A surface water project that likely will triple the average Davis water bill over the next five years earned the top spot on The Enterprise’s list of important local stories of 2012, as voted by editors and reporters. The project will go to a vote of the people in March.
But the water story had its fair share of competition this year. Whether it was the fallout after the pepper-spraying of students on the UC Davis Quad, the passage of a record two Davis Joint Unified School District parcel taxes or justice, finally, in a 32-year-old murder case, Enterprise headlines ran the gamut this year.
But in the end, it was just too much water.
1. Water project
The Davis City Council in 2012 was forced to take a step back from the proposed joint surface water project with Woodland, conceived to supplement each city’s deteriorating ground water supplies, to make sure that Davis residents were on board with the multimillion-dollar plan.
That pause allowed the council to form the Water Advisory Committee, which over the past year pored over every detail of the city’s water utility. The committee’s work saved the city about $42 million over the original estimate by the Joint Powers Authority.
Among other decisions, the WAC reaffirmed for the council that Davis does, in fact, need an additional supply of water. It also discovered that the city requires less water from the Sacramento River than was previously thought, and finally, it worked out a way to fairly bill residents for their share of the $113 million water project.
The new, smaller project, if approved by voters in mail-only election in March, would pump water from the Sacramento River, treat it and pipe it to Davis and Woodland. The voters’ decision will be binding on the council.
Residents will receive their ballots in the mail the week of Feb. 4. Ballots are due back to the Yolo County Elections Office by March 5.
2. School parcel taxes
Davis area voters approved two school parcel tax measures in 2012, the first time in local history that voters twice approved separate parcel taxes in the same calendar year.
In November, California voters also approved statewide Proposition 30, which will raise the sales tax one-quarter cent and tax wealthy individuals for several years to avoid further cuts in funding for public schools, colleges and universities.
In Davis’ all-mail election in March, 72.3 percent of voters approved Measure C, a renewal of a $320-per-year tax to support classroom programs.
Then, in the summer, retiring school board trustee Richard Harris proposed a second parcel tax for the November ballot, an extension of the $204-per-year “emergency” tax approved in 2010. Measure E was approved on Nov. 6 with 69 percent of the vote.
Voter approval of Prop. 30 in November spared UC Davis from what might have been $50 million in cuts, on top of an existing $45 million budget shortfall.
It also gave students and their families a reprieve from tuition increases for the first time in six years.
Had Prop. 30 failed, the hit would have been so large that it might have increased tuition by another $2,000, or, at UCD specifically, eliminated 650 staff members or 258 faculty positions.
3. Pepper spray fallout
Near the end of 2011, on Nov. 18, came the pepper-spraying of unarmed Occupy UCD protesters that drew worldwide attention. In 2012, there came the reckoning.
Though the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, other investigations placed the blame for the pepper-spraying on administrators as well as police, on individuals and systems alike.
Early in 2012, UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi weathered calls for her resignation, buoyed by strong support in a January vote by faculty. After the investigations were complete, however, the executive committee of the UCD Academic Senate controversially censured her for her actions.
Tension about haves and have-nots on campus, after millions of dollars in state cuts in recent years and questions of joint governance between administrators and faculty, rose to the surface.
Both UCD and the University of California system have promised a long list of reforms. New Police Chief Matt Carmichael has made a number of changes to the UCD Police Department aimed at making it more community-oriented, including involving students and faculty in the hiring process.
At the administration level, changes have been made to formalize the decision-making process and training for top campus leaders.
As for the protesters who sat down on a Quad sidewalk and refused to move: 21 of them tentatively agreed to a $1 million settlement that’s being looked over by a federal judge.
Another Occupy protest — a winter blockade of US Bank in the Memorial Union — ended with the bank leaving campus, protesters facing charges and UCD out of not just future rent money but on the short end of a $225,000 settlement with the bank.
For days, protesters objecting to bank profits made on the backs of students, blocked the US Bank branch within the union building. On March 1, the Minneapolis-based bank decided it had seen enough, saying it had been forced to hire a security guard because UCD police, still smarting from the pepper-spraying of protesters, refused to act.
UCD sued for lost revenue in May from a deal that was to have brought in an estimated $3 million earmarked for student services. In the end, though, it was UCD that ended up paying $225,000 to the bank.
Later, 11 students and one professor were charged with misdemeanors of obstructing movement on a street or in a public place and conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor. The accused have pleaded not guilty, but no trial date has been set.
4. “Sweethearts” trial
The 32-year wait for justice ended in November for the families of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves when a Sacramento Superior Court jury convicted Richard Joseph Hirschfield, 63, of the Dec. 20, 1980, kidnap-murders of the 18-year-old UCD sweethearts.
Hirschfield was later recommended to receive the death penalty from a jury who deliberated for just 2 1/2 hours on the matter.
The local couple were abducted and slain after they ushered a performance of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker.” Their bodies were found two days later in a Folsom-area ravine.
In addition to the investigators and attorneys who worked the case, the victims’ families thanked former Davis Enterprise reporter Joel Davis, whose book about the murders, “Justice Waits: The UC Davis Sweetheart Murders,” rekindled authorities’ interest in the case and led to a cold-hit DNA match more than 20 years after the killings.
5. Davis City Council election
In the end, the 2012 Davis City Council election unfolded as the battle of old vs. new.
And the new won.
The race pitted former Mayor Sue Greenwald and former Council member Stephen Souza, who between them had served 20 years on the council, against three newcomers with only a year’s worth of council experience among them.
On Election Night, Dan Wolk, 34, was the top vote-getter, winning every precinct in Davis. Lucas Frerichs, 32, who touted his broad and deep community involvement, took second in the race and Brett Lee, 46, a relative unknown in the Davis political scene, finished third.
The campaign saw its fair share of drama as well. One month before the election, three Sacramento-based unions financed the distribution of a mailer attacking Greenwald.
The mailer, which featured stock photos of someone being hauled into an ambulance by paramedics, was meant to remind voters of the night Greenwald and former Mayor Ruth Asmundson had gotten into an argument on the dais, leading to Asmundson being rushed to the hospital.
6. Economic development
The idea that the city of Davis is an unfriendly place to open a business absorbed a crushing blow this year when Mori Seiki, a Japanese tool manufacturing company with facilities around the world, decided to build its first plant in the United States right here in town.
In November, the company officially opened its brand-new, 200,000-square-foot facility on Second Street with a ribbon-cutting event that was teeming with excitement over what Mori Seiki means not only for Davis, but for the region.
The hope is that if an international corporation can see Davis as an attractive place to operate a large-scale business, then others will follow suit.
Meanwhile, as city leaders hope to draw more companies like Mori Seiki to town, Davis also notched several major economic development accomplishments in 2012.
The city teamed up with Davis Roots, a new start-up tech-business accelerator, that helps budding companies get on their feet. The idea is that once they’re stable, they’ll move out of the city’s Hunt-Boyer Mansion into business space in Davis and give the local economy a boost.
The City Council also contracted with William McDonough + Partners, a Bay Area design and planning consulting firm, to develop a road map for Davis on how to build a sustainable economy based on its access to UCD and existing local businesses.
7. Fatal crash
Three people were killed and seven others injured on the blistering hot afternoon of July 11 when a pickup truck collided head-on with a bus registered to United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Sacramento on County Road 102 north of Davis.
The crash claimed the lives of Davis resident Sara Johnson Moss, 35, a caretaker aboard the bus, and Laura Sue Weiderholt, a 48-year-old UCP client, who succumbed to her injuries two days later. The driver of the pickup, Woodland resident Jeffery Richard Rivas, 52, also died at the scene.
Several weeks after the crash, the California Highway Patrol announced that Rivas had been texting and under the influence of methamphetamine, which had caused his truck to veer into the oncoming lane so quickly that the driver of the UCP bus had virtually no time to react.
8. Noose incident
A Davis High School employee discovered a noose fashioned out of black rubber tubing hanging from a goalpost at the school football field on the morning of June 15, two days after classes let out for the summer.
Community leaders, including members of the Davis City Council and Davis Board of Education, swiftly issued statements denouncing the act, which local police classified as a hate incident.
For some, the incident triggered painful memories of a series of hate crimes that occurred in Davis in recent years, when several local residents reported having their homes and vehicles vandalized because of their race or sexual orientation. Two schools and two churches also were heavily damaged with racial and anti-religious graffiti.
Davis police pleaded for information about possible suspects in the noose incident — as well as subsequent vandalism involving swastikas and the N-word at Holmes Junior High School and the Olive Drive bike tunnel — but none were ever publicly identified.
9. All-mail balloting
Davis voters tried their first vote-by-mail election this year when the Davis school district asked voters to consider Measure C, a school parcel tax.
Ballots were mailed to voters in early February, with a deadline of March 6 for their return. Voters who waited until the last day to return their ballots could drop them at specially marked boxes at the Stephens Branch Library in Davis and at the Yolo County Elections Office in Woodland.
The all-mail election drew a 39.9 percent voter turnout, a somewhat higher percentage than other recent single-issue special elections involving parcel taxes.
The school district saved $100,000 or more over the cost of staging a traditional election with polling places.
10. Global news hits home
The horrifying news in September of the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, 52, and three other embassy employees resonated especially deeply in Davis because Stevens spent part of his childhood here.
Stevens grew up on Oakside Drive in Willowbank and attended elementary school and junior high school here before his parents divorced and his mother moved to the Bay Area.
Stevens attended Emerson Junior High from 1972 to 1975. There, he played saxophone in the band, joined the ski team and worked on the Flame and Wasp, the school’s yearbook and newspaper.
Classmates remembered the young Chris as “just a really nice person and a fun person.”
Other stories making headlines in 2012:
* Coyotes slain: In June, a U.S. Department of Agriculture trapper shot and killed five coyotes near the Wildhorse Golf Club in East Davis, in response to concerns from nearby residents, without asking the city or the county for its consent. The incident sparked citywide outrage that led to the Davis City Council cutting ties with the USDA for animal services.
* Senior citizens: The Senior Citizens of Davis membership booted its board of directors in October after the group’s leaders attempted to amend its bylaws in a way that the members believed would dramatically hurt the organization.
* Burglar nabbed: A spike in residential burglaries in early 2012 put Davis police and residents on high alert. In March, officers arrested 37-year-old Kyle Frank of Placerville after he broke into an East Davis home occupied by a 12-year-old boy, who hid in the bathroom and called 911.
* Gutierrez civil trial: A federal court jury backed three Yolo County Sheriff’s Department gang task force members in the April 30, 2009, fatal shooting of Luis Gutierrez. In a wrongful-death lawsuit, Gutierrez’s family claimed the officers unlawfully detained Gutierrez and used excessive force during the encounter where he allegedly attacked the officers with a knife, but jurors ruled the shooting was justified.
* Downtown art: The downtown received a bit of a facelift over the past year with the addition of more than 15 murals on the sides of local businesses and the erection of a handful of free-standing sculptures throughout the Core Area.
The downtown also saw the addition of an Open Artists Studio in the Court ‘N’ Cedar building on G Street and a transmedia sculpture art walk that guides visitors to all the new art in town.
* Stonegate gas leaks: After receiving a tip from customers, PG&E began an investigation late last year of an unusual spike in gas leaks under the Stonegate subdivision in West Davis and discovered that more than 80 had sprung up throughout the neighborhood over the past half-decade.
PG&E replaced about 2,000 feet of natural gas distribution line under the neighborhood in January, though some residents continue to question the safety of leaving any old pipe in the ground.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash. Enterprise staff writers Lauren Keene, Cory Golden and Jeff Hudson contributed to this story.