We don't usually lead with international news, but there was no bigger story last week than the monster 8.9 earthquake and 30-foot-tall tsunami that devastated Japan on Friday. The jaw-dropping disaster killed thousands of people and left millions without food and shelter. It was one of the strongest quakes on record and one of the worst natural catastrophes ever.
The disaster also promises to spur a rethinking of nuclear power. Over the weekend and early this week, Japanese officials raced to avoid a scary nuclear-power-plant meltdown, grappling with explosions at two reactors and dangerously exposed fuel rods. Some experts feared that the country was on the brink of another Chernobyl, the infamous nuclear plant that exploded 25 years ago, spreading radioactive fallout over Europe.
President Barack Obama had recently been pushing for nuclear power expansion, calling it "green" energy, but the Japanese experience could dampen his effort to revive the flagging industry. Indeed, it may take another quarter-century before politicians and businesses begin talking about nuclear energy again as a significant and viable alternative to our over-dependence on fossil fuels.
Here in the East Bay, residents watched apprehensively on Friday morning to see if remnants of the giant tsunami would wreak any damage here. Despite some "sky-is-falling" reports by local news media, the worst the bay got was a small, rolling wave that was captured on video by an alert apartment-tower resident in Emeryville.
In Santa Cruz, meanwhile, the harbor suffered millions in damages, as did the one in Crescent City. The lone fatality occurred when a not-so-smart onlooker got too close to the surf near the mouth of the Klamath River and was swept out to sea.
Blacks Flee Oakland
New US Census data revealed that despite extensive efforts to spur urban growth, Oakland lost more than 2 percent of its population, dropping from nearly 400,000 in 2000 to about 390,000 in 2010. The city, however, did experience growth in its downtown area, adding a little more than 5,000 new residents, the Oakland Tribune reported. Ex-Mayor Jerry Brown's 10K Plan for downtown, in other words, turned out to be more like 5K.
Blacks continued to lead the exodus out of Oakland, continuing a mass departure that began in the 1990s. Still, African Americans remained the largest ethnic or racial group in the city, although just barely, over whites and Latinos. Oakland's black population plummeted by 23 percent in the last decade. Richmond, the East Bay's other major black stronghold, lost the same percentage, as tens of thousands of African Americans moved out of the East Bay's urban core to the suburbs.
Much of the East Bay, meanwhile, experienced large gains among Asians and Latinos — except Oakland's Fruitvale district, the Contra Costa Times reported. In fact, Latinos became the largest ethnic or racial group in Richmond for the first time, replacing blacks.
The demographic changes also could impact the East Bay's liberal political voice. The CoCo Times reported that relatively slow growth in the East Bay could result in the loss of legislative seats in Sacramento and Washington DC. The district of Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland is considered one of the most at risk of being consolidated. Other districts in peril include those held by state Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley and Assemblyman Sandre Swanson of Alameda.
Brown Misses His Budget Deadline
Governor Brown missed his self-imposed March 10 deadline for gaining approval of his budget package as Republicans continued to object to his plan for tax-extension measures on the June ballot. Brown has been negotiating in recent weeks with a group of centrist state senators, the so-called GOP 5, to reach a compromise. The Republicans reportedly want concessions on public-employee pension plans and other issues.
Brown, however, was running out of time to call for a June election. The CoCo Times reported that the governor decided that going directly to voters in November won't work, and that he must reach a deal with the GOP, because Californians will never approve his tax measures unless they garner some bipartisan support in Sacramento.
Alameda's Measure A, the schools parcel tax, won with 68.4 percent of the vote, surpassing the two-thirds needed. It could raise up to $12 million annually for the district. ... Two Oakland cops who shot and killed an unarmed Oakland barber will not face criminal prosecution, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office said. Prosecutors concluded that officers Eriberto Perez-Angeles and Omar Daza-Quiroz broke no laws when the shot Derrick Jones to death last fall. The cops said they thought Jones was reaching for a gun in his waistband but it turned out to be a small scale. ... A Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy resigned after investigators discovered that he was part of a plot to get husbands drunk and arrest them for DUI in order to help their wives win divorce cases. ... The California Public Utilities Commission issued a deadline to PG&E to offer an opt-out program for the utility's controversial SmartMeters program. The opt-out would allow PG&E customers to block PG&E from installing the meters on their homes. ... The push to force Amazon.com to collect sales taxes from its customers is spreading throughout the nation. Illinois recently approved a law that targets the giant online retailer and is similar to one in the California Legislature. ... And Emeryville's Oaks Card Club got the green light to reopen as long as its keep its Asian gaming section closed. Federal agents raided the club after they discovered that the head of the Asian gaming section was allegedly involved in loan sharking.