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In The News

What a decade

By Michelle Durand
Daily Journal, 1/03/11

Sure, everybody remembers the year that was 2010. But what about the other years composing the first decade of the 21st century?

Like the rest of the nation, San Mateo County was stunned by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Although the planes targeted New York and Washington, D.C., the West Coast was no less shaken and the following months in 2001 and 2002 were filled with memorial vigils, color-coded alerts, possible attacks, increased anxiety and dozens of headline-grabbing moments at city halls and San Francisco International Airport.

The fears and concerns sparked then continued to color the next decade, as airport security tightened, airlines worried about their bottom line and SFO continued feeling the pinch of travel restrictions and frightened passengers.

Every news outlet and pundit had their take on that Tuesday morning, everything from “bastards” to more eloquent summaries. The Daily Journal opted for “A nation mourns, braces for retaliation.”

In 2003, one word said it all: BALCO. Little did San Mateo County realize that the quiet raid of the Burlingame lab ran by Victor Conte would lead to the largest sports steroid scandal in history, taint San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds’ home run record and tick off years of investigation, grand jury testimony and incarceration for those who refused to participate. BALCO also led to a zero tolerance policy by USA Track and Field for designer drug THG which was also outlawed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As the nation saw its men and women fight in Iraq during 2003, patriotism tied up controversy back home with one Burlingame mother’s attempts to honor her son and his fellow soldiers nabbing the national limelight. In April 2003, the Burlingame City Council voted unanimously to create a “Yellow Ribbon Week” and allow a number of ribbons to stand on city property. The declaration came after Jagdeep Grewal, a mother of a U.S. Marine, decided to post hundreds of yellow ribbons on street lamps, trees and any other pole that had space. Palo Alto resident Seth Yatovitz protested and said the city should post black ribbons in protest of the war. That created a storm of controversy that spread across the nation. The ribbons came down that summer when Grewel’s son, Apinterjit, came home.

That same year, a piece of coastal history died when Cunha’s Country Store — a staple of Half Moon Bay’s Main Street — burned to the ground in a six-alarm blaze on May 21. The fire raged so strongly billowing smoke was seen as far away as Interstate 280 and drew more than 50 firefighters from throughout the county. The community rallied around the store and it was rebuilt, again providing residents with everything from fresh-baked bread to nails.

In 2003, city of San Mateo ended a 15-year struggle to solve the issue of congregating day laborers on Third Avenue by opening a city-funded center.

The city also opened its 12-screen downtown cinema on B Street in February, ending years of planning, public meetings and lawsuits. The years leading up to the opening saw the city try ameliorating concerns of business owners and visitors during construction with valet parking and a little-used trolley. Despite dire predictions, the cinema did not bring the crime and traffic problems some had anticipated.

In June, after years of construction and delays, the Millbrae BART extension opened in June to much fanfare. The new station, however, was later deemed a disappointment as officials strategized ways to draw people in, even reducing parking rates.

Nancy MacDuckston, a nursery school director, went missing in a still unsolved case that drew national attention. MacDuckston was last seen by her adult daughter on Aug. 11, 2003. Her tan 2001 Mazda MPV minivan was spotted on Highway 101 near Davenport in Santa Cruz County Aug. 12. She was witnessed having lunch earlier in the day with a man who has never been identified.

The ecstasy-linked death of Ralston Middle School student Irma Perez, 14, at a sleepover in Belmont on April 23, 2004 led to criminal charges for the dealer and friends who didn’t seek immediate help. The death also led to school and community meetings about drug use. Three adults and two minors each agreed to plea bargains and received punishments ranging from rehabilitation programs to five years in prison.

Some called it the trial of the century; many in San Mateo County called it a media circus. When the Scott Peterson trial was moved from Modesto to Redwood City in 2004, the case of the fertilizer salesman accused of murdering his pregnant wife on Christmas Eve brought with it scores of media outlets, hundreds of onlookers, a lottery system for a coveted spot in the courtroom and 12 county residents chosen to decide his fate. When the jurors returned verdicts of guilty and the death penalty, reactions erupted in waves outside the county government center. The spotlight was on San Mateo County and even if it looks nothing in real life like the stand-in sets prevalent in the subsequent television movies, it cornered a little piece of criminal history. 

Prior to the November 2004 election, developer Glenborough-Pauls spent about $500,000 to promote the passage of Measure Q allowing a 17-tower high-density residential development at Pete’s Harbor along the Redwood City Bayfront. It wasn’t enough. Despite the unanimous support of the City Council, a resounding 12,000 voters came out against the proposal and the plan for Marina Shores Village fizzled.

The county took center stage in the capital punishment debate in early 2005, when Redwood City killer Donald Beardslee was executed on Jan. 19. Beardslee’s death came nearly 24 years after he murdered two young women over a drug deal gone bad and the 61-year-old’s lethal injection was the first in California in three years. Beardslee was the 11th inmate executed in California since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978.

San Mateo police made a grisly discover Aug. 18, 2005 after receiving a call about a possible homicide and suicide. The found Tony Richards, 53, dead of a self-inflicted bullet wound and his wife and two teenage daughters killed and stuffed in a backyard freezer. A typed note by Richards blamed mounting financial problems.

East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May was fatally shot Jan. 7, 2006 after the officer and a teenage explorer responded to a call for help at a taqueria. In late 2009, a jury would convicted Alberto Alvarez and sentence him to death. 

In April 2006, after a two-week trial, a jury convicted former San Carlos mayor Mike King of defrauding what is now known as the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department by submitting more than $13,000 in false invoices for political consultant Margaret “Peg” Collier. The authority hired Collier at King’s request in fall 2003 to help pass Measure I. The parcel tax was meant to pay firefighters’ salaries. When it failed, seven employees lost their jobs and another three were demoted. The financially limited campaign ended without the funds to repay Collier approximately $17,000 for fliers and postage. King was sentenced to two concurrent 45-day sentences which were stayed for two years while he appealed. The fire department, then known as South County, was dismantled and rebuilt although it now is in the process of being dissolved again.

In July 2006, downtown Redwood City finally said “action” to its newest feature — the 20-screen, 4,200-seat Century Theatres which is the centerpiece of the city’s redevelopment project that began in October 2005. The theater officially opened with a screening of “Cars” and throughout the day screened blockbusters such as “Superman Returns,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Miami Vice.”

Property owners whose land was seized by eminent domain sued the city claiming they were not paid the fair market value. Both sides ultimately settled.

On Aug. 19, 2006, a new $108 million San Francisco County Jail opened in San Bruno, replacing a facility cited for having deteriorating conditions including poor food, vermin and inadequate sanitation.
Law enforcement drew a different type of attention after recently elected Sheriff Greg Munks and Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos were discovered at a Las Vegas brothel April 21, 2007 during “Operation Dollhouse,” a series of raids by local and federal authorities that capped off a two-year prostitution investigation. Both men were detained for a short time and released. Neither man was arrested or charged. The men were in town for 120-mile law enforcement run known as the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay. 

Also in April, Redwood City police drew national attention for wrestling and macing “Mr. Natural Universe” Doug Burns, a bodybuilder who went into insulin shock outside the downtown theater. Officer said they thought he was intoxicated; charges of assault and resisting arrest were later dropped.

And if April 2007 wasn’t already newsworthy, David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who chronicled the Washington press corps, the Vietnam War generation and baseball, was killed in a car crash in Menlo Park. He was being driven to an interview by a 27-year-old journalism student later sentenced to five days jail for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

The journey of Virgin America establishing its headquarters in Burlingame and SFO stretched over several years but the new kid on the airline block finally took off in August 2007 with its inaugural flight. The airline has spent the years since adding routes and treating travelers to massage chairs, leather seats, on-demand snacks and a new appreciation for all things decked out in red.

The next month, Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu surrendered to authorities on a 15-year-old warrant for skipping sentencing on a San Mateo County charge of grand theft. Hsu scammed money from investors, including a Daly City woman, and became a major Democratic fundraiser often photographed with candidates he supported — including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Her campaign gave back the money.

On Sept. 4, 2007, the famed Burlingame tree known as “Tom” became timber when the eucalyptus was cut down on Easton Drive. The city had been considering removal of the tree since early 2004 but community uproar turned the tree’s plight into a whirlwind, complete with moniker. 

Belmont was on the map in October 2007 after the City Council passed what was considered the toughest smoking ban in the United States. The law banned lighting up inside all multi-unit dwellings, all workplaces and 20 feet from any non-smoking areas. The passed law was slightly more lenient than an original proposal to ban smoking on the street and all residences.

In January 2008, 27-year veteran U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos announced he would not seek a 15th term because he had esophageal cancer. Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor in Congress and a top-ranked Democrat who chaired the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, died five weeks later on Feb. 11, just beyond his 80th birthday. Former state senator Jackie Speier had planned to run against Lantos for the office but instead was left later that year running in a special election in April to fill the remainder of his term and a general election in June for the next full term. She won both.

The Devil’s Slide tunnel bearing his name, in honor of his securing $175 million in federal funds, is expected to open in 2012.

On Feb. 14, 2008, the county Probation Department began a year of public scrutiny when teenage murder suspect Josue Orozco, with the help of two others, scaled a wall and fled from the newly opened Youth Services Center. Orozco, 18, was noticed missing Feb. 14 but a countywide alert was not issued for hours, sparking the ire of the community and officials. Orozco, who was 14 when arrested for a July 2005 drive-by shooting in Redwood City, remained at large for eight months until his capture in September by authorities in Texas. His first trial later ended in a hung jury and he is scheduled for retrial in 2010.

The escape also drew increased attention to other walkaways through the year from the county’s other juvenile facilities for which the Probation Department has responsibility. One former ward at Camp Glenwood, a juvenile rehabilitation facility, was arrested and later convicted for murder in Redwood City following his walkaway.

March 2008 was a busy month in San Mateo County. Environmentalists hoping to stunt future Redwood City development filed paperwork to change the city’s charter — a move that pitted the City Council against proponents of the “Open Space Initiative,” led to competing measures on the November ballot and blew through millions of dollars on campaigning. The fight was a smack at the Cargill Saltworks site, approximately the size of the Presidio in San Francisco and the largest untouched land parcel on the Bay. The initiative, renamed Measure W, would have required voters to decide by a two-thirds majority any development on land deemed open space. The city suggested an alternative, changing the city charter so voters only had a say on the Cargill site. In November, both failed, returning the city and the interest groups back to square one.

Mills High School teacher David Joseph Lista, 36, shocked the community after he was discovered to have secretly taped girls using the bathroom and having installed a peephole camera in his desk to look up students’ skirts. In November, he was sentenced to two years prison and ordered to register as a sex offender.

Also in March, a settlement agreement dropped a $41 million federal judgment against the city of Half Moon Bay in exchange for legislation that would allow development on two wetland parcels known as Beachwood and Glenacre. The bill later failed, leaving the city with a $18 million bill it is still struggling to pay.

In April, Charles Schuttloffel of San Gregorio pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in the 2004 house fire that killed his two young sons, ages 2 and 3, in May 2004. Prosecutors had claimed Schuttloffel was distraught at the possibility of his wife leaving him; the defense argued it was a tragic accident.

In June 2008, San Mateo County joined the rest of the state in granting same-sex marriage licenses. Then it joined the rest of the state in denying them. The county has mimicked the back and forth of this controversial issue throughout the decade, helped in part by the public push by Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Warren Slocum to allow the issuance and the seemingly never-ending work of San Carlos couple Ramona and Arzu Gatto and their teenage daughter, Marina.

The previous year, members of Slocum’s office had begun an album of photos and comments, chronicling the struggle of couples who trekked there every Feb. 14 annually to the San Mateo County Clerk’s Office to seek a marriage license. The book was to be donated to the San Mateo County Historical Museum when the law finally changed.

One sentiment captured it all: “While I’m proud to make history I wish it wasn’t necessary.”

Bay Meadows race track held its final race in August 2008, ending 74 years of history and years of legal wrangling and readying for demolition and construction of new homes, offices, open space and retail.

As all eyes turned to Wall Street in the fall, the financial turmoil hit home after the Sept. 15 collapse of Lehman Brothers siphoned more than $150 million from the San Mateo County investment pool. Not content to await bankruptcy proceedings, the county sued the company and specific executives, alleging they deliberately misled investors.

Tragedy barreled down a San Mateo street on Sept. 22 when the roofing truck driven by Carlos Humberto Valderrama Siordia lost control on 43rd Avenue and crashed into a string of vehicles outside a Mollie Stone’s grocery store. Tyler Fahy, 9, was killed while his mother and others were seriously injured. Siordia claimed the brakes failed but prosecutors charged him with misdemeanor vehicle manslaughter. A jury would later find him not guilty on one count and hang on another.

San Mateo was also shocked Nov. 25 when a gun-wielding stalker invaded the San Mateo home of Kim Loan Nguyen and killed the 24-year-old mother of two with three shots as she handed her two young children out a second-story window to safety. Shooter Raymond Gee, 22, of Oakland killed himself and Nguyen died shortly after being rescued from the Hobart Avenue home. Police concluded Gee had stalked Nguyen after meeting her at a San Francisco Halloween party and broke into her home by switching off power to the house and opening the garage door.

The June 2, 2008 beating of Albert Korn, 88, during a home invasion rocked the city of Belmont. Korn died two weeks later and  transient Tyler Hutchinson was later charged in the murder after being arrested in Yolo County for similar robberies.

What began as an ordinary school day at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo on Aug. 24, 2009 turned into a national media storm, fueled by memories of student attacks and fears of what could have been, after former student Alexander Youshock appeared on campus with pipe bombs, a chain saw, a machete and a plan to kill as many people as possible. Youshock, then 17, set off two pipe bombs that injured no one before being tackled by school staff.

According to prosecutors, Youshock planned the rampage at his alma mater out of a desire for revenge, particularly toward a chemistry teacher whose class he had attended.

Youshock now awaits trial for numerous felonies including attempted murder. He claims not guilty by reason of insanity.

In July, jurors deliberated two weeks before declaring they were hopelessly deadlocked in deciding if former San Mateo child psychiatrist William Hamilton Ayres, 78, abused any of the six former patients prosecutors say were fondled as young boys under the guise of medical exams. He is being retried.

The Ayres case drew wide publicity after his 2007 arrest because he commonly received referrals from the county’s courts, schools and social workers. He also served as president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry between 1993 to 1995 and developed a controversial sex education program for teenagers called “Time of Your Life.”

The curtain fell on the historic Fox Theatre at the tail end of November, ending three months of attempts by the owners to stave off a foreclosure auction but raising questions about the future of the downtown Redwood City fixture. The theater would later re-open under new owners.

As for 2010? Most of those moments should still be pretty fresh but just in case, recall the murder at Hillsdale Shopping Center of community activist David Lewis, an alternative county jail site purchased, two separate small plane crashes that left six dead, political musical chairs in county and state elections, World Series glory by the San Francisco Giants that seeped south, ongoing battles over high-speed rail, sexual assaults at the county hospital, the complete outsourcing of the San Carlos Police Department to the Sheriff’s Office and financial worries in Half Moon Bay which is still weighed down by the $18 million Beachwood settlement.

And of course, the story dwarfing it all — the Sept. 9 gas pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno that leveled a neighborhood, killed eight, wounded several and evacuated 271 people form their homes. Like that Sept. 11 in the beginning of the decade, that fateful September evening at the end of it is an unforgettable part of San Mateo County history.


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