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Grinches of the Year: Oakland and East Bay Residents with Hearts a Few Sizes Too Small

2016 sucked — and here's a list of 13 folks who made it even worse.



Every dweller in the Bay values qualities such as honesty and fairness, a lot. But there were Grinches here this year who did not. These people seemed not to care about the East Bay — from Oakland to Richmond. No one quite knows why. It could be their heads just weren't screwed on right. Or, perhaps, their shoes were too tight. Anyway, 2016 was as sucky as a year gets, and the following thirteen Grinches of the Year — those folks with hearts a few sizes too small — didn't help. No roast or spiked egg nog for you all — just coal. Lots of polluting, hazardous, dirty coal.

Commitment To Betrayal

Let's put ourselves in Mark Davis's shoes. The owner of the Oakland Raiders is under a tremendous amount of pressure: to build a new stadium and honor his father's legacy, and to do so without significant personal wealth or (rightly so) willingness from East Bay governments to invest meaningfully in a public-private partnership. It's enough of a burden to drive a man into the arms of one of the country's foremost Republican Party patrons. Enter Sheldon Adelson, a man so flush with coin that ProPublica reported he threw down some $98 million on 2012 GOP races and candidates. With Adelson, the Raiders were able to strong-arm Nevada lawmakers into a $750 million public subsidy, to help defray the cost of a proposed $1.9 billion Las Vegas stadium. NFL owners will vote on this kinda-sorta done deal next month.

Meanwhile, the fiery and loyal Raider Nation here in the Bay is despairing. Their team, for the first time in 13 seasons, will be in the playoffs — but it's bittersweet, obviously, because this success is paired with Davis' insistence that the Silver and Black's leaving is a done deal. And Davis isn't even sugarcoating things, referring to the possible move to Nevada part of his effort to find the team a "real home," as he told USA Today last month. This is to say fans in the Bay have not been sufficiently loyal, even when the team ditched Oakland for Los Angeles more than two decades ago. Real home? Bah humbug.

Davis is doubling-down on the Oakland dis, too, by refusing to sit at the table or discuss a counter-offer — albeit a half-baked and thin-on-filling deal cooked up by Oakland City Hall and a venture-capital group led by former player Ronnie Lott. All Davis has to say is, "I love Oakland. Out of my passion and respect of this community, I will explore this deal while keeping other options open." No dice; he recently stated that he was "committed to Las Vegas, and that's what I'm working on." We guess that is, in some way, a commitment to excellence — as in an excellent betrayal of steadfast fans. Coal for you, Mr. Davis.

Breaking the Law

Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney either thinks she's above the law, or she's so disorganized she can't even comply with her own city's rules.

In 2015, she was accused of improperly using her office's authority and resources for personal gain when she worked to block a developer from building five townhouses next to her home. The Oakland Public Ethics Commission began looking into this matter. But the PEC's investigation of McElhaney's behavior has been stalled out for months, because the councilwoman wouldn't comply with a subpoena for records. So, we don't know if McElhaney actually broke the law.

In the meantime, the Alameda County Grand Jury weighed in, saying they felt McElhaney did in fact run foul of the law. But, instead of formally responding to the Grand Jury's allegations, most of the rest of the city council decided to wait on the PEC's investigation. And, because McElhaney was blocking the PEC's effort by ignoring their subpoena — well, you see how that ended up.

Only after being sued by the PEC did McElhaney finally turn over the records. But it was well after the election in which her council seat was up for grabs. So, whatever the PEC unearths, it won't matter much.

Garden of Gentrification

Beer lovers in the Bay might remember 2016 as the year that beer gardens grew out of control — and, in many ways, became a sort of harbinger of further gentrification in Oakland in the East Bay.

Consider: When investor/developer Danny Haber purchased the Hotel Travelers, a single-room occupancy hotel in Chinatown that for decades has housed low-income Oaklanders, the rumor mill swirled that his plan was to turn the building into another "tech-dorm"-style residence — complete with a rooftop beer garden.

And in May, when a landlord announced that his tenant, the city's lone Nigerian restaurant, Miliki in Laurel district, would be getting the boot, and that he would be opening a beer garden at the location — well, the genuinely decent-guy landlord unknowingly stepped into a raging Old Oakland-versus-New Oakland debate.

Gentrification, displacement, and cost-of-living in the Bay is a difficult, nuanced conversation. But one thing is clear about 2016: It will go down as the year of Peak Beer Garden in the East Bay.

Bad Coal Train

Phil Tagami wants to give Oakland coal for Christmas — as much as 10 million tons of it a year. Although his plan to build a massive coal export terminal in West Oakland was swatted down by the city council in 2016, when they voted to ban the storage and handling of coal inside city limits, Tagami is still pushing his plan. His argument, in a nutshell, is that Oakland can't stop him. The city's rules don't apply to the federally regulated railroads he'll use to haul coal through The Town. Earlier this month, he sued the city, claiming it over-stepped its legal authority with the ban. His attorney says Oakland taxpayers could owe him as much as $100 million. That's especially rich, given the fact that Tagami was made a wealthy man through public subsidies, including low-interest loans to buy publicly owned buildings like the Rotunda on the cheap. The craziest thing about Tagami's obsession with becoming a coal baron is that he claims to be an environmentalist. He loves the ocean, and counts scuba diving among his hobbies. Ironically, he once retweeted a Mother Jones article about the mass extinction of ocean creatures, caused by acidification of the water due to human-caused CO2 emissions.