their half of the Oakland Coliseum to the A’s for $85 million. The deal gives the team some financial skin in the game for those worried they may jump ship for another city. This came after the Oakland City Council attempted to thwart the county’s sale with a lawsuit. They later relented. The year ends with a cautious optimism that everybody appears to be on the same team when it comes to building a new ballpark, except, of course, the often hard to understand Oakland City Council. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

4. Oakland’s Measure AA undermines trust in government>> Oakland officials said Measure AA, a parcel tax to fund early education in the city, needed a two-thirds majority for passage. When it failed to reach that threshold in the November 2018 election, Oakland officials tried to move the goalposts by asserting the measure needed just a simple majority. They then took the matter to court. A judge ruled against Oakland’s argument, but the entire ordeal appeared to undermine public trust in Oakland’s city government. As a new slate of ballot measures for the upcoming March primary were introduced and debated, the specter of the Measure AA and whether the debacle had left a bad taste in voters mouth, hovered over each proposed measure.

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Hayward Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, right, disagreeing with protesters calling for an independent investigation of the killing of Agustin Gonsalez by Hayward Police.

5. Hayward City Council faces tumult on both sides of the dais>> Unexpectedly, Hayward became the new center of raucous city council meetings in the East Bay. The response to a November 2018 killing of a Agustin Gonsalez by Hayward Police spilled into 2019. The family of the deceased and police accountability activists fiercely condemned a body-camera video showing police officers opening fire on Gonsalez after just seven seconds. Public meetings turned into angry shouting matches with a mostly despondent Hayward City Council. One meeting was shutdown by the mayor and moved behind closed doors because of the tumult. Hayward city officials also appeared unprepared for the rise of Councilmember Aisha Wahab. She opened her term with a flurry of proposed legislation, seemingly teaching her far more seasoned colleagues how to be elected officials. The city manager attempted to silence Wahab by proposing to limit the number of referrals a councilmember can introduce. It only made Wahab stronger. As the year ends, there is a sense Wahab’s progressive bent is rubbing off on some colleagues who up for re-election in 2020.

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Alameda renter Musiy Rishin at a rally Aug. 24 near his apartment on Shoreline Drive.

6. Rent control successes>> As the housing and homeless crisis grew in the East Bay, some cities moved to limit the devastation by continuing a trend toward rent control. Alameda enacted just-cause legislation after a property owner attempted to evict an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor from his Section 8 apartment. They later reduced annual rent increase cap for all renters to 2.8 percent, down from 5 percent. Hayward also moved toward restrictions on rent increases led by Wahab. Not to be outdone, San Leandro, which has a large number of mobile-home communities, passed sweeping protections for struggling mobile-home owners, many of which are seniors.

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Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty was elected in 1996 and ran unopposed every election since.

7. Scott Haggerty retires>> After more than two decades on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Scott Haggerty announced he would not seek re-election to the District 1 seat in east county. State Sen. Bob Wieckowski quickly jumped from a previous run for Rep. Eric Swalwell’s momentarily open congressional seat to a campaign to replace Haggerty. Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon was already in the race since January, and two members of the Dublin City Council entered the race — Mayor David Haubert and Vice Mayor Melissa Hernandez. Former 16th District Assemblymember Catharine Baker toyed with the idea of running, but had second thoughts. Haggerty, meanwhile, is eyeing a move to Tennessee. The race to replace him remains wide-open as voters have the opportunity to choose a new supervisor for the first time since 1996. That’s because Haggerty shockingly never once faced a challenger during his tenure as a county supervisor.

8. Dublin Pride flag debacle>> Most of Alameda County believed outright or perceived discrimination against LGBT communities was a thing of the past until a seemingly mundane request by Dublin Councilmember Shawn Kumagai to fly the Pride flag over city hall was met with criticism from his colleagues, along with frightening homophobic rants from the public. A ham-fisted argument against the Pride flag asserted the request would lead to all types of groups seeking to fly their flag over city hall. Haubert and Hernandez voted against flying the flag before announcing their campaigns for county supervisor. Both retracted their opposition after the council’s vote reverberated across the progressive Alameda County. Emeryville Councilmember John Bauters even offered to fly a second flag over Emeryville City Hall for Dublin.

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9. Lunar New Year card sparks controversy at Alameda County Fire>> Alameda County firefighters came up with the idea of creating a Chinese Lunar New Yard card that included photos of themselves in traditional Chinese hats and garb. The greeting card, which was only sent to other fire stations, created a firestorm among Asian American activists and elected officials. An investigation into the incident began, but the ordeal highlighted the fire department’s woeful job of recruiting non-white firefighters and women. Its hiring numbers angered elected officials in San Leandro, one of the cities that contracts its fire services with the county. Although not directly related to the Lunar New Year card fiasco, Alameda County Fire Chief David Rocha, announced his retirement, effective Dec. 31.

10. Alameda defy NIMBYs, help homeless>> As the housing and homeless crisis reached critical mass in 2019, a small group of Alameda residents calling themselves Friends of Crab Cove, sought to block a homeless center for seniors from being located at a property left vacant by the federal government. Undaunted, the groups triggered a costly special election last April that included what would be known as Measure B. Former Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer later uttered perhaps the quote of the year when she argued that supporters of Measure B, some of which lived in condos near Crab Cove, were not NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) in a literal sense.  “You can’t be a NIMBY if you don’t have a backyard,” Spencer told the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. The attempt to block the senior homeless center lost at the ballot box, but still received 44 percent of the vote, revealing Alameda’s insular island attitudes still persist within a large minority of voters, despite the clear progressive move of the city in recent years.


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Former East Bay congressmember and undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Defense Ellen Tauscher passed away on April 29. PHOTO/Wikimedia Commons.

In Memoriam>> Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, former San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, former Hayward Mayor Bertie Cooper, Chabot-Las Positas Board Director Dobie Gelles.


Retirements>> Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid, BART General Manager Grace Crunican, Alameda County Transportation Commission CEO Art Dao, Chabot-Las Positas Board Director Carlo Vecchiarrelli, Hayward Police Chief Mark Koller, East Bay Regional Park District Director Whitney Dotson.